THE most striking fact about perennial flowers in England is that the English people know and love a far greater variety of them than we do. One English catalogue offers 2,700 kinds of perennials. We once had an American catalogue that listed half as many, but whether more than one fifth of them were really available "I hae' me doots." The average English nurseryman seems to cultivate from five to ten times as many different species as the average American. This means that if you wish to see the latest improvements in irises, phlox, larkspurs, oriental poppies, etc., you will probably have to send to Europe. Only the commoner perennials are available in America. For new and rare plants we must still look to Europe.
The second difference is that the English have a deeper passion than we for collecting. Everywhere you find some one who grows fifty or more varieties of his favourite flower, e. g., German or Japanese iris, or peony, or the florists' pentstemon. One English catalogue contains 346 varieties of phlox, 224 of border carnations, 180 of chrysanthemums, etc. — fully three times as many as you can get in America. Some amateurs whom I saw have the passion for completeness and stick to one flower throughout their lives; others like to weed out the varieties they do not care for, concentrate on the best, and then take up another flower in the same way. Some use the knowledge gained by collecting to produce new varieties, others are content with the joys of possessing flowers that no one else has and of being appealed to as authorities. Still others abhor "florists' flowers" (i.e., big genera), and go in for rare plants belonging to any genus under the sun, e. g.y Ostrowskia (plate 77). Every one has his favourite sport, but he has a favourite flower too. There is "good fun" in collecting perennial flowers and I expect to see Americans take it up with gusto. Have you ever collected fifty varieties of any hardy flower — say pinks or Japan iris or phlox or bellflowers, or sedum or veronicas or peonies?
The third great fact about perennials that struck me is that the English understand better than we how to make beautiful pictures with perennials. (See Solomon's seal, plate 77.) Cultivated people will discuss at the table the best colour schemes for borders, how to hide the deficiencies of hardy plants after they bloom, what flowers look well together, and the right and wrong way of using the latest novelty. The designing of garden pictures seems to me a higher pleasure than merely loving each flower separately for its own sake. At any rate I shall not try to describe all the new and wonderful plants I saw in England for, as old Gerarde might say, that would be like rolling Sisyphus his stone. I shall merely tell about a few artistic ways I saw of using hardy flowers, especially those that bloom between the first of June and middle of August.