copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             
Click Here to return to
My Garden
Content Page

Click Here to return to
the previous section


“In the quiet garden world
Gold sunlight and shadow leaves
Flicker on the garden wall.”
                                — Sappho.

 THE wraithlike beauty of April lingers into May, but her step is more reliant, her slender limbs green draped, her colour slightly deepened. These are long golden days, mist-bathed at their rising and full of expectation. Foliage like a green veil swathes the trees; orchards are billowy with bloom, and unnumbered birds sing their thrilling songs and joyously prepare for the sure realization of their dreams.

Down in the garden a sense of breathless expectation is felt, so much is about to happen, so many mysteries about to unfold, and hundreds of plants, awaiting a sign that they shall recognize, hold their buds closed seemingly by main force. Each hour of the day sets free some lovely thing; the sun’s persuasive powers are strengthening and enticing showers fall often, coaxing the most timid and backward of the garden’s children into haste.

It is a time of flourishing well-being. Whatever dwindling and pining the plants may have in store for us, does not yet appear, and it is a delight to walk about the garden observing the vigorous, long-leaved tufts of Mulleins and Foxgloves, the capable appearance of Phlox and Sweet William, and the fine show of determination exhibited by the lusty clumps of Heleniums, Oriental Poppies, Lupines, Columbines, Rudbeckias, Helianthus, and other old settlers. Pinks are reaching out in their gray young growth, the aristocratic noses of Lilies here and there pierce the moist, brown earth, and besides all this promise there is a delicious realization of blossoming boughs and bulbs and plants, for April’s Daffodils and many gifts of her later days have not gone, and May Tulips have come bringing in their train a beauteous throng.

Assuredly the Tulip is Queen of the early May garden. In April she was not quite strong enough to hold her own against gay Daffodil, and before June comes in she must bow to a more powerful potentate, but now she is supreme. There is such a host of fine May Tulips that the difficulty is to reconcile one’s desires to the size of one’s garden, or to the stretch of one’s pocketbook. The great mass of these are known as Cottage Tulips and Darwins, but before we lose ourselves in their bewildering midst I want to call attention to two wild species which we grow here with ever-increasing enjoyment. The first to bloom is Tulipa sylvestris, which grows thickly beneath and all around a group of Scotch Briers in a warm south border. The first year it does no more than send up two slender leaves and we are disappointed, but the second year and thereafter a slender, curving stem rises from between the clasping leaves carrying a long, bronze-coloured bud which opens widely into a small butter-yellow flower with the scent of hothouse violets. It is a sweet thing, with the shy grace common to most wild things, and should be planted where it may dwell and increase in peace, not pressed upon by stout perennials against which it is too frail to hold its own.

The other wilding which has accepted our garden graciously is the Lady Tulip, Tulipa Clusiana, native of Europe, a spirited, upstanding mite with a flashing white, carmine-feathered cup carried on a short, stiff stem. It has been known in gardens for more than three hundred years, for Gerarde speaks of it, but it demands the special conditions of a well-drained soil and a warm sheltered spot, or it will not stay. A cushion and covering of sharp sand greatly increase the comfort of the small bulbs.

The slender, crimson-flowered Tulipa Didieri and its white variety are also wild species, but have so much the look of the Cottage varieties that it hardly seems necessary to treat them separately.

Tulipa retroflexa, though said to be of garden origin and grouped in bulb lists with the Cottage Tulips, is so distinct as to deserve personal notice. The uninitiated who see this Tulip usually call it a Lily, and the mistake is not surprising, for the deeply reflexing petals are misleading. The colour is a warm, pure yellow and the flower is carried on a long, curving stem. I like this Tulip better than any other for house decoration.

Tulips known as May or Cottage Tulips are mainly descendants of varieties found in the latter part of the last century, in old gardens of the British Isles, also in France, Holland, and a few in America. They are to me more beautiful than the resplendent Darwins, for the blossoms are long and pointed, vase-shaped, or delicately oval, and all have an indisputable air of breeding and distinction not always felt in the Darwins, which seem to belong to a lower order with their thicker flesh and more squat forms.

The Darwins were introduced from Holland at the beginning of this century. Dame Nature, and Messrs. Krelage of Haarlem, working in sympathetic collaboration, have wrought in them the most marvellous shades and tints. The stems are tall and strong, the blossoms usually cup-shaped, and nearly all are enriched by a conspicuous blue base and dark anthers.

