(Barbara Campbell to Mary Penrose)
Oaklands, June 5. Yesterday my roses began to bloom. The very old bush of thorny, half-double brier roses with petals of soft yellow crepe, in which the sunbeams caught and glinted, took the lead as usual. Before night enough Jacqueminot buds showed rich colour to justify my filling the bowl on the greeting table, fringing it with sprays of the yellow brier buds and wands of copper beech now in its velvety perfection of youth. This morning, the moment that I crossed my bedroom threshold, the Jacqueminot odour wafted up. Is there anything more like the incense of praise to the flower lover? Not less individual than the voice of friends, or the song of familiar birds, is the perfume of flowers to those who live with them, and among roses none impress this characteristic more poignantly than the crimson Jacqueminot and the silver-pink La France, equally delicious and absolutely different.
As one who has learned by long and sometimes disastrous experience, to one who is now really plunging headlong into the sea of garden mysteries and undercurrents for the first time, I give you warning! if you have a real rose garden, or, merely what Lavinia Cortright calls hers, a rosary of assorted beads, try as far as possible to have all your seed sowing and transplanting done before the June rose season begins, that you may give yourself up to this one flower, heart, soul, yes, and body also! It was no haphazard symbolist that, in troubadour days, gave Love the rose for his own flower, for to be its real self the rose demands all and must be all in all to its possessor.
As for you, Mary Penrose, who eschewed hen-keeping as a deceitful masquerade of labour, under the name of rural employment, ponder deeply before you have spade put to turf in your south lawn, and invest your birthday dollars in the list of roses that at this very moment I am preparing to send you, with all possible allurement of description to egg you on. For unless you have very poor luck, which the slope of your land, depth of soil, and your own pertinacity and staying qualities discount, many more dollars in quarters, halves, or entire will follow the first large outlay, and I may even hear of your substituting the perpetual breakfast prune of boarding-houses for your grapefruit in winter, or being overcome in summer by the prevailing health-food epidemic, in order that you may plunder the housekeeping purse successfully.
"My roses are scattered Here, there, and everywhere."
But this is the time and hour that one gardener, on a very modest scale, may be excused if she overrates the charms of rose possessing, for it is a June morning, both bright and overcast by turns. A wood thrush is practising his arpegios in the little cedar copse on one side, and a catbird is hurling every sort of vocal challenge and bedevilment from his ancestral syringa bush on the other, and all between is a gap filled with a vista of rose-bushes - not marshalled in a garden together, but scattered here, there, and everywhere that a good exposure and deep foothold could be found.
As far as the arrangement of my roses is concerned, "do as I say, not as I do" is a most convenient motto. I have tried to formalize my roses these ten years past, but how can I, for my yellow brier (Harrison's) has followed its own sweet will so long that it makes almost a hedge. The Madame Plantiers of mother's garden are stalwart shrubs, like many other nameless bushes collected from old gardens hereabout, one declining so persistently to be uprooted from a particularly cheerful corner that it finds itself in the modern company of Japanese iris, and inadvertently sheds its petals to make rose-water of the birds' bath.
An English sweetbrier of delicious leafage hobnobs with honeysuckle and clematis on one of the wren arbours, while a great nameless bush of exquisite blush buds, quite destitute of thorns (one of the many cuttings sent "the Doctor's wife" in the long ago), stands an unconscious chaperone between Marshall P. Wilder and Mrs. John Lang.
I must at once confess that it is much better to keep the roses apart in long borders of a kind than to scatter them at random. By so doing the plants can be easily reached from either side, more care being taken not to overshadow the dwarf varieties by the more vigorous.
Lavinia Cortright has left the old-fashioned June roses that belonged to her garden where they were, but is now gathering the new hybrids after the manner of Evan's little plan. In this way, without venturing into roses from a collector's standpoint, she can have representatives of the best groups and a continuous supply of buds of some sort both outdoors and for the house from the first week in June until winter.
To begin with, roses need plenty of air. This does not mean that they flourish in a draught made by the rushing of north or east wind between buildings or down a cut or roadway. If roses are set in a mixed bor-der, the tendency is inevitably to crowd or flank them by some succulent annual that overgrows the limit we mentally set for it, thereby stopping the circulation of air about the rose roots, and lo! the harm is done!
If you want good roses, you must be content to see a little bare, brown earth between the bushes, only allowing a narrow outside border of pansies, the horned bedding violets (cornuta), or some equally compact and clean-growing flower. To plant anything thickly between the roses themselves prevents stirring the soil and the necessary seasonal mulchings, for if the ground-covering plants flourish you will dislike to disturb them.
The first thing to secure for your rosary is sun - sun for all the morning. If the shadow of house, barn, or of distant trees breaks the direct afternoon rays in July and August, so much the better, but no overhead shade at any time or season. This does not prevent your protecting a particularly fine quantity of buds, needed for some special occasion, with a tentlike umbrella, such as one sees fastened to the seat in pedlers' wagons. A pair of these same umbrellas are almost a horticultural necessity for the gardener's comfort as well, when she sits on her rubber mat to transplant and weed.