Gardening Articles

A Chapter Of Afterthoughts Which The Reader Cannot Afford To Miss

Think things out for yourself. Do not try to copy anybody else's garden, as so many attempt to do. Be original. What you see on your neighbor's home grounds may suggest something similar for your own grounds, but be content with the idea

suggested. He may not have a patent on his own working-out of the idea--indeed, the idea may not have been one of his originating--but the manner in which he has expressed it is his own and you should respect his right to it. Imitation of what others have done, or are doing, is likely to spoil everything. If the best you can do is to copy your neighbor's work servilely in all its details, turn your attention to something else. If all the flower-gardens in the neighborhood were simply duplicates of each other in material and arrangement, the uniformity of them would be so monotonous in effect that it would be a relief to find a place that was without a garden. * * * * * Never imitate anything that you see on the grounds of wealthy people with cheap and inferior material. The result will be a sham that will deceive no one, and you will soon tire of it, and the sooner the better. Be honest. If you have only cheap material to work with, be satisfied with unambitious undertakings. Let them be in keeping with what you have to work with--simple, unpretentious, and without any attempt in the way of deception. The humblest home can be made attractive by holding fast to the principle of honesty in everything that is done about it. It is not necessary to imitate in order to make it attractive. Think out things for yourself, and endeavor to do the best you can with the material at hand, and under the conditions that prevail, and be content with that. The result will afford you vastly more satisfaction, even if it does not measure up to what you would like, than you can possibly realize by imitating another's work. There is a deal of pleasure in being able to say about one's home or garden, "It may not be as fine as my neighbor's, but, such as it is, it is all mine. I have put myself into it. It may be plain and humble, but--there's honesty in it." And that is a feature you have a right to be proud of. * * * * * Never make the mistake of neglecting good old plants for the sake of something new, simply because it is new. Old plants--plants that have held their own against all newcomers--are the ones to depend on. The fact that they _have_ held their own is sufficient proof of their merits. Had they been inferior in any respect they would have dropped from notice long ago, like the "novelties" that aspired to take their places. Old plants are like old friends, old wine--all the better because of their age. There's something substantial about them. We do not tire of them. We know what to expect of them, and they never disappoint us. * * * * * Never make the mistake of thinking the shape of a bed deserves more consideration than what you put into the bed. It's the flower that deserves attention,--not the bed it grows in. It isn't treating a flower with proper respect to give it secondary place. * * * * * Many an amateur gardener tries to have a little of everything, and the result is that he has nothing worth speaking of, because quality has been sacrificed to quantity. Grow only as many flowers as you can grow well, and be wise in selecting only such kinds as do best under the conditions in which they must be grown. Depend upon kinds that have been tried and not found wanting unless you have a fondness for experimenting. * * * * * No really artistic results can be secured by the use of seeds in which all colors are mixed. If you desire harmonious effects, you will have to purchase seed in which each color is by itself. A few varieties in which there is perfect color-harmony will please you far more than a collection in which all the colors of the rainbow are represented. Take the Sweet Pea as an illustration of this idea: From a package of mixed seed you will get a score of different colors or shades, and many of these, though beautiful in themselves, will produce positive discord when grown side by side. The eye of the person who has fine color-sense will be pained by the lack of harmony. But confine your selection to the soft pinks, the delicate lavenders, and the pure whites, and the result will be something to delight the artistic eye--restful, harmonious, and as pleasing as a strain of exquisite poetry--in fact, a poem in color. What is true of the Sweet Pea, in this respect, is equally true of all plants which range through a great variety of colors. Bear this in mind when you select seeds for your garden of annuals. * * * * * Don't throw away any plants that are worth growing. If you have no use for them some of your neighbors will doubtless be glad to get them. Give them to the poor children of your neighborhood, and tell them how to care for them, and you will not only be doing a kind deed but you will be putting into the life that needs uplifting and refining influences a means of help and education that you little guess the power of for good. For every plant is a teacher, and a preacher of the gospel of beauty, and its mission is to brighten and broaden every life that comes under its influence. All that it asks is an opportunity to fulfill that mission. * * * * * If no one cares for the plants