We needed sods for the terraces we were making, and so began by removing the turf around the trees, leaving narrow strips of grass to walk upon. This furnished us with three wide beds, which we fertilized heavily with rich compost and wood-ashes, the. surface being tilled with great care, keeping the edge of the spade turned toward the trunk to avoid cutting off the rootlets of the trees. A memory of an old garden in which I had played when a child, where Pear-trees grew among the flowers, induced me to think of utilizing these broad fertile spaces for perennials. The Pear-trees were at that time doubtful as fruit-producers, but they would afford a grateful shelter from the hot sun when we were working among the plants, and their sparse foliage would hardly interfere greatly with the flowers.
In the spring a generous friend sent me a box of hardy plants, which were set out at random, as they came without labels, and many of them were unfamiliar to me. I do not find that they interfere much with the Pear-trees, which, under this steady cultivation, yield more of their fine old-fashioned fruit than we know what to do with, for pears are a drug in this market and can hardly be given away. The Pear-trees certainly do not hinder the growth of the sturdy perennials, which multiply enormously, so that every spring and fall there are quantities of them to be shared with friends. A nurseryman, who came last year to set some Strawberry-plants, declared that, if properly divided, there were roots enough there to stock an acre.
Such strong, showy plants as the Iris, the Foxglove, and the Giant Evening Primrose flourish admirably, while Phlox and Hollyhocks and Columbines and Spiraeas encumber the ground.
There is a huge Oriental Poppy that is a gorgeous spectacle, with its rich blue-green velvet robes and its silken headgear of scarlet and black, producing all alone the effect of a procession, as Bret Harte once said of Roscoe Conkling.
Smaller Poppies come up of their own accord, some single, some double, as the fancy takes them, and there is a wild array of Larkspurs and Coreopsis and Sweet Williams all summer. In the spring the variegated Thyme comes up promptly, followed closely by English Daisies and Moss Pinks, and Pansies and Violets, white, blue and yellow. The Giant Solomon's Seal rings its green bells over the heads of the tiny Bellwort; and all summer the Lilies and Peonies and Spiderworts fight for possession of the ground, while the perennial Peas, and Calendulas and Marigolds linger there till the last frost-horn blows.
The collection is not very choice, and, beyond a periodical struggle with the weeds, which try to grow as rampantly as the flowers, it gets not very much attention; but it makes a fine show from the street, and from the veranda which looks down upon it. Any minute effects would be wasted here, and we do not extend its area, which we might readily do, because it already requires more attention than we are willing to spare from the shrubs and trees that we are hurrying along upon the lawn, and which, consequently, take all our best energies, as well as the lion's share of food. In short, the flower-garden takes what it can get, - copes more or less successfully with its own weeds, and possibly is more satisfactory than if we took more pains with it, and so were liable to disappointments. It is not at all well adapted to annuals, even Mignonettes and Asters, which are sown every year, for the stronger plants rob them of their proper nutriment; but I have future plans for a parterre in that neighborhood, which shall have fitting accommodation for all the sweet old-fashioned kinds of yearly flowers.
Supplemented by the old garden, the new will even now at any season afford a fragrant and showy nosegay, such as our grandmothers liked for a beaupot, and there is always a mass of color under the Pear-trees until late in November, when the cold pinches the very last Calendula. The neighborhood of the salt water makes this garden cold, and slow to awake in spring; but, on the other hand, it modifies the temperature in the autumn, so that it escapes the early frosts, and, under the shelter of the trees, the flowers last long after those upon the high ground about the house have withered and fallen.
There is a sheltered corner, backed by a mass of Lilacs and Mock Oranges, where I dream of seeing some day a fine clump of Rhododendrons and hardy Azaleas, though I have some doubts about a southern exposure being the very best thing for them; but the decorative effect from the house will be so good that we are disposed to make the attempt. Skirting the old wall to the right of this, we come to the ancient Apple and Pear trees which are the remains of the once valuable orchard, that at one time covered a large part of the place.