(Mary Penrose to Barbara Campbell)
Woodridge, August 8. Back again in our camp, we thought to pause awhile, rest on our oars, and drift comfortably with the gentle summer tide of things. We have transplanted all the ferns and wild herbs for which we have room, and as a matter of course trees and shrubs must wait until they have shed their leaves in October. That is, all the trees that do shed. The exceptions are the evergreens, of which the river woods contain any number in the shape of hemlocks, spruces, and young white pines, the offspring, I take it, of a plantation back of the Windom farm, for we have not found them anywhere else.
The best authorities upon the subject of evergreens say that trees of small size should be transplanted either in April, before they have begun to put on their dressy spring plumes, or, if the season be not too hot and dry, or the distance considerable, in August, after this growth has matured, time thus being given for them to become settled in the ground before winter.
We weighed the matter well. The pros in favour of spring planting lay in the fact that rain is very likely to be plentiful in April, and given but half a chance, everything grows best in spring; the cons being that the spring rush is usually overpowering, that in a late season the frost would not be fairly out of the knoll and ground by the fence, where we need a windbreak, before garden planting time, and that during the winter clearing that will take place in the river valley, leaf fires may be started by the workmen that will run up the banks and menace our treasure-trove of evergreens.
The pros for August consisted mainly of the pith of a proverb and a bit of mad Ophelia's sanity: "There is no time like the present" and "We know what we are, but know not what we may be!"
At present we have a good horse, Larry, and plenty of time, the con being, suppose we have a dry, hot autumn. The fact that we have a new water-barrel on wheels and several long-necked water-pots is only a partial solution of the difficulty, for the nearest well is an old-fashioned arrangement with a sweep, located above the bank wall at Opal Farm. This well is an extremely picturesque object in the landscape, but as a water-producer as inadequate as the shaving-mug with which the nervous gentleman, disturbed at his morning task, rushed out to aid in extinguishing a fire!
Various predictions as to the weather for the month have been lavished upon us, the first week having produced but one passing shower. Amos Opie foresees a muggy, rainless period. Larry declares for much rain, as it rained at new moon and again at first quarter; but, as he says, as if to release himself from responsibility, "That's the way we read it in Oireland, but maybe, as this is t'other side of the warld, it's all the other way round wid rain!" Barney was noncommittal, but then his temperament is of the kind that usually regrets whatever is.
For three or four days we remained undecided, and then The Man from Everywhere brought about a swift decision for August transplanting, by the information that the general clearing of the woodlands would begin November first, the time for fulfilling the contract having been shortened by six months at the final settlement.
We covet about fifty specimen pines and hemlocks for the knoll and fully two hundred little hemlocks for the windbreaks, so we at once began the work and are giving two days a week to the digging and transporting and the other four to watering. That is, Bart and Larry are doing this; I am lobking on, making suggestions as to which side of a tree should be in front, nipping off broken twigs, and doing other equally light and pleasant trifles.
Our system of transplanting is this: we have any number of old burlap feed bags, which, having become frayed and past their usefulness, we bought at the village store for a song. These Larry filled with the soft, elastic moss that florists use, of which there is any quantity in the low backwater meadows of the river. A good-sized tree (and we are not moving any of more than four or five feet in height; larger ones, it seems, are better moved in early winter with a ball of frozen earth) has a bag to itself, the roots, with some earth, being enveloped in the moss, the bag as securely bound about them as possible with heavy cord, and the whole thing left to soak at the river edge while the next one is being wrapped. Of the small hemlocks for the windbreak, - and we are using none over two or three feet for this purpose, as we want to pinch them in and make them stocky, - the roots of three or four will often go into a bag.
When enough for a day's planting is thus collected, we go home, stack them in the shade, and the next morning the resetting begins! The bags are not opened until they are by the hole in which the trees are to be placed, which, by the way, is always made and used after the directions you gave us for rose planting; and I'm coming to agree with you that the success in gardening lies more than half in the putting under ground, and that the proper spreading and securing of roots in earth thoroughly loosened to allow new roots to feel and find their way is one of the secrets of what is usually termed "luck"!
This may sound like a very easy way of acquiring trees, but it sometimes takes an hour to loosen a sturdy pine of four feet. Of course a relentless hand that stops at nothing, with a grub-axe and spade, could do it in fifteen minutes, but the roots would be cut or bruised and the pulling and tugging be so violent that not a bit of earth would cleave, and thus the fatal drying process set in almost before the digging was completed.
Larry first loosens the soil all about the tree with a crowbar, dislodging any binding surface stones in the meantime; then the roots are followed to the end and secured entire when possible, a bit of detective work more difficult than it sounds in a bank where forest trees of old growth have knit roots with saplings for mutual protection.