The Garden at Huntercombe Manor in 1882-83.
Of Pink May— Swallows in the Porch— Flowers de Luce— Poppies— A Little Scotch Rose, and "Clutie."
June 6.— It is difficult to know what to say about the garden in June. There is so much to say, I can hardly tell how to begin. The leafy month earns well its title, so grandly full-leafed are the trees; in finer leaf, I think, than they have been for many a year. The Elms stand out against the sky in rounded blocks of green, and in the Lime avenue the broad leaves meeting overhead are rounded and pure in outline, untouched as yet by destroying worms, untorn by tempests. The young Horse Chestnuts along the little water-course are nearly twice the size they were last summer, when cruel winds had left them only a few ragged discoloured leaves. The flower-spikes of a Chestnut within the garden measure near a foot in length. The great red Horse Chestnut (Pavius ribra) is red all over; it is a mass of blossom almost from the ground upwards to the very top. The tree is a fine sight, and if it were not so common one scarcely should tire of admiring it. The season makes a great difference in the colouring of the blossoms. Sometimes they come out almost yellow, from too little sun and too much rain; but in the rich floraison of to-day their colour is almost crimson. Then the Thorns are in great perfection; the branches of double Pink May can be compared to nothing else but bars of pink velvet. The double scarlet varieties are finer than usual, and under the hot sun their vivid colour is quite dazzling. We find this sort rather capricious; some years there is more green than red, and when the trees were younger the red was finer. A little single Thorn draped itself down to the very grass in scarlet bloom; but it lasts so brief a time every petal has now fallen. It is a picturesque, delightful tendency in all trees to bend and stretch out to meet each other; their branches love to touch and interlace. So, at this time, across many of our green garden walks the flowering May makes beautiful red-garlanded arches. Pink May and Laburnum interweave their branches, and in another place a Cherry and a Thorn have succeeded in meeting. A little further on, an Apple reaches out long arms above the turf to touch a copper Beech. Here, in this corner, there is also a Laurel; and Brake Fern, springing of itself, will soon be tall enough to reach almost the Apple branches. The Beeches, on either side of the Allée Verte embower the walk, while along the outmost line their slender drooping shoots stretch themselves to meet and embrace more staid and slow young Elms branchlets, spreading from the great old trees. The nightingale's old White Thorn shone white like a great snow mountain for about ten days, surpassing all the rest in beauty; and not far from it, deep in a thorny thicket of Dewberry mixed with Ivy and Nettles, we found the nightingale's nest. I often visited her, and she would lie close, with head laid back, and bright, black, watchful eye fixed full upon me; but I never saw her strange, smoked eggs, because she would never stir from the nest. Massive gleams- id ever such an anomaly can be said- of yellow Spanish and English Broom are shining between green trees, in contrast with paler gold of overhanging Laburnum. I winder if the Riviera Broom would live in this climate. I mean the Broom that grows something like a Rush, with the flowers set all round its polished stem.* (* Spartium junceum.). In the orchard border an immense luxuriantly round bush of Weigela replaces the Pyrus of last month, the lovely pink of its blossom set off by the tender green around it. These are all beautiful bits of colour, and yet they are only samples, as it were, of what I wish and may partly hope for some day; for a Laburnum colonnade is in contemplation, and lilac closes, and golden cloisters of Genista, some day, there must be! Something also should be made of the pale hanging clusters of Wisteria- a pergola ceiled in with its lilac pendants, or small bushes standing alone, in some grassy place. Our Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in great beauty, and since last year, are grown and filled out; the season seems in some way to have pleased them well. We do not attempt fine sorts, though there is just a sprinkling of crimson and white and a few others, amongst the showy old pinkish-lilac sort. The broad border by the side of the walk along the Holly hedge is filled with Rhododendrons and Azaleas; as yet only the common- yet always beautiful- yellow and creamy-white Azalea, filling all the air with its peculiar scent. The success of this border is especially pleasant, for the young Americans made one rather nervous at times during the early spring- on days when the weather did not exactly suit them they would look so pitiable and dejected, and their leaves hanging straight down. Into this border were moved most of the aged drawnup Rhododendrons, that used to crowd the shrubberies. Here, with more room, they have begun to bush out healthily. Yet there is at present no peat or made-up bed, and the ground is flooded every winter. We think of giving them a few cartfuls of peat next autumn, just by the way of encouragement. In another year this walk will deserve to be called "the Rhododendron Walk." At the back of the border two double scarlet May trees are now radiant with blossom. About three years ago they were removed here out of the garden, where for some reason they had become sickly and had ceased to bloom. Change of air and scene has worked wonders; they have increased greatly in size, and the move is apparently forgotten. Beyond these is the new orchard, deep in growing grass, and then the Larch Walk; and- and then- palings, if the truth must out! Beyond the Holly hedge, in the shrubbery, wherein we stuff everything that has nowhere else to go, there is at this moment a white glory of snow-balled Gueldres Rose. In my ideal garden there shall be large single trees of Gueldres Rose standing alone; not, as they are grown, "smored up" with crowded shrubs.
