"Our tallest rose Peeped in at the chamber window."
No cottage, villa, hut, nor any other human dwelling, however small and gardenless, need be without some leaves and flowers, for it must have walls, and up them may the Ivy wander and the Jasmine cling. Quaintly enough, both Vine and Fig tree are tolerant of town air, and, suggestive as they are of sylvan and patriarchal life, might flourish in Seven-Dials if there were room enough for them to grow. The Vine, in fact, is one of the best climbers it is possible to find for London and the suburbs; one regrets that it is not oftener made use of, for, to say nothing of its fruits, the foliage is so exquisitely decorative: in summer of a pure green, and in autumn rich in yellows, reds, and browns. The Fig tree is another handsome plant, well worth growing if only for the sake of its comfortable triple leaves that in Eden were found so useful. There is no occasion to mention Virginian Creepers; everybody already knows and appreciates them. The large-leafed, loosely flowing, common kind is preferred by some, but is not so neat and compact as the small-foliaged Ampelopsis Veitchii, which clings wherever it can place a finger with extraordinary tenacity, and never needs a nail. Naturally, this clinging habit makes the Veitchii very popular where gardeners are scarce.
In planting creepers and climbers we find it the best of methods always to put in two or three at a time; winter and summer ones grow happily side by side; after one has had his turn, another takes the floor, and things are always lively. Even in drear November there are berries, whose shining colours are cotemporary with the bright yellows of the Winter Jasmine, and these together provide a feast of colour from October to the end of January.
Virginian Creeper Over Porch
On taking possession of a house near town, or in any of the suburbs, we must consider well its different aspects before we choose our creepers, and after that must settle on the best means of training them. Some people like to have a trellis-work of wood against the walls, and upon grey, or white, old-fashioned houses this looks very well. Others will stretch wire-netting against the walls, a method convenient in one way, because a width or two can always be added as it is wanted, and it is cheap; but wire is not a very genial support to live on. Many plants do not like it, and I am not at all fond of it myself; but it comes in useful sometimes if a very ugly, bare side wall has to be hidden by degrees. Virginian Creepers do not disdain to use it when they want to climb; but others turn from it most amusingly. The other alternative is the ordinary garden-nail and shred, and a very good one, too, it is. Every gardener should be generously supplied with nails of different sizes and strong, clean shreds of cloth. In stormy weather they save many a wreck. Sometimes stout string will be required, and stakes, and something in the nature of a pad to soften the rub of the support against the stem.
Cloth shreds must be looked to now and then, and renewed when necessary, for the ravages of moth and rust are only to be expected. It is wise to use tarred string, which is very wholesome and durable. Many plants that find a place on walls can neither climb nor creep; these must be strongly held in place. Of such are the Cape and Winter Jasmines, many Roses, For-sythia, the Fire-thorn (Pyracanthus), and Cotoncaster, whose soft berries, with a crimson bloom upon them, are a pleasant change from the Firethorn's brilliant red and the scarlet of the Holly.
Roses certainly do better against wood than when growing flush against the brick of any wall, especially if it happens to be an old one: they keep more free from insects. How different from Ivy, whose feelings are deeply hurt and injured if it is torn from its dear walls, where it so gladly feeds on lime and air, and makes a clustered home for twilight moths.
Jasmines and other plants that have the same habit of growth must not be allowed to run too much to riot. They should be well cut in every autumn, as soon as frost is threatening; the new growths of each recurring season amply suffice to provide the graceful trails that hang about with great luxuriance, and will be full of flowers. Two years running a pair of spotted fly-catchers built their nests in the Jasmine-withes close to our windows; by June the new growths were already thick enough to hold their tiny homes.
A delightful plant to cover a house-wall, and one that is quite content to live in London and its suburbs, is the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora. Our own was planted, in the first instance, against a south wall, where afterwards we put a Passion-flower, and have now two kinds of Jasmine. In this aspect the Magnolia did not thrive at all. Then we moved it to the west, where it started growth at once, and rose with wonderful rapidity house-high and thickly branched. It is a lovely place for blackbirds; they never fail to build in it, so we get music as well as scent; but the birds have flown before the flowers come. These bloom from August to October, sweetening every dwelling-room that is near them, and every one loves to watch the big white buds as they unfold so slowly to show their satin linings and the big gold jewel that lies inside each cup.
Both on our north and south and west walls we plant Gloire-de-Dijon Roses along with purple Clematis, not for a succession of flowers, but so that they may bloom together. Few things in nature are more truly satisfactory than the way these two plants have of blossoming at the same time; the colours contrast so perfectly.