In soil not too rich and heavy Cottage and Darwin Tulips may be left in the ground the year round and lifted only when they show by lessening quality that they are overcrowded. They appreciate deep planting — ten inches is not too deep — and a sand cushion, and no manure should touch the bulbs. Almost every imaginable colour-tone is shown in these May-flowering Tulips, and so it behooves us to be a little careful in our selection and disposal of them, that one lovely thing may not “kill” another. There are no yellows among the Darwins, but to offset this they have a wide range of mauves, lavenders, and purples, and both Cottage and Darwins are rich in shades of scarlet, cherry, pink, salmon, and blush. We love to plant these Tulips in groups and patches about the borders as we do the Daffodils, associating them with the many fine plants and shrubs blossoming at this season. The May Irises, florentina, Germanica, and Intermediate are fine used with these tall Tulips, also the soft gray-foliaged plants, and charming pictures may be contrived with the flowering trees. Many smaller things, such as blue or white Flax, Nepeta Mussini, and Dicentra eximea are lovely grown among the Tulips, and there are a host of creeping things to carpet the ground over the bulbs.

Here, in a border, the background of which is created by purple-leaved Plums and pink and white Flowering Almonds, we grow the dark red and cherry-coloured Tulips with fine effect. They are Pride of Haarlem, Nauticus, The Sultan, Anthony Roozen, Glow, Faust, Baronne de la Tonnaye, Flambeau, Black Knight, Zulu, Whistler, Europe, and Mr. Farncombe Sanders — all Darwins. The mauve and purple Darwins are particularly artistic, and I should like some day to make a border with a background of white Persian Lilacs and the spreading Judas Tree, where, in association with much gray foliage of Lyme Grass, Artemisia, Nepeta, Lavender Cotton and Woolly Stachys, and clumps of gray-white Florentine Iris, the following lovely Tulips would be charmingly shown: Nora Ware, Kate Greenaway, Dream, Bleu aimable, Rev. H. Ewbank, Electra, Euterpe and Erguste, with such dark kinds as The Bishop, Grand Monarque, and Leonardo da Vinci here and there for accent.

Such gorgeous orange Cottage Tulips as La Merveille, Orange King, or Orange Beauty are effective grouped with the spray-like growth of sky-blue or white Flax, with a background of Bridal-wreath, or some other white-flowered shrub. Very lovely, too, is a pretty pink Darwin Tulip Gretchen, planted in groups with Florentine Iris in the neighbourhood of the scarlet-budded Crab, Pyrus floribunda. Other good associations, before me as I write, are pale yellow Tulip Ellen Willmott with Nepeta Mussini, creamy Leghorn Bonnet with gray Stachys, and tufts of lavender Phlox divaricata. The lovely pink and white Tulip Carnation, with hoary Southernwood and white Tulip Innocence, with tufts of mauve Aubrietia in front of a bush of yellow Kerria. Other good Cottage Tulips are Bouton d’Or, golden yellow; Gesneriana spathulata, ruby-scarlet, Inglescomb Pink, salmon; John Ruskin, apricot-pink; macrospila, vibrant scarlet; Miss Jekyll, white with blue base; Moonlight, primrose; Mrs. Moon, bright yellow; Oriana, ruby-pink; Picotee, white with pink edges; The Fawn, rosy-fawn, and vitellina, cream.

Besides the Tulips and Irises the first two weeks of May bring a number of good perennials to grace the garden. The old Bleeding-heart (Dicentra syn. Dielytra spectabilis), whose blossoms look like some old-fashioned confection, comes before the Daffodils are past and associates charmingly with some of the pale star varieties. Few old gardens are without a spreading clump of this old-fashioned perennial, and new gardens should not be without it, for even without the wand-like stems laden with dangling pink candy hearts, its beautiful foliage should win it a place in every gathering of choice plants. Like Paeonies and Fraxinella it likes to be left in peace year after year, without division, or other kindly meddling. Its dwarfer relatives, Dicentra eximea and formosa, with blossoms of a deeper colour lasting the greater part of the summer, should bear it company, and even that tiny elfin Dutchman’s Breeches, of our own woods, D. Cucullaria, so fetching in its creamy “breeches” and feathery green, is worthy a bit of space in some shadowy corner.

Another old friend is blossoming in these early days of May and is too often passed by nowadays for more striking novelties. This is Honesty (Lunaria biennis), a plant of many names, showing that many have cared for it as it travelled down through the ages; and so hung about with traditions of magic that we quite stand in awe of the simple plant. 

 “Enchanting Lunarie here lies,
 In sorceries excelling.” 

