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.
The flowers were found in a distant field, where they grew in great irregular masses, like a lake of lavender in a sea of green. With great labour I brought a quantity of the roots home. All about them I spread a broad, thick mat of creeping thyme. The next year, when both came up in their beauty, the picture was well worth seeing. Verily, no Oriental monarch sits upon carpet more magnificent; nor can the looms of Wilton nor of Brussels nor of far Bagdad produce its equal! At all times an exquisite green, there comes a day when myriads of unsuspected buds blossom into simultaneous beauty, and presto! the "bank whereon the wild thyme blows "rivals in its carpeting the tapestries of Ormus and of Ind.
Beside one of the boulders a populous little community of the Venus's looking-glass was planted. To my mind there is something peculiarly attractive about this little plant - an out-of-the-way something that baffles definition. With its slender, tapering spires, curiously turned and clasped at regular intervals by circular, shell-like leaves, each with its star-flower seated on the stem, it is enough different from everything else to suggest no analogue near at hand. I have studied them often, unable to satisfy myself whether they resembled more a forest of diminutive totem poles or a village of liliputian pagodas.
Out in the blazing sun the gorgeous butterfly-weed spread its orange blossoms above the grass, an attractive flower, and so plentiful that one would think none easier to procure. But let me warn any enthusiastic proselyte, with all the earnestness that the memory of aching back and blistered hands can give, that it is easier to draw up leviathan with a hook than to raise the obstinate asclepias from the depths to which its fleshy roots go down.
A fallen tree or an old stump is an invaluable possession for a wild garden. No matter how bare or unsightly at first, the Virginia creeper or the Virgin's bower will clothe it in a year or two in draperies that nothing can surpass. Just under one edge of my grapevine I placed a curious stump that I found in one of my rambles near a neighbouring lake. I astounded a native by paying him twice his charge for carting it home. Had he known my delight over its discovery he might have exacted fourfold with impunity. But I managed to conceal my eagerness under a most indifferent exterior, and thus the tide of opportunity in the life of one rustic passed unnoticed. The stump was hollowed out with age, and shaped somewhat like a boat. Filled with leaf-mould, it makes a picturesque habitation for the partridge vine, the flowering wintergreen, the pipsissewa, and the smaller ferns. All along one side it rests upon a bed of moss, and near it I have inserted thirty or forty roots of the false Solomon's seal. Back of these a more pretentious fern bed has been planned. Here great masses of the interrupted fern have been installed, along with the ostrich fern and the stately osmundas, the tall varieties in the rear and sloping down to the shield ferns and the humble polypody in front.
Next year, if all goes well, that corner embowered beneath its vine, and flanked with ferns, will be as charming as Titania's dell. Even this year it was full of interest. If one had gone there in the early spring, before the buds on the birch trees had burst or the grapevine put forth a single leaf, one would have found the ground purple with hepatica, planted the year before. They had hardly gone when the violets took possession. A little later, beneath the tangled lower branches of the trees, a number of stout green cones could have been seen pushing their way up through the mould. These were the lady-slippers and the showy orchis. All winter long I had been wondering whether the spring would call them into life again, so that now I watched the unfolding of the pairs of broad, oval leaves with intense interest. Probably a dozen of each had been set out. All came up, and more than half of them bloomed as naturally as in their native wilds. Indeed, nothing could be more lifelike than the low purple and the white spikes of the one and the nodding pink bags of the other, as they grew amid the tangle of dead twigs about the foot of the trees.
To see them growing there in their freshness one had to pinch himself to realise that only a hundred feet away was a much-travelled road, lined with street lamps, and that just beyond the terrace was a most conventional and ladylike border of coleus, geranium, and the like. This was my first great triumph. I had brought to my very doors a bit of woodland life such as Nature reveals, as a great favour, to a chosen few - something which only those who seek her in her most secluded haunts are ever permitted to see.
False Solomon's seal.
The most serious difficulty with which I had to contend in the construction of my wild garden was the lack of natural moisture. A small pond or running stream is almost a necessity. So many of our most beautiful wild flowers live in the lush lowlands that a garden that cannot at least approximate those conditions must perforce forego many a handsome inhabitant. Of course, in my modest patch of ground, with its total area of little more than a city lot, lakes and rivulets were things merely to be dreamed of. Even so homely a matter as a bit of swamp was beyond my power of production, all efforts to that end resulting in nothing better than a mudhole. The best I could do was to build of stone and cement a rectangular tank, which I connected with one of the leaders of the house and thus made it do service as a miniature pond. With the aid of the garden hose I had no trouble in keeping this full, and the overflow kept the ground below it at all times fairly wet. In this tank I placed the yellow-spattered dock, the purple pickerel-weed, the arrowhead, and the white water-lily, all gathered from a lonely pond in the woods, and in one end a compact mass of wild forget-me-nots, lifted from the margin of a nearby stream.