Aside from the setting of flower to flower, white has another and wider function. As applied to the broader landscape it is not only a maker of perspective, but it often indicates a picture and fairly pulls it from obscurity, giving the same lifelike roundness that the single white dot lends in portraiture to the correctly tinted but still lifeless eye.
Take for instance a wide field without groups of trees to divide and let it be covered only with grass, no matter how green and luxuriant, and there is a monotonous flatness, that disappears the moment the field is blooming with daisies or snowy wild asters.
Follow the meandering line of a brook through April meadows. Where does the eye pause with the greatest sense of pleasure and restfulness? On the gold of the marsh marigolds edging the water? or on the silver-white plumes of shad-bush that wave and beckon across the marshes, as they stray from moist ground toward the light woods? Could any gay colour whatsoever compete with the snow of May apple orchards? - the fact that the snow is often rose tinged only serving to accentuate the contrasting white.
In the landscape all light tints that at a distance have the value of white are equally to the purpose, and can be used for hedges, boundaries, or what may be called punctuation points. German or English Iris and peonies are two very useful plants for this purpose, flowering in May and June and for the rest of the season holding their substantial, well-set-up foliage. These two plants, if they receive even ordinary good treatment, may also be relied upon for masses of uniform bloom held well above the leaves; and while pure white peonies are a trifle monotonous and glaring unless blended with the blush, rose, salmon, and cream tints, there are any number of white iris both tall and dwarf with either self-toned flowers, or pencilled, feathered, or bordered with a variety of delicate tints, and others equally valuable of pale shades of lilac or yellow, the recurved falls being of a different tint.
Thus does Nature paint her pictures and give us hints to follow, and yet a certain art phase proclaims Nature's colour combinations crude and rudimentary forsooth!
An Iris Hedge.
Nature is never crude except through an unsuccessful human attempt to reproduce the uncopyable. Give one of these critics all the colour combinations of the evening sky and let him manipulate them with wires and what a scorched omelet he would make of the most simple and natural sunset!
While Nature does not locate the different colours on the palette to please the eye of man, but to carry out the various steps in the great plan of perpetuation, yet on that score it is all done with a sense of colour value, else why are the blossoms of deep woods, as well as the night-blooming flowers that must lure the moth and insect seekers through the gloom, white or light-coloured?
In speaking of white or pale flowers there is one low shrub with evergreen leaves and bluish-white flowers that I saw blooming in masses for the first time not far from Boston in early May. There was a slight hollow where the sun lay, that was well protected from the wind. This sloped gently upward toward some birches that margined a pond. The birches themselves were as yet but in tassel, the near-by grass was green in spots only, and yet here in the midst of the chill, reluctant promise of early spring was firmness of leaf and clustered flowers of almost hothouse texture and fragrance. Not a single spray or a dozen, but hundreds of them, covered the bushes.
This shrub is Daphne cneorum, a sturdier evergreen cousin of Daphne mezereum, that brave-hearted shrub that often by the south wall of my garden hangs its little pink flower clusters upon bare twigs as early as the tenth of March. Put it on your list of desirables, for aside from any other situation it will do admirably to edge laurels or rhododendrons and so bring early colour of the rosy family hue to brighten their dark glossy leaves, for the sight and the scent thereof made me resolve to cover a certain nook with it, where the sun lodges first every spring. I am planting mine this autumn, which is necessary with things of such early spring vitality.
Another garden point akin to colour value in that it makes or mars has, I may say, run itself into my vision quite sharply and painfully this summer, and many a time have I rubbed my eyes and looked again in wonder that such things could be. This is the spoiling of a well-thought-out garden by the obtrusive staking of its plants. Of course there are many tall and bushy flowers - hollyhocks, golden glow, cosmos - that have not sufficient strength of stem to stand alone when the weight of soaking rain is added to their flowers and the wind comes whirling to challenge them to a dizzy dance, which they cannot refuse, and it inevitably turns their heavy heads and leaves them prone.
