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"What then I say is this, that we ignoramuses who know very little about it can derive a pure pleasure, not merely from the contemplation of gardens, but from the reading of books about them."
— Preface to "The Scots Gard'ner," Lord Rosebery.
NECESSITIES AND LUXURIES IN GARDEN BOOKS
The very watchword of an American gardener's winter — the slogan, I might almost call it should be, "Look it up in Bailey." As the Irish judge remarked, "I yield to no one in my ignorance of scientific horticulture," therefore there would be no sense in my trying to garden without Bailey's Encyclopedia at my elbow. The six volumes are indispensable, filled with wonderful horticultural learning, yet not too technical for the beginner. Bailey, too, is an absolutely American book, published altogether for this country, with cultural information for our varying climates of North, South, and West, containing marvellously fine articles by specialists. Professor Sargent writes on the genus Alia? ; Mr. Groff, of Ontario, on the gladiolus; Doctor Fernow on forestry; and so on.
Yes, in the matter of books necessary to garden knowledge, Bailey is undoubtedly the keystone of the garden arch. Every other book may go — this cannot. And, the arch thus firmly held together, let us proceed to decorate it appropriately by mentioning as our second necessary book Miss Jekyll's masterpiece, "Color in the Flower Garden." Given these two publications, any intelligent man or woman with time, money, and the wish need have nothing ugly in his or her gardens. This is rather narrowing the matter down, I admit, but I feel strongly that these are the words of truth and soberness, and I believe there are many who will concur in this opinion. Bailey furnishes us the sound knowledge, the structure for gardening. Miss Jekyll — who better? — provides the structure with a more exquisite and carefully considered garnishment than has ever to my knowledge been given before by man or woman. With her ingratiating pen, too, she is so happy in creating pictures that the garden-lover cannot choose but hear and, what is more, follow in the lovely flowery path. Can anything surpass the beauty of description of the various gardens at Munstead Wood in the "Color in the Flower Garden," or the charm of the photographic reproductions used to illustrate? Yet there is something here better than beauty; there is suggestion which amounts to inspiration — Miss Jekyll has the faculty of setting all sorts of plans going in one's head as one reads what she writes; and I will venture to say that most of her readers in this country do not attempt to copy slavishly her ideas but use them as points of departure for their own plantings. Miss Jekyll has succeeded not only in so charmingly showing us what she has planned and accomplished in her Surrey garden, but in giving a great impulse toward the finest art of gardening — gardening as a fine art.
We hear it said: "Miss Jekyll's books are written for England, and the English climate and conditions." Yes; but here is Bailey to set one straight culturally for one's own spot in America; and it is truly surprising to notice the increasing numbers of plants which are perfectly suited to both England and the United States.
And here, since Miss Jekyll's name is constantly appearing and reappearing in current gardening literature in this country, it may be interesting to say that "Color in the Flower Garden" is one of eight books from Miss Jekyll's pen issued within nine years' time. The others are: "Wood and Garden," "Home and Garden," "Wall and Water Gardens," "Lilies for English Gardens," "Roses for English Gardens," "Flower Decoration in the House," and "Children and Gardens." In answer to questions on my part, Miss Jekyll quotes her publisher as saying, "I personally consider 'Color in the Flower Garden' is the most valuable book yet got out," and Miss Jekyll herself adds: "I also think 'Color in the Flower Garden' the most useful." Eight thousand copies of "House and Garden" have been printed, and twelve thousand of "Wood and Garden," and both books are now to be had in a cheaper edition than the original one.
Now and again I am asked what I consider the best simple book for beginners in gardening. What a pleasure to have one to commend! It is "The Seasons in a Flower Garden," by Miss Louise Shelton, of Morristown, N. J. I wish this book had been published twenty years ago — not five. It gives advice not only lucid and sound, but always looking toward good color arrangement, the very highest and finishing beauty of the garden. Here in a small volume may be found, admirably arranged, the first principles of good flower gardening.
"Success in Gardening," by Miss Jessie Frothingham, of Princeton, is a book on the order of Miss Shelton's, and like hers it deserves a wide public. This, too, is to be commended to the inexperienced. From January to December garden work is suggested week by week and between the lines one sees much charming suggestion, the fruit of a long and sound experience on the part of the author.
