This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
As I write, my garden lies locked up in the icy bands of the hard frost, and all the pretty smiling flowers are laid low. A few days since and it was different, for then my eyes were gladdened with the sight, here and there, of a few of the blossoms of the early single crimson Primrose, or a Polyanthus, or sweet-scented Violet. Till then, the latest of my summer stocks yielded me flowers, so did the Tom Thumb Antirrhinums; whilst the Pansies, prematurely gay, gave a promise of the many beauties they will assuredly unfold in the coming spring. So fair and serene had been the prevailing weather, that it did seem we were about to glide gently into the pleasant months of spring without a check or taste of winter; but we have since been taught a sharp and salutary lesson, and when I write of "my garden in winter," it is winter indeed. My garden is not large or extensive; it admits of but little variety, but it forms for me no inconsiderable portion of my floral world, and whatever I do therein is matter for deep consideration and forethought. I love my garden, and want to extract from it the greatest possible amount of pleasure and enjoyment.
It is not enough that it should yield me Crocuses and Tulips in the spring; Pelargoniums and Verbenas in summer; with Asters and Dahlias in autumn: I want to have ever in it something that shall by its beauty, however simple, yield me that satisfaction the cultivation of flowers invariably affords. I have a little greenhouse as well, now and always full of plants that never fail me. There are the remains of the bloom of this year's produce upon my Pelargoniums, and they will continue to give me flowers for a few weeks yet to come. There are also some dwarf Tropceolums for next year's propagation that will, throughout the entire winter, send up their bright golden, orange, or scarlet blossoms, as if in defiance of the external cold; and here and there are a few other plants, some in flower, and some with pretty ornamental foliage, memories of the summer that has departed. And then I have my batch of Primulas, many of which are just now beginning to expand their flowers, - the commencement of another year's delights, that shall not fail me as long as the winter and spring lasts.
But I write mainly of my external garden, a depository of hardy plants, making up my winter bedding-out. I am naturally anxious to look more gay than my neighbours, though they are fast catching my winter-gardening mania; and I want especially to show the passers-by that I have sufficient versatility of invention to have something fresh in design year by year. Even now, in these dull leaden months of autumn, I take a pleasure in noting the many pleased and wondering faces who gaze into my garden, and who, whilst admiring its appearance, strive vainly to guess what this row of plants, or that lot in a bed, may be. And I can observe the same faces coming from week to week to take a peep how things are progressing as the spring months advance, when my garden shall be full of flowers, and gay and pleasing to the eye. I like hardy foliage-plants, for winter work especially; they look nice at all times, but how much more so when all else seems so sterile ! Just inside my entrance-gate I have a border edged with Sempervivums, Montanum and Californicum alternately, and very pretty they look; next this a line of Echeveria secunda glauca,its greyish-white foliage looking prominent in the darkest weather - a capital thing for winter work, as it is quite hardy.
Then for contrast the dark-leaved Ajuga reptans, a very useful plant for foliage work, and one that is almost essential, from the peculiar hue of its foliage. Behind this is a row of the Golden Feather Pyrethrum, a fine acquisition to the flower-garden, and for winter and spring work especially; then I have a background of crimson-stalked Beet, a fine hardy foliage-plant, that will show off the bright golden hue of the Pyrethrum to the best advantage. A little farther in, just under the front of my cottage, runs a narrow border which I have edged with a broad margin of that prettiest of all the Sedums - acre aureum, or the golden-tipped form of the common Stonecrop, S. acre. What a gem this is for the hardy winter garden ! every one of its little points seems to glisten in the light as though it were tinted with gold; whilst for vases, pans, or rockwork, it is invaluable. Then, next to this, I have a row of the red-foliaged Oxalis corniculata rubra. This serves as an excellent set-off to the gold of the Stonecrop. I use late seedling plants for the purpose, as they retain their foliage much more perfectly during the winter months. Next this, at the back of it, is a line of Myosotis Azorica, a very dwarf light-blue variety of that pretty family of Alpine plants.
