(Barbara Campbell to Mary Penrose) Oaklands, August 18. As a suitable text for this chronicle, as well as an unanswerable argument for its carrying out, combined with a sort of premium, I'm sending you to-day, freight paid, a barrel of lily-of-the-valley roots, all vigorous and with many next year's flowering pips attached.
No, - I hear your decorous protest, - I have not robbed myself, neither am I giving up the growing of this most exquisite of spring flowers, whose fragrance penetrates the innermost fastnesses of the memory, yet is never obtrusive. Simply my long border was full to overflowing and last season some of the lily bells were growing smaller. When this happens, as it does every half a dozen years, I dig two eight-inch trenches down the bed's entire length, and taking out the matted roots, fill the gap with rich soil, adding the plants thus dispossessed to my purse of garden wampum, which this time falls into your lap entire.
Of the treatment of the little flower, that is erroneously supposed to feast only upon leaf-mould in the deep shade, you shall hear later.
By all means begin your lily bed now, for the one season at which the Madonna lily resents removal the least is during the August resting time. Then, if you lift her gently while she sleeps, do not let the cool earth breath that surrounds her dry away, and bed her suitably, she will awaken and in a month put forth a leafy crown of promise to be fulfilled next June. Madonna does not like the shifting and lifting that falls to the lot of so many garden bulbs owing to the modern requirements that make a single flower bed often a thing of three seasonal changes. Many bulbs, many moods and whims. Hyacinths and early tulips blossom their best the first spring after their autumn planting (always supposing that the bob-tailed meadow-mice, who travel in the mole tunnels, thereby giving them a bad reputation, have not feasted on the tender heart buds in the interval).
The auratum lily of the gorgeous gold-banded and ruby-studded flower exults smilingly for a season or two and then degenerates sadly.
Madonna, if she be healthy on her coming, and is given healthy soil free from hot taint of manure, will live with you for years and love you and give you every season increasing yield of silver-white-crowned stalks, at the very time that you need them to blend with your royal blue delphiniums. But this will be only if you obey the warning of "hands and spade off."
The three species of the well-known recurved Japan lily - speciosum roseum, s. rubrum, and s. album - have the same love of permanence; likewise the lily-of-the-valley and all the tribe of border narcissi and daffodils; so if you wish to keep them at their best, you must not only give them bits of ground all of their own, but study their individual needs and idiosyncrasies.
Lilies as a comprehensive term, - the Biblical grass of the field, - as far as concerns a novice or the Garden, You, and I, may be made to cover the typical lilies themselves, tulips, narcissi (which are of the amaryllis flock), and lilies-of-the-valley, a tribe by itself. You will wish to include all of them in your garden, but you must limit yourself to the least whimsical varieties on account of your purse, the labor entailed, and the climate.
Of the pieces of ground that you describe, take that in partial shade for your Madonna lilies and their kin, and that in the open sun for your lilies-of-thevalley, while I would keep an earth border free from silver birches, on the sunny side of your tumble-down stone-wall rockery, for late tulips and narcissi; and grape hyacinths, scillas, trilliums, the various Solomon's seals, bellworts, etc., can be introduced in earth pockets between the rocks if, in case of the deeper-rooted kinds, connection be had with the earth below.
It is much more satisfactory to plant spring bulbs in this way, - in groups, or irregular lines and masses, where they may bloom according to their own sweet will, and when they vanish for the summer rest, scatter a little portulaca or sweet alyssum seed upon the soil to prevent too great bareness, - than to set them in formal beds, from which they must either be removed when their blooming time is past, or else one runs the risk of spoiling them by planting deep-rooted plants among them.
The piece of sunny ground in the angled dip of the old wall, which you call "decidedly squashy," interests me greatly, for it seems the very place for Iris of the Japanese type, - lilies that are not lilies in the exact sense, except by virtue of being built on the rule of three and having grasslike or parallel-veined leaves. But these closely allied plant families and their differences are a complex subject that we need not discuss, the whole matter being something akin to one of the dear old Punch stories that adorn Evan's patriotic scrap-book.
A railway porter, puzzled as in what class of freight an immense tortoise shall be placed, as dogs are the only recognized standard, pauses, gazing at it as he scratches his head, and mutters, "Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs, but this 'ere hanimal's a hin-sect!" The Iris may be, in this respect, a "hinsect," but we will reckon it in with the lilies.
The culture of this Japan Iris is very simple and well worth while, for the species comes into bloom in late June and early July, when the German and other kinds are through. I should dig the wet soil from the spot of which you speak, for all muck is not good for this Iris, and after mixing it with some good loam and well-rotted cow manure replace it and plant the clumps of Iris two feet apart, for they will spread wonderfully. In late autumn they should have a top dressing of manure and a covering of corn stalks, but, mind, water must not stand on your Iris bed in winter; treating them as hardy plants does not warrant their being plunged into water ice. It is almost impossible, however, to give them too much water in June and July, when the great flowers of rainbow hues, spreading to a size that covers two open hands, cry for drink to sustain the exhaustion of their marvellous growth. So if your "squashy spot" is made so by spring rains, all is well; if not, it must be drained in some easy way, like running a length of clay pipe beneath, so that the overplus of water will flow off when the Iris growth cannot absorb it.