The first thing that I saw when we entered was a great strip of heliotrope that rivalled my own, and opposite it an equal mass of silvery lavender crowned by its own flowers, of the colour that we so frequently use as a term, but seldom correctly. There were no flagged or gravel walks, but closely shorn grass paths, the width of a lawn-mower, that followed the outline of the borders and made grateful footing.
Bounding the heliotrope and lavender on one side was a large bed of what I at first thought were Margaret carnations, of every colour combination known to the flower, but a closer view showed that while those in the centre were Margarets, those of the wide border were of a heavier quality both in build of plant, texture of leaf, and flower, which was like a compact greenhouse carnation, the edges of the petals being very smooth and round, while in addition to many rich, solid colours there were flowers of white-and-yellow ground, edged and striped and flaked with colour, and the fragrance delicious and reminiscent of the clove pinks of May.
Mrs. Puffin, the companion, could tell us little about them except that the seed from which they were raised came from England and that, as she put it, they were fussy, troublesome things, as those sown one season had to be lifted and wintered in the cold pit and get just so much air every day, and be planted out in the border again in April. Aunt Lavinia recognized them as the same border carnations over which she had raved when she first saw them in the trim gardens of Hampton Court. Can either you or Evan tell me more of them and why we do not see them here? Before long I shall go garden mad, I fear; for after grooming the place into a generally decorative and floriferous condition of trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, etc., will come the hunger for specialties that if completely satisfied will necessitate not only a rosary, a lily and wild garden, a garden - rather than simply a bed - of sweet odours, and lastly a garden wholly for the family of pinks or carnations, whichever is the senior title. I never thought of these last except as a garden incident until I saw their possibilities in Mrs. Merchant's space of fragrant leaves and flowers.
A Bed of Japan Pinks.
The surrounding fences were entirely concealed by lilacs and syringas, interspersed with gigantic bushes of the fragrant, brown-flowered strawberry shrub; the four gates, two toward the road, one to the barn-yard, and one entering the wood lane, were arched high and covered by vines of Wisteria, while similar arches seemed to bring certain beds together that would have looked scattered and meaningless without them. In fact next to the presence of fragrant things, the artistic use of vines as draperies appealed to me most.
The border following the fence was divided, back of the house, by a vine-covered arbour, on the one side of which the medicinal herbs and simples were massed; on the other what might be classed as decorative or garden flowers, though some of the simples, such as tansy with its clusters of golden buttons, must be counted decorative.
The plants were never set in straight lines, but in irregular groups that blended comfortably together. Mrs. Marchant was not feeling well, Mrs. Puffin said, and could not come out, greatly to my disappointment; but the latter was only too glad to do the honours, and the plant names slipped from her tongue with the ease of long familiarity.
This patch of low growth with small heads of purple flowers was broad-leaved English thyme; that next, summer savory, used in cooking, she said. Then followed common sage and its scarlet-flowered cousin that we know as salvia; next came rue and rosemary, Ophelia's flower of remembrance, with stiff leaves. Little known or grown, or rather capricious and tender here, I take it, for I find plants of it offered for sale in only one catalogue. Marigolds were here also, why I do not know, as I should think they belonged with the more showy flowers; then inconspicuous pennyroyal and several lands of mints - spearmint, peppermint, and some great plants of velvet-leaved catnip.
Borage I saw for the first time, also coriander of the aromatic seeds, and a companion of dill of vinegar fame; and strangely enough, in rotation of Bible quotation, cumin and rue came next.
Caraway and a feathery mass of fennel took me back to grandmother's Virginia garden; balm and arnica, especially when I bruised a leaf of the latter between my fingers, recalled the bottle from which I soothe the Infant's childish bumps, the odour of it being also strongly reminiscent of my own childhood.
Angelica spoke of the sweet candied stalks, but when we reached a spot of basil, Martin Cortright's tongue was loosed and he began to recite from Keats; and all at once I seemed to see Isabella sitting among the shadows holding between her knees the flower-pot from which the strangely nourished plant of basil grew as she watered it with her tears.
