I must confess that I reached England too late for the daffodils, and my conceptions of their April effects are therefore drawn from their books and magazines which I have tried to follow for the last fourteen years. The best way to consider them is month by month.
In February they have snowdrops (plate 89) and sometimes the winter aconite which makes sheets of yellow there but not here.
In March they have a great variety of little blue flowers, especially scillas, glory of the snow, and the dainty little grape hyacinths.
The first flowers of good size and many colours are crocuses, which are said to look thoroughly wild in some places. I can well believe it, for crocuses seed freely here, though most people do not know it, because the seed pods are formed near the ground. In the lawn crocuses cannot sow their own seed, but in the woods they have a chance to multiply in this way, as well as by the corm. If I am not mistaken, crocuses are running wild at Professor Sargent's home in Brookline, Mass.
The grand effects in English woods come in April with the daffodils, ending with the poet's narcissus in May. The most artistic result is secured, not by merely scattering the bulbs as we commonly do, but by arranging a dense mass, with small outlying colonies in the direction of the prevailing wind, so that the latter seem to owe their origin to seeds borne on the breeze from the large group. (See plate 87.) We often make the mistake of planting bulbs in solid blocks, like a nursery, or in immense areas of equal density. Also, and it pains me to write these words, we often set them out in straight lines or patterns.
Another reason why English woodlands are so exquisite in daffodil time is that owners are content with the cheapest varieties. Our rich men are often carried away by their enthusiasm and plant costly varieties simply because they can afford them. Also, they have a way of dumping into woods large flowered varieties after forcing. But no one can make daffodils with red cups or five-inch flowers look wild in the woods, or big florists' varieties with very broad petals and perfectly fluted trumpets. These spectacular flowers show the handiwork of man and therefore belong in the garden, not the woods. There are twenty-six varieties costing one and two cents a bulb that are more appropriate than those costing four or five.
The next great flower show in English woods is that of bluebells in May. (See plate 24.) I saw acres of bluebells carpeting the ground so thickly that it was impossible to avoid stepping on them. When we Americans speak of "bluebells" we mean the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), a fibrous-rooted plant that blooms more or less all summer. That is the bluebell of Scotland, but the bluebell of England is Scilla festalls, known to bulb dealers as Scilla nutans. It ought to be called "wood hyacinth," for that exactly expresses its appearance, since it has none of the gross stiffness of the Dutch hyacinth. This charming flower stands about two feet high in deep shade and bears about ten flowers on a stem. There are pink and white varieties which are as tender and pure as the most refined Roman hyacinths. All three of them are naturalized with exquisite effect along a woodland walk at the Higginson place, South Manchester, Mass. The bulbs cost about fifteen dollars a thousand.
But we must not merely copy English effects, and our best way of developing an American style of woodland gardening is to concentrate on bloodroot, fawn lily (or adder's tongue) and Trillium grandiflorum, which ought to be planted by the thousand on every country estate where these precious flowers do not already carpet the forest floor in great and glorious masses.