copyright, Kellscraft Studio, 1999                                             
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                                                             
Click Here to return to
Little Gardens
Content Page

Click Here to return to
the previous section



     THERE is no question as to the charm which is added to a garden by a little water--an eye of blue with brows of rush or trouic grasses if you please, though it is better for a small pool to be rimmed plainly with cement or stone and to show all of itself it can. If only a couple of yards in diameter there is an impression of crowding when vegetation is placed in it; at least, anything more than a single plant, and for that plant I would choose our common pond-lily, white and fragrant, an ivory star with central rays of gold. If we are able to widen the basin, however, we can add the water-poppy or the water-hyacinth, which flowers in summer in our northern climate, and which, in southern rivers spreads in such weedy luxuriance that government has to spend large sums yearly to clear the channels for navigation. It has no root in the ground, but lives on the water, as orchids do on air. If our little lake is a dozen feet or more across, we can have a tinted variety of pond-lily, the pale yellow, or the pink, to live with the white. If it is shallow and has turfy banks, we may have a growth of bamboo, or canebrake, or papyrus, at one side. The latter, which in its form is like a miniature palm, is doubtless the most tractable of the grasses for a small pool, as it does not often exceed four feet in our latitude. This is the grass that gave to the world the earliest material for the impressions of pen and ink, and from the word papyrus we keep the name of paper, to this day. There is something foreign in its aspect and it brings into our home ground a vision, howsoever faint, of the land of the Pyramids, the sunrise land of mystery.

     Other possibilities for the boggy shore or shallow water are the pickerel-weed, arrowhead, snakehead, marsh-marigold, pitcher-plant, showy orchis, and, near by, where their roots will be well moistened, the daffodil, iris, cardinal-flower and forget-me-not. There is a tendency to put too much into the water itself, and quite obscure its surface, which has a sky-reflecting value and beauty of its own. We must crowd our water-garden no more than we crowd our garden of earth, or our air-garden in the orchid house. And the tendency is not only to put in plants which are too large for their setting, but too many varieties. For pools of any size, however, we are always safe in the use of the pond-lily, and it will reach up to the surface from a depth of five or six feet, holding to the bottom by its long, ropy stalk. The Zanzibar lily in blue, purple and a particularly lovely red is an introduction from the East which is much used in large grounds and parks. The Egyptian lotus and yellow lotus are large for yards, and to reach their best estate they require not only room but artificial heat, except in our southern belt.

     If the pond is natural it has its own basin, which can be widened or lessened by digging or filling, but if artificial, a bog must be prepared for it, and this can be of sods and pebbles, if it is a large and informal sheet of water, or if it is a mere bowl it can be cemented or bricked and provided with an overflow-pipe, which needs a wire net at the orifice to keep the goldfish from going through, and the vegetable refuse from choking it at the traps or bends. If cement, mortar, asphalt, paint, stains or other artificial substances are used in the lining of the basin, the water should stand for a week, with frequent changes, before fish or plants are introduced. And while a fountain adds to the appearance of life and certainly to the beauty of a water-garden, it will imperil the vegetation if it is fed from a very cold spring, like many that we find among the mountains. Pond life is partial to warm, quiet water. For this reason, too, it is best to delay planting under water till summer has fairly set in, and the nympheas, or pond-lilies, may then be placed in the bottom soil, or packed into a sunken box filled with old manure, old turf and earth. The advantage of using a box, which should be a yard square and a foot deep, is that it can be removed when cold weather begins, for so soon as the green is gone and the supply-pipe is plugged for the winter, the box becomes unsightly. After planting, the water is to be gently admitted, the surface rising by slow advances, about a foot in a week, so as to disturb the plants as little as possible, but if this involves so much roiling of the water as to distress the fish, or if, in the absence of fish, mosquitoes threaten to breed in the stagnant pool before it rises to the level of the overflow-pipe, it is better to let in the water at once. Useless to consider the victorias, with their immense leaves, on which an adult may stand in safety, for those giants require either a tropical climate or a greenhouse. Many of the floating plants, too, the water-hyacinth, water-poppy, water-snowflake and parrot's-feather, spread so fast as to threaten the lives of the lilies.

     If one lived in a town like Amsterdam, or Syracuse, or Chicago, he could have a water-garden that should be more than a stone basin, and if he lived in no town at all, but near the bank of a river that was clear and not subject to spring freshets, he might more easily have the like. It could be grown to lilies and lotus, or it could be kept clear for bathing. In the ruins of St. Pierre, the fated town of Martinique, I found several marble-lined pools, one of them about twenty feet long, and I asked myself why in our equally superheated coast towns we could not have their duplicates, for summer use, at least; for we have to admit that in winter a water garden is a dreary place, for usually it is necessary to draw off the contents of the pool in order to prevent the swelling volume of the ice from cracking the cement. So here is the shadowing forth of a dream, but you are to pretend that it is midsummer when you study it:

Fig. 27.

     TO use an inconsistency, this is a lazy man's resting-place, (lazy men having no occasion to rest, merely idle,) and you are to imagine that it is surrounded by vine-covered walls; that as you sit on one of the benches at the near end, you see reflected in the water mirror the marble god, athlete, or what not who occupies the pedestal among the shrubbery at the farther; that the basin with its goldfish is bordered by cypresses, yews or bays in tubs; that above the benches extends a trellis covered with vines-grapes, if you want them, for everything is free in fancy-land; that from the nearer bed rise the color and perfume of such plants as will live in partial shade--godetia, lily-of-the-valley, musk plant, pansy, anemone, bluebells, phlox divaricata, shooting-star, St. Johnswort and such ferns as the maidenhair, lady-fern, oak-fern, cinnamon-fern and the noble sword-fern, which in many a darkened valley in New England grows head-high; for in the country one may take ferns from the fields for his lighted garden, and there are ferns by the million in the woods which he can abstract for his shady corners. You are also to see that roses, lilies and iris gleam among the foliage along the farther wall; that noble oaks and elms, or a group of solemn pines overlook the ground and checker it with transparent shadows; that birds nest in those trees and make a morning and evening melody; and apart from the sough of wind and the voices of birds and insects there are no sounds but the harping of water-drops, as they fall from the central fountain. Here, remote, alone, forgetful of the rudeness of the world, living with his books, his science, his art, his music, his flowers, will sit the recluse and keep his mind warm and serene with loveliness.

     Some such a yard as this could also be contrived for seashore cottagers whose premises go down to the border of the deep. If they dwelt on Cape Ann, or the Maine islands, it would not be difficult or costly to blast out a hollow in the native rock, fill it with salt water, by means of a ditch, or pipes, and in this sheltered lagoon to introduce, besides the usual finned swimmers, starfish, jellyfish, squids, octopods, anemones, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, sand-worms and mollusks, as well as the sea-mosses that sway so softly when the water moves. The pool would be a veritable place of wonders, and you would lie in a boat or on a board above it, studying its strange forms by the hour. Have you sailed across the sunken gardens in the glass-bottomed boats at Santa Catalina? If so, you need no urging to add an ocean pool to your estate. Though your flower-garden were a tropic blaze of color, you would much neglect it to watch the mysteries of the deep.

Click the Little Gardens Icon   to continue to the next chapter.