The branches of the white birch being small and thickly set, they may be trimmed at will, and windows thus opened here and there without the look of artifice or stiffness.
Fences are always a moot question to the gardener, for if she has a pleasant neighbour, she does not like to raise an aggressive barrier or perhaps cut off the view, yet to a certain extent I like being walled in at least on two sides. A total lack of boundaries is too impersonal, - the eye travels on and on: there is nothing to rest it by comparison. Also, where there are no fences or hedges, - and what are hedges butliving fences, - there is nothing to break the ground draught in winter and early springtime. The ocean is much more beautiful and full of meaning when brought in contact with a slender bit of coast. The moon has far more majesty when but distancing the tree-tops than when rolling apparently at random through an empty sky. A vast estate may well boast of wide sweeps and open places, but the same effect is not gained, present fashion to the contrary, by throwing down the barriers between a dozen homes occupying only half as many acres. Preferable is the cosey English walled villa of the middle class, even though it be a bit stuffy and suggestive of earwigs. The question should not be to fence or not to fence, but rather how to fence usefully and artistically, and any one who has an old stone wall, such as you have, moss grown and tumble-down, with the beginnings of wildness already achieved, has no excuse for failure. We have seen other fences here where bushes, wire, and vines all take part, but they cannot compete with an old wall.
With ferns, a topic opens as long and broad and deep as the glen below us, and of almost as uncertain climbing, for it is not so much what ferns may be dug up and, as individual plants, continue to grow in new surroundings, but how much of their haunt may be transplanted with them, that the fern may keep its characteristics. Many people do not think of this, nor would they care if reminded. Water lilies, floating among their pads in the still margin of a stream, with jewelled dragon-flies darting over, soft clouds above and the odour of wild grapes or swamp azalea wafting from the banks, are no more to them than half a dozen such lilies grown in a sunken tub or whitewashed basin in a backyard; rather are they less desirable because less easily controlled and encompassed. Such people, and they are not a few, belong to the tribe of Peter Bell, who saw nothing more in the primrose by the river's brim than that it was a primrose, and consequently yellow. Doubtless it would have looked precisely the same to him, or even more yellow, if it had bloomed in a tin can!
We do not treat our native ferns with sufficient respect. Homage is paid in literature to the palm, and it is an emblem of honour, but our New England ferns, many of them equally majestic, are tossed into heaps for hay and mown down by the ruthless scythe of the farmer every autumn when he shows his greatest agricultural energy by stripping the waysides of their beauty prior to the coming of the roadmender with his awful "turn-piking" process. If, by the way, the automobilists succeed in stopping this piking practice, we will print a nice little prayer for them and send it to Saint Peter, so that, though it won't help them in this world, - that would be dangerous, - it will by and by!
In the woods the farmer allows the ferns to stand, for are they not one of the usual attributes of a picnic? Stuck in the horses' bridle, they keep off flies; they serve to deck the tablecloth upon which the food is spread; gathered in armfuls, they somewhat ease the contact of the rheumatic with the rocks, upon which they must often sit on such occasions. They provide the young folks with a motive to seek something further in the woods, and give the acquisitive ladies who "press things" much loot to take home, and all without cost.
This may not be respectful treatment, but it is not martyrdom; the fern is a generous plant, a thing of wiry root-stock and prehistoric tenacity; it has not forgotten that tree ferns are among its ancestors; when it is discouraged, it rests and grows again. But imagine the feelings of a mat of exquisite maidenhair rent from a shady slope with moss and partridge vine at its feet, and quivering elusive woodland shade above, on finding itself unceremoniously crowded into a bed, between cannas or red geraniums! Or fancy the despair of either of the wide-spreading Osmundas, lovers of stream borders opulent with leaf-mould, or wood hollows deep with moist richness, on finding themselves ranged in a row about the porch of a summer cottage, each one tied firmly to a stake like so many green parasols stuck in the dry loam point downward!
It is not so much a question of how many species of native ferns can be domesticated, for given sufficient time and patience all things are possible, but how many varieties are either decorative, interesting, or useful away from their native haunts. For any one taking what may be called a botanical interest in ferns, a semi-artificial rockery, with one end in wet ground and the other reaching dry-wood conditions, is extremely interesting. In such a place, by obtaining some of the earth with each specimen and tagging it carefully, an out-of-door herbarium may be formed and something added to it every time an excursion is made into a new region. Otherwise the ferns that are worth the trouble of trans-planting and supplying with soil akin to that from which they came, are comparatively few. Of decorative species the Osmundas easily lead; being natives of swampy or at least moist ground, they should have a like situation, and yet so strong are their roots and crown of leaves that they will flourish for years after the moisture that has fed them has been drained and the shading overgrowth cut away, even though dwarfed in growth and coarsened in texture. Thus people seeing them growing under these conditions in open fields and roadside banks mistake their necessities.