This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The name of Bitter-sweet of right belongs, solely, to the Solanum dulcamara. Some likeness of its red fruitage, to the fiery crop of the Celastrus, doubtless made our climber its namesake. But our Bitter-sweet will not now readily give up a name so long and lovingly borne.
The Celastrus is sometimes also called the Staff* tree. This name comes from the fancy by many, in a cane of that spiral twist by which the Bitter-sweet lifts itself up any handy sapling. But its wood is hardly staunch enough to help much as a staff.
Our Bitter-sweet is one of the loveliest of climbers. It is a blithesome plant, either in its woodland home or beside the threshold. Its summer color and shelter, and its blazing crown of wintry garlands, should be made a feature in all decorative planting; yet, either to home or grounds, it has won but a sparse and stingy welcome. Perhaps its lavish woodland fruitage, within easy reach of so many, has much to do with this neglect.
The trouble is, it is a native, and by nature largely planted along the forest borders and the hedge, and beside the rippling stream; it shares lovingly with the grape, the lift of low down trees. The children, coming home with the nuts rattled down by the early frosts, joyfully round their baskets with the Bitter-sweet's golden treasure. So, like many other lovely plants to be had for the digging, we too rarely welcome its cheer and shelter to our door-step or our grounds. But were it just now found as with tinted wood and fruit, heralded as from some far-off flowery land, people would go wild after it, as they often have for things not half so lovely.
Nature has denied the Bitter-sweet the bloom and fragrance which are the ruling charm of so many of its fellow climbers. But she has made it their equal as a decorative plant, by the rich, green shelter of its leafy mantle and its sturdy stretch of vine. With naught else, it is fit to deck and shield alike, the humblest and the most ambitious home. Flowers and perfume are fleeting; but the rich foliage of the Bitter-sweet holds against the scorching sun a dense and spreading growth of brightest green, outlasting the breath and tinge of (lowers.
But the signal glory of the plant, compassing the year, is the clusters of its berries. From the size and tinge of tiny grapes till the early frost strips the wrap of white and gold from its coral fruitage,the plant at every step puts on new and changeful features; each gain toward ripeness, brings to deft woman a dainty store for tasteful decoration.
First, following its modest bloom, come little globes of lively green. These soon swell and change their tint to a greenish-bronze. A little further toward the chilly nights of early frosts, slender gaps in those tawny globes reveal the white wrap, hiding the flashing glint of its ripening seeds. Those opening slowly, widening more and more, unmask the glorious store within, of a fiery fruitage. By and by, as the early frost thins and brightens its foliage to a tenderer tint, the Bitter-sweet bears to Autumn a blazing crown of clustering coral clasped in lips of gold.
This fruitage of our climber, plucked and stored at each stage of this advance, yields a wondrous harvest for adornment. For every place and posture becoming winter bouquets and unfading garlands, it furnishes unrivalled aptness and grace; and its little green clusters, laid by to dry, while they still hide and tightly clasp their treasure, or when first the fiery glint of gold and scarlet flash from their opening screen, or garnered after the frosts from its still unfal-len and tender tinted leaves, uncovers its blazing store to the full sunlight, the Bitter-sweet, at each phase, offers no end of help to decorative taste. No outcome of the seasons in fruit, leaf, or blossom, so brightens the home, so helps out the dearth of flowers or faces the wintry gloom, with such blazing fireside tint and cheer.
Out doors, smiling above the threshold, it welcomes the lodgment of the drifting snow and peers gaily out from its chilly mantle. Through the ice storm's crystal sheath it sheds a hopeful glow. Down over the porch, a window cap drooping, it greets, with rival ray, the flash from the blazing hearth. Sheltered only a little from the thrash of the wiuter's wind, and its coral fruitage clings, defiant of the frost, and wears a joyousness all through its gloom and storm. Thus endowed, the Bitter-sweet brings to the home abright companionship, and bridges with hope of coming Spring and flowers in the stretch of its garlands, along the woodland spray.
Within doors, amid the festivities of Christmas, the dawning year, in home or temple, or in public hall, those stored-up pluckings from along its way to ripeness, cheer all through the winter's gloom. They bring to the matron apt and blithesome succor in her graceful struggle to brighten and fitly deck, when bereft of the grace and perfume of summer flowers.
The Bitter-sweet, out of those stored-up cul-lings from its growth and harvest, offers in itself every form and tint for a rich winter bouquet. But wreathed into evergreen festoons, tufted amongst them and other bright seed pods and berries, or with them and autumnal leaves, dried ferns, grasses, and the feathery seed whorls of the wild white Clematis, fringing and crowning the mirror, gaily bordering the paintings on the wall or grouped with them and living plants in vase or hanging basket, the Bitter-sweet beyond any bloom or growth of the year, helps in the welcome of the holidays, and keeps up brightness and cheer in the household, till the longed-for coming of the flowers, whose loveliness its brilliant treasures measurably replace our climber. So rounds the year with its cheery presence, made brighter by the dainty placing of deft woman; that, if in the transmigration of souls the human ever takes on the form and essentials of the plant, I pray for mine - its lodgment in a Bitter-sweet.
One of the loveliest lessons I have ever seen in Nature's handling of color and tasteful planting, was our climber, belting the wealth of its glowing harvest over a group of New England cedars. On a bright, dewy morning of early Autumn, beside a little rest in the climb of a hilly country road, I came upon a group of some half-dozen well-grown, thrifty, young cedars. They stood in easy distinctness around one of stouter form and taller spire. Every wood earth with which the beds were liberally dressed. A wash of lime and sulphur will branch drooped with rich, full verdure, and a store of berries for the winter tarrying birds. Around this group thus arranged, circling from one to another, and. up the central pinnacle, wound and festooned a vigorous Bitter-sweet. Its tender, frost-tinged foliage, sparse in such untutored soil, and a girt of blazing berries along every tendril, flashing from out its fringe, hung out distinct against the dark background of these cedars.
To emphasize this tasteful array of color, the frost-tinged crimson drapery of a climbing Sumach, threaded and girt a couple of the furthermost Cedars, and stretched its gay streamers up that central spire. So perfect was the grace and coloring of this group that, to human eye, it seemed rather the living mosaic of some master taste than one of nature's careful rearing.
This woodland lesson tells to the heedful new uses for the Bitter-sweet and its like. What infinite variety might be tastefully wrought out of the kaleidoscope of bright colors or growing things ? For example, imagine added to the pencilling of this group, the golden foliage of the Japanese Honeysuckle, delicately robing one of these cedars, and threading its tendrils among those crimson ribbons streaming up that central spire. Again, how would look in this mosaic, girt around the base of this cedar group, a fringe of scarlet, say in company with the bright tints on leaf or flower of other brilliant plants. These are but hints. The chances for like effects are as infinite as the varied tinge on leaf or flower, or as their unlike growths.