When the Cortrights first came to Oaklands, expecting to remain here but a few months each summer, their garden consisted of some borders of old-fashioned, hardy flowers, back of the house. These bounded a straight walk that, beginning at the porch, went through an arched grape arbour, divided the vegetable garden, and finally ended under a tree in the orchard at the barrier made by a high-backed green wooden seat, that looked as if it might have been a pew taken from some primitive church on its rebuilding.
There were, at intervals, along this walk, some bushes of lilacs, bridal-wreath spirea, flowering almond, snowball, syringa, and scarlet flowering quince; for roses, Mme. Plantier, the half double Boursault, and some great clumps of the little cinnamon rose and Harrison's yellow brier, whose flat opening flowers are things of a day, these two varieties having the habit of travelling all over a garden by means of their root suckers. Here and there were groups of tiger and lemon lilies growing out of the ragged turf, bunches of scarlet bee balm, or Oswego tea, as it is locally called, while plantain lilies, with deeply ribbed heart-shaped leaves, catnip, southernwood, and mats of grass pinks. Single hollyhocks of a few colours followed the fence line; tall phlox of two colours, white and a dreary dull purple, rambled into the grass and was scattered through the orchard, in company with New England asters and various golden rods that had crept up from the waste pasture-land below; and a straggling line of button chrysanthemums, yellow, white, maroon, and a sort of medicinal rhubarb-pink, had backed up against the woodhouse as if seeking shelter. Lilies-of-the-valley planted in the shade and consequently anaemic and scant of bells, blended with the blue periwinkle until their mingled foliage made a great shield of deep, cool green that glistened against its setting of faded, untrimmed grass.
This garden, such as it was, could be truly called hardy, insomuch as all the-care it had received for several years was an annual cutting of the longest grass. The fittest had survived, and, among herbaceous things, whatsoever came of seed, self-sown, had reverted nearly to the original type, as in the case of hollyhocks, phlox, and a few common annuals. The long grass, topped by the leaves that had drifted in and been left undisturbed, made a better winter blanket than many people furnish to their hardy plants, - the word hardy as applied to the infinite variety of modern herbaceous plants as produced by selection and hybridization not being perfectly understood.
English Larkspur Seven Feet High.
While a wise selection of flowering shrubs and truly hardy roses will, if properly planted, pruned, and fertilized, live for many years, certain varieties even outlasting more than one human generation, the modern hardy perennial and biennial of many species and sumptuous effects must be watched and treated with almost as much attention as the so-called bedding-plants demand in order to bring about the best results.
The common idea, fostered by inexperience, and also, I'm sorry to say, by what Mary Penrose dubs Garden Goozle, that a hardy garden once planted is a thing accomplished for life, is an error tending to bitter disappointment. If we would have a satisfactory garden of any sort, we must in our turn follow Nature, who never rests in her processes, never even sleeping without a purpose. But if fairly understood, looked squarely in the face, and treated intelligently, the hardy garden, supplemented here and there with annual flowers, is more than worth while and a perpetual source of joy.
If money is not an object to the planter, she may begin by buying plants to stock her beds, always remembering that if these thrive, they must be thinned out or the clumps subdivided every few years, as in the case of hybrid phloxes, chrysanthemums, etc., or else dug up bodily and reset; for if this is not done, smaller flowers with poorer colours will be the result.
The foxglove, one of the easily raised and very hardy plants, of majestic mien and great landscape value, will go on growing in one location for many years; but if you watch closely, you will find that it is rarely the original plant that has survived, but a seedling from it that has sprung up unobserved under the sheltering leaves of its parent. The old plant grows thick at the juncture of root stock and leaf, the action of the frost furrows and splits it, water or slugs gain an entrance, and it disappears, the younger growth taking its place. Especially true is this also of hollyhocks. The larkspurs have different roots and more underground vigour, and all tap-rooted herbs hold their own well, the difficulty being to curb their spreading and undermining their border companions.
It is conditions like these that keep the gardener of hardy things ever on the alert. Beds for annuals or florists' plants are thoroughly dug and graded each spring, so that the weeds that must be combated are of new and comparatively shallow growth. The hardy bed, on the contrary, in certain places must be stirred with a fork only and that with the greatest care, for, if well-planned, plants of low growth will carpet the ground between tall standing things, so that in many spots the fingers, with a small weeding hoe only, are admissible. Thus a blade of grass here, some chickweed there, the seed ball of a composite dropping in its aerial flight, and lo! presently weedlings and seedlings are wrestling together, and you hesitate to deal roughly with one for fear of injuring the constitution of the other. To go to the other extreme and keep the hardy garden or border as spick and span clean as a row of onions or carrots in the vegetable garden, is to do away with the informality and a certain gracious blending of form and colour that is one of its greatest charms.