The garden which of all others I most value and admire, and from which I have learnt most of what I know, is that of Mr. G. F. Wilson at Wisley. Alas! he died this spring, and one wonders what will become of it now that the directing spirit is gone. I believe it was twenty-five years ago that Mr. Wilson first began with about six acres to turn rough ground, part field, part wood, into what is generally called 'a wild garden.' Here I first learnt what could be done by thinning out a wood, digging ponds, and throwing up the soil into mounds. The drawback to this type of garden, which I watched with interest, was that it seemed to be a necessity to take in more and more fresh ground year by year, and now there must be fourteen or sixteen acres under cultivation. The plants and shrubs, as they spread and flourished, were left alone to grow at their wild will, and new spaces were planted with other specimens. It is partly wood, partly slopes facing north, and partly flat ground, mere ordinary fields, and it immediately strikes even a casual observer how much better many things do in the partial shade of the cleared-out oak-wood than in the open. This is in a great measure owing to the protection afforded in spring by the tall trees. Bamboos, for instance, planted in this wood flourish amazingly, as do auratum lilies, pernettias, all the tenderer heaths, andromedas, rhododendrons, azaleas, Hydrangea paniculata, &c, all of which were finer specimens than I have seen anywhere else. Needless to say, there are no laurels or any of the commoner coarse-growing shrubs. No one must think this kind of gardening easy, for it depends on endless and intelligent hand-weeding. The plants must be kept clear, or they never flourish. When Mr. Wilson made a bed in his wood and filled it with the soil best adapted to the plants he was going to put in, the place was always marked by rough stones from the field. That meant it would be kept perfectly clean till the plant grew strong enough to need no further care. At no time of year can anyone visit this garden without finding flourishing specimens of plants he has probably never seen before.
Experience teaches that a mound thrown up in windy exposed places, and planted with hedges or shrubs, is a far better breaker of the force of the wind than the highest and most expensive wall; for in a gale the wind hits the top of the wall and dashes down on the other side, while the waving branches of shrubs break and soften its devastating progress - a wind-swept garden being, perhaps, the most hopeless and disappointing to the gardener. In Italy the garden walls are delightfully varied - high to the north, low to the south, broken in various places to suit different plants, tiled on the top here and there for protection, ramped on the top if the ground falls - in this way the picturesqueness of garden walls and their individuality as regards each place are immensely increased.
In all wild gardening there is much difficulty in keeping down not only weeds and strong-growing plants, but destructive animals like rabbits, hares, rats, and mice, which are the most injurious, while pheasants sometimes manage to do a good deal of harm. Very useful little shelters are made at Wisley by surrounding the small bed, till the plants get hold, with a band, about a foot high, of perforated zinc. Some people will think this sounds very hideous, but, to a real gardener, the sense of protection to the young plant does away with the very slight disfigurement such a shelter makes in the wild growth of a wood.
Wild gardening requires much more knowledge than any other kind, and is almost unknown professionally. I have never seen planting well done, from an artist's point of view, when left to even the best firms. At Wisley there are large quantities of the Japanese iris (I. Kampferi), grown in artificially made ditches in the open field, or on the dry slopes of the ponds, not quite close to the water, as Kampferi does not like damp, especially in winter, though it is glad of lots of water at the flowering time in summer. The ideal situation for it would be a dry ditch in full sun that could be partially flooded in summer.
The general impression seems to be that bamboos want a lot of sun; they are, on the contrary, perfect wood plants, if a space is cleared for them. Mr. Wilson was making a big collection of many kinds in his wood, and they are flourishing luxuriantly.
To come back to smaller plants, the Cape montbretias do excellently in woods, blooming, as they do, in the dull August time. There are eight or ten varieties of epi-mediums ; planted together in a bed in a wood, they look charming with their early spring growth, but, like everything else, they must be kept weeded. In autumn their leaves turn a good colour.
Messrs. V. V. Gauntlet & Co. (Japanese Nurseries, Redruth) send out on application, and for inspection only, the most charming books, illustrated by Japanese flower-painters, of various Japanese plants - lilies, Japanese paeonies, irises, maples, magnolias, camellias, &c. The choice of Japanese Iris Kampferi is particularly ample. All the prices are marked in plain figures.