you have no use for, give them a place in out-of-the-way nooks and corners--in the roadside, even, if there is no other place for them. A stock of this kind, to draw upon in case any of your old plants fail in winter, will save expense and trouble, and prevent bare spots from detracting from the appearance of the home grounds. It is always well to have a few plants in reserve for just such emergencies as this. Very frequently the odds-and-ends corner of the garden is the most attractive feature in it. * * * * * Many a place is all but spoiled because its owner finds it difficult to confine his selection of plants for it to the number it will conveniently accommodate. There are so many desirable ones to choose from that it is no easy matter to determine which you will have, because--you want them all! But one must be governed by the conditions that cannot be changed. Unfortunately the home-lot is not elastic. Small grounds necessitate small collections if we would avoid cluttering up the place in a manner that makes it impossible to grow anything well. Shrubs must have elbow-room in order to display their attractions to the best advantage. Keep this in mind, and set out only as many as there will be room for when they have fully developed. It may cost you a pang to discard an old favorite, but often it has to be done out of regard for the future welfare of the kinds you feel you _must have_. If you overstock your garden, it will give you many pangs to see how the plants in it suffer from the effect of crowding. If you cannot have _all_ the good things, have the very best of the list, and try to grow them so well that they will make up in quality for the lack in quantity. I know of a little garden in which but three plants grow, but the owner of them gives them such care that these three plants attract more attention from passers-by than any other garden on that street. * * * * * Be methodical in your garden-work. Keep watch of everything, and when you see something that needs doing, do it. And do it well. One secret of success in gardening is in doing everything as if it was _the_ one thing to be done. Slight nothing. * * * * * For vines that do not grow thick enough to hide everything with their foliage, a lattice framework of lath, painted white, is the most satisfactory support, because of the pleasing color-contrast between it and the plants trained over it. Both support and plant will be ornamental, and one will admirably supplement the other. The lattice will be an attractive feature of the garden when the vine that grew over it is dead, if it is kept neatly painted. * * * * * But for the rampant grower a coarse-meshed wire netting is just as good, and considerably less expensive, in the long run, as it will do duty for many years, if taken care of at the end of the season. Roll it up and put it under cover before the fall rains set in. * * * * * The simple fact of newness is nothing in any plant's favor. Unless it has real merit, it will not find purchasers after the first season. Better wait until you know what a plant is before investing in it. We have so many excellent plants with whose good qualities we are familiar that it is not necessary to run any risks of this kind. * * * * * Many home-owners make the mistake of putting down boardwalks about the dwelling and yard. Such a walk is never attractive, and it has not the merit of durability, for after a year or two it will need repairs, and from that time on it will be a constant source of expense. The variegated appearance of a patched-up boardwalk will seriously detract from the attractiveness of any garden. It may cost more, at first, to put down cement walks,--though I am inclined to doubt this, at the present price of lumber--but such walks are good for a lifetime, if properly constructed, therefore much cheaper in the end. There can be no two opinions as to their superior appearance. Their cool gray color brings them into harmony with their surroundings. They are never obtrusive. They are easily cleaned, both summer and winter. And the home-maker can put them in quite as well as the professional worker in cement if he sets out to do so, though he may be longer at the work. * * * * * But _make sure_ about the location of your paths before putting in cement walks. That is--be quite sure that you know where you want them to be. A boardwalk can be changed at any time with but little trouble if you get it in the wrong place, but a cement walk, once down, is down for all time, unless you are willing to spend a good deal of hard labor in its removal. * * * * * Never do spasmodic work in the garden. The unwise gardener neglects what needs doing until so much has accumulated that he is forced to give it attention, and then he hurries in his efforts to dispose of it, and the consequence is that much of it is likely to be so poorly done that plants suffer nearly as much from his hasty operations as they did from neglect. Do whatever needs doing in a systematic way, and keep ahead of your work. Never be driven by it. * * * * * It is one of the most satisfactory laws of Nature that we can have only what we work for. Too many seem to forget this, and think that because a flower hasn't a market value, like corn or wheat, it ought to grow without any attention on their part. Such persons do not understand the real value of a flower, which is none the less because