I saw last year a gardening tool which I have had made and slightly improved upon. It is a navvy's crow-bar, to which is added a heavy knob of iron worked down to a fine point. It goes well into the ground by its own weight, and is most useful for planting small plants, on rockeries or in full beds, or for bulbs in grass. When the instrument is in the ground it can be shaken about to make quite a large hole. In the bottom of this hole is powdered some light soil which the weak roots easily penetrate. This diminishes the necessity of much watering in dry weather. An iron tip put to an ordinary dibber makes it more useful than when only made of wood.
I increasingly keep seed gathered from the best blooms after marking them carefully.In this way, I have no doubt, finer plants are secured than from the bought seeds.
Gerbera Jamesoni, a native of the Transvaal, is a handsome, glowing scarlet flower. I bought it two summers ago and was told it was hardy. I covered it with fern, but that was no use, and it died; so I was relieved to find they grow it at Kew in a cool greenhouse all the year round. I shall certainly buy it again, as it is well worth growing in that way. It is, to my mind, quite as interesting and as desirable to grow a variety of flowers under glass as out in the open, for those who have greenhouses at all. How few people, even of those with numberless greenhouses, grow the beautiful Cape heaths, of which there are such endless varieties ! They are well figured and described in Andrews' 'Heathery,' the folio volumes of which I have not got, but it is a superb book ; date about 1804. A few of these heaths are grown by dealers for the London market, where they are a constant bait to those who like flowers in their rooms. But, thus imprisoned, they quickly turn yellow and fade and die, as they are especially fresh-air-loving plants. And let anyone watch, as they walk or drive through London, how rare it is, except just in the summer, ever to see an open window. Paris is just the same. The house is supposed to be aired by the housemaid in the morning - which it often is not - and that is the amount of fresh air it gets all day. Growing plants are much to be encouraged in living-rooms, especially in those of children and invalids, as their healthiness or otherwise is a proof of whether the air is fresh or not.
I have always rather snorted at the modern large violets, because I cannot succeed with them, and because they are so different from the much-loved ones of my youth. But I must own that, when grown to perfection, in soil of the strength and moisture loved by the cabbage tribe, in full sun, the 'Princess of Wales' is a splendid variety, and has a sweet violet smell when first picked. I must try again, across the kitchen-garden, in soil as rich as I can make it, and then trust to the wet summers we are supposed to be going to have.
I think that, in large places, Michaelmas daisies, grown all together in big beds each side of a path, make a lovely graduated colour-mass, as Miss Jekyll recommends. But, in smaller gardens, I have an idea that they look best as individual specimen plants; the earlier ones planted in half-shade and the later ones in full sun. Aster ericoidcs seems to have several varieties. I have a very pretty white one which flowers latest of all and looks well in water.
If the seed of good gladiolus is sown directly it is ripe, the plants will flower the second year.
At page 71 of ' Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden,' I mention that I hoped to get a white crown imperial. A kind lady offered to send me some. On their arrival, and when they grew the next year, they turned out to be white Martagon lilies. Messrs. Barr & Son have since brought to my notice that there is no white variety of the fritillaria except F. Meleagris, which is quite a low-growing one.
As an example of how the old English duplicate names for a flower often conveyed a strange contrast in their meaning - like 'Love-in-the-mist' and 'The Devil-in-the-bush' - I give the following interesting little anecdote which appeared not long ago in the 'spectator.' I believe the flower alluded to is Amaranthus caudatus, often called 'Love-lies-bleeding.'
In the current number of the "Cornhill Magazine," in an interesting paper entitled "On a Few Conversationalists," the writer tells an amusing story of Browning, and how he received certain flowers from a lady, who, on being pressed to give their English names, shyly confessed they were called "bloody noses." I happened many years ago to be staying in a country house when Browning told this story in his inimitable way, and he ended with the following lines, which I then and there committed to memory, and which will, I think, interest your readers:-
"I'll deck my love with posies, I'll cover her with roses,
Should she protest
I'll do my best To give her bloody noses." '
In the early days of what was called the aesthetic movement sunflowers were much grown in gardens. The gardener, however, found it a greedy feeder, and the 'chaff' against the 'Greenery-yallery Grosvenor Gallery ' school brought it into disfavour; but I still think the branching kind grown singly is one of the very handsomest annuals we have, and useful too, as poultry are fond of the seed and goats like the leaves. A newspaper account the other day set me wondering whether in some parts of England farmers could not, with advantage, grow the variety named below, which, as is well known, yields the seed;it is eaten as a dessert-nut all over Russia.
The first year of the twentieth century closed with a curious sale on the Baltic of a cargo of sunflower seeds, which changed hands at 11l. 5s. per ton. Though a small trade has been done in sunflower seed for close on two hundred years, this transaction was the first in which a whole cargo - three hundred tons from Odessa - was dealt with. In Russia, where the cultivation of the sunflower and the manufacture of oil from its seed is conducted on a large scale, the grandiflora is the variety grown. This species rises in a slender stalk five feet high, producing one monster head, the average yield being as much as fifty bushels of seed to the acre. So rich is it in oil that that quantity of seed will yield fifty gallons of oil, while the refuse of the seed, after this quantity of oil has been expressed, weighs 1,500 lbs. when made into cattle cakes. Few people in England who grow the sunflower for ornament have any idea of its usefulness. It is among neglected crops in which there is money, as is shown by the price paid a few days ago. Besides the seed, every other portion of the plant can be utilised. The leaves furnish an excellent fodder, while in Russia the stalks are prized as fuel, and their ashes, which contain 10 per cent. of potash, are readily sold to soapmakers.Naturally, in Russia the chief virtue of the sunflower lies in the oil contained in its seed.The oil is of a clear, pale yellow colour, almost inodorous and of an agreeable, mild taste, so that it is in great request as a table article.Why sunflowersare not cultivated on an extensive scale in England it is difficult to say.Poultry and cattle like the seed either in its natural state or crushed and made into cakes.No plant produces such fine honey and wax; when the flower is in bloom the bees abound in it.'