The Garden at Huntercombe Manor in 1882-83.
Of Blossoms, Buds, and Bowers— Of May and June and July Flowers.
November 3.— The ruin is complete! and cleared away, too. . . . Yet there is consolation, and something very comfortable, in the neatness of dug borders, and the beds made up for the winter.
The symmetrically banked-up Celery— crested with the richest green, in the kitchen garden— rather takes my fancy; so also does the fine bit of colour in some huge heaps of dead leaves, that I see already stored in the rubbish yard. The dead leaves have to be swept away from the lawn and garden walks— but I believe we do not consider any except those of Beech and Oak to be of much service. It is my heresy, that leaves do not fall till the goodness of them has decayed. They are of use, however, when left to cover the ground above tender roots. In the Fantaisie the earthy bed can scarce be seen, so close lies this warm counterpane of leaves! The great Elms, on the greyest days, now make sunshine of their own. Their lofty breadths of yellow gold tower above the zone of garden trees. When the sun illumines them, and the light winds pass, it is a dream to watch the glittering fall of autumn leaves. The ancient times return, and Jove once more showers gold around some sleeping Danae! During the first days of the month, the parterr was done, Tulips put in, and a lot of Crocuses in double row. In a few beds the dwarf evergreens, which had been removed for the summer, are planted in again— just to make the parterr's emptiness look less cheerless from the dining-room windows. Between these small evergreen bushes, in their season, will come up spikes of Hyacinths, of varied hue. I do nor care for a whole bed of Hyacinths or Tulips; they give me little real pleasure unless the colours be mixed. One chief charm of a garden, I think, depends on surprise. There is a kind of dullness in Tulips and Hyacinths, sorted, and coming up all one size and colour. I love to watch the close-folded Tulip bud, rising higher and higher daily— almost hourly— from its brown bed; and never to be quite certain of the colour that is to be, till one morning I find the rose, or golden, or ruby cup in all its finished beauty; perhaps not all what was expected. And then, amid these splendours, will suddenly appear one shorter or taller than the rest, of the purest, rarest white. How that white Tulip, coming as it were by chance, is valued! And so, again this year a mixed lot are planted. There was a time when we had only one Tulip in all the garden. |I used to look for it regularly in a certain shady border under a Laburnum tree; an old-fashioned, dull, purple and white-striped flower, but it never failed to show, at the very end of every season. I had a regard for that Tulip, and last summer it was a disappointment vainly to wait for its appearance in the accustomed spot. Many there were of its kind, surpassing it in loveliness; but then they were not the same.
Hyacinth beds will be a new thing here, but I doubt if they will make us quite so happy as hitherto the unexpected advent of some stray pyramid of small odorous bells, pink, blue, or creamy-white, in out-of-the-way places about the garden. After their flowering is over, the pot-bulbs are always turned out somewhere in the borders. When a plant has lived with us for a time under the same roof, or even in the green-house, giving out for us its whole self of sweetness or of beauty, it seems so cruel that it should at last be thrown away as if worthless and forgotten! Some Narcissus that have had their day have just been put into a round bed on the further lawn, mixed with the "Mrs. Sinkins" white Pink; and there is a rim all round of double lilac Primroses. I have long wished to have plenty of that dear old neglected Primrose; so now we have a number of healthy roots from an old garden in Derbyshire. In the centre of this bed is a very tall dead Cupressus, one of our few failures in transplantation last spring. A Cobæa, which was to have grown up quick and made a "bonnie green gown" for the poor bare tree, proved failure number two. It absolutely refused to grow, or do anything but look stunted and miserable, till one day, late in October, there it was running up the tree as fast as possible, clothing every twig with leaves and tendrils, and large, deep, bell-like blossoms! Its day must be short, however, at the wrong end of the year, and even now its bells are chilled to a greenish hue. A fine red climbing Rose on one side, and one of the old Blairii on the other, will make a kinder and more beautiful summer garment.
