(Barbara Campbell to Mary Penrose)
Gray Rocks, July 19. Your epistle upon the evils of an excess of flowers in the house found us here with the Cortrights and Bradfords, and I read it with Lavinia and Sylvia on either side, as the theme had many notes in it familiar to us all! There are certainly times and seasons when the impulse is overpowering to lay hold of every flower that comes in the way and gather it to one's self, to cram every possible nook and corner with this portable form of beauty and fairly indulge in a flower orgie. Then sets in a reaction that shows, as in so many things, the middle path is the best for every day. Also there are many enthusiastic gardeners, both among those who grow their own flowers and those who cause them to be grown, who spare neither pains nor money until the flowers are gathered; then their grip relaxes, and the house arrangement of the fruit of their labour is left to chance.
In many cases, where a professional gardener is in charge, several baskets, containing a confused mass of blossoms, are deposited daily in porch or pantry, often at a time when the mistress is busy, and they are either overlooked or at the last moment crammed into the first receptacle that comes to hand, from their very inoppor-tuneness creating almost a feeling of dislike.
When once lodged, they are frequently left to their fate until they become fairly noisome, for is there anything more offensive to aesthetic taste than blackened and decaying flowers soaking in stagnant water?
Was it not Auerbach, in his Poet and Merchant, who said, "The lovelier a thing is in its perfection, the more terrible it becomes through its corruption "? and certainly this applies to flowers.
Flowers, like all of the best and lasting pleasures, must be taken a little seriously from the sowing of the seed to the placing in the vase, that they may become the incense of home, and the most satisfactory way of choosing them for this use is to make a daily tour about the garden, or, if a change is desired, through the fields and highways, and, with the particular nook you wish to fill in mind, gather them yourself.
Even the woman with too wide a selection to gather from personally can in this way indicate what she wishes.
In the vegetable garden the wise man thinks out his crop and arranges a variety for the table; no one wishes every vegetable known to the season every day, and why should not the eye be educated and nourished by an equal variety?
We are all very much interested in your flower-holders of natural wood, and I will offer you an idea in exchange, after the truly cooperative Garden, You, and I plan. In the flower season, instead of using your embroidered centrepieces for the table, which become easily stained and defaced by having flowers laid upon them, make several artistic table centres of looking-glass, bark, moss, or a combination of all three.
Lavinia Cortright and I, as a beginning, have oval mirrors of about eighteen inches in length, with invisibly narrow nickel bindings. Sometimes we use these with merely an edge of flowers or leaves and a crystal basket or other low arrangement of flowers in the centre. The glass is only a beginning, other combinations being a birch-bark mat, several inches wider than the glass, that may be used under it so that a wide border shows, or the mat by itself as a background for delicate wood flowers and ferns. A third mat I have made of stout cardboard and covered with lichens, reindeer moss, and bits of mossy bark, and I never go to the woods but what I see a score of things that fairly thrust themselves before me and offer to blend with one of these backgrounds, and by holding the eye help to render meal-times less "foody," as Sukey Latham puts it, though none the less nourishing.
Last night when we gathered at dinner, a few moments after our arrival and our first meeting at this cottage, I at once became aware that though host and hostess were the same delightful couple, we were not dining at Meadow's End, their Oaklands cottage, but at Gray Rocks, with silver sea instead of green grass below the windows. While the sea surroundings were brought indoors and on the centre of the dinner table the mirror was edged by a border of sea-sand, glistening pebbles and little shells were arranged as a background instead of mosses and lichens, and rich brown seaweeds still moist with the astringent tonic sea breath edged this frame, and the more delicate rose-coloured and pale green weeds seemed floating upon the glass, that held a giant periwinkle shell filled with the pink star-shaped sabbatia, or sea pink, of the near-by salt marshes. There was no effort, no strain after effect, but a consistent preparation of the eye for the simple meal of sea food that followed.
In front of the cottage the rocks slope quickly to the beach, but on either side there is a stretch of sand pocketed among the rocks, and in the back a dune stops abruptly at the margin of wide salt meadows, creek-fed and unctuous, as befits the natural gardens of the sea.
The other cottages lying to the eastward are gay in red-and-white striped awnings, and porch and window boxes painted red or green are filled with geraniums, nasturtiums, petunias, - any flowers, in short, that will thrive in the broiling sun, while some of the owners have planted buoy-like barrels at the four comers of their enclosures and filled them with the same assortment of foliage plants with which they would decorate a village lawn. This use of flowers seemed at once to draw the coolness from the easterly breeze and intensify the heat that vibrates from the sand.
Have you ever noticed that the sea in these latitudes has no affinity for the brightest colours, save as it is a mirror for the fleeting flames of sunrise and sunset?
The sea-birds are blended tints of rock, sand, sky, and water, save the dash of coral in bill and foot of a few, just as the coral of the wild-rose hips blends with the tawny marsh-grasses. Scarlet is a colour abhorred even by the marshes, until late in autumn the blaze of samphire consumes them with long spreading tongues of flame. How can people be so senseless as to come seaward to cool their bodies, and yet so surround themselves with scarlet that it is never out of range of the eye?