it cannot be computed on the basis of a dollars-and-cents calculation. * * * * * Man, wife, and all the children ought to work together for whatever adds beauty to the home, and nothing is more effective in this line than a good flower-garden. I can remember when it was considered an indication of weakness for a man to admit that he was fond of flowers. I look back with amusement to my own experience in this respect. Because I loved flowers so well, when I was a wee bit of a lad, that I attempted to grow them, I was often laughed at for being a "girl-boy." "He ought to have been a girl," one of my uncles used to say. "You'll have to learn him to do sewing and housework." It often stung me to anger to listen to these sarcastic remarks, but I am glad that my love for flowers was strong enough to keep me at work among them, for I know that I am a better man to-day than I would have been had I allowed myself to be ridiculed out of my love for them. If the children manifest a desire to have little gardens of their own encourage them to do so, and feel sure that the cultivation of them will prove to be a strong factor in the development of the child mind. * * * * * Seedling Hollyhocks almost always look well when winter comes, but in spring we find their leaves decaying from the effect of too much moisture, and this decay is likely to be communicated to the crown of the plant, and that means failure. Of late years I protect my plants by inverting small boxes over them. The sides of these boxes are bored full of holes to admit air, which must be allowed to circulate freely about the plant, or it will smother. I invert a box over the plant after filling it with leaves, and draw more leaves about the outside of it. This prevents water from coming in contact with the soft, sponge-like foliage, and the plant comes out in spring almost as green as it was in fall. * * * * * Plants can be moved with comparative safety any time during the summer if one is careful to disturb their roots as little as possible. Take them up with a large amount of soil adhering, and handle so carefully that it will not break apart. It is a good plan to apply enough water before attempting to lift them to thoroughly saturate all the soil containing the roots. This will hold the earth together, and prevent exposure of the roots, which is the main thing to guard against. * * * * * After putting the plant in place, apply water liberally, and then mulch the soil about it with grass-clippings or manure. Of course removal at that season will check the growth of the plant to a considerable extent, and probably end its usefulness for the remainder of the season. Unless absolutely necessary, I would not attempt the work at this time, for spring and fall are the proper seasons for doing it. * * * * * In a letter recently received a lady asks this question: "Do you believe in flower-shows? If you think they help the cause of flower-growing, will you kindly tell me how to go to work to organize such a society?" To the first question I reply: I _do_ believe in flower-shows and horticultural societies when they are calculated to increase the love and appreciation of flowers _as_ flowers, rather than to call attention to the skill of the florist in producing freaks which are only attractive as curiosities. I sincerely hope that the day of Chrysanthemums a foot across and Roses as large as small Cabbages is on the wane. * * * * * The thing to do in organizing a floral association is--to paraphrase Horace Greeley's famous advice as to the resumption of specie payment--to organize! In other words, to get right down to business and give the proposed society a start by bringing flower-loving people together, and beginning to work without wasting time on unnecessary details. If you make use of much "red tape" you will kill the undertaking at the outset. Simply form your society and appoint your committees, and you will find that the various matters which perplex you when looked at in the whole will readily adjust themselves to the conditions that arise as the society goes on with its work. Put theories aside, and _do something_, and you will find very little difficulty in making your society successful if you can secure a dozen really interested persons as members. I would be glad to know that such a society existed in every community. * * * * * I would advise my readers never to have anything to do with plant-peddlers. Of course it is _possible_ for the man who goes about the country with plants for sale to be as honest as any other man, but we see so few indications of the possession of honest principles by the majority of these men that we have come to consider them all unreliable, and, as a matter of protection, we have to refuse to patronize any of them at the risk of doing injustice to those who may be strictly reliable. They will sell you Roses that have a different colored flower each month throughout the season, blue Roses, Resurrection Plants that come to life at a snap of the finger, and are equally valuable for decorative purposes and for keeping moths out of clothing, and numerous other things rare, wonderful, and all high priced, every one of which can be classed among the humbugs. Patronize dealers in whom you are justified in having confidence because of a well-established reputation for fair dealing. * * * * * The Hollyhock is often attacked by