This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
A FEW tender ferns introduced into the flower garden, or in the lawn near the house, prepare the way for masses of wild ferns in more distant parts of the grounds, where, with ferns, or amongst them, we shall set Weigandia, Solanum, Nicotina, Uhdea, Heracleum, Azaliae, Ricinus, etc. The large leaves of these plants stimulate the imagination, and clothe the edge of the wood with a rich mantle of vegetation. Palms should be confined to the flower garden, and near the house, as they are of slow growth, and are fine in proportion to their size, therefore we cannot expect any one to have many; indeed they will always be the rarest of plants for summer decoration. The Muras and Ficus, and all the leathery-leaved plants suffer from high winds, though they are hardy to the sun, and if we want to preserve their entire beauty we must give them wind shelter. Ferdinanda Emineus, Musa Ensete, and any of the lusty growing subtropicals take too much room to winter to be desirable, but to see one of them in its glory will repay one for a long journey.
The subtropicals, which depend for their beauty on the color of their leaves, like Dracena Terminalis, the Caladium, Marantas, and the like, increase in value as they grow, and as their foliage attains size and vigor, therefore it is an object to protect them carefully in winter. A brilliant-leaved Dracena Terminalis is one of the most beautiful plants for house decoration that we can have, and to make them available they should be plunged in pots or tubs in summer, so that they may be moved in winter without danger. Where plunging is made a business, it is not very tedious or burdensome, and one can, by keeping his plants in pots, change the appearance of bis garden at very short notice. To maintain a fine show in summer, if a large number of plants are to be used, requires a heavy outlay in glass, but to have a few plants to give variety and contrast is a very easy matter. I have described these plants thus far in relation to the ordinary country place, where there is a large area which gives in itself opportunities of other kinds of enjoyment than that found in studying and watching plants and flowers.
In such places, as I said before, we may use them sparingly, and ought always to expect our chief pleasure from other resource*, using the foliage plants rather as curiosities than the staple of our ornamentation, but there are other kinds of ornamental grounds where they may be introduced more abundantly, and made of more consequence. As a good stock of tender plants can be raised and kept only by the aid of green-houses, gardeners naturally recommend those to their employers.
Every man who loves his art or occupation,or who is reasonably well contented with it, expects, or at least hopes, that his fellows will hold the art or his work in as good estimation as he does, and where he labors to produce a result, finds a great part of his reward in the praise it received. This makes all gardeners and florists urge upon country people the pleasure and satisfaction they will find in cultivating plants and flowers, native and foreign of all kinds; and as flowers and beauty of all kinds do affect every sympathetic mind to some extent, the number of persons who begin or carry on floriculture every year increases. But beautiful as flowers are, and interesting as subtropical or curious-leaved plants become to one who collects them, it cannot be denied that they are troublesome and often costly, and one who goes into the country for quiet and repose, hopes he may be excused if he turns a deaf ear to all who advise him to begin on any kind of floriculture which requires a great deal of annual care, and continual replacement.
Whoever lives in the country beyond the smoke of city or factory chimneys where the bells come only as soft music through the air, ought to have in lawn and shrubs, woods, water and landscape, so much to enjoy that there is little need of any mere local beauty or pleasure to attract his thoughts or wile away his time ; but the number who can live in that way are few, and most men must be contented with a small town or suburb lot, where the acres are counted by feet, and the landscape bounded by a neighbor's high wall or fence. In such small places the resident need not be debarred from rural or floral pleasure if he will make the most of the little land which he has. The walls may be supports for running roses, woodbine, ivy and honeysuckle ; the shaded corners suit the colored-leaved plants that suffer from the sun and dry heat; the narrow borders may be enriched with the gold of Calceolaria, Scarlet of Pelargonium, Crimson of Coleus. The smaller the space the greater the need of thoughtful planning to get the utmost from the land; and aided by the colored leaves or large or quaint foliage of the subtropical and ferns, the few hundred feet of a town lot may become as varied and beautiful in its way, as the widest landscape.
