Lavinia Cortright and the botanical Bradfords, as Evan calls them, because though equally lovers of flowers, they go further than some for the reason why that lies hid beneath the colour and perfume, have laid out and are still developing a sand garden that, while giving the cottage home the restful air that is a garden's first claim, has still the distinct identity of the sand and sea!
To begin, with one single exception, they have drawn upon the wild for this garden, even as you are doing in the restoration of your knoll. Back of the cottage a dozen yards is a sand ridge covering some fairly good, though mongrel, loam, for here, as along most of the coasts of sounds and bays, the sea, year by year, has bitten into the soil and at the same time strewn it with sand. Considering this as the garden boundary, a windbreak of good-sized bayberry bushes has been placed there, not in a stiff line, but in blended groups, enclosing three sides, these bays being taken from a thicket of them farther toward the marshes.
An alley from the back porch into this enclosure is bordered on either side by bushes of beach plum, that, when covered with feathery white bloom in May, before the leaves appear, gives the sandy shore the only orchard touch it knows. Of course the flowering period is over when the usual shore season begins, though nowadays there is no off time - people go to shore and country when they are moved; yet the beach plum is a picturesque bush at any time, especially when, in September, it is loaded with the red purple fruit. In the two spaces on either side the alley the sand is filled with massed plants that, when a little more time has been given them for stretching and anchoring their roots, will straightway weave a flower mat upon the sand.
Down beyond the next point, one day last autumn, Horace and Sylvia found a plantation of our one New England cactus, the prickly pear (Opuntia opuntia). We have it here and there in our rocky pasture; but in greater heat and with better' underfeeding it seemed a bit of a tropical plain dropped on the eastern coast. Do you know the thing? The leaves are shaped like the fans of a lobster's tail and sometimes are several-jointed, smooth except for occasional tufts of very treacherous spikes, and of a peculiar semitranslucent green; the half-double flowers set on the leaf edges are three inches across and of a brilliant sulphur-yellow, with tasselled stamens; the fruit is fleshy, somewhat fig-shaped, and of a dark red when ripe - altogether a very decorative plant, though extremely difficult to handle.
After surveying the plantation on all sides, the tongs used by the oyster dredges suggested themselves to Horace, and thus grasped, the prickly pears were safely moved and pegged in their new quarters with long pieces of bent wire, the giant equivalents of the useful hairpins that I recommended for pegging down your ferns.
Now the entire plot of several yards square, apparently untroubled by the removal, is in full bloom, and has been for well-nigh a month, they say, though the individual blossoms are but things of a day. Close by, another yellow flower, smaller but more pickable, is just now waving, the rock rose or frostweed, bearing two sorts of flowers: the conspicuous yellow ones, somewhat resembling small evening primroses, while all the ground between is covered with an humble member of the rock rose family - the tufted beach heather with its intricate branches, reminding one more of a club-moss than a true flowering plant. Not a scrap of sand in the enclosure is left uncovered, and the various plants are set closely, like the grasses and wild flowers of a meadow, the sand pinweed that we gather, together with sea lavender, for winter bouquets much resembling a flowering grass.
The rabbit-foot clover takes kindly to the sandy soil, and, as it flowers from late May well into September, and holds its little furry tails like autumn pussy-willows until freezing weather, makes a very interesting sort of bed all by itself, and massed close to it, as if recognizing the family relationship, is the little creeping bush clover with its purplish flowers.
Next, set thickly in a mass representing a stout bush, comes the fleshy beach pea with rosy purple flowers. When it straggles along according to its sweet will, it has a poor and weedy look, but massed so that the somewhat difficult colour is concentrated, it is very decorative, and it serves as a trellis for the trailing wild bean, a sand lover that has a longer flowering season.
A patch of a light lustrous purple, on closer view, proves to be. a mass of the feathered spikes of blazing star or colic-root, first cousin of the gay-feather of the West, that sometimes grows six feet high and has been welcomed to our gardens.
