Of all the many catalogues I receive, none, I think, are produced with anything like the attractive intelligence of the one sent out by Messrs. Ware, of Tottenham. This year one is tempted to say, from the pretty European-Japanese drawing on the cover, that Nature made a mistake in not giving us sometimes an all-over pink sky instead of a blue! The soil at Tottenham is very heavy, and plants that flourish admirably there, from my experience, unfortunately decline altogether to grow when removed to a purer air and a lighter soil. I am sure that all amateurs who are interested in the rarer varieties of hardy and half-hardy plants had far better try and raise them themselves from seed. But a visit to Messrs. Ware's garden near London, as well as constantly going to Kew, will show amateurs what can be done. The old-fashioned idea that a garden meant a place of quiet and repose is not the proper mental attitude for suburban plant-cultivators. The drawings in the catalogue are excellent, though they perhaps rather represent the cultivator's expectations than the truth. Still, it is well to have high ideals even in annuals and biennials. To return to my catalogue - no one can give time and study to it without being the wiser.
In spite of all my resolutions to stay at home, I have a very great longing to go once more to the 'Riviera,' and see some of the really good gardens which have grown up since my time, especially that of 'La Mortola Italy,' belonging to Commendatore Hanbury. Last year, with his help and permission, a little book came out which was a great success, and quickly ran out of print; it was called 'Riviera Nature Notes.' A book of great interest to us who are only English gardeners, what would it be to those who are his neighbours on those sunny slopes? The first line in the book is: 'J'observe et je suis la nature; c'est mon secret pour ŕtre heureux' (Florian).
Can we hear this truth too often in prose and poetry and in all art? I have always thought one of the most beautiful of Burne-Jones's early pictures is the one which represents the wild god - Pan - lovingly receiving poor little Psyche, thrown up by the river that refused to drown her. And does it not mean that Nature from all time has been the best comforter for one of the greatest of human sorrows, unrequited love?
These 'Riviera Notes' are full of desultory but most interesting information. How delightful to read them in a dry Olive yard or under an umbrella Pine, with the blue sea behind the tree's rich stem! Or, when too warm to walk so far, to sit below the Orange-trees, whose tops above one's head are masses of golden fruit and sweet-smelling flowers! At the end of the book are chapters on birds, insects, and the 'Riviera' traces of that individual - apparently so much alike in all countries - prehistoric man. Were they happy, those dim mysterious multitudes of the Old Stone and New Stone ages? This little book must have delighted many, as it delighted me; and it is not too difficult for anyone as ignorant as I am to understand. As it bears on my favourite topic, I must quote from this book the fact that 'polenta' or Indian-corn porridge is the chief food of the Piedmontese, and I observe it is also stated that they do the hard manual labour at 'La Mortola.' They work all about the country as navvies, porters, and so forth, which proves that at any rate this food does not make them unmuscular. They are powerfully made men, and the Nišois are ludicrously afraid of them, for they consider them capable of any act of violence. It is also said that these Piedmontese suffer from a disease called the 'pellagra,' caused by living on this polenta, 'one of the least nourishing of the farinaceous foods.' May it not be the food mixed with some form of alcohol? It appears as if some disease belonged to every kind of food eaten without variety and in large quantities.
Mr. Barr gave me two years ago some small bulbs of Crocus tommasinianus. I thought at first they were going to do nothing; but this year they have flowered beautifully, and are of a very delicate pale lavender colour. He says they will come up every year, and I think they are really far prettier than the large, strong, cultivated Crocuses. I have often been asked, What should be put into Rose beds to enliven their dull branchiness for early spring? Strong clumps of winter Aconites planted very deep, to be succeeded, when the Aconites are only bright green tufts of leaves, by large pale Crocuses, white and light lavender, are as good a combination as I know; and when they die down a fresh top-dressing can be lightly forked into the Roses without hurting the bulbs.
A correspondent noticed that I did not mention Anemone Pulsatilla, It is quite true I have not got it. In my ignorant days I bought it once or twice, and it quickly died; and I have not yet tried to grow it from seed, but shall do so this year. This correspondent writes from Gloucestershire, where he says it grows wild, and that, when well grown, 'it is the most beautiful native plant we have.' His letter is dated March 9th, and he adds: 'I have one now in a twelve-inch pan, taken up about three weeks ago, which has about 150 flowers and buds on it. Like Lilies of the Valley, it grows in the poorest and dryest lime-soil. But it likes good feeding.' I think that description sounds as if it were worth trouble to produce. Of course he meant, when he took it up, that he grew it under glass.
Two years ago I bought a plant of Holboellia latifolia, and planted it in the ground in my cool greenhouse, where it is doing quite beautifully, and is now covered with buds. It is a delightful plant for a cool greenhouse creeper, as the fragrance of its white flowers is delicious, almost exactly like Orange flower; and it is so nearly hardy it will do out of doors against a wall in many parts of England. I shall try it here when I have struck some cuttings. It is often called erroneously Stauntonia latifolia.
I have just brought into the conservatory next the drawing-room from the cool house in the kitchen garden an interesting panful of one of the MorŠas. They seem a large family; all from the Cape of Good Hope. A piece was given me by someone who called it M. fimbriata. It has not been touched for two years, and was well baked all the summer, is now healthy and growing, and has four bloom-spikes; last year it only threw up one. The flower is like a small delicate Iris of a lovely cold china-blue colour. The growth is quite different from that of an Iris. The stalk has a graceful bend, and a branching end with several buds, as is the case with so many of the Cape bulbs. The buds open one after the other as the flower dies. They will do when picked and in water. My Crinum Moorei I have had for three or four years in a large pot. It makes its leaves in February, and throws up without fail its enormous brown flower-stem. It is beginning to open now its lily-like flowers; these, like the buds of the MorŠa fimbriata, flower in succession, but, as each one lasts about a week in bloom, the flowering period is extended for a considerable time. It is well fed while growing with liquid manure. Its healthy, strong appearance and delicate scent give me a great deal of pleasure year by year.
Mustard and Cress, much grown in boxes in early spring, and which is so delicious at five o'clock tea or with bread-and-butter and cheese, many people will not eat because it is often gritty. This certainly makes it horrid; and if the Cress is washed it makes it very wet, often without getting rid of the grit. The best way to grow it is to make the earth very damp before sowing, press it down flat, and then sow the seed very lightly on the top, making a division between the Mustard and Cress. Cover it with a tile, or something else to make it dark, till it has sprouted, and then cut it carefully straight into the plate or small fancy basket in which it is to be served, without washing it at all. If grown in this way and carefully cut, there will be no grit whatever. I find small, low, round, Japanese baskets of various sizes (from Liberty's) are most useful in a house with a garden. They are beautifully made and very pretty, and fruit can be picked into them at once, and served either at breakfast or luncheon without any fingering in the pantry or kitchen.