This section is from the book "Flower Gardening", by H. S. Adams. Also available from Amazon: Flower gardening.
Those whose wealth is a perpetual Aladdin's lamp have but to command a garden and it appears. Infancy and childhood are annihilated in its creation; like Aphrodite—goddess of gardens—rising from the sea, it is born mature.
That is a legitimate enough game for princes and potentates, whether royal, financial or industrial, and it is a custom honored by at least a few thousand years of observance. But, on the whole, it is just as well that not more are in a position to indulge in the game, or have hopes of ever being able to do so. For the truth is that a garden is a great deal like a library; you get infinitely more enjoyment out of it when you accumulate it than when you acquire it outright.
All of the gardens that mean most to their owners, the real home gardens, may be said to have been gathered together—just as a collection of books is. There is a small beginning, perhaps a very modest one indeed; the years add more plants and for them more places are made. With the years, too, comes the inevitable discarding of whatever has lost its usefulness or, it is discovered, never did have any to speak of.
This is not the spirit that goes in for numerical satisfaction; numbers, and size, too, are of secondary importance. It is the spirit that, litde by little room by room, equips a house with mellow old furniture having the air not so much of a collection as of being an inseparable part of the home.
How a garden may be accumulated can be no better illustrated than by telling just how one has thus been brought together. There came a day to an old place in the country when the last vestige of its golden garden age had disappeared. Not a link, unless it was the purple lilac on the west side of the house, bound the garden past with the present. Nor was there enough of the present to boast of—a narrow bed of spring bulbs on the east side of the house and on the western edgje of the lawn a short row of "golden glow"; that was all that was worth mentioning.
More flowers were needed; at least as many as in days long gone by, the waning glory of which was well remembered. This was obvious one spring when winter scarcely had departed. Then came the thought:. This is an old-fashioned house; why not an old-fashioned garden?
Very likely an impatient soul would have endeavored to make an old-fashioned garden all at once, had he not been a creature of circumstances forced to do what he could, not what he wanted to. The which was a blessing, for circumstance taught him a garden joy that otherwise he might be ignorant of even now.
The moment desire was known, neighbors offered of their garden treasures. So a start was made by going after these offerings in April. Including some shrubs, they were numerous enough to fill up the extended bulb bed and a new triangular, half-shaded border that had been dug where two paths met on the other side of the house. There was even enough, with gifts that followed in May, to fill a dozen or more short rows in an improvised border in the rear of the house; everything separable was divided, some plants making three or four. This bed, unconsciously rather than by intent, became a nursery.
Later, seed of a dozen kinds of perennials and biennials, one packet of each, was purchased. This was sown, in shallow boxes, on the very first day of August—stricdy according to rule. There was a good stand, which was thinned out where too abundant, and in due time a great number of seedlings was transplanted, in a cleared end of the vegetable patch—the more delicate ones in a homemade coldframe and the remainder in rows by the side of it. When the time came for covering them up for the winter there was a lot of lusty plants, though smaller than the one most interested had hoped to have at that particular stage of the proceedings.
The end of the first season did not see much of a garden, to be sure; any one might protest with reason that it was no garden at all. Yet it was very much of a garden to a dreamer of dreams, who naturally was not always over-careful to draw a distinct line between the substantial and the insubstantial.
Treasures, not a few of them choicer from association, had been brought together. I f the idea was still lingering on the border of vagueness, there was a plain enough nucleus; and one the sounder because it was largely permanent. While the foundation was not laid, the first of the stones were on the spot.
But that did not begin to be all of the initial season's showing; else this tale would be less interesting, as well as shorter. There was the experience, that had been accumulating the while the garden grew from nothing into the hope, if not the present semblance, of something. The dreamer had known flowers from childhood—had pottered with them indoors and outdoors; but for the first time in his life he had been handling hardy plants, other than a few bulbs.
Already there was a feeling of conquest. The hardy garden had been sensed and a glittering of practical knowledge of its spring work, its summer work and its autumn work was indelibly impressed on the mind. Perennial and biennial were now fixed terms. Out of indefiniteness were beginning to come ideas as to succession of bloom in the garden, the use of blossoms and foliage in the way that the painter employs the pigments on his palette and much else that concerns the pictorial side of gardening. And of many other things learned, or then well along in the learning, not the smallest was contentment with a modest beginning and with making haste slowly.
The second year unlearning began; as with gathering libraries, that is always incidental to the early stages of making a garden. One thing unlearned was the sowing of the seed of biennials and perennials on the first day of August—a rule again and again drummed into the ear of the would-be flower gardener. Only a few of the perennials bloomed and of the biennials not a Canterbury bell or a hollyhock and no more than one foxglove; the Iceland poppies alone were up to scratch. From that time on some one has planted biennial and perennial seed under glass in early May, if he counted upon getting bloom the following year.
To return to spring from this summer digression, the second April saw a long, and really serious, border under way. It was L-shaped and ran back from the street along the east side* of the east lawn and then turned to border the south side—thus giving this part of the yard a background. Hybrid perpetual roses were planted nearly up to the turn, where a break was made with some larger Madame Plantier bushes; thence the border was continued as a hardy herbaceous one. What with the little nursery, the numerous seedlings and more generosity on the part of neighbors, there was enough to give the new border a fair showing and also to turn the nursery into another border. Only a few plants besides the roses had to be purchased; but in the autumn bulb-buying for the new borders began, the planting being in little colonies.
So the garden grew. The third spring another border—in the rear of the west lawn, to define it. It was a big one, almost as wide as it was long—with a path nearly all the way down the middle; but it was not so big that there were not plants enough to give it a good start in life. Some purchases—they could now be made with wisdom—more gifts, another crop of seedlings and the natural increase obtained by separation, all helped. And as the garden grew, experience grew.
The fourth year brought a narrow herbaceous border paralleling the rose border and a very wide one behind the original herbaceous border, while the one that was first the nursery was extended to the other side of the path leading up to the rear door of the house and also along the east edge of it. A new nursery was started at one end of the kitchen garden. Now stock was increasing so rapidly that a great many plants were given away, more going out than coming in. Of those that came in, there was beginning to be a sprinkling of plants of association—picked up on travels and sent, or brought, home. And always accumulation of experience.
One more east border, the longest of all, another year; the addition of some small ones, making sixteen altogether, and experience piled upon experience—that is the rest of the story. Maybe it is not yet a garden that has been accumulated, but it illustrates a principle even if it is no more than an aggregation of loosely related hardy borders.
The cost ? Not a great deal more than the labor of two hands in leisure hours. The small expense for purchased plants and seed was scarcely missed because of its distribution through the years, while the amount of money paid out for hired help was so slight as to be practically negligible. As the garden stands today, it would take hundreds of dollars to duplicate the plants, let alone the expense of planning and planting if these were done by a professional.
And the pleasure of it. In all of flower gardening there is nothing more charming than this gathering with the years and learning with the years. You never get to the end, of course. But who wants to? A garden is not made to be finished within the span of any one human life—unless, perchance, it is the decree of wealth that it shall be. It is something of cumulative growth—something that expands with its age and the age of the one whose hand has shaped and reshaped it and who always secretly hopes that when he is gone there shall be no cessation of expansion.