We have made a new Lavender border, and now I hope to have enough, when dried, to lay within the drawers and wardrobes, and give us "all the perfume of summer, when summer is gone;" enough, too, for pot-pourri, though we do not always make this fresh each year. It takes time, and there is so little time in these days! and often the Roses are too wet, and the Lavender too scarce. The recipe we use is an old one: the paper is yellow, and the ink faded. But our best pot-pourri of these days comes not near the undying fragrance of some Rose leaves— three generations old— that we still preserve in one or two old covered jars and bowls of Oriental porcelain. Along the south wall, an oblong bed is planted with dark purple Heartsease, and two more with yellow. There are six beds, and in the spring they will glow resplendently with setting of Crocuses, white, yellow, and lilac; meanwhile a good layer of cocoanut fibre gives a look of comfort for the winter; and moreover, rather annoys the field-mice.
Under the Holly hedge, facing south, a narrow border has been made ready to receive a quantity of white Iris roots. The Holly hedge, planted for shelter and for pleasure, along a broad walk on one side of the carriage drive, is not in itself a success as yet. It was put in four years ago, but the trees were too old, I think; this year it is flushed all over with scarlet berries.
I am sorry to have to remove my beloved white Irises, but they have increased so enormously as to make some change necessary. Nearly twenty years ago I carried home from the south of France a few small roots in a green pitcher. For half that time they grew and multiplied on the sunny terraces of a Somersetshire garden, and now for ten other years the same roots, transplanted here, have flourished, if possible, still more abundantly. It may be fancy only, but I think our white Irises might not have succeeded as they do, had they not been loved so well. Everybody has a favourite flower, I suppose— the white Iris is mine— the Fleur-de-lys of France— the lily of Florence. Nothing can be more refined and lovely than the thin, translucent petals. To see these flowers at their best, one must get up and go into the garden at five o'clock on some fine morning at the end of May. I did once, and as I walked beside their shining rows in the clear daylight, I felt there were no such pearly shadows, nor any such strange purity in the whiteness of other flowers. We have given away a great many, but I fear I am not altogether sorry that they do not seem always to succeed elsewhere as they do with us. I am trying to collect every different Iris I know of. We have now several which are very beautiful, and we should have more were it not that numbers die off after, perhaps, one short summer's loveliness. They dwindle and become sickly, and then altogether disappear. Almost our whole stock of one well-established kind— an old inhabitant of the garden— was destroyed by mice two seasons ago. The flower is bronze-brown, with a golden blaze in the middle. La Marquise (Iris Lurida?), an old-fashioned dove-coloured sort, with purple frays on the falls, will grow anywhere. So will the large, broad-leaved, pale lilac kind, and the yellow Algerian. A little black wild Iris, that fringes the vineyard trenches about Florence, we have either lost or it will not flower. They call it "La Vedova." I brought home some roots once from Bellosguardo, and we put them in where the warmest rays of the south sun would find them. But only the long, narrow, wild onion-like leaves appear— or, I fancy, they are the Vedova's leaves. Still I do not lose hope, but watch for it always when March comes round; and some day, somewhere, I think, my little "widow" is sure to surprise me. The wild yellow Italian Tulip, that came with the Iris, succeeds here well. The patch of pale gold never fails, by the first week of April, to enliven the sunny side of a Yew hedge. A few untidy yellow blooms, supported on slender limp stalks, live there, just the same as in their own dear Italy. I stoop down to gather one, and for a moment the English garden is not there. . . . Before me lies a grassy vineyard path— there are the great open farm-sheds, full of sunlight and sunlit shade— and the pair of grey long-horned oxen, calmly waiting for the yoke. Near them, with her knitting, stands a patient sad-eyed woman, while happy children run down the path at play, or tie up bunches of yellow Tulips under the fig-trees. . . . Then there is a tall, white Iris, whose place is not yet fairly fixed. It is a handsome thing, and quite unlike the Fleur-de-lys. I think of mixing it in with the yellow Flags and Osmunda Regalis beside the little watercourse. Last July, to watch the slow blooming of some Japanese Iris in the kitchen garden gave me intense delight. They grew tall and straight, with curiously ribbed leaves. The single flower at the top of each stem opened out very flat, with rounded petals, rich purple in colour, and measuring nearly seven inches across. One saw at once it was the purple flower the Prince, in the German fairy tale, found on the mountains, and carried off to disenchant his love with, in the old witch's cottage by the wood— only a large pearl lay in the centre of that flower. (There is no such thing as anachronism in fairy tales!)