But we have wandered far away from the beloved garden. Over the south perch is the Lady's Bower- the chamber always so called in old English houses- with Vine-wreathed windows. Swallows are building in the garden porch. It is the chimney swallow, with the red throat. Their confidence and tameness, the perpetual darting in and out of blue-black wings (like tenderly domesticated trout! as Mr. Ruskin says), and the conversational cherry twitter that goes on all day long, are a continual feast. South, north, and east are the tree porches of the house, and swallows in all three. At the north they are more bold, but somehow less familiar. Darting shoals of swallows dash in and out, through the open doors into the house, and two nests are now nearly built. The family motto, "God's providence is my inheritance," written round the porch walls, suits well such a place of birds; while the footless martin- sign of the seventh son- borne on the stone shield over the door among the Roses and Ivy, our swallows may also feel to not wholly inappropriate. Under the east porch, which is now green with Virginian Creeper and Vine- and which will be in it season purple with Clematis, a pair of swallows are arranging a settlement. Here also, though not quite so welcome, no one dreams of denying them. After the sun has turned the corner of the house, this porch is cool and shady. On the threshold is set the legend, "Nos et meditemur in horto," taken from a sun-dial in the nuns' garden at Polesworth, near Tamworth. The invitation, I think, is generally disregarded. Many cross that threshold to walk in the garden and admire the flowers, or to play tennis, or perhaps- to smoke. But I do not think people often meditate much in the garden in these days. Dogs do sometimes, as they sit in the sun. But I wonder how it is done!
From the south front a lot of Everlasting Pea has wound itself round between the wall and the Yew buttress, taking up fully one half of the porch. It is well named Everlasting! One has nothing to do but to dig it up, and cut and hack it away, and the next year it will appear strong and hearty and in double quantity. It takes no hint that there may be too much of a good thing! And yet, when it looks so fresh and handsome, with its large bright flowers, it would be cruel to wish it away. So let it be, to teach its lesson and to smother as it will. The white Irises are nearly over, and Wood Strawberries begin to redden under the windows. An old Maiden's Blush Rose, covered with buds, peeps in at the dining-room window on one side, and on the other is the lovely pink of the most perfect Moss Rose. The parterr in front of the window is bedded out, of course. I know that it will soon be a blaze of well-chosen colour; but excepting the golden mount of Stone crop in the centre, I do no take much personal interest in its summer phase. It is fortunate for the garden's character that this should be so; for as the invention of new combinations of plants and colours would be to me impossible, this is left always in out Gardener's hands, with full confidence that the result will be as perfect as such things can be. From the dining-room window we can also see, between the Sumac and a Box tree, near where a Pæony showers crimson on the daises, a tiny mound of turf. It has been there since the end of last month; and under it lies the dear little favourite of nine summers- Clutie, the little black Skye terrier. She always loved the dining-room! . . . We can now almost walk all round the garden in deep cool shade, such growth the trees have made! The Broad Walk must always be exposed to the sun; but from the west of it, across the lawn where the old bowling-green once was, the distance from shade to shade lessens from year to year as the trees grow on. There is a charming well-shaded welt along the grass, of purple Pansies and white Pinks, in two thick lines; and on the sunny side a very bright dash of Limnanthes Douglasii has made a self-sown edging. As if it enjoyed the pleasant coolness of a north-west border, one lovely double Narcissus still lingers on in her early freshness. When hot sunbeams pierce the shade, every day I think must be her last. The Spurge Laurel has relapsed into the plain dullness of its summer state, but the Iris bank upon which it grows is as lovely as heart can desire. Cedar and Copper Beech and one or two Firs cast light shadows upon the company of Irises, and help them not to wither up too quickly. The prevailing hue is lilac, with stronger tines, and yellow intermixed. Each one in turn seems loveliest, but one chief beauty (Iris pallida) has broad petals of soft grey, most delicately flushed with pink. Then there are lilacs marked with deeper lines and white with lilac edges (Iris aphylla), finely pencilled; Enchantress, and several other yellow Variegatas, with lines of red or brown; pale yellow, with the three outer petals intense velvety-purple; and one pale bluish, with deep blue-purple velvet outside, and bright yellow brush, well marked. These two are much better than gay Darius, or the handsome sullen Versailles. The sober old Marquise (Iris lurida), too- who is, however, more like Mrs. Delany in dove-coloured mode silk hood! - after long delay, is there amongst the best. Does any plant exist that loves not a corner or an edge? I think not one; so a little corner here, where a narrow grass path crosses