One of the gardening subjects I have oftenest thought out is what I should advise if anyone I cared very much about inherited a large house and a large, ready-made, formal garden, with empty beds in winter, and filled in summer with bright-coloured half-hardy plants. The formal garden, to my mind, is certainly adapted to the formal house, though it often shares its ugliness. In the case of very beautiful old places I think what looks best is either turf right up to the house, especially if the fine timber has been spared, such as yews, cedars, oaks, beeches, mulberries, &c, or if there is a garden round the house, it should be in small proportions, paved, and planted with roses, lavender, rosemary, carnations, &c, in large masses. The actual gardens for the picking of flowers should be near the house, and yet apart from it. Given space enough, my idea of perfection for those who live in their place all the year round would be to have various gardens, of which some would be at rest and others in full beauty; say, a bulb garden, an iris garden, a garden for early and late annuals, perennial borders connecting some of these together, a double avenue of Michaelmas daisies, another of lavender and China roses, and a straight walk or terrace with a formal imitation of the way orange-trees are grown in Italy. The best I ever saw of this last kind of thing was in a large Hertfordshire place last year : the trees were Portugal laurels, apparently growing out of square boxes such as the orange-trees are grown in at Hampton Court. My surprise was great at finding the Portugal laurels had thick stems and were perfectly healthy. On examination, I found the boxes rested on the ground and the trees had been allowed to root through. The effect was excellent, and equally decorative in winter and summer. Laurels pine in boxes from dryness, and bays die in boxes from frost in winter if not housed. I have never before seen this effort at Italian gardening so successfully carried out in England. To put it in a few words, the only possible solution for decorative gardening near large houses is formal design with informal planting and growth.Everything else can only be decided by the accidents of the situation.
As I said about Ireland, so I feel about almost every large place I have ever seen; pruning, taking out of laurels, cutting out broad vistas in the woods, as they radiate from the house, wide spaces with shrubs and trees allowed to feather tothe ground; all this seems to me what the gardens of most big places really require.I have only known one place where the owner had the courage to root out every laurel, both common and Portugal, within half a mile of his house, replacing them with all sorts of unusual decorative shrubs.(See splendid list in' Century Book of Gardening,' p. 423.)When actually growing in woods, the effect of laurels left entirely alone and un-pruned, except to take out dead wood, is, I think, exceedingly good, especially if they are kept in groups, and for thedelectation oftheir ownersinwinter rather than summer.The slight protection of the trees saves them from the shabby appearance in spring so often caused by frost and wind in the open.Also I have seen one of the newkindsoflarge-leavedlaurels,judiciously pruned, look almost as handsome as a magnolia nailed to the wall of a house or barn.In itself the laurel flower is very beautiful when seen close, but this is impossible when the shrubs are pruned, as they generally are, so as to flower only on the top.Bay-trees, which are hurt by frost even more than laurels, would do well in fairly moist woods.
It is curious that the tamarisk is always considered a seaside plant. Certainly it does very well there, but it does equally well inland if properly pruned. It is a picturesque grower and an amusing plant to play with, as it can be treated in all kinds of ways - as a hedge, in a group, cut down every year, or planted far apart from other things, and encouraged to grow old, when its effect is unique amongst shrubs.I only know one example of really old tamarisks, and these are supposed to have been brought from the East and planted by Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu.The strong black stems and branches are very angular in growth, recalling Japanese plants, and their feathery tops wave delightfully against sky or distance.
There is a kind not generally grown, which does well in my garden, and its cloud-like pink blossom appears in the autumn. Another kind which I first saw at Aix, T. parviflora, flowers in May, in tiny pink blossoms all along the branches before the leaves appear.This, too, I find well worth growing.
Sea-buckthorn thrives to perfection in inland places. At Kew they plant it near the pond, where it fruits well and gives a golden glow to the whole group of shrubs in early spring. Mine does not fruit, thus proving to me that the plant needs moisture.
The spiraeas are innumerable in kind, and make beautiful, easily-cultivated ornaments for open shrubberies and borders of woods. I think the reason one so seldom sees these shrubs is that they look shabby and untidy unless the old wood is cut out once a year. They seem to me to require nothing else, and yet it is never done, and gardeners seem to prefer doing without them altogether or to put them in a border where they are unsuitable. If a little ground is cleared round them, they send up endless suckers, which should be taken off in spring if a fine specimen is desired. In this respect the treatment is exactly the same as with all the polygonums, though these are herbaceous plants, not shrubs. P. com-pactum is one of the smaller varieties, but most desirable, for if planted on a bank in full sun and thinned out in spring, the wings of its seeds are more beautiful than its flowers - a lovely rosy pink at the point of every branch. P. molle should never be forgotten, as its large white flowers in October are very valuable and effective