Mrs. Sedgwick's "The Garden Month by Month" is a capital addition to our garden literature. Information here is in tabulated form — easy to get at, so well arranged and classified as to give at once facts as to any plant or bulb in general or even occasional cultivation. The pictures, as may be seen from the two here reproduced, are, I believe, the most satisfying photographs of flowers and flower groups ever published in this country. These illustrations in black and white — a process as yet better than any color-printing we can achieve here — are remarkably well done, and present the actual aspect of the blooming plant to far greater advantage than any collection of such photographs which I can at present call to mind. The beautiful photograph (facing page 110) of Belli* perennis and Narcissus poeticus ornatus does more than give a faithful representation of the two flowers — it suggests a lovely combination for spring planting; and, in cut facing, notice the perfect placing of Baptisiaaustralis on the waterside, with budding delphiniums beyond and sky-blue water to carry out the lovely blue-toned picture. (This planting, I am told however, is not as good as I thought it, as the color of Baptisia is too slaty in its blue to make a really good effect.)
Of the color chart at the beginning of the book I cannot speak so highly since comparing it with the clear tones of the "Repertoire de Couleurs" of the Chrysanthemum Society of France. The attempt of Mrs. Sedgwick and her publishers in this direction was a laudable one, for here was a real need; but again, owing doubtless to the lack of facilities for color-printing, the result is mediocre only. I remember, when this book appeared, how eagerly I wished for it because of the new and valuable color chart. And it was a disappointment to have to fall back again upon the French publication.
An American color chart which has
been warmly received by those interested in this matter of proper naming of
colors is Doctor Robert Ridgway's " Color Standards and Color
Nomenclature," a convenient and beautifully arranged chart, a boon to the
lover of accurate color description of flowers — a rather costly book, too
costly for the general public; therefore it will be good news to many that a
small edition of this chart is now in course of preparation, to be offered at a
moderate price. When this is done, the first important step taken in America
toward this highly important matter to the American gardener will have been
From "The Garden Month by Month. By courtesy of Frederick A. Stokes Company
Among luxuries in garden books must be set down an imposing volume containing some priceless suggestions concerning color arrangement by Miss Margaret Waterfield, of England — "Garden Color." Here I first learned of certain beautiful tulips used separately or in lovely combinations described in Miss Waterfield's own chapters in the book; and on buying these the results were to my eye precisely what they were to hers — a satisfaction that is nothing short of enchanting. Miss Waterfield's own water-color sketches, reproduced in her book for purposes of illustration, are in some cases valuable too to the gardener who would create pictures as he gardens. Her manner of planting seems always to me that of an artist and these drawings from her hand confirm that impression.
A little volume of totally different character, but full of meat for a reader interested in these things, is the recently published "Spring Flowers at Belvoir Castle," by Mr. W. H. Divers, head gardener to the Duke of Rutland. Written in alarmingly dull style, it is still a mine of riches for the amateur who tries for spring effects; for certain violas and primroses, aubrietias, arabises do quite as well in this country as in England, and, I believe, nearly all tulips and daffodils. These are the flowers most important in the plantings at Belvoir Castle and, wonderful to relate, the color descriptions of individual flowers by Mr. Divers seem to be as accurate as Miss Jekyll's own. This is a remarkable thing; but just here the remarkableness of this little book ceases for me, for the clear photographs with which it is thickly sprinkled show the most inane and tiresome arrangement of flowers possible to conceive, carpet-bedding gone mad. Piteous to see measured bands of these delicious flowers, mats of aubrietas studded with single tulip jewels in geometric arrangements, and one horror called a "raised flower-bed" in which the same out-of-date planting is practised. At Belvoir Castle, to make it worse, a rare chance is surely given by the great variety of graded slopes apparent in the pictures for much picturesque informal planting.
The mention of daffodils turns our attention to two small but important books on this most fashionable flower. England seems daffodil-mad to-day; and as we are far behind the mother country in "gardening finely," yet always looking to her for sound advice, we shall probably soon catch the fever. In fact, some of us think we have symptoms now.