the Iris bank into the Beechen close, is made especially lovely by the undesigned grouping of three Irises, enriched by a background of green Ferns and Beech. The centre of the group is a deep red-purple Iris (from Vesuvius), a finely coloured yellow and purple, and between them a pure white. These grow tall and stately from out their straight stiff leaves, while a little Welsh Poppy, established there by chance, brings in its crumpled lemon-gold with the happiest effect. Colour effects, wherever they appear in our garden, are seldom planned. Somehow it does not come naturally to think, "Here there shall be blue Larkspur and white Lilies," or there red Poppies and something else. But it is quite an exquisite delight to find the most beautiful accidents of colour in unexpected places all about the garden. Then these chances may give hints, which we can take or not. At a corner behind the dovecote there is a crimson Pæony, mixed up with brilliant orange Marigolds, some of them black-eyed; red and yellow are splendid, if well used. Against the dark brown of a Cryptomeria Elegans stands a tall Tulip, like white china painted and streaked blood-red; at least it is over now, but I see it all the same. Then there is a patch of Welsh Poppy, growing just as one finds a patch of Gentian or white Crocus on the Alps- and with it London Pride, a mass of feathery red, growing in the same way. Under the trees, one meets a pallid Columbine, looking like a ghost, and just by chance in the lilac Iris bed occurs one rich carmine Rose. I do not even think the delicately refined colour combinations of dwarf-growing Gloire de Dijon Roses and bronze Heartsease was quite intentional; they mix, however, strangely well. And the bed of pink rose- Prevost and Jules Margottin- with the white Pink "Mrs. Sinkins," promises to be an equal success.
One would fain stay for a while the steps of the summer flowers in the garden; but these bright daughters of the year, in long procession, flit by more swiftly as each new day arises. They are in such a hurry now to come and to be gone, alas! Even at this very moment there are signs of the quick approach of some of our latest loves. For in the east border, among crimson Pæonies and lingering purple Iris, appears already a single Dahlia! In such a multitude one hardly knows which flowers to note, they are all so fair. But in the Fantaisie, I think I could almost let the Roses go which are bursting into bloom as bushes and as pillar Roses, just to keep it a little longer as it is now, with the hosts of White Foxgloves, with double white Rockets, yellow Day Lilies, and puce-purple Columbines; Irises and white stars of Nicotiana rising over an edging of pink and white Phlox Nelsoni- all these and many more, set off by Cupressus and Fir, interspersed among the flowers beyond; and flaring across the grass walk, a great fiery scarlet Oriental Poppy, With the morning shining through it, this flower seems made up of fire from the sun itself- the very purist possible essence of scarlet. Several magnificent Poppies light up the garden at different points. Their scarlet is a fast colour; neither wind nor sun will scorch or change it in the least, and in this quality it is superior to so many flowers whose colours fly directly- some more easily than others. The brown Heartsease cannot stand the sun, while the large purple is unmoved. The crimson of the Pæony flies; and the rose-red double Pyrethrum scorches quickly. Lilac (excepting in Wisteria) seems one of the fastest colours in the garden! - though rain-drops standing all night in a half-faded lilac Iris become a most beautiful colour! Although it seems that scarlet, yellows, and colours in which blue is mixed stand best. Besides the great scarlet Poppies, the annual Poppies are coming on, in all their varied pinks, and reds, and whites; their large crumpled petals have the shape and the transparent delicacy of rare sea shells. There is also a charming uncertainty as to the colours or amount of doubleness to be expected. Amongst the best are bright reds with a clear white eye, and pinked-hemmed whites. But when anything approaching a common field Poppy makes its appearance amongst them- as often happens, they have such a strong tendency to run back- it has to be pulled up immediately. Our Columbines are not so fine as they were last summer; their flowers are smaller and not so free in form. The Californian scarlet and yellow is so small as to be a miniature of itself. There is, however, one fine plant with flowers pale violet and primrose, and the various tints of "crushed strawberry" are very lovely, especially in the double Columbines.
June 15.— Here is the middle of the month, and the garden is more bewildering than ever! Rosebuds in countless multitudes are blooming everywhere, in every part. And as the fashion is to call her so, we must allow the Rose to be queen of flowers; and since it is most true that Roses are-
A word of praise must be said for the blue and green Anchusa Italica at the southern end of the Broad Walk, and the beds of white Pinks (these are the old-fashioned "maiden pinks of odour faint"), mixing their perfume deliciously with Musk. The beds and large patches of beautiful "Mrs. Sinkins" are very good this season. They are, as Bacon would say, "fast flowers of their small," in flavour like Clove Carnations.
Copyright ©: 2000 Donald Perkins