On the opposite side of the beach-plum alley, the Bradfords have made preparations for autumn glory, such as we always drive down to the marsh lands from Oaklands not only to see but to gather and take home. Masses of the fleshy tufted seaside goldenrod, now just beginning to throw up its stout flowerstalks, flank a bed of wild asters twenty feet across. Here are gathered all the asters that either love or will tolerate dry soil, a certain bid for their favour having been made by mixing several barrels of stiff loam with the top sand, as an encouragement until the roots find the hospitable mixture below.
The late purple aster (patens) with its broad clasping leaves, the smooth aster (kevis) with its violet-blue flowers, are making good bushes and preparing for the pageant. Here is the stiff white-heath aster, the familiar Michaelmas daisy, that is so completely covered with snowy flowers that the foliage is obliterated, and proves its hold upon the affections by its long string of names, - frostweed, white rosemary, and farewell summer being among them, - and also the white-wreath aster, with the flowers ranged garland-wise among the rigid leaves, and the stiff little savory-leaved aster or sand starwort with pale violet rays. Forming a broad, irregular border about the asters are stout dwarf bushes of the common wild rose (humilis), that bears its deep pink flowers in late spring and early summer and then wears large round hips that change slowly from green to deep glowing red, in time to make a frame of coral beads for the asters.
Outside the hedge of bays, where a trodden pathway leads to the boat landing, the weathered rocks, washed with soft tints blended of the breath of sea mist and sunset rays, break through the sand. In the lee of these, held in place by a line of stones, is a long, low bed of large-flowered portulaca, borrowed from inland gardens, and yet so in keeping with its surroundings as to seem a native flower of sea sands.
The fleshy leaves at a little distance suggest the form of many plants of brackish marsh and creek edges, and even the glasswort itself. When the day is gray, the flowers furl close and disappear, as it were, but when the sun beats full upon the sand, a myriad upraised fleshy little arms stretch out, each holding a coloured bowl to catch the sunbeams, as if the heat made molten the sand of quartz and turned it into pottery in tints of rose, yellow, amber, scarlet, and carnation striped. It was a bold experiment, this garden in the sand, but already it is making good.
Then, too, what a refreshment to the eyes is it, when the unbroken expanse of sky and sea before the house tires, to turn them landward over the piece of flowers toward the cool green marshes ribboned with the pale pink camphor-scented fleabane, the almost intangible sea lavender, the great rose mallows and cat-tail flags of the wet ground, the false indigo that, in the distance, reminds one of the broom of Scottish hills, the orange-fringed orchis, pink sabbatia, purple maritime gerardia, milkwort, the groundsel tree, that covers itself with feathers in autumn, until, far away beyond the upland meadows, the silver birches stand as outposts to the cool oak woods, in whose shade the splendid yellow gerardia, or downy false foxglove, flourishes. Truly, while the land garden excels in length of season and profusion, the gardens of the sea appeal to the lighter fancies and add the charmed spice of variety to out-of-door life.
One of the most interesting features of this cottage and its surroundings is the further transplanting of Martin Cortright from his city haunts. At Meadow's End, though he works in the garden in a dilettante sort of way with Lavinia, takes long walks with father, and oc-casionally ventures out for a day's fishing with either or both of my men, he is still the bookworm who dives into his library upon every opportunity and has never yet adapted his spine comfortably to the curves of a hammock! In short he seems to love flowers historically - more for the sake of those in the past who have loved and written of them than for their own sake.
But here, even as I began to write to you, Mary Penrose, entrenched in a nook among the steep rocks between the cottage and the sea, a figure coming up the sand bar, that runs northward and at low water shows a smooth stretch a mile in length, caught my eye. Laboriously but persistently it came along; next I saw by the legs that it was a man, a moment later that he was lugging a large basket and that a potato fork protruded from under one arm, and finally that it was none other than Martin Cortright, who had been hoeing diligently in the sand and mud for a couple of hours, that his guests might have the most delectable of all suppers, - steamed clams, fresh from the water, the condition alone under which they may be eaten sans peur et sans reprochel