"When spring unlocks the flowers."
Now and again we meet with beginners who really seem hardly to know one end of a plant from another. Always buying their flowers in bunches, they have no idea how they look when growing, and seeing flowers placed side by side that have been sent from the widest different zones and climates, they are not even very sure which of them may be claimed as English grown. Shiploads of flowers from warmer latitudes keep London and other large towns far in advance of the seasons as seen in country districts, and it is misleading. At last some enterprising spirit begins to long for the pleasure of the growing plant. It is a trial to be always buying and bringing home fresh flowering plants only to see them die off in their new quarters (for this is what they generally do), so a balcony or window-box is started.
We will suppose its owner to be living quite in town; country, and, as I think, even suburban folk with gardens have little need of window-boxes, which are make-shifts, after all, though not to be despised on that account.
The enterpriser must now choose his window-box, and is lucky if his house is built handily for it, and if his aspects are favourable. But what is one plant's good is another plant's poison. No aspect is without some advantages, if only it has light and air; even shady places can do with Ferns.
Spring In The Crook's Hill Board-School Garden, Norwich
The style and material for our window-box must depend on circumstances - size, for instance, and the style of the house. It may be rustic, severe, or plain, and made either of wood, or tiles, or cork. All are good in their way. Some modern builders arrange the stonework of the window-sills purposely to facilitate window-gardening, and it is to be hoped this good fashion will be continued and improved upon; it is a great assistance. There will often be an amateur carpenter who is quite capable of building his window-box for himself. It is nothing but a strong wooden case, in which holes must be bored at the bottom ; the box once made, it is easy to tack on pieces of virgin cork. This can be bought, seven pounds for a shilling, and nothing looks neater. Last spring I noticed all the window-boxes in a row of small semi-detached suburban villas. The prettiest were made of cork, and were filled with blood-red Tulips and Wallflowers almost exactly the same shade, and lovely they all looked among the Wallflower green. The next-door boxes were made of upright lengths of bamboo, and had a very stiff appearance; they were filled with Tulips only, packed very close together, and mostly yellow ; the effect was anything but good.
By good luck we chanced to see the identical row of pretty small houses again in early June, when our old admiration was furnished afresh with summer flowers. The photograph we begged for, and were kindly allowed to take, has become our frontispiece.
A Window Box In June
Having settled about our box, the next point to be considered is the mould to fill it. This we can buy either by the load or sack. Good leaf mould can be had for six shillings a load, or some get it by the sack, and give two shillings for that. Under the box should be a plate of zinc to prevent drips making the house damp. I have known enthusiasts to bring mould from the country to town places in boxes like ordinary luggage.
Except in extreme cases, when a particular soil is wanted for particular plants, I do not recommend this plan, especially now that the railway authorities are so strict about the weight of luggage; and besides this, plants often enjoy a change of soil; it does them good.
It is a good plan personally to superintend the first filling of the box. To cast the mould into it and shake it down, as if we were filling a pudding-basin, would never do. Drainage is necessary, so we must fill the bottom of the box with crocks. Old flower-pots broken up do excellently, but must be perfectly clean, and a few lumps of charcoal are useful to keep all sweet. Then we can lay the mould in with a clear conscience.
To those who would like to economize by using the mould from their own little back-yards, if they have any, I would emphatically say "Don't!" It is sure to be poor stuff, and full of soot and other undesirable things. Soot, by the way, is a capital stimulant; if kept some time till it has lost its first crudeness, and mixed with water till the liquid is about the colour of beer, here is an excellent tonic which will invigorate many weakly plants. But no plants like to live on physic, any more than we do.
Now for the flowers, or, if winter is coming on, the shrubs. Small Conifers do very well in winter-boxes, or Golden Privet, or Acuba, or tiny Box-trees. There is the widest range. Suppose we choose a set of the prettiest shrubs we can get, and plant between them and in front of them hardy bulbs, with a sprinkling of small-leafed Ivy to hang over the edge of the box. This will give us something pretty to look at throughout the winter and the early spring. We must water carefully, as required, and keep all foliage quite clean. There are hundreds or other schemes. The difficulty is to choose between them. It is a capital plan to take in a gardening paper. Many excellent journals can be had for one penny weekly, and any of their editors, when written to, are ready to give advice. They will tell us what are suitable plants for special situations, and ease our path by smoothing difficulties as they arise.
Pansy Bed In Crook's Hill Board-School Garden, Norwich