(Mary Penrose to Barbara Campbell)
Woodridge, August 26. The heliotrope is in the perfection of bloom and seems to draw perfume from the intense heat of the August days only to release it again as the sun sets, while as long as daylight lasts butterflies of all sizes, shapes, and colours are fluttering about the flowers until the bed is like the transformation scene of a veritable dance of fairies!
Possibly you did not know that I have a heliotrope bed planted at the very last moment. I had never before seen a great mass of heliotrope growing all by itself until I visited your garden, and ever since I have wondered why more people have not discovered it. I think that I wrote you anent hens that the ancient fowl-house of the place had been at the point where there was a gap in the old wall below the knoll, and that the wind swept up through it from the river, across the Opal Farm meadows, and into the windows of the dining room? The most impossible place for a fowl-house, but exactly the location, as The Man from Everywhere suggested, for a bed of sweet odours.
I expected to do nothing with it this season until one day Larry, the departed, in a desire to use some of the domestic guano with which the rough cellar of the old building was filled, carted away part of it, and supplying its place with loam, dug over and straightened out the irregular space, which is quite six feet wide by thirty long.
The same day, on going to a near-by florist's for celery plants, I found that he had a quantity of little . heliotropes in excess of his needs, that had remained unpotted in the sand of the cutting house, where they had spindled into sickly-looking weeds. In a moment of the horticultural gambling that will seize one, I offered him a dollar for the lot, which he accepted readily, for it was the last of June and the poor things would probably have been thrown out in a day or two.
I took them home and spent a whole morning in separating and cutting off the spindling tops to an even length of six inches. Literally there seemed to be no end to the plants, and when I counted them I found that I had nearly a hundred and fifty heliotropes, which, after rejecting the absolutely hopeless, gave me six rows for the bed.
For several weeks my speculation in heliotropes was a subject of much mirth between Bart and myself, and the place was anything but a bed of sweet odours! The poor things lost the few leaves they had possessed and really looked as if they had been haunted by the ghosts of all the departed chickens that had gone from the fowl-house to the block. Then we had some wet weather, followed by growing summer heat, and I did not visit the bed for perhaps a week or more, when I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself; for it was completely covered with a mass of vigorous green, riotous in its profusion, here and there showing flower buds, and ever since it is one of the places to which I go to feast my eyes and nose when in need of garden encouragement! Another year I shall plant the heliotrope in one of the short cross-walk borders of the old garden, where we may also see it from the dining room, and use the larger bed for the more hardy sweet things, as I shall probably never be able to buy so many heliotrope plants again for so little money.
Now also I have a definite plan for a large border of fragrant flowers and leaves. I have been on a journey, and, having spent three whole days from home, I am able for once to tell you something instead of endlessly stringing questions together.
We also have been to the Cortrights' at Gray Rocks, and through a whiff of salt air, a touch of friendly hands, much conversation, and a drive to Coningsby (a village back from the shore peopled by the descendants of seafarers who, having a little property, have turned mildly to farming), we have received fresh inspiration.
You did not overestimate the originality of the Cortrights' seaside garden, and even after your intimate description, it contained several surprises in the shape of masses of the milkweeds that flourish in sandy soil, especially the dull pink, and the orange, about which the brick-red monarch butterflies were hovering in great flocks. Neither did you tell me of the thistles that flank the bayberry hedge. I never realized what a thing of beauty a thistle might be when encouraged and allowed room to develop. Some of the plants of the common deep purple thistle, that one associates with the stunted growths of dusty roadsides, stood full five feet high, each bush as clear cut and erect as a candelabrum of fine metal work, while another group was composed of a pale yellow species with a tinge of pink in the centre set in very handsome silvery leaves. I had never before seen these yellow thistles, but Lavinia Cortright says that they are very plentiful in the dry ground back of the marshes, where the sand has been carried in drifts both by wind and tide.
The table and house decorations the day that we arrived were of thistles blended with the deep yellow blossoms of the downy false foxglove or Gerardia and the yellow false indigo that looks at a short distance like a dwarf bush pea.
We drove to Coningsby, as I supposed to see some gay little gardens, fantastic to the verge of awfulness, that had caught Aunt Lavinia's eye. In one the earth for the chief bed was contained in a surf-boat that had become unseaworthy from age, and not only was it filled to the brim, but vines of every description trailed over the sides.
A neighbour opposite, probably a garden rival of the owner of the boat but lacking aquatic furniture, had utilized a single-seated cutter which, painted blue of the unmerciful shade that fights with everything it approaches, was set on an especially green bit of side lawn, surrounded by a heavy row of conch shells, and the box into which the seat had been turned, as well'as the bottom of the sleigh itself, was filled with a jumble of magenta petunias and flame-coloured nasturtiums.