This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
Roses, lilies, daffydowndillies, and all the rest of the loved company of old-fashioned flowers, we count as our very good friends. Distinguished friends, too, are these of the hardy border, tracing their ancestry far into the misty past, and they are cultured to a degree. We find them fascinating from the time of the early spring greetings to the autumn farewells, when the brave dears are made ready with snug coverings for their long rest. What a pretty and comforting fancy about underground plant-life in winter is this of George Herbert's:
"Flowers depart to see their Mother-root when they have blown, Where they together, alle the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house alone."
With the coming of March we begin to look eagerly for the snowdrop heralds to announce the approach of the procession. Stout of heart must be these delicate little heralds, that they should dare to "take the winds of March with beauty," like Shakespeare's stronger daffodils. Perhaps the remembered warmth of former welcomes helps them on.
The pleasure of one arrival is followed closely by another, until all the company, whose motto is "Perennial Friendship," has assembled, and the full delights of the season are at hand.
Arabis and Alyssum saxatile soon spread upon the ground their rugs of white and gold. The bulbs, having made preparations through the winter, are able to bring forward at short notice their delightfully fresh and joyous show of golden-chaliced crocuses, sweet hyacinths, blue scillas, jonquils, and other gladsome, springtime flowers of soft and tender hues; but when the tulips, bold and gay, are ready, then is the garden quite given over to a revel of colour. They hold up proudly their oriental goblets of richest hues, with a certain cavalier-like air doubtless acquired during their adventures in Holland, when they so nearly succeeded in taking that country from the Dutch.
The flash of the tulip display being over, gentle Iris comes with her messages from the gods to men, surrounded, while on earth, by the green lances of her guards. Iris certainly has most exquisite taste in dress. The costumes of this queenly messenger, who brings a period of repose and refinement to the border, are marvellous creations of rainbow-hued crÍpe, chiffon, plush, and rare laces, brightened by a few rich adornments of gold. The opalescent tints are favourites of hers, and charmingly does she use them, sometimes with gold lacings. Always is she a vision of loveliness.
When the peonies follow, they seem, in their turn, to dominate the garden, as they spread for us a feast of colour ranging from creamy white, through luscious pinks, to deep, restful crimsons. What opulence of bloom is theirs! The modern peony is, we hope, too truly cultured to be hurt by an allusion to that branch of its family known to our grandmothers as "piny." Quite inferior were they to the peony beauties of to-day, but very dear to grandmother, along with her sweet-williams, lilacs and artemisias. Early in the last century Jane Austen wrote from their Chawton home to her sister Cassandra, "Our young piony at the foot of the fir tree has just bloomed, and looks very handsome." It must have had then, as now, that excellent plant virtue of presenting a good appearance. All the season through, from its first shining, bright-red shoots until cut down by frost, the peony contrives to look neat and respectable. Not so the hollyhock, however, poor fellow! He grows sadly rusty and seedy-looking before the summer is over, but he is one of the indispensables among the hardy flowers, nevertheless. How could we possibly get on without him? Whether single, double or semi-double, or of what colour it matters little, so long as he is with us.
In a well-ordered border they will appear in groups of separate colours, but in a fence corner, near a cottage door, or over a gray stone wall, how pretty they are with their hit-or-miss effect of colour. Groups of pure white hollyhocks, like groups of white foxglove, placed here and there among the brilliant hues around them, set off a garden wonderfully. This is true also of white phlox, even more useful, perhaps, because of its long-blooming season, which makes the perennial phlox of such value in the hardy garden.
The "Golden Glow," a doable form of our native Rudbeckia iaciniata, one of the most successful perennials in cultivation.
Masses of colour can be easily formed with them. Lovely shades of pink, with white ones for next-door neighbours and a touch of yellow not far away (given, perhaps, by hardy coreopsis or a helianthus of medium height), make the garden seem 'alle ful of freshe floures," like the Squire's embroidered dress, in "Canterbury Tales".
The study of colour effects is one of the various garden interests, and in working out our schemes the oriental rule for harmonising strong colours by the use of dividing lines of white, gold or black is a help, black being translated into some dull purplish hue for garden use.
Nature shows her skill as an artist:
"When daisies pied, and violets blue, And lady-smocks all silver white, And cuckoo buds of yellow hue,
Do paint the meadows with delight."
But the gardener likes to take colour arrangement into his own hands, hoping to paint the garden with delight.
Foxgloves In a border.
We put blue larkspurs near white lilies and fancy the border is never lovelier than in lily time, while the blue and the white hold sway there. And we find them far more interesting to " live up to" than the choicest of blue-and-white china. Yellow, as a harmoniser, offers itself on every side. It is necessary to guard against an over-supply. The advent among us of the popular golden glow has brought much cheer into the garden world, but its restless energy and push fill the owner of a moderate-sized border with utter dismay. One can believe it would become as lavishly in evidence as the sunshine if it were given its own way. But there comes a time, and that speedily, when its advance in the border must be checked, and new quarters found for the adventurous offshoots. Forced to expedients, we tried hitching a row of them to the barn by means of staples driven into the clapboards. This does away with the tall, strong stakes these rudbeckias demand in the garden because of their inordinate ambition to get up, as well as on, in the world. Apparently, the new situation suits them, and they rejoice in the drip from the eaves, by which they will probably be so much refreshed as to feel equal to extra exertions in their march over the earth.