The valuable book for the daffodilist is the monograph, "Daffodils," by the Reverend Joseph Jacobs, of England, in that set of books, "Present Day Gardening." In these pages all that is known concerning daffodils up to date is condensed, set down by a true lover of the flower, and not only a great grower of the daffodil, but an accomplished writer and authority on the subject, as well as one in constant demand as a judge at the English and Continental daffodil shows. No possessors of this book need to waste time or money in the purchase of a poor variety of daffodil, if they consult Mr. Jacobs's chapter, "Varieties for Garden Beds and Borders." For prices of these, if one has at hand Barr & Sons' daffodil list (to be had for the asking), which Mr. Jacobs calls unique in its position in the daffodil world, there should be no mistake made by the gardener who would make an excursion into the wondrous world of yellow, cream, lemon, and orange flowers. Perianth and trumpet become terms of intensest interest, and I can testify from a short experience that once the daffodil catches the attention of the amateur gardener he never lets go. Indced, his hold grows ever stronger with successive Mays.
Two other Englishmen, novelists of repute, have given us their gardening experiences in delightfully written volumes. Mr. Rider Haggard's "A Gardener's Year" makes charming reading, but is a trifle orchidaceous for one who, like myself, has not yet dared to "let go" in that direction. Beware of orchids unless the purse is full. Mr. Eden Philpotts brings all the beauty of his poetic style to bear upon the subject of "My Garden," thus deliciously prefacing his book: "The time has come when, to have a garden, and not to write about it, is to be notorious." Let me commend the three chapters on the iris in this fascinating book to the attention of all iris-lovers. There never has been, there never can come from another pen, so poetic, so beautiful a bit of writing on this alluring flower. Done in entrancing language, it tempts the most unyielding to become an iris-collector. I myself, on reading these descriptions, felt so deep a debt of gratitude to Mr. Philpotts for them, and for the pleasure which for years back had been given me by his Devonshire tales, that I experienced a real delight when the following request caught my eye: "Many new and exquisite vines may now be obtained, and among lovely things that I am open to receive from anybody (and will pay carriage) are Vitis Thunbergii; Vitis Californica, a tremendous grower; Vitis aconitifolia, a gem from China; and Vitis megaphylla, most distinct of all arrivals in this family."
My heart leaped with joy as I thought: "Is it possible that I, even I, may contribute to Mr. Philpotts's garden?" Promptly flew out my letters to Massachusetts, to Texas, in quest of the grapes. Answers showed that at least one of them could be mine for the asking and a little besides; but before I had actually ordered the plant, as good luck would have it, I happened upon the following passage in "My Garden," unseen heretofore: "Green corn is a pleasant vegetable, and I surprise Americans who come to see me, by giving them that familiar dish. Let them have but that and ice, and a squash pie, and they ask no more, but to be allowed to talk about themselves and their noble country." Needless to say that, in so far as I can achieve it, Mr. Eden Philpotts has gone, goes, and shall go grapeless.
Facilities for procuring new varieties of flowering plants, new colors, in this country are noticeably improving. Witness each fresh issue of American seed and bulb lists. One firm in this country offered last spring for the first time, as far as my experience goes, roots of Cantab, the lovely blue delphinium which Miss Jekyll considers the best of all blues, and which has been difficult to find in any list, English or American. Another has a separate list of rare and charming (alas, I must also add high-priced!) things; such published straws show the direction of the horticultural breeze. May this breeze become a wind strong enough to bear to us interested in the best development of gardening in America books by our own amateurs so delightfully and intelligently written that what is there set down shall help the matter with every page.
To return again to catalogues for a moment — two or three American lists show great care and constant improvement in this direction, but none as yet, I believe, quite approach those of R. Wallace and Sons, of Colchester, England; of Barr & Sons; of T. Smith, of Newry, Ireland. Smith's list of spring-blooming plants and al-pines is of immense value to all as a little reference-book, complete botanically and with admirable descriptions of color.
Misleading pictures appear to this day in some of our seed-lists — the beribboned curving drive through an estate; the copious and vicious use of some of the early tulips such as Keizerkroon (whose publicly declared enemy I am and shall be until it is better used); the round bed which, as an agreeable man of my acquaintance says, "used to bust up the front lawn." All these things are still forced upon the innocent and ignorant and much do I wish that a seed and bulb list might be given us in which there should not be a single actual error of taste in suggestion, even though that taste could not meet the wishes of all readers.
