(Barbara Campbell To Mary Penrose)
Oaklands, September 29. Michaelmas. The birthdays of our commuters are not far apart. This being Evan's festival, we have eaten the annual goose in his honour, together with several highly indigestible old-country dishes of Martha Corkle's construction, for she comes down from the cottage to preside over this annual feast. Now the boys have challenged Evan to a "golf walk" over the Bluffs and back again, the rough-and-ready course extending that distance, and I, being "o'er weel dined," have curled up in the garden-overlook window of my room to write to you.
It has been a good gardener's year, and I am sorry that the fall anemones and the blooming of the earliest chrysanthemums insist upon telling me that it is nearly over, - that is, as far as the reign of complete garden colour is concerned. And amid our vagrant summer wanderings among gardens of high or low degree, no one point has been so recurrent or interesting as the distribution of colour, and especially the dominance of white flowers in any landscape or garden in which they appear.
In your last letter you speak of the preponderance of white among the flowering shrubs as well as the early blossoms of spring. That this is the case is one of the strong points in the decorative value of shrubs, and in listing seeds for the hardy or summer beds or sorting the bushes for the rosary, great care should be taken to have a liberal sprinkling of white, for the white in the flower kingdom is what the diamond is in the mineral world, necessary as a setting for all other colours, as well as for its own intrinsic worth.
Look at a well-cut sapphire of flawless tint. It is beautiful surely, but in some way its depth of colour needs illumination. Surround it with evenly matched diamonds and at once life enters into it.
Fill a tall jar with spires of larkspur of the purest blue known to garden flowers. Unless the sun shines fully on them they seem to swallow light; mingle with them some stalks of white foxgloves, Canterbury bells, or surround them with Madonna lilies, a fringe of spirea, or the slender Deutzia gracilis, more frequently seen in florists' windows than in the garden, and a new meaning is given the blue flower; the black shadows disappear from its depth and sky reflections replace them.
The blue-fringed gentian, growing deep among the dark grasses of low meadows, may be passed over without enthusiasm as a dull purplish flower by one to whom its possibilities are unknown; but come upon it backgrounded by Michaelmas daisies or standing alone in a meadow thick strewn with the white stars of grass of Parnassus or wands of crystal ladies' tresses, and all at once it becomes, -
" Blue, blue, as if the sky let fall A flower from its cerulean wall!"
The same white setting enhances the brighter colours, though in a less degree than blue, which is, next to magenta, one of the most difficult colours to place in the garden. In view of this fact it is not strange that it is a comparatively unusual hue in the flower world and a very rare one among our neighbourly eastern birds, the only three that wear it conspicuously being the bluebird, indigo bird, and the bluejay.
It is this useful quality as a setting that gives value to many white flowers lacking intrinsic beauty, like sweet alyssum, candy-tuft, the yarrows, and the double feverfew. In buying seeds of flowers in mixed varieties, such as asters, verbenas, Sweet-William, pansies, or any flower in short that has a white variety, it is always safe to buy a single packet of the latter, because I have often noticed that the usual mixtures, for some reason, are generally shy not only of the white but often of the very lightest tints as well.
In selecting asters the average woman gardener may not be prepared to buy the eight or ten different types that please her fancy in as many separate colours; a mixture of each must suffice, but a packet of white of each type should be added if the best results are to be achieved.
The same applies to sweet peas when planted in mixture; at least six ounces of either pure white or very light, and therefore quasi-neutral tints harmonizing with all darker colours, should be addled. For it is in the lighter tints of this flower that its butterfly characteristics are developed. Keats had not the heavy deep-hued or striped varieties in mind when he wrote of
"... Sweet Peas on tiptoe for a flight, With wings of gentle flush: o'er delicate white, And taper Angers catching at all things To bind them all about with tiny rings."
If you examine carefully the "flats" of pansies growing from mixed seed and sold in the market-places or at local florists', you will notice that in eight out of ten the majority of plants are of the darker colours.
There are white varieties of almost every garden flower that blooms between the last frost of spring and winter ice. The snowdrop of course is white and the tiny little single English violet of brief though unsurpassing fragrance; we have white crocuses, white hyacinths, narcissus, lilies-of-the-valley, Iris, white rock phlox, or moss-pink, Madonna and Japan lilies, gladiolus, white campanulas of many species, besides the well-known Canterbury bells, white hollyhocks, larkspurs, sweet Sultan, poppies, phloxes, and white annual as well as hardy chrysanthemums.
Almost all the bedding plants, like the geranium, begonia, ageratum, lobelia, etc., have white species. There are white pinks of all types, white roses, and wherever crimson rambler is seen Madame Plantier should be his bride; white stocks, hollyhocks, verbenas, zinnias, Japanese anemones, Arabis or rock cress, and white fraxinella; white Lupins, nicotiana, evening primroses, pentstemons, portulaca, primulas, vincas, and even a whitish nasturtium, though its flame-coloured partner salvia declines to have her ardour so modified.
Among vines we have the white wisteria, several white clematis, the moon-flower, and other Ipomeas, many climbing and trailing roses, the English polygonum, the star cucumber, etc., so that there is no lack of this harmonizing and modifying colour (that is not a colour after all) if we will but use it intelligently.