what is called "rust." The leaves become brown, and dry at the edges, and the entire plant has a look much like that of a nail which has been for some time in water, hence the popular name of the disease. This "rust" is really a fungoid trouble, and unless it is promptly checked it will soon spread to other plants. If it appears on several plants at the same time, I would advise cutting them, and burning every branch and stalk. If but one plant is attacked, I would spray it with Bordeaux Mixture, which can now be obtained in paste form from most florists. This is the only dependable remedy I know of for the fungus ills that plants are heir to. Asparagus is often so badly affected with it, of late years, that many growers have been obliged to mow down their plants and burn their tops in midsummer, in their efforts to save their stock. Never leave any of the cut-off portions of a plant on the ground, thinking that cutting down is all that is necessary. The fungus spores will survive the winter, and be ready for work in spring. Burn everything. * * * * * A house whose foundation walls are left fully exposed always has an unfinished look. But if we hide them by shrubs and flowering plants the place takes on a look of completion, and the effect is so pleasing that we wonder why any house should be left with bare walls. The plants about it seem to unite it with the grounds in such a manner that it becomes a part of them. But the house whose walls are without the grace of "green things growing," always suggest that verse in the Good Book which tells of "being _in_ the world, but not _of_ it." I would always surround the dwelling with shrubs and perennials, and use annuals and bulbs between them and the paths that run around the house. * * * * * On the north side of a dwelling large-growing Ferns can be planted with fine effect. These should be gathered in spring, and a good deal of native soil should be brought with them from the woods. They will not amount to much the first year, but they will afford you a great deal of pleasure thereafter. Use in front of them such shade-loving plants as Lily of the Valley and Myosotis. * * * * * Nowadays "tropical effects" are greatly admired. We have but few plants that adapt themselves to this phase of gardening. Canna, Caladium, Ricinus, Coleus, "Golden Feather" Pyrethrum and the gray Centaurea cover pretty nearly the entire list. But by varying the combinations that can be made with them the amateur can produce many new and pleasing effects, thus avoiding the monotony which results from simply copying the beds that we see year after year in the public parks, from whose likeness to each other we get the impression that no other combination can be made. Study out new arrangements for yourself. Plant them, group them, use them as backgrounds for flowering plants, mass them in open spaces in the border. Do not get the idea that they must always be used by themselves. Cannas, because of the great variety of color in their foliage, can be made attractive when used alone, but the others depend upon combination with other plants for the contrast which brings out and emphasizes their attractive features. * * * * * Speaking of new arrangements reminds me to say that the amateur gardener ought always to plan for original effects if he or she would get out of gardening all the pleasure there is in it. It may seem almost necessary for the _beginner_ to copy the ideas of others in the arrangement of the garden, to a considerable extent, but he should not get into the slavish habit of doing so. Hazlitt says: "Originality implies independence of opinion. It consists in seeing for one's self." That's it, exactly. Study your plants. Find out their possibilities. And then plan arrangements of your own for next season. Have an opinion of your own, and be independent enough to attempt its carrying out. Don't be afraid of yourself. Originate! Originate! Originate! * * * * * When you invest your money in a fine plant you do it for the pleasure of yourself and family. When a neighbor comes along and admires it, and asks you to divide it with her, don't let yourself be frightened into doing so from regard of what she may say or think if you refuse. Tell her where she can get a plant like it, but don't spoil your own plant for anybody. I am well aware that advice of this kind may seem selfish, but it is not. There's no good reason why my neighbor should not get his plants in the same way I got mine. I buy with the idea of beautifying my home with them, and this I cannot do so long as I yield to everybody's request for a slip or a root. I have in mind a woman who, some years ago, invested in a rare variety of Peony. When her plant came into bloom her friends admired it so much that they all declared they must have a "toe" of it. The poor woman hated terribly to disturb her plant, for she was quite sure what the result would be, having had considerable experience with Peonies, but she lacked the courage to say no, and the consequence was that she gave a root to the first applicant, and that made it impossible for her to refuse the second one and those who came after, and from that time to this she has kept giving away "toes," and her plant is a poor little thing to-day, not much larger than when it was first planted, while plants grown from it are large and fine. She wouldn't mind it so much if her friends