Cultivating to perfection some of the wild flowers of our own country is, I think, a delightful thing to do, at least I do it with several plants, such as the blue Geranium armenum, one of the handsomest of our wild flowers and worthy of both a good place and a bad in every garden. The difference in situation will make a fortnight's interval in its flowering, for it grows both in shade and sun.The wild yellow toadflax (Linaria Cymbalaria) grows poorly in our hedges about here, but it always has a place in my garden and flourishes exceedingly from July to November. I grow, too, both the willow herbs (Epilobium angustifolium.) The pink one is rather a weed, but the white variety (called French because it is not a wild English plant) is more restrained in its growth, and groups charmingly with the blue geranium.
The orange hawkweed and the little pale yellow one I consider both worthy of the garden. I have not many varieties of ferns as the dryness is unsuited to them, but of the Welsh Polypody (Polypodium cambricum) I take some care as its best time is late autumn when all others have turned yellow.
I have derived immense pleasure from the branching larkspurs, the seed of which I brought back from Florence two or three years ago. I noticed there that it grew all over the place like a weed, as my Oenotheras do here. The seed I brought home has grown most satisfactorily, and I always save my own seed now. It is certainly slightly different from any that I can buy in England, which seems more cultivated and inclined to be double, causing it to grow a little less freely. In a number of the ' Spectator' some time ago, I saw a letter, to me very interesting, by Mr. H. B. Cotterill, from Switzerland. I venture to think that those of my readers who did not notice it in the 'spectator' will be glad to see it:
sir,-In an edition of Milton's "Lycidas," lately published by Messrs. Blackie, I gave what I consider to be rather strong grounds for believing the "flower inscribed with woe " (i.e., the ancient vakivoos) to be the larkspur (Delphinium Ajacis). Correspondents inform me that they have examined larkspurs growing in English gardens and have beendisappointedby notdiscoveringthe
'A.I.A.I." marks. Perhaps you will kindly allow me to suggest that possibly the larkspur examined by them was some cultivated variety of the Consolida, which grows wild in these parts, and on which I myself have also failed to find the marks in question. Or possibly there may be English varieties of the Ajacis which do not possess these marks. I can only say that the larkspur commonly to be found in Swiss gardens is the Delphinium Ajacis (a native of Southern Europe, said to be found sometimes "escaped " in England), and that I have never failed to discover the "A.I.A.I. " or "Lax" on its petal. I am, Sir, &c, H. B. Cotterill, Clarens, Switzerland.'
On reading this letter, I rushed out into my garden to see whether I could find the markings on my flowers. On the petals of the blue variety, the descendant of the Italian seed, I found the white letters 'A.I.A.I.' - the cry of lamentation in the pagan world - quite plainly marked. In the cultivated, or double kinds, raised from seed bought in England, all trace of them had disappeared. I also grow the red valerian. Its old cottage name was 'Pretty Betty,' and Chaucer calls it 'swete-wall.' It grows in all sorts of places about the garden. It is one of those kinds of plants that like dryness and poor soil, but as much sun and air as they can get. It is, I believe, quite rare to find it wild in England. I never tire of varieties of wallflowers (Cheiranthus), and this year Mr. Thompson, of Ipswich - from whom, as I said before, I get all my uncommon and non-nurseryman's seeds-had a long list of these plants in his catalogue. One which he called 'Dresden' is very like the wild wallflowers found on old buildings. It began to bloom here early in October and so gives a cheerful promise of spring before winter begins. Anne Pratt, in one of her early books, says it was regarded by the Troubadours as the emblem of faithfulness in adversity because it smiles upon the ruin. In Saintine's 'Picciola,' that character-making book which I so loved in my childhood, the real heroine is a wild wallflower. It is a pleasure to me to find that, in my old age, the books that I loved most between fourteen and eighteen I enjoy now with a renewed freshness. Second childhood I suppose. However, 'Picciola' - the 'new book' when I got it in 1851 - has become, I believe, a schoolroom classic for girls learning French. How much worldly wisdom is taught from that description of a political prisoner's life ! In my enthusiastic youth I thought that imprisonment for a righteous cause - for liberty, for the good of the people - would not have been hard to bear, especially if consoled by one fragile little plant. In those days how little I knew what imprisonment meant! A man who has himself experienced it, for what he considered a righteous cause, refers to it thus : 'Liberty ! Who that has not himself been once imprisoned can appreciate what this means ? Who that has not had to look forward with aching heart and longing soul for days, months, years, to the time when he would once again find himself unfettered, free to talk to his fellow-man - at liberty to exercise the rights of his nature's manhood, undeterred by prison rules or the threat of warders' reports, can realise what that heaven-born word implies ? I was liberated once -unexpectedly set free, after seven and a half years of close imprisonment, and I am almost inclined to say that the punishment involved in a penal servitude of that duration would be worth enduring again to enjoy the wild, ecstatic, soul-filling happiness of the first day of freedom. . . . Everything which meets the gaze of the liberated prisoner, every thought of the present and the future assumes a brighter hue and wears a more blissful meaning from the terrible recollection of the felon degradation, the narrow cell, the stinted sunlight, the loathsome daily task, the brutal warder, and the weary, heart-longing expectancy for the hour of deliverance.'
This quotation is from a book published by Mr. Michael Davitt, called 'Leaves from a Prison Diary,' when he returned to the world after his long confinement.
There is another well-known testimony to the sufferings of prison life in a volume of poems written by Mr. Wilfred Blunt called ' In Vinculis.' He says in his preface that these sixteen sonnets were written when actually in prison, and he adds : ' They record an episode in the writer's life to which, in spite of many austerities and some real suffering, he cannot look back otherwise than with affection. Imprisonment is a reality of discipline most useful to the modern soul, lapped as it is in physical sloth and self-indulgence. Like a sickness or a spiritual retreat, it purifies and ennobles ; and the soul emerges from it stronger and more self-contained. Alas, that these influences should so soon lose their power! And yet, fall as we may from the higher level, they do not wholly perish, but remain for us a wholesome recollection and a standard of all that we can imagine best for this life and another.'
To return to my plants. Playing experiments with the sowing of flower-seeds is not entirely without danger. This year, instead of ordering the handsome, often-grown Helichrysum bracteatum incurvum, I thought I would order H. Gnaphalium, in spite of the warning of 'faetidum' added to its name in the catalogue. Words fail me to describe how the horrible smell of this plant haunted the garden for at least six weeks. It was like the most evil of he-goats. Once I picked some, and the garden gloves had to be burnt, as they scented the whole hall. My other experiment was H. setosum, described as ' new and from the Transvaal'; described, too, as a half-hardy perennial instead of an annual. It is rather a nice little everlasting with a pretty growth.
The pretty maidenhair tree - its Japanese name is Ginkgo - grows well in any strong soil in the south of England. In Northamptonshire, I saw it grown like an old pear-tree on a west wall and, as it had been a good deal pruned back, the leaves were large and handsome. They turn such a beautiful, clear yellow in autumn, that it seemed to me a plant to be recommended for wall covering.
Saxifraga Fortunei is a plant seldom seen. It is perfectly hardy, but, as it does not flower till the end of October or November, the delicate plumes of blossom are injured by cold rains or frost. The way I grow it is in pots sunk outside in shade all the summer and well watered. As the buds form they are brought into the room or greenhouse. I think few orchids are as pretty, or repay one so well for so little care.
The beautiful Californian Delphinium cardinale I find very difficult to grow. I have not before named as a stove flower for November and December the pink plumbago. Like the half-hardy blue one, it lives well in water if floated.