It is a pretty thing growing about eighteen inches tall, with large dusty-looking leaves and flowers of shining white, or various shades of purple. It is biennial, but seif-sows, so may be kept in the garden with little trouble. In our garden two other old-fashioned plants grow with it and form a friendly group: white Spiderwort, with its strange three-cornered blossoms, and Jacob’s Ladder, with spikes of light blue-lavender flowers. Maeterlinck spoke of such plants as these as having “a long human past behind them, a large array of kind and consoling actions; those which have lived with us for hundreds of years and which form part of ourselves since they reflect something of their grace and their joy of life in the soul of our ancestors.”

Belonging also to this old-fashioned company, but blooming later in the month, are Sweet Rocket and Garden Heliotrope. The first, Hesperis matronalis, has star-like flowers, white, or in shades of pale purple and violet, and gives forth to the night a most delicious fragrance which it quite withholds from the day. Perhaps it is a bit too free a seeder to be admitted to very choice gardens, but treated as bienniels, the old plants, which grow lax and straggling, pulled out and thrown away and only a few of the many seedlings retained, it may be enjoyed with safety. Garden Heliotrope (Valeriana officinalis) is a special favourite. It bears a flat head of pinkish lacelike bloom at the end of its four feet of slender stem and has the delicious fragrance of real Heliotrope. It is so old-fashioned and out of fashion that it is not always easy to procure, but when one has it, it spreads so generously that one may pass it along to others who are less fortunate, and it is well worth having, for it lends a light grace to whatever part of the garden it occupies and combines charmingly with the other flowers of its day, especially with Iris Blue King and the flaunting Oriental Poppies.

Yellow is well represented in early May, for besides the still lingering Daffodils, Alyssum, and Tulips, we have the two fine perennials, Leopard’s Bane (Doronicum), and the Globe Flower (Trollius), each with several good varieties. The best and tallest of the Doronicums is D. plantagineum var. excelsum, which bears its large daisy-like flowers on stems three feet high. D. Clusii and D. austriacum are also good sorts about a foot and a half high. These plants will do well in a poor dry soil, but respond to better living, and they require yearly division. Doronicums should be kept out of the neighbourhood of Daffodils and Tulips, as there is too much green in the yellow of their flowers, but planted with white Flax and such strong purple Irises as King or Koch, they are well placed. The Globe Flowers are not so amiable and unless one can give them a very rich, deep soil, or dampness, it is best not to try them. If comfortable, they grow into stout clumps of nicely cut foliage, gayly ornamented with double flowers — deep cream, yellow, or orange-scarlet.

Blue and white Flax flowers are everywhere just now and are always captivating in their light spray-like growth. They occupy little space, sowing their seeds about and gaining a footing in the chinks of walls and steps, along the edges of the paths, and anywhere in the borders. One border has its stone edging buried beneath a cloak of gray Cerastium, Gypsophila repens, and blue Veronica prostrata, with groups of Flax alternating along its whole length with long-stemmed pink Thrift (Armeria latifolia). In another border pink Tulips rise delightfully from a mass of sky-blue Flax, and in still another it has appointed itself a background for deep-purple Campanula glomerata. The Narbon Flax (Linum narbonense) is perhaps a more sky-like blue than the more familiar L. perenne, but is not so hardy. Both bloom all summer if seeding is not allowed. Linum flavum is a beautiful plant, more robust in appearance, but less so in reality than perenne, with rich yellow flowers and nice grayish foliage. It has never been very happy with me, disappearing or sulking in a most annoying manner, but last fall I discovered that my rather weak-looking plants had begun to seed themselves and had started quite a thriving colony in the path, which I take as a sign that the misunderstanding between this lovely Flax and me is a thing of the past.

In the cold frame we have some thriving seedlings of the Alpine Flax (Linum alpinum), but cannot yet speak authoritatively of it, save that it comes easily from seed. Another blue-flowered plant, but one much stouter and more prosaic than the winsome Flax, is Centaurea montana, perennial relative and rather heavy prototype of the pretty annual Corn Flower, or Blue-bottle. It is a good plant of medium height, sturdy of growth, with nice gray foliage and a long period of bloom if not allowed to seed. Yearly division keeps the plants compact and it does well in any sunny situation. C. ruthenica and macrocephala are yellow-flowered Centaureas, growing about four feet high and blooming in mid-summer. They are rather coarse in growth, but are worth having. The former is the better.