were willing to divide _their_ plants with _their_ friends, but they will not do this "for fear of spoiling them." Instead, they send their friends to her. This is a fact, and I presume it can be duplicated in almost every neighborhood. * * * * * The flower-loving person is, as a general thing, a very generous person, and he takes delight in dividing his plants with others when he can do so without injuring them. He is glad to do this because of his love for flowers, and the pleasure it affords him to get others interested in them and their culture. But there is such a thing as being overgenerous. Our motto should be, "Home's garden first, my neighbor's garden afterward." It is generally thoughtlessness which prompts people to ask us to divide our choice plants with them. If we were to be frank with them, and tell them why we do not care to do this, they would readily understand the situation, and, instead of blaming us for our refusal, they would blame themselves for having been so thoughtlessly selfish as to have made the request. * * * * * The question is often asked: "Why can't we save our own flower-seeds? Aren't the plants we grow just as healthy as those of the seedsmen we patronize year after year? Ought not the seed from them to be just as good as that we buy?" Just as good, no doubt, in one sense, and _not_ as good, in another. We grow our plants for their flowers. The seedsmen grow theirs for their seed, and in order to secure the very best article they give their plants care and culture that ours are not likely to get. Their methods are calculated to result in constant improvement. Ours tend in the other direction. The person who grows plants year after year from home-grown seed will almost invariably tell you that her plants "seem to be running out." The remedy for this state of things is to get fresh seed, each year, from the men who understand how to grow it to perfection. * * * * * One ought always to keep his shrubs and choice plants labelled so that no mistake can be made as to variety. We may be on speaking terms with the whole Smith family, but we never feel really acquainted with them until we know which is John, or Susan, or William. It ought to be so in our friendship with our plants. Who that loves Roses would be content to speak of La France, and Madame Plantier, and Captain Christy simply as Roses? We must be on such intimate terms with them that each one has a personality of its own for us. _Then_ we know them, and not _till_ then. * * * * * The best label to make use of is a zinc one, because it is almost everlasting, while a wooden one is short lived, and whatever is written on it soon becomes indistinct. * * * * * In attaching any label to a plant, be careful not to twist the wire with which you attach it so tightly that it will cut into the branch. As the branch grows the wire will shut off the circulation of the plant's life-blood through that branch, and the result will be disastrous to that portion of the plant. * * * * * Different varieties of perennials ought to be kept track of quite as much as in the case of shrubs. As the old stalks die away and are cut off each season, there is no part of the plant to which a label can be attached with any permanence. There are iron sockets on the market into which the piece of wood bearing the name of the variety can be inserted. An all-wool label would speedily decay in contact with the soil. * * * * * Sometimes we get very amusing letters from parties "in search of information." Not long ago a woman sent me a leaf from her Boston Fern, calling my attention to the "bugs" on the lower side of it, and asking how she could get rid of them. How did I suppose they contrived to arrange themselves with such regularity? A little careful investigation would have shown her that the rows of "bugs" were seed-spores. If anything about your plants puzzles you, use your eyes and your intelligence, and endeavor to find out the "whys and wherefores" for yourself. You will enjoy doing this when you once get into the habit of it. Information that comes to us through our own efforts is always appreciated much more than that which comes to us second-hand. Make a practice of personal investigation in order to get at a solution of the problems that will constantly confront you in gardening operations. * * * * * In answer to another correspondent who asked me to recommend some thoroughly reliable fertilizer, I advised "old cow-manure." Back came a letter, saying I had neglected to state _how old_ the cow ought to be! * * * * * But the funny things are not all said by our correspondents. I lately came across an article credited to a leading English gardening magazine in which the statement was made that a certain kind of weed closely resembling the Onion often located itself in the Onion-bed in order to escape the vigilance of the weed-puller, its instinct telling it that its resemblance to the Onion would deceive the gardener! Is anyone foolish enough to believe that the weed knew just where to locate itself, and had the ability to put itself there? One can but laugh at such "scientific statements," and yet it seems too bad to have people humbugged so. * * * * * A woman writes: "I don't care very much about plants. I never did. But almost everybody grows them, nowadays, and I'd like to have a few for my parlor, so as to be in style. You know the old saying