We have gathered in our harvest of winter decorations for the hall and corridors. There is Pampas-grass with its silken plumes, and soft tassels of all kinds of downy German grasses, and Everlastings of all lovely shades of orange and red. They have hung in bunches head downwards in the vinery to dry for weeks past, and they will last for the next twelve months as fresh as they are now. I have been told of a great bouquet of Everlasting Flowers, in a Dutch gentleman's drawing-rooms at the Cape, which was affirmed to be two hundred years old. We have sheaves of Honesty, also— "Money in your Pocket," as the poor say— which are to gleam like flakes of mother-o'-pearl in the firelight of December's dusky afternoons. We left plenty in the garden, however, where they will stand a good deal more of rough weather before they fall to pieces. Honesty is always handsome, in all stages of its growth; and like the people who take things easily, it thrives everywhere. With us it is quite at home in a damp north border, close under a line of Elms. All through June and July, the violet glow of a mass of it in full bloom made a brilliant effect; and now, in these November days, the ripe seed-vessels are transformed— their outer husk has shelled off, leaving only the silvery centre. The other day, in my early walk, just where the Allée Verte ends (no longer green, it is now a golden corridor, with, underfoot, crisp russet leaves), I seemed to come upon— not Wordsworth's host of dancing Daffodils, but a company of spirits! The slanting sunbeams fell upon a clump of Honesty, and touched with fire every one of the myriad little moons. Though no wind stirred, they seemed to quiver with ghostly life in a shimmer of opal lights.
Nov. 18.— Winter is striding on, and every bit of colour in the garden becomes more precious than ever. Only a few days ago I made a nosegay of crimson summer Roses, a fine Auratum Lily, a Gladiolus, a Welsh Poppy, and a large red-rimmed annual Poppy, with a wonderful spray of Flexuosa Honeysuckle, that filled the room with its fragrance. A little while since, in one sheltered corner, Salvia Patens still held its own in unsullied blue. Marigolds were plenty; St. John's Wort must have made a mistake in its dates, for it was all over polished yellow buds ready to unclose; Mignonette and a few Sweet Peas lingered still. Here and there one came upon a white Snap-dragon or a flash of rose-red Phlox ("Farewell Summers" they call them in the West). It was impossible not to admire the vigour and beauty of Primroses and Polyanthus of every colour, One only hopes this abundant autumnal bloom may not interfere with their blossoming in the spring; it is certainly finer than I ever remember in former seasons. A rockwork of big flints was quite gay with Virginian Stock and Primroses. To-day the frost is most severe. The Marigolds look unlike themselves, with a white cap border of frost, quilled round their orange faces; the half-opened buds in a Tea Rose bed are like fancy Moss Roses; only the moss is white, and every leaf is fringed with little sharp-pointed crystals. The China Rose tree by the green door in the wall is covered with pink roses, which I forgot to gather yesterday for my flower-glasses. This morning the frost has curiously changed them. The delicate petals are stiffened all through, as if they were turned into wax models, though their lovely pink is not dimned, and they smell as sweet as if nothing had happened. By this time our Irish Yews have resumed their wonted sadness. The berries are all carried off, and the blackbirds have fattened so well on them, and on the bunches of grapes (left for their benefit on the house Vines), that they rise from the lawn quite heavily. I never saw such fat blackbirds! The seed of the Yew berries, which is believed to be the only poisonous part, is, I think, in most cases, left unswallowed; and in one little tree I found the remnants of an old nest filled with a compact mass of Yew seeds. The large blue titmouse carries off his berry to the Sumach tree, and there packs off the pulp, holding it down with his foot. The larger thrushes are gone, I know not where; only one small bird, with richly spotted breast, is still seen about the grass, under the Stone Pine.
The Chrysanthemums in the greenhouse must have the last word. Nothing could be more beautiful than they are now, and have been for several weeks past. Some of the Japanese kinds are indescribably lovely; arrayed in tints that make one think of a sea-shell, or clouds about an April sunrise. There is something, perhaps, in their delicious confusion of petals, that helps this wonderful effect of colour. The other sorts, which are stiffer in arrangement, and more decided in colour, are to me somewhat less delightful. A tiny wren was among the Chrysanthemums this morning, noiselessly flitting in and out, like a little shade; evidently in a state of the highest enjoyment. No doubt I and the bird both took our pleasure with them— in different ways!
Coptright ©: 2000 Donald Perkins