In my garden one planting of mignonette in full sun goes in front of the March-planted sweet peas; of the two transplantings from the seed, one goes on the southwest side of the rose arbour and the other on the upper or northeast side, where it blooms until it is literally turned into green ice where it stands.
This manipulation of annuals belongs to the realm of the permanent resident; the summer cottager must be content to either accept the conditions of the garden as arranged by his landlord, or in a brief visit or two made before taking possession, do his own sowing where the plants are to stand. In this case let him choose his varieties carefully and spare his hand in thickness of sowing, and he may have as many flowers for his table and as happy an experience with the summer garden, even though it is brief, as his wealthy neighbour who spends many dollars for bedding plants and foliage effects that may be neither smelled, gathered nor familiarized.
Among all the numerous birds that flit through the trees as visitors, or else stay with us and nest in secluded places, how comparatively few do we really depend upon for the aerial colour and the song that opens a glimpse of Eden to our eager eyes and ears each year, for our eternal solace and encouragement? There are some, like the wood thrush, song-sparrow, oriole, robin, barn-swallow, catbird, and wren, without which June would not be June, but an imperfect harmony lacking the dominant note.
Down close to the earth, yes, in the earth, the same obtains. Upon how few of all the species of annuals listed does the real success of the summer garden rest? This is more and more apparent each year, when the fittest are still further developed by hybridization for survival and the indifferent species drop out of sight.
We often think erroneously of the beauty of old-time gardens. This beauty was largely that of consistency of form with the architecture of the dwelling and simplicity, rather than the variety, of flowers grown. Maeterlinck brings this before us with forcible charm in his essay on Old-Fashioned Flowers, and even now Martin Cortright is making a little biography of the flowers of our forefathers, as a birthday surprise for Lavinia. These flowers depended more upon individuality and association than upon their great variety.
First among the worthy annuals come sweet peas, mignonette, nasturtiums, and asters, each one of the four having two out of the three necessary qualifications, and the sweet pea all of them, - fragrance and decorative value for both garden and house. To be sure, the sweet pea, though an annual, must be planted before May if a satisfactory, well-grown hedge with flowers held on long stems well above the foliage is to be expected, and in certain warm, well-drained soils it is practicable to sow seed the autumn before. This puts the sweet pea a little out of the running for the hirer of a summer cottage, unless he can have access to the place early in the season, but sown thinly and once fairly rooted and kept free from dead flowers and pods, the vines will go on yielding quite through September, though on the coming of hot weather the flower stems shorten.
I often plant seeds of the climbing nasturtium in the row with the sweet peas at a distance of one seed to the fist, the planting not being done until late May. The peas mature first, and after the best of their season has passed they are supplanted by the nastuttiums, which cover the dry vines and festoon the supporting brush with gorgeous colour in early autumn, keeping in the same colour scheme with salvia, sunflowers, gaillardias, and tritomas. This is excellent where space is of account, and also where more sweet peas are planted for their early yield than can be kept in good shape the whole season. Centaurea or cornflower, the bachelor's button or ragged sailor of old gardens, is in the front rank of the worthies. The flowers have almost the keeping qualities of everlastings, and are of easy culture, while the sweet sultan, also of this family, adds fragrance to its other qualities. The blue cornflower is best sown in a long border or bed of unconventional shape, and may be treated like a biennial, one sowing being made in September so that the seedlings will make sturdy tufts before cold weather. These, if lightly covered with salt hay or rough litter (not leaves), will bloom in May and June, and if then replaced by a second sowing, flowers may be had from September first until freezing weather, so hardy is this true, blue Kaiser-blumen.
All the poppies are worthy, from the lovely Shirley, with its butterfly-winged petals, to the Eschscholtzia, the state flower of California.
One thing to be remembered about poppies is not to rely greatly upon their durability and make the mistake of expecting them to fill too conspicuous a place, or keep long in the marching line of the garden pageant. They have a disappointing way, especially the great, long-stemmed double varieties, of suddenly turning to impossible party-coloured mush after a bit of damp weather that is most discouraging. Treated as mere garden episodes and massed here and there where a sudden disappearance will not leave a gap, they will yield a feast of unsurpassed colour.
To me the Shirley is the only really satisfactory annual poppy, and I sow it in autumn and cover it after the fashion of the cornflower, as it will survive anything but an open, rainy winter, and in the resulting display that lasts the whole month of June it rivals the roses in everything but perfume.
Godetia is a good flower for half-shady places that it is difficult to fill, and rings the colour change from white through pink to crimson and carmine. Marigolds hold their own for garden colour, but not for gathering or bringing near the nose, and zinnias meet them on the same plane.