Incomplete indeed would be the spring without the Columbines, and so we have a great many within our garden enclosure, of all colours and kinds, with short or long spurs, with enchanting white petticoats, and with none. I like best the long spurred, single sorts in clear, opaque colours — sky-blue, purple, pure white or yellow. Aquilegia chrysantha, a fine, long-spurred yellow sort, blooms later than the others and continues through the greater part of the summer. A. coerulea, the Rocky Mountain Columbine, is an exquisite variety, with sky-blue and white flowers. it has a lovely white form called candidissima. There are some fine pink sorts of garden origin and various other hybrids in cream, lavender, and purple shades. Columbines require a background of green or stonework to be seen at their best, and gleam more charmingly in shadowy places than in full sun. They naturalize well in rocky wooded places, and indeed seem more at home in such a situation, for they always appear more wild than garden-bred to me.

Scarlet Geums have been very gay in the borders these two weeks past. They sound a piercing colour note and are gay and pretty in association with white Flax and lavender Phlox divaricata. There are several fine sorts. G. Heldreichii, bright orange, growing a foot tall, and its variety magnificum — a good deal taller; G. minatum var. aurantiacum, strong yellow and of a more compact growth, and the two fine double sorts growing nearly two feet high, G. coccineum, vars. Mrs. Bradshaw, and Glory of Stuttgart.

There are many minor delights belonging to the first two weeks of May besides those which fell from April’s lap and still linger. The Cerastiums trail their soft gray foliage over the stone edgings, Saponaria ocymoides, decorous cousin of disreputable Bouncing Bet of the dusty roadsides, tumbles over the stones in delectable pink cascades, sky-blue Polemonium reptans and rosy Thrifts gaily tuft the edges of the borders, and Lily of the Valley, Periwinkle, and the lacy growth of Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odarata) shine in the shaded corners.

The last two weeks of May have much the look of June. The spring aspect has gone; delicate flower tints, the reddish shoots and tender young green are replaced by stronger colours and lush foliage — these are the days of fulfilment, not of promise. The borders are full and very gay, and everywhere are charming groups. The noble tribe of Hemerocallis has appeared upon the scene in all its burnished beauty. My little boy calls them “brass and copper lilies,” which is most apt, and bronze might be added, for the outsides of some, like H. Dumortierii, are distinctly bronze in colour. H. graminea, or minor, a dwarf, is the first to bloom here, and is closely followed by H. flava, the common Lemon Lily, flawless in colour and finely scented. If the various sorts of Hemerocallis are planted they will reach well into August, and are delightful company all along the way. Of the kinds blooming in May and June, besides minor and flava, there are Apricot, well named for its fine colour; Dumortierii, with an orange-coloured interior and a bronze coat; Middendorfii, orange and rather dwarf; Gold Dust, a fine rich yellow; Buttercup, bright yellow, and Sovereign, clear yellow within and chocolate without. Later comes the tawny fulva, the old Orange Day Lily of the roadsides; Thunbergii, much like the Lemon Lily and as sweetly scented; citrina, with small flowers of a lovely pale shade; Aureole, a truly “brass and copper lily”; Dr. Regel, splendid orange; luteola, bright yellow and reaching a height of four feet; aurantiaca major, huge apricot-coloured flowers, sweetly scented; and Kwanso, a handsome double-flowered form of fulva.

The foliage of these so-called lilies is always clean and sightly, and they demand almost nothing of us, growing well in sun or shade, in damp places, or in the borders, where they lend themselves to all sorts of good associations. Garden Heliotrope is lovely with them and the tall white and “bleak blue” Lupines; The Flag and Siberian Irises seem to belong naturally with them, and if one can stand a perfectly resounding harmony plant them with orange and scarlet Oriental Poppies. I always do myself, and rejoice exceedingly in the vibrant result.

A lovely picture exists just now in a corner of the garden where a spreading mass of purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium) grows in company with white Lupines and a pale yellow Iris called Canary Bird. This Meadow Rue is a fair and elegant plant with cut metallic foliage like that of Columbines and puffs of purple mist-like bloom on leafy stems about four feet tall. The foliage lasts in good condition the summer through, so that it is one of those plants which should be given a prominent place. We have recently made the acquaintance of another Thalictrum, said to grow six feet tall, T. glaucum. The foliage of this one is distinctly gray and the flowers are yellow. It should prove a good plant for the back of the border. Another for the back of the border is the recently introduced Thalictrum dipterocarpum, purple flowers with conspicuous yellow anthers. The two dwarfs, minus and its variety adiantifolium, both fernlike and pretty with the good quality of long-lasting foliage, belong at the front of the borders. These plants require a deep, rich soil; they are not subjects for dry, shallow places. Frequent division is not a necessity. My clumps have been undisturbed for five years and are certainly in fine condition. They are easily raised from seed.