Besides these there are the lower, slender, but top-heavy lilies, gladioli, carnations, and the like, that must not be allowed to soil their pretty faces in the mud. A little thinking must be done and stakes suitable to the height and girth of each plant chosen. If the purse allows, green-painted stakes of sizes varying from eighteen inches for carnations to six feet for Dahlias are the most convenient; but lacking these, the natural bamboos, that may be bought in bundles by the hundred, in canes of eight feet or more, and afterward cut in lengths to suit, are very useful, being light, tough, and inconspicuous.
In supporting a plant, remember that the object is as nearly as possible to supplement its natural stem. Therefore cut the stake a little shorter than the top of the foliage and drive it firmly at the back of the plant, fastening the main stem to the stake by loosely woven florist's string.
If, on the other hand, the plant to be supported is a maze of side branches, like the cosmos, or individual bushes blended so as to form a hedge, a row of stout poles, also a little lower than the bushes, should be set firmly behind them, the twine being woven carefully in and out among the larger branches, and then tightened carefully, so that the whole plant is gradually drawn back and yet the binding string is concealed.
If it is possible to locate cosmos, hollyhocks, and Dahlias (especially Dahlias) in the same place for several successive years, a flanking trellis fence of light posts, with a single top and bottom rail and poultry wire of a three-inch mesh between, will be found a good investment. Against this the plants may be tethered in several places, and thus not only separate branches can be supported naturally, but individual flowers as well, in the case of the large exhibition Dahlias.
Practicable as is the proper carrying out of the matter, in a score of otherwise admirable gardens we have seen the results of weeks and months of preparation either throttled and bound martyrlike to a stake or twisted and tethered, until the natural, habit of growth was wholly changed. In some cases the plants were so meshed in twine and choked that it seemed as if a spiteful fairy had woven a "cat's cradle" over them or that they had followed out the old proverb and, having been given enough rope, literally hanged themselves. In other gardens green stakes were set at intervals (I noticed it in the case of gladioli and carnations especially) and strings carried from one stake to the other, leaving each plant in the centre of a twine square, like chessmen imprisoned on the board. But the most terrible example of all was where either the owner or the gardener, for they were not one and the same, had purchased a quantity of half-inch pine strips at a lumber yard and proceeded to scatter them about his beds at random, regardless of height or suitability, very much as if some neighbouring Fourth of July celebration had showered the place with rocket sticks.
A Terrible Example!
If your young German has time in the intervals of tree-planting and trellis-making, get him to trim some of the cedars of a diameter of two or three inches and stack them away for Dahlia poles. Next season you will become a victim of these gorgeous velvet flowers, I foresee, especially as I have fully a barrel of the "potatoes" of some very handsome varieties to bestow upon you. Make the most of Meyer, for he will probably grow melancholy as soon as cool weather sets in and he thinks of winter evenings and a sweetheart he has left in the fatherland!
We have had several Germans and they all had lieber schatz, for jealousy or the scorn of whom they had left home, were for the same reason loath to stay away from it, and at the same time, owing to contending emotions, were unable to work so that they might return.
Are you not thinking about returning to your indoor bed and board again? With warm weather I fly out of the door as a second nature, but with a smart promise of frost I turn about again and everything - furniture, pictures, books, and the dear people themselves - seems refreshingly new and wholly lovable!
If you are thinking of making out a book list of your needs as an answer to your mother's or your "inlaw's" query, "What do you want for Christmas?" write at the beginning - Bailey's Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, in red ink. Lavinia and Martin Cortright gave it to us last Christmas, the clearly printed first edition on substantial paper in four thick volumes, mind you, and it is the referee and court of appeals of the Garden, You, and I in general and myself in particular. Not only will it tell you everything that you wish or ought to know, but do it completely and truthfully. In short it is the perfect antidote to Garden Goozle!