Passion-flowers and Clematis Montana are two creepers that, as a rule, do well on warm south walls. For a long time we revelled in these upon the house; but both are delicate. Even so far south as Surrey we found a very cold, damp winter would kill them, and it is dreadful to see an empty wall which once was full of leaves and blossoms, so we now grow these creepers in some sheltered corner; arch of door and window-mullion must have stronger plants.
No creepers are hardier than the Virginians, nor could any look prettier as they wreath above a porch. More than once the shelter ot ours has been chosen for a rare bird's nesting, and the author of a gardening dictionary was so taken with it that he begged for its photograph, as an illustration of that particular creeper, in his book. I have never known anything to kill this plant except drought or sunstroke. Do give it a little water in dry, hot weather. Our south wall has been the scene of many adventures in the plant world. There is a family legend about the Passion-flower that for years grew high enough to look in (along with the roses) at our chamber windows. It did not survive the foot-treads of Mr. Peace, the thief and murderer, who, one fine day at the luncheon hour, climbed up by it over a portico and into a bedroom, whence he made off with all the jewellery he could find; die the Passion-flower certainly did, and that before the following winter's frost.
Another creeper of great value to the suburban gardener is Honeysuckle; the Dutch variety for its sweetness, the Japanese for its leaves of yellow, green, and gold. Not for the house, but for pergolas, or as a blind to hide "next door," or for a rustic arbour, what is more cheerful than the Hop, which climbs to the height of many yards in one season, and drops its pretty blooms, that have so queer and pleasant a smell, as merrily in a sunny corner of any town garden as if it were clambering up the hop-poles of Kent or Sussex? Hop-bines might be used a great deal more freely than they are to hide unsightly outhouses and barren places, but even Hops want a little care; they must have some good stuff to grow into, and they do like sunshine. Gourds are magnificent for all these purposes. I know one gentleman who so much admires the leaves and flowers of the common domestic Vegetable Marrow that he cultivates it as an ornament and not for eating, much as the King of Siam grows carrots, with whose charming foliage he fell in love when sojourning in England.
Of all creepers we are familiar with, Clematis Montana is least tolerant of the knife. If we happen to meet with a very old one, that has been allowed to wander unchecked all over the place, and is untidy at the bottom, it is quite useless to attempt to cut and prune it into shape. Such treatment would be certain to destroy; it is better to take it away bodily and put in a new one. The yearly pruning already spoken of may be pursued in safety. Honeysuckles behave much in the same way as to their dislike of too much cutting, otherwise they give no trouble at all, and thrive in any garden soil that is fairly good. Sometimes one has to deal with old house-walls whereon neglected creepers show unsightly stems, and yet we cannot part with them, because of the value of the upper growth. The best thing to be done - so we find - is to plant some gay perennial climber that will hide defects. One of the best is the Morning Glory (Ipomaea.) If given a sunny place, this creeper will throw up long free garlands every summer.
The leaves are prettily shaped, and each new morning brings new buds, wonderful, twisted, spiral buds, that open into cup-shaped flowers, pink, or white, or blue, or streaked, or crimson.
Ivy deserves a chapter all to itself; it is the kindest and most beneficent climber in all the world, never shabby, never tired, blooming in November and December, when flowers are scarcest; and it owns such an endless variety of leaf-forms and colours that one might make an interesting garden by filling it with nothing but different kinds of Ivy. And the same Ivy behaves so differently at different periods of its life, that sometimes one can hardly believe one is not being cheated by a changeling. See the Ivy that is busy climbing up a tree or wall, how tightly it catches hold, and how industriously it wins its way to the very summit. No leisure now for play or flowering, it is a steady onward march - eyes right, no looking round; but once the top is reached there comes a change. Like a successful man of business, whose work is done, it has time now for life's graces ; the Ivy settles down and clusters, and bears flowers and berries. It loves pretty shapes and pictures - in short, takes kindly to the Arts.
For the borders of shrubberies no edgings are prettier than Gold and Silver Ivies trailed over stones or rock-work, and Irish Ivy is invaluable to fill bare patches under trees on lawns, where nothing else will grow, or for covering up old tree-stumps or unsightly barns or sheds. Ivy at first grows slowly. Any one who is impatient for immediate effect had better buy well-rooted plants of it in pots; by this means a good length can be secured at once. If a small piece is planted, a little lime-rubbish in the ground helps very much, and so does watering for a week or two till well-established, after which any Ivy can be trusted to look after itself. Ivy in London is no new favourite.
Close to St Paul's Cathedral is a thoroughfare where once the Prebendaries of St Paul lived peaceful lives in quaint old-fashioned houses, whose walls were smothered in it; houses and Ivy have disappeared, but the old name lingers - it is "Ivy Lane."