Lupines are among what the children call the “very favourites,” and we always have a great many. They are easily raised from seed, but should be transplanted to their permanent places when quite small, as the long taproot makes moving them without doing harm a bit difficult. The plants are not long lived with us; indeed we do not count upon them for more than two seasons of bloom, but being so easily raised from seed and seeding themselves besides this fault is not serious. Lupinus arboreus is not hardy in the neighbourhood of New York, but L. polyphyllus has many fine hybrids. I have two beautiful yellow varieties, Somerset and Yellow Boy, which are effective with the purple Meadow Rue. L. Moerheimi is a good pink sort, and this with Nelly, pink and white, are lovely with hoary Southernwood bushes. The Bride is buff and rose, and there are many good blue, or blue and white sorts, also mauve and purple. I am not sure but that the tall L. albus, with spikes of creamy blossoms, is the prettiest of all and certainly it is the most useful. We grow it behind such pinky-mauve Irises as Queen of May, Her Majesty, and Mme. Pacquitte, with gray Stachys as a foreground. It is fine also with the orange Oriental Poppies or Lemon Lilies and indeed is nowhere amiss. If the spent flower stalks are cut off Lupines will bloom the greater part of the summer.

Many pretty things festoon the low walls and stone edgings at this season. The two little Veronicas, V. repens and prostrata, are as blue as the summer sky and creep in and out among the stones and over into the path most beguilingly. Delightful, too, is Corydalis lutea, a ferny, feathery, fluffy little plant with pale yellow flowers and the power to get a footing in the most impossible places. Nothing could be prettier for old walls or flights of stone steps, and as it seeds freely and can be trusted entirely to dispose of itself in the most charming manner, is no trouble at all. It has a noble relation, C. nobilis, which blooms late in the month and dies down entirely after flowering. It is much taller than the little Yellow Fumatory just mentioned, but has the same lovely foliage and creamy tubular blossoms which last in perfection fully three weeks. C. cheilanthifolia is another fine sort for walls or the edge of the border. They are all easily raised from seed, will grow in sun or shade, and lutea blooms all summer until hard frost.

In many places along the low walls Cat-mint, Nepeta Mussini, slowly evolves from a gray curtain to a lavender veil. This splendid plant blooms all summer long, and is one of the most useful and lovely things we have. When in full flower, the small, aromatic gray leaves are quite hidden by the crowding lavender flower spikes, but in or out of bloom it is a plant of great charm. It stands our hot, dry summers without flinching, is perfectly hardy, but needs to be divided every year or so.

By the last week in May summer has fairly come; the June Irises are in possession and climbing Roses are in turbulent bloom upon their walls and trellises. Over night the tight, hairy caps of the Oriental Poppies have burst, and one wakes to find great tongues of flame leaping up in all directions. They are the torch-bearers of the great, lavish queen Summer and the garden is “en fête.” When they are gone we shall see that here a scarlet Lychnis has been kindled into life — there, a blood-red Paeony; across the garden a flight of English Poppies burn their vivid lives away, and the torch of a tawny Day Lily flares up. They stay just long enough to let us have our fill of gorgeous colour — longer, and we should be satiated and find these daring things too coarse and glaring, but Nature does not make such mistakes. Besides the orange-coloured and scarlet Oriental Poppies there are some in softer shades: salmon, blush, rose, mahogany, and lately a pure white one. These are all lovely with the gray foliage plants, especially with Rue and Artemisia Stellariana, but should be kept out of the way of the orange and scarlet sorts. Some of the best are Blush Queen, Bracteatum, good red; Beauty of Livermore, deep crimson; Marie Studholme, salmon with purple stain; Mrs. Perry Salmon; Silver Queen, lovely flushed white; Medusa, satiny rose; Lady Roscoe, terra cotta, and Perry’s White.

Oriental Poppies are easily raised from seed and they also seed themselves freely in our garden, often creating havoc of some pet colour scheme, for it is not possible to allow them to associate with just anybody. The long taproot of these Poppies enables them to stand our dry summers without great suffering. The flowers last longer in partial shade, but the plants are as well off in full sunshine. After flowering the foliage usually dies away, not reappearing until the cooler nights of August lure it above ground again. This leaves a blank in the borders, and so behind all the Oriental Poppies we plant Gypsophila paniculata, the mist-like bloom of which covers their vagrant ways and is ready to be cut away ly the time the Poppies see fit to reappear.

Click the icon to go to the next chapter of My Garden.