A hedge of tall sunflowers, from whose seeds, Mrs. Puffin said, a soothing and nourishing cough syrup may be made, antedating cod-liver oil, replaced the lilacs on this side, and with them blended boneset and horehound; while in a springy spot back toward the barn-yard the long leaves of sweet flag or calamus introduced a different class of foliage.
On the garden side the border was broken every ten feet or so with great shrubs of our lemon verbena, called lemon balm by Mrs. Puffin. It seemed impossible that such large, heavily wooded plants could be lifted for winter protection in the cellar, yet such Mrs. Puffin assured us was the case. So I shall grow mine to this size if possible, for what one can do may be accomplished by another, - that is the tonic of seeing other gardens than one's own. Between the lemon verbenas were fragrant-leaved geraniums of many flavours - rose, nutmeg, lemon, and one with a sharp peppermint odour, also a skeleton-leaved variety; while a low-growing plant with oval leaves and half-trailing habit and odd odour, Mrs. Puffin called apple geranium, though it does not seem to favour the family. Do you know it?
Bee balm in a blaze of scarlet made glowing colour amid so much green, and strangely enough the bluish lavender of the taller-growing sister, wild bergamot, seems to harmonize with it; while farther down the line grew another member of this brave family of horse-mints with almost pink, irregular flowers of great beauty.
Southernwood formed fernlike masses here and there; dwarf tansy made the edging, together with the low, yellow-flowered musk, which Aunt Lavinia, now quite up in such things, declared to be a "musk-scented mimulus!", whatever that may be! Stocks, sweet sultan, and tall wands of evening primrose graded this border up to another shrubbery.
Of mignonette the garden boasts a half dozen species, running from one not more than six inches in height with cinnamon-red flowers to a tall variety with pointed flower spikes, something of the shape of the white flowers of the clethra bush or wands of Culver's root that grow along the fence at Opal Farm. It is not so fragrant as the common mignonette, but would be most graceful to arrange with roses or sweet peas. Aunt Lavinia says that she thinks that it is sold under the name of Miles spiral mignonette.
Close to the road, where the fence angle allows for a deep bed and the lilacs grade from the tall white of the height of trees down to the compact bushes of newer French varieties, lies the violet bed, now a mass of green leaves only, but by these Aunt Lavinia's eye read them out and found here the English sweet wild violet, as well as the deep purple double garden variety, the tiny white scented that comes with pussy-willows, the great single pansy violet of California, and the violets grown from the Russian steppes that carpeted the ground under your "mother tree."
From this bed the lilies-of-the-valley start and follow the entire length of the front fence, as you preach on the sunny side, the fence itself being hidden by a drapery of straw-coloured and pink Chinese honeysuckle that we called at home June honeysuckle, though this is covered with flower sprays in late August, and must be therefore a sort of monthly-minded hybrid, after the fashion of the hybrid tea-rose.
If I were to tell of the tea-roses grown here, they would fill a chronicle by itself, though only a few of the older kinds, such as safrano, bon silene, and perle, are favourites. Mrs. Puffin says that some of them, the great shrubs, are wintered out-of-doors, and others are lifted, like the lemon balms, and kept in the dry, light cellar in tubs.
But oh! Mrs. Evan, you must go and see Mrs. Marchant's lilies! They are growing as freely as weeds among the uncut grass, and blooming as profusely as the bell-lilies in Opal Farm meadows! And all the spring bulbs are also grown in this grass that lies between the shorn grass paths, and in autumn when the tops are dead and gone it is carefully burned over and the turf is all the winter covering they have.
Does the grass look ragged and unsightly? No, because I think that it is cut lightly with a scythe after the spring bulbs are gone and that the patient woman, whose life the garden is, keeps the tallest seeded grasses hand trimmed from between the lily stalks!
Ah, but how that garden lingers with me, and the single glimpse I caught of the deep dark eyes of its mistress as they looked out of a vine-dad window toward the sky!
I have made a list of the plants that are possible for my own permanent bed of fragrant flowers and leaves, that I may enjoy them, and that the Infant may have fragrant memories to surround all her youth and bind her still more closely to the things of outdoor life.
I chanced upon a verse of Bourdillon's the other day. Do you know it?
" Ah I full of purest influence On human mind and mood, Of holiest joy to human sense
Are river, field, and wood; And better must all childhood be That knows a garden and a treel"