The owner of the town lot should at the outset throw aside all thought of cultivating fruit or vegetables, excepting such fruit as will grow best on walla and espaliers, like grapes, pears and peaches.
The vegetables which are so good when fresh, and so much better than the purchased supplies of the market, oocupy a great deal of room for the return they give, and although a thoughtful man and good cultivator may get three crops in a season from land well managed; his peas following salads or radishes, to be in turn replaced by tomatoes or celery, most men will not be careful enough, and will sacrifice a large space to a crop of peas, that will be gone in three weeks, leaving empty land and unsightly brush behind. It should be an axiom with the owner of every small place, "that beauty is better than booty," and that the land he owns shall give, during eight months of the year, a crop of enjoyment to the eye and mind rather than feed the stomach for a few weeks without materially lightening the drain on the purse.
When discussing how to plant and group subtropicals in small areas, it seems useless to get up plans for planting the many little parallelograms and squares that might be devoted to such culture,.for, whether the house is in the middle, or at one side, in front or rear, the land is so limited that there is but little chance for other variety than can be produced by varying the tint3 and colors of the flowers, and the kinds of plants whose foliage is to contrast with the flowers or each other. The single treatment I show, with its explanatory index, is not proposed as the best, or only one, for with the multitude of flowers and plants, there may be infinite variety in using colors. We may prefer this year to have only contrasts, and next year harmonies of color. We may give our land one year to a few families of plants, beginning with Spring Bulbs, then Roses, next Lilies, Gladioli, ending with Chrysanthemums, never letting a Verbena, Heliotrope, Pelargonium or Coleus show their heads; another year we may banish the Roses and their supporters, and carpet the earth with Lobelia, Verbena. Gnaphalium, Clentaurea and Coleus, and dot the grass with tufts of Tritoma, Pampas Grass, Cannas and Ferns. These plants, which may attain a real perfection in a single season, can be changed very easily, and thus permit endless variety.
I do not care to dwell so much on the way of doing this kind of work, as its importance, and to stimulate the owners of small places to give all their available land to combinations of hardy and tender plants that will yield beauty of some kind almost all the year. During the winter, as a matter of course, we can hope for very little vegetable beauty ; our reliance must be on evergreens, and as evergreen shrubs and trees are few in kinds, and the trees great consumers of room, we must, in small places, be contented with rather bare surfaces during the winter, although beginning with Andromeda floribunda in the spring. The Andro-medas, Rhododendrons, Kalmias and Hollies furnish a great deal of beauty from spring to spring, particularly when combined with the smaller evergreen trees, small in this latitude only, Cupressus, Retinispora, Thuiopsis, Pinus Mugho, Dwarf Abies and Thujas. In cities, evergreens are less serviceable than in the country, because of the accumulation of dust and smoke upon their leaves and wood; but if one has command of hydrant water, he can keep the foliage as clean in a city as in the country, and really have more beauty from evergreen shrubs than out of town, because the climate is warmer, and the plants better sheltered from wind and sun.
In city squares, evergreens are apt to look black and feeble, and to be so too, for no one knows how or cares to clean the leaves, and as they remain on the branches for a long time in the year, their pores become choked, and cannot give the air and moisture the free circulation which is desirable. Evergreens drop their leaves as regularly as deciduous trees, but only part at a time, and for that reason tangle up the smoky vapours, and hold on to a greater amount of dirt than is easily believed, but city air and warmth, manure and water, give the bedding and subtropical plants a climate just suited to develop their perfection, and any man who has 200 square feet may, in his degree, produce as much beauty and satisfaction as can come from one hundred acres. The owner of a small place, who must confine his range to narrow limits, learns to love and know his plants, and to note their minute differences, and it is almost always among them that we find the most successful competitors for prises in particular class of plants at flower shows, and the most critical eyes to detect perfection and imperfections.