Under luxuries in garden books falls a group whose contents are an addition to letters as well as to gardening. How rare and choice these are, and what a pity that all books on so beautiful a topic cannot be beautiful in themselves, I mean in their manner of writing! When such do fall in our way we have very real reason for thanksgiving, and first in my own affections always stand the writings of the Honorable Mrs. Boyle, "E. V. B." — those books
Are five sweet symphonies"
"A Garden of Pleasure," "The Peacock's Pleasaunce," "Sylvana's Letters to an Unknown Friend," "Seven Gardens and a Palace" — prose as beautiful as any poetry, wandering on over page after page, all on the delectable matter of flowers; and in A. F. Sieveking's book a "Proem" from the same golden pen, which for charm and grace exceeds all that I have ever read on gardening. It is my fixed belief that the more we read books of this high quality the more beautifully shall we garden.
To return for a moment to books of the kind and type of Miss Waterfield's — the two or three others which come to mind are Elgood's and Miss Jekyll's "Some English Gardens"; Sir Herbert Maxwell's "Scottish Gardens"; "Houses and Gardens," by Baillie-Scott. To read these books, to study their most charming pictures, is not only to revel in their own beauty, but to be well started on the way to achieving one's own. Every illustration in "Some English Gardens" gives practical suggestion of a principle of beauty, and with the illuminating text the several lessons are complete. I would rename this book, and "Perfect Gardens" is the daring title I should bestow upon it.
For books whose color illustrations are worth possessing, books on flowers of other lands than England, the lovely volume by the Du Cane sisters is always good to open — "Flowers and Gardens of Japan." Full of charm, too, are Flemwell's "Alpine Flowers and Gardens," and "The Flower Fields of Alpine Switzerland," with pictures finely reproduced from beautiful originals. "Dutch Bulbs and Gardens," by Nixon, Silberrad, and Lyall, is a book full of character and beauty and of special interest to the spring gardener.
Of finer books for those interested in garden design are Mr. Guy Lowell's "American Gardens" and T. W. Mawson's "The Art and Craft of Garden-Making." Two volumes of less size but of much value are Reginald Blomfield's "The Formal Garden in England" (whose brilliant first chapter refuting some of the Robinsonian doctrines is greatly to my liking!) and Miss Madeline Agar's "Garden Design," a very practical recent book. William Robinson's great book, "The English Flower Garden," has its place, and has fulfilled, indeed over-fulfilled, its purpose to do away. with "bedding out" and to return to natural methods of planting; but the extreme views there set forth, views necessary to convince a settled public, are better in theory than in practice.
"Studies in Gardening," a book whose contents first appeared in the form of letters to the "London Times" (that journal strictly under promise not to reveal the name of the author), is a remarkable book on gardening. Written in a direct and charming style, full of sound knowledge most tactfully imparted, it is valuable and captivating to a degree, and happy is the writer in whom these qualities are combined. Unfortunately, this book is out of print.
Of Mr. E. Augustus Bowles's two newly published volumes of the horticultural trilogy, "My Garden in Spring," "My Garden in Summer," and "My Garden in Autumn," I would echo the comment of an English journal: "We are loath to close the book, which every true gardener should read and read again. Like the author's garden, it is a 'thing of beauty and a joy forever.'" It is impossible not to be caught up by so strong a wave of enthusiasm for plants and the growing of them as sweeps along these pages. The writer's learning and his delight in his gardening pursuits are everywhere in evidence; yet all is so spontaneously told that learning and delight are equally agreeable to the reader. There is in these books a true ecstasy in gardening.
Before these of Mr. Bowles's there were a few such books — books carrying this quality of a spirit of joy in the work among flowers. Such is Mrs. Stephen Batson's "The Summer Garden of Pleasure," with such pretty chapter headings as "Incoming Summer," "High Summer," "The Rout of August," "Waning Summer." "The Guild of the Garden Lovers," by Constance O'Brien, is to me enchanting in its charm, though many serious-minded gardeners would think it but a trifle. "The Garden of Ignorance," by Mrs. George Cran, also has its diverting niche in my affections; and last Miss Chappell's tiny volumes, "Gardening Don'ts" and "More Gardening Don'ts," which I charge my readers not to miss, if they are of those who would be light-hearted as they garden!
So many are the books, so short the time for reading, even for naming, them! Let me beg any reader of my lines to fill his shelves with fine gardening publications as eagerly as he would furnish his garden-beds with plants, that his borders may reflect a well-stocked mind and his pleasure in his flowers then increase a thousandfold.