English meadows in May are as thickly sown with stars as the heavens at night, for every country gentleman plants many thousand bulbs of the poet's narcissus, a fragrant, six-pointed flower which the English call "pheasant's eye," from the red-rimmed saucer in the centre of the flower. This is the cheapest of all bulbs for naturalizing, costing only five dollars a thousand, or half a cent a bulb.
In a meadow we find very different conditions from the shade and loose undergrowth of woods. Here we have full sunshine and a turf that is generally too deep and close for crocuses and other small bulbs. Therefore, with the exception of narcissi, we find a different set of bulbs from those that thrive in woods.
A quaint and charming meadow flower is the snake's head or guinea hen flower, a pendant white lily bell, marvellously tesellated with purple. In old-fashioned gardens you may sometimes see the guinea hen flowers idly swinging their bells, but it is a sensation of a lifetime to watch thousands of them responding to a gentle breeze that ruffles the lush meadow grass in May. The bulbs cost only a cent and a half each by the thousand. This flower is known to bulb merchants as Fritillaria Meleagris. The popular names are objectionable. Checkered lily is distinctive and descriptive.
In June the lemon lily is very lovely in English meadows, its narrow leaves blending perfectly with the tall grass. (See plate 25.) Hemerocallis iiava is much more refined than H.fulva, the orange day lily. It is best to confine them to areas that can be easily protected from the mower.
The grandest American lily that grows naturally in meadows is the American Turk's cap (Lilium superbum), a nodding orange flower thickly spotted, and with petals rolled far back. It reaches its grandest proportions — eight feet high and forty-five flowers on a stem — only in moist, peaty soil and partial shade. However, if it does even a third as well in meadows it is a glorious sight. It blooms in August. The English cannot grow this species as well as its Pacific coast equivalent — the leopard lily (L. pardalinum).
Another American bulb that grows naturally in meadows is the purple camass or quamash (Camassia esculentd), which grows about two feet high and bears in July ten to forty starry flowers of dark blue or purple. The English sometimes grow the camass, and it costs them only a cent a bulb by the thousand.
In September autumn crocuses are very interesting with their pink, white, or purplish flowers three or four inches across. (See plate 89.) The cheapest, longest-lived, and best species for naturalizing is Colchicum autumnale. The objection to it in gardens is that in spring it has big, coarse leaves suggesting skunk cabbage. Possibly the meadow is the best place to naturalize autumn crocuses.
But the most important meadow flowers of England are the narcissi. I judge that the English are generally careful to choose the sun-loving varieties for this purpose as they do the shade-lovers for the woods. The richest colours are preserved only in the shade of deciduous trees, and in selecting varieties for the meadow we must be careful to find out which ones will not bleach in the sun. There is an English catalogue that lists all the varieties which are strong enough to battle with grass and tells which of them will stand the sun and which must have partial shade. There is no longer any excuse for us to plead ignorance because Kirby's book on daffodils tells the limitations of the varieties in America so far as they are known.
Hundreds of Americans bought last year a mixture of narcissi for the wild garden which was said to contain four varieties that would extend the period of bloom to six weeks. The varieties were guaranteed not to overlap seriously. This is a great improvement over indiscriminate mixtures, as the poetic quality vanishes when more than one variety is in bloom at once. But there is an even more artistic idea. Buy the same four varieties separately and plant them separately in the same field, leaving an irregular strip of grass of considerable size between any two colonies. Then there is no bewildering scatterment, but a series of bold irregular colonies such as you see on plate 87. Trumpets and starry narcissi will not harmonize in the same group, and when several kinds bloom at once, some will look "washed out" by contrast.
Double daffodils are naturalized by the acre in England, but the most refined taste objects to double flowers of any kind in wild gardening. With that exception Americans should tie to Mr. Kirby's list on page 88 of his book, favouring the cheapest varieties in every case.