Oaklands, May 25. A garden vacation! Fifty dollars to spend for roses! What annuals may be planted now to tide you easily over the summer? Really, Mary Penrose, the rush of your astonishing letter completely took away my breath, and while I was recovering it by pacing up and down the wild walk, and trying to decide whether I should answer your questions first, and if I did which one, or ask you others instead, Scotch fashion, about your unique summer plans, Evan came home a train earlier than usual, with a pair of horticultural problems for which he needed an immediate solution.
Last evening, in the working out of these schemes, we found that we were really travelling on lines parallel with your needs, and so in due course you shall have Evan's prescription and design for A Simple Rose Garden (if it isn't simple enough, you can begin with half, as the proportions will be the same), while I now send you my plans for an inexpensive midsummer garden, which will be useful to you only as a part of the whole chain, but for which Evan has a separate need.
Over at East Meadow, a suburb of Bridgeton that lies toward the shore and is therefore attractive to summer people, a friend of Evan's has put up a dozen tasteful, but inexpensive, Colonial cottages, and Evan has planned the grounds that surround them, about an acre being allotted to each house, for lawn and garden of summer vegetables, though no arbitrary boundaries separate the plots. The houses are intended for people of refined taste and moderate means who, only being able to leave town during the school vacation, from middle June to late September, yet desire to have a bit of garden to tend and to have flowers about them other than the decorative but limited piazza boxes or row of geraniums around the porch.
The vegetable gardens consist of four squares, conveniently intersected by paths, these squares to be edged by annuals or bulbs of rapid growth, things that, planted in May, will begin to be interesting when the tenants come a month later.
But here am I, on the verge of rushing into another theme, without having expressed our disappointment that you cannot bear us company this summer, yet I must say that the edge of regret is somewhat dulled by my interest in the progress and result of your garden vacation, which to us at least is a perfectly unique idea, and quite worthy of the inventive genius of The Man from Everywhere.
Plainly do I see by the scope of this same letter of yours that the records of The Garden, You, and I, instead of being a confection of undistinguishable ingredients blended by a chef of artistic soul, will be a home-made strawberry shortcake, for which I am to furnish the necessary but uninspired crust, while you will supply the filling of fragrant berries.
With the beginning of your vacation begin my questions domestic that threaten to overbalance your questions horticultural. If the Infant should wail at night, do you expect to stay quietly out "in camp" and not steal on tiptoe to the house, and at least peep in at the window? Also, you have put a match-making thought in a head swept clean of all such clinging cobwebs since Sukey Crandon married Carthy Latham and, turning their backs on his ranch experiment, they decided to settle near the Bradfords at the Ridge, where presently there will be another garden growing. If you have no one either in the family or neighbourhood likely to attract The Man from Everywhere, why may we not have him? Jane Crandon is quite unexpectedly bright, as frank as society allows, this being one of his requirements, besides having grown very pretty since she has virtually become daughter to Mrs. Jenks-Smith and had sufficient material in her gowns to allow her chest to develop.
But more of this later; to return to the annuals, I understand that you have had your hardy beds prepared and that you want something to brighten them, as summer tenants, until early autumn, when the permanent residents may be transplanted from the hardy seed bed.
Annuals make a text fit for a very long sermon. Verily there are many kinds, and the topic forms easily about a preachment, for they may be divided summarily into two classes, the worthy and the unworthy, though the worth or lack of it in annuals, as with most of us humans, is a matter of climate, food, and environment, rather than inherent original sin. The truth is, nature, though eternally patient and good-natured, will not be hurried beyond a certain point, and the life of a flower that is bom under the light cloud shelter of English skies, fed by nourishing mist through long days that have enough sunlight to stimulate and not scorch, has a different consummation than with us, where the climate of extremes makes the perfection of flowers most uncertain, at least in the months of July and August when the immature bud of one day is the open, but often imperfect, flower of the next. As no one may change climatic conditions, the only thing to be done is to give to this class of flowers of the summer garden room for individual development, all the air they need to breathe both below ground, by frequent stirring of the soil, and above, by avoidance of over-crowding, and then select only those varieties that are really worth while.
This qualification can best be settled by pausing and asking three questions, when confronting the alluring portrait of an above-the-average specimen of annual in a catalogue, for Garden Goozle applies not only to the literature of the subject, but to the pictures as well, and a measurement of, for instance, a flower stalk of Drummond phlox, taken from a specimen pot-grown plant, raised at least partly under glass, is sure to cause disappointment when the average border plant is compared with it.
First - is the species of a colour and length of flowering season to be used in jungle-like masses for summer colour? Second - has it fragrance or decorative quality for house decoration? Thirdly, has it the backbone to stand alone or will the plant flop and flatten shapelessly at the first hard shower and so render an array of conspicuous stakes necessary? Stakes, next to unsighdy insecticides and malodorous fertilizers, are the bane of gardening, but that subject is big enough for a separate chronicle.