I rather fear, from present appearances, that it is scarcely hardy enough to stand the rigour of winter; but as all its young growth remains fresh and green, there is still hope. On the opposite side of the walk a broad border required filling with more material than my foliage-plants would cover, so I judiciously introduced flowering plants at the back, beginning from behind with Young's blood Wallflower, and then a line of strong plants of Viola cornuta alba, then Viola cornuta fronting that, with Viola lutea next this, and using Ajuga reptans again to throw it up by contrast, and in front of it another pleasing gem, the golden-blotched double-crimson Daisy Bellis aucubae-folia. This is just one of those pretty things that must always have a prominent place in my winter garden. Writing of this Daisy, let me here mention that a neighbour of mine has developed its capacity to propagate itself to a wonderful degree. Just two years since he possessed three small plants only, but by dint of constant attention, and especially a liberal use of house and yard sewage, he holds now a stock, derived from the original three only, of over one thousand, all strong plants.
This fact will show that the talk about this Daisy being "miffy," as it is termed, is wide of the truth. * I also use largely for edging purposes for my walks the Stachys lanata; it does admirably in my dry soil. I should like to commend this plant as an edging to all amateur cultivators and cottagers who may wish to have their gardens look neat and tidy. Pansies are with me a strong feature for spring blooming, and good rooted plants put out early will often give me a few stray flowers right through, the winter. One border filled with them has a line of a seedling crimson, and another of a seedling light of my own: with these are also a fine new variety that promises to be the best white bedding pansy out, and also the Cliveden yellow and Cliveden blue varieties.
One of the prettiest of all my winter blooming plants is the single crimson Primrose. Strong plants of this will commence blooming in November, and will continue throwing up their lively bright crimson flowers at every gleam of winter sunshine. Then there are several varieties of the early blooming double Primrose, that will soon be challenging my admiration; and not a few of the gold-laced Polyanthus, that are always pretty, early, and acceptable. I cannot find space to closely enumerate all the winter plants that my garden possesses, but mention must be made of charming Myosotis dissitiflora, so early, fine, and free-blooming; Silene pendula ruberrima and S. pseudo-atocion, the last one a capital acquisition, the colour almost magenta, and of better shape than the rest.
Perhaps the best time to say more about my other blooming plants will be a few months later on, when all are in bloom. About April I expect my garden will be very gay. When the sweetest notes of the early song-birds are being first heard, when all nature is putting on her choicest garb, and the earth is lovely with her works, - then will I again revert to this pleasant theme, and picture how my garden looks when the full flush of floral beauty is on it. A. D.
* Despite A. D.'s statement to the contrary, everywhere about Edinburgh this Daisy has proved utterly unmanageable, and nearly every one has given up its culture in despair. It evidently requires a warm light soil, and a cool moist situation, but not a wet cold one. - [Eds].
Your January number gave this interesting subject, with a promise of a farther contribution in April, which has not been forthcoming. Having your volumes nicely bound for reference, I like a promise or system fairly carried out. The article on the Aster in last number is truly useful. My half-crown's worth of seed was just money, time, and labour thrown away this season; and now I shall request the seedsman, next time I apply to him, to supply me with the four sorts named. As to the diversity of opinion on the Briar and Manetti, I tried my hand this year on the latter for the first time, cutting the usual "T* for the reception of the bud after removing the earth from the stem with an old tooth-brush; but somehow or other the bud was eventually thrown out, and the cut looked a large wound instead. Do the buds on the Manetti require different treatment to those on the Briar as to tying or otherwise? Will A. D. give us any more contributions, as promised? - Amateur. [Open the earth more boldly at the roots of your Manetti stocks, and bud as low as you possibly can. It is more difficult to bud on the Manetti than on the Briar, as the place in which the bud is inserted on the Briar is more readily under command.
The garden of our correspondent A. D. was so completely wrecked by the hot weather and drought that set in so unusually early, that he was prevented from giving his promised contribution. Whether he will continue to detail his experiences must depend entirely on the new editorial arrangements for the coming year, now in course of being made. - R. D].