The Garden at Huntercombe Manor in 1882-83.
Of Cherry Blossoms— the Nightingale's "Melodius Noise"— Of Broken Stones, etc., etc., etc.
May 6.— The month of May would be Heaven upon earth if only it came in August or September, when summer mostly begins! But such cold, hard weather as we have had spoils sadly our enjoyment of the blossom trees and all the pleasures of spring. There have been just one or two sweet days, when the Cherry orchards shone softly against a sky of serenest blue; days when we did but revel in the joyous present, forgetting quite that ever it could be that "rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.".. The Cherry tree's magic season is at an end; it seemed to last scarcely longer than a day. With the first hot shafts of April's sun it startles into bloom, shaken out in snow-wreaths all over the tree, a waste of most lavish loveliness. It is something gained, once in the twelvemonth's round of common-place, if only for a moment to stand beside a Cherry tree in blossom... And now Apple blossoms are coming on in rosy swift succession. How beautiful they are!...One bit, at a corner of the cross-walks, is now in full perfection. A faint delicious perfume steals out through the iron gate to the flower-garden, inviting as one passes by, to turn and peep within... Apple blossom must be added to my pharmacopoeia of sweet smells. To inhale a cluster of Blenheim Orange gives back youth for just half a minute after. It is not merely that with the perfume the heart goes back to remembered times - it is a real, absolute elixir!...Our young Siberian Crab trees are like great white bouquets; and behind the pigeon-house there is a wonder of Japanese Apple (Pyrus malus floribunda). And now the Primrose - has ceased to glad us "with worldes of new delightes." She is on the wane, "with her bells dim" - as old Ben Jonson said; but I should not call them bells. She dies upon a bed of vivid green amidst tall grasses and her own thick-coming leaves, as stars grow pale before the dawn. And we are faithless to her beauty in the presence of other, fresher loveliness; and we care not though the Primrose is dead.
The Tulips in the parterr - it is the older and prettier way to spell it without an "e" at the end - are now the chief ornament of the garden and the delight of my eyes. Timely rains strengthened the stalks to rise to their full height, and there are the beds now, a blaze of scarlet and yellow splendour. There are tall Tulips and short Tulips, rose and crimson, scarlet and orange Tulips, striped and dashed, and brown and white, and every shade of Tulip colour. A few grow between little box and golden Arbor Vitae bushes, and all the beds are deeply fringed with Crocus leaves. I am aware that as a matter of the highest principle, Tulips are seldom mixed; the colours are usually arranged separately. Long experience has taught me, however, to have nothing to do with principles - in the garden. Little else than a feeling of entire sympathy with the diverse characters of your plants and flowers is needed for "art in the garden."..There are Forget-me-nots in many parts of the garden; their long smoke-like lines of turquoise are specially pleasing. Two square beds in the entrance court, set between the black Yews, are also a success - Forget-me-not, flecked with pink Saponaria - they give the idea of blue mist touched by the sunset. In the Fantaisie, bushes of orange-coloured Berberis Darwinii are in great perfection of bloom... The orange colour contrasts well also with a chance lot of purple Honesty, which has grouped itself round a smooth-stemmed young Mulberry at the end of the turf walk. The walk itself is very bright, with an irregular bordering of white and pink Phlox Nelsoni - a Cheiranthus, or a deep blue Gentian, here and there...In these "gardens on a level" I am always wishing for rockeries and little low terraces, which should be all draped with Convolvulus Mauristiana, Phlox Nelsoni, Aubretia, and wild Ivy and Alyssum, or something yellow. I should not much care for many rare Alpine plants, I think; though a surprise of the kind here and there would be charming. Colour I must have, and plenty of it, to rejoice the eye and make glad the heart.
A tract of wild, savage scenery, six square years in extent, is in contemplation at the afforested end of the Fantaisie. Already one or two large pieces of a sort of conglomerate have been conveyed here, and are frowning in an open space amongst the wild Bluebells. There is a background of dark Arbor Vitae, and beyond, the pleasant fields are seen, with the cows and Elms and an Oak tree. There exists a certain necessity for feature in this flattest of all places! The Yew hedges and pyramids have done much to give character to the flower garden, and now there must be rocks for variety.
May 15.— To-day, amid the brilliant green of new leaves and the singing and twittering of a thousand birds in the sun's warm glow... there is a great triumph of verdure on the trees and on the grass; and Apple trees meet her [spring] in fulness of bloom, and May-buds are swelling on the Thorns to make up for lost time; and all the edges of meadow-grass are jewelled with little gems of purple, and blue, and red and the broad fields shine in silver and gold.
The short reign of Narcissus Poeticus has begun; our large old clumps down one side of the Broad Walk are not so fine as usual; frosts and cold heavy rains laid the leaves of some of them, and sometimes turned them yellow; but within the walled garden the clumps are as beautiful as ever - throngs of long-stalked silvery flowers, stiff and firm... The east border, though not much varied as yet, is gay and full of promise. There are double pale yellow Ranunculus (the Swiss meadow kind), and bunches of Heartsease, violet and brown Auriculas, sheets of double white Anemones, and the Riviera double scarlet - which, however, never with us comes scarlet, but only dull red...a patch of Gentians at the south angle of the wall, with yellow Corydalis Lutea peering out of chinks in the old bricks above. Crowds of Lilies are springing up in the background, with purple Iris and Pæonies in bud. Solomon's Seal (Lady's Signet) in many nooks and corners unfolds its curious club-shaped leaf-buds, and all its bells will soon be hung. Pansies under the south wall, make a bright display....against the wall are white Irises, almost ready to bloom, and several clusters of the garden Star of Bethlehem - valuable in its way, but not nearly so pretty as the wild sort, and most precise in its daily system of early closing and late opening...Soon the path turns past a Yew tree, and becomes the Primrose Walk, along under the line of Elms.
In our garden the birds have divided the kingdom amongst them, and in this half is the portion that fell to the reed [tree?] sparrow. He keeps the Silver Birch alive with his busy note. Landmarks, known only to themselves, divide the territory of the reed sparrow from the realm of the nightingale. The fiery-hearted nightingale! He sings all day, and his song makes the night glorious. The north-east region of the garden he keeps for himself alone. There, on still evenings, long after sunset, is heard the faint barking of distant watch-dogs, or the sound of horses' hoofs on the road. There is his favourite tree - the grand old Thorn - where, as he sings, he may press a thousand thorns into his breast! There, across the hedge, he sees the meadow with a shimmering yellow of Cowslips all over it - if Cowslips be his desire, as is said. There, not too far off, is the straight long railroad - and he loves the thunder of the train, and the red, fire-spitting engine; but late in the night, when there is dark and death-like silence among the trees, then the nightingale claims possession of the whole, and all the garden is his own.
Copyright ©: 2000 Donald Perkins