that 'one might as well be out of the world as out of fashion.' I wish you'd tell me what to get, and how to take care of it. I want something that will just about take care of itself. I don't want anything I'll have to bother with." My advice to this correspondent was, "Don't try to grow plants." The fact is, the person who doesn't grow them _out of love for them_ will never succeed with them, therefore it would be well for such persons not to attempt their culture. This for the plant's sake, as well as their own. Plants call for something. Plants ask for something more than a regular supply of food and water. They must have that sympathy,--that friendship--which enables one to understand them and their needs, and treat them accordingly. This knowledge will come through intuition and from keen, intelligent observation, such as only a real plant-lover will be likely to give. Those who grow plants--or _attempt_ to grow them--simply because their neighbors do so will never bring to their cultivation that careful, conscientious attention which alone can result in success. The idea of growing a flower because "it is the fashion to do so!" * * * * * It may seem to some who read what I have said above that I do not encourage the cultivation of flowers by the masses. That's a wrong conclusion to jump at. I would like to have everybody the owner of a flower-garden. Those who have never attempted the culture of flowers are very likely to develop a love for them of whose existence, of the possibility of which, they had never dreamed. A dormant feeling is kindled into activity by our contact with them. But these persons must begin from a better motive than a desire to have them simply because it is "the style." The desire to succeed with them _because you like them_ will insure success. Those who would have flowers because _it is the fashion_ to have them may experience a sort of _satisfaction_ in the possession of them, but this is a feeling utterly unlike the pleasure known to those who grow flowers _because they love them_. * * * * * I am not a believer in the "knack" of flower-growing in the sense that some are born with a special ability in that line, or, as some would say, with a "_gift_" that way. We often hear it said, "Flowers will grow for her if she just _looks_ at them." This is a wrong conclusion to arrive at in the cases of those who are successful with them. They do something more than simply "look" at their plants. They take intelligent care of them. Some may acquire this ability easier and sooner than others, but it is a "knack" that anyone may attain to who is willing to keep his eyes open, and reason from cause to effect. Don't get the idea that success at plant-growing comes without observation, thought, and work. All the "knack" you need to have is a liking for flowers, and a desire to understand how you can best meet their special requirements. In other words, the _will_ to succeed will find out the _way_ to that result. * * * * * Just now, while I am at work on the last pages of this book, comes an inquiry, which I answer here because the subject of it is one of general interest: "Every spring our Crimson Rambler Roses are infested with thousands of green plant-lice. The new shoots will be literally covered with them. And in fall the stalks of our Rudbeckia are as thickly covered with a _red_ aphis, which makes it impossible for us to use it for cut-flower work. Is there a remedy for these troubles?" Yes. Nicoticide will rid the plants of their enemies if applied thoroughly, and persistently. One application may not accomplish the desired result, because of failure to reach all portions of the plant with it, but a second or a third application will do the work. * * * * * By way of conclusion I want to urge women with "nerves" to take the gardening treatment. Many housewives are martyrs to a prison-life. They are shut up in the house from year's end to year's end, away from pleasant sights, sounds, fresh air, and sunshine. If we can get such a woman into the garden for a half-hour each day, throughout the summer, we can make a new woman of her. Work among flowers, where the air is pure and sweet, and sunshine is a tonic, and companionship is cheerful, will lift her out of her work and worry, and body and mind will grow stronger, and new life, new health, new energy will come to her, and the cares and vexations that made life a burden, because of the nervous strain resulting from them, will "take wings and fly away." Garden-work is the best possible kind of medicine for overtaxed nerves. It makes worn-out women over into healthy, happy women. "I thank God, every day, for my garden," one of these women wrote me, not long ago. "It has given me back my health. It has made me feel that life _is_ worth living, after all. I believe that I shall get so that I live in my garden most of the time. By that I mean that I shall be thinking about it and enjoying it, either in recollection or anticipation, when it is impossible for me to be actually in it. My mind will be there in winter, and I will be there in summer. Why--do you know, I did a good deal more housework last year than ever before, and I did it in order to find time to work among my flowers. Work in the garden made housework easier. Thank God for flowers, I say!" Yes--God be thanked for flowers!

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