To return to my time in Ireland, which was very short, I paid a visit to a large, beautiful place not far from the West Coast. The weather was cold and wet and, even in the West, hardly a fortnight in advance of Surrey, but nothing could spoil the spring loveliness of the green grass, and the green woods, and the cowslips! Such cowslips ! I had forgotten what cowslips could be till I saw them luxuriating in the moist Irish meadows with stalks a foot long. The garden was a large, fiat, wind-swept, formal one, designed, I suppose, in the middle of the last century, with the ordinary spring bedding, wallflowers, anemones, tulips, and forget-me-nots. But the formality was redeemed, almost glorified, even so early in the year as May, by the unusualness of a great number of old spreading yuccas. I never saw them grown in this way before, with huge stems and young ones increasing all around. They were not either Y. gloriosa or Y. filamcntosa, but Y. pcndula or rccurva. It is a magnificent plant when old and established, and particularly adapted for the middle of beds, for the growth is picturesque and yet symmetrical. The lower leaves sweep the ground and the central ones point upwards as straight as a needle, and they flower more frequently than the other kinds. In this particular garden, when this host of yuccas are in flower, it must be a rare and beautiful sight. The whole thing can hardly have been planned, but was evidently produced by one of those accidents of gardening where Dame Nature takes the matter boldly in hand. And how beautiful are these accidents in any old garden ! In this case it was leaving the yuccas alone to increase as they liked, yet feeding them well, that had produced the wonderful result.
In a sheltered corner, by a wall, was a very fine plant of Erica mediterranea. This heath grows wild on the West Coast of Ireland, and is supposed to have been brought by the Spaniards, as it is a native of the South-West of Europe. My friends gave me a good plant of it, and I hope to induce it to grow in Surrey. Careful pruning after flowering, for all kinds of hardy heaths, seems the way to keep them healthy, especially in gardens where dryness prevents their growing freely. I am full of hope that there is going to be an increased cultivation in good gardens of the hardy ericas. There was a fair number of them exhibited at the Drill Hall. The' Garden' of June 28, 1902, had an excellent article on the hardy heaths. In the later editions of Mr. Robinson's 'English Flower Garden,' he says, under Erica (Heath) : 'Beautiful shrubs, of which the kinds that are wild in Europe are very precious for gardens. We should take more hints from our own wild plants, and bring the hardy heaths of Britain as an artistic element into the flower garden. Why we should have such things as the alternanthera grown with care and cost in hothouses, and then put out in summer to make our flower gardens ridiculous, while neglecting such lovely hardy things as our own heaths and their many pretty varieties, is a thing that would require some explaining. But very many people do not know how happy these heaths are as garden plants, and how delightfully they mark the seasons, and for the most part at a time when people leave town. A singularly pretty heath garden is that of Sir P. Currie at Hawley. In front of his house he has kept, instead of a lawn, a piece of the heath land of the district almost in a natural state, save for a little levelling of old pits. In such places the native heaths of Surrey and Hampshire sow themselves, and nothing can be more beautiful. Where, as in many country places, these heaths abound, there is no occasion to cultivate them, although we cultivate nothing prettier; but certain varieties of these heaths are charming, and deserve a place in the garden or wild garden. In places large enough for bold heath gardens it would be charming to plant them, but a small place is often large enough for a few beds of hardy heaths. Once established they need very little attention. To some it may be necessary to state that most of our hardy heaths break into delightful forms, white and various coloured. The common heather has many charming varieties, also the Scotch heath. These forms are quite as free as the wild sorts, and give delightful variety in a heath garden, which need not by any means be a rocky or pretentious affair, but quite simple; for heaths are best on the nearly level ground.Though they grow best, perhaps, in peat bogs and waste places, it would be a mistake to suppose that only such soils can grow heaths well, because we see them in Sussex in soils quite unlike those on which they thrive in Hampshire, though certainly on heaths they seem to form their own soil by decay of the stems and leaves for many years.If rocky banks or large rock-gardens already exist, choice heaths form often their very best adornment, but such things are by no means necessary.Some of the best and most successful beds we have seen were on the level ground, as in the late Sir William Beaumont's garden in Surrey.'Then follows in Mr. Robinson's book a long list of varieties of heaths. At any rate in Surrey, why should we not have all the hardy heaths in our gardens ? They are lovely plants, and, like many other things, not difficult to manage when one knows about them, and very easy to propagate if the little green tips are pinched off and put under a hand-glass insandysoiland inshadein July or August. They are very much strengthened and improved by being clipped back after flowering,some in autumn, some in spring.I bought a good many a few yearsago, but, through my own fault and the dry seasons, they nearly all died.What they really like is pure air and a moist bottom, but with care one gets over many difficulties; besides,these conditionsarequite natural to many gardens and woods. E. australis and E. mediterranea and the Irish variety, I used to think, were none of them quite hardy; but E. mediterranea grows at Kew, which is damperandcolder than many parts of Surrey.It flowers from March to May ; the typical plant is rosy-red, and there is also a white-flowered variety.Then there is E. mediterranea hybrida. It is the earliest of all the heaths to flower.The hardiest of the taller ericas is E. carnea. E. scoparia is not so pretty as some, but the species is quite hardy. At the Drill Hall I saw and took note of E. cinerea, which has many varieties. E. vulgaris flore-pleno is a double version of the heather of our moors, of which several varieties - alba - are very pretty. E. vagans grows wild in Europe. E. Tetralix is another wild variety.