In preparing the garden for annuals, the first thing to do is to spade up the soil. This can be done shortly after the frost is out of the ground. This is about all that can be done to advantage, at this time, as the ground must be allowed to remain as it comes from the spade until the combined effect of sun and air has put it into a condition that will make it an easy matter to reduce it to proper mellowness with the hoe or iron rake.
Right here let me say: Most of us, in the enthusiasm which takes possession of us when spring comes, are inclined to rush matters. We spade up the soil, and immediately attempt to pulverize it, and of course fail in the attempt, because it is not in a proper condition to pulverize. We may succeed in breaking it up into little clods, but that is not what needs doing. It must be made fine, and mellow,—not a lump left in it,—and this can only be done well after the elements have had an opportunity to do their work on it. When one comes to think about it, there is no need of hurry, for it is not safe to sow seed in the ground at the north until the weather becomes warm and settled, and that will not be before the first of May, in a very favorable season, and generally not earlier than the middle of the month. This being the case, be content to leave the soil to the mellowing influences of the weather until seed-sowing time is at hand. Then go to work and get your garden ready.
If the soil is not rich, apply manure from the barnyard or its substitute in the shape of some reliable fertilizer.
Do this before you set about the pulverization of the soil. Then go to work with hoe and rake, and reduce it to the last possible degree of fineness, working the fertilizer you make use of into it in such a manner that both are perfectly blended.
There is no danger of overdoing matters in this part of garden-work. The finer the soil is the surer you may be of the germination of the seed you put into it. Fine seed often fails to grow in a coarse and lumpy soil.
In sowing seed, make a distinction between the very fine and that of ordinary size. Fine seed should be scattered on the surface, and no attempt made to cover it. Simply press down the soil upon which you have scattered it with a smooth board. This will make it firm enough to retain the moisture required to bring about germination.
Larger seed can be sown on the surface, and afterward covered by sifting a slight covering of fine soil over it. Then press with the board to make it firm.
Large seed, like that of the Sweet Pea, Four-o’-Clock, and Ricinus, should be covered to the depth of half an inch.
I always advise sowing seed in the beds where the plants are to grow, instead of starting it in pots and boxes, in the house, early in the season, under the impression that by so doing you are going to “get the start of the season.” In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, plants from seed sown in the house will be so weak in vital force that they cannot stand the change which comes when they are transplanted to the open ground. In the majority of cases, there will be none to transplant, for seedlings grown under living-room conditions generally die before the time comes when it is safe to put them out of doors. Should there be any to put out, they will be so weak that plants from seed sown in the beds, at that time, will invariably get the start of them, and these are sure to make the best plants. A person must be an expert in order to make a success of plant-growing from seed, in the house, in spring. There will be too much heat, too little fresh air, too great a lack of moisture in the atmosphere, and often a lack of proper attention in the way of watering, and unless these matters can be properly regulated it is useless to expect success. Knowing what the result is almost sure to be, I discourage the amateur gardener from attempting to grow his own seedlings under these conditions. If early plants are desired, buy them of the florists whose facilities for growing them are such that they can send out strong and healthy stock.
Do not sow the seeds of tender plants until you are quite sure that the danger from cold nights is over. It is hardly safe to put any kind of seed into the ground before the middle of May, at the north.
If we wait until all conditions are favorable, the young plants will get a good start and go steadily ahead, and distance those from seed sown before the soil had become warm or the weather settled. Haste often makes waste. If the soil is cold and damp seed often fails to germinate in it, and this obliges you to buy more seed, and all your labor goes for naught.
To the method and time of planting advised above, there is one exception—that of the Sweet Pea. This should go into the ground as soon as possible in spring. For this reason: This plant likes to get a good root-growth before the warm weather of summer comes. With such a growth it is ready for flowering early in the season, and no time is wasted. Dig a V-shaped trench six inches deep. Sow the seed thickly. It ought not to be more than an inch apart, and if closer no harm will be done. Cover to the depth of an inch, at time of sowing, tramping the soil down firmly. When the young plants have grown to be two or three inches tall, draw in more of the soil, and keep on doing this from time to time, as the seedlings reach up, until all the soil from the trench has been returned to it. This method gives us plants with roots deep enough in the soil to make sure of sufficient moisture in a dry season. It also insures coolness at the root, a condition quite necessary to the successful culture of this favorite flower.
Weeds will generally put in an appearance before the flowering plants do. As soon as you can tell “which is which” the work of weeding must begin. At this stage, hand-pulling will have to be depended on. But a little later, when the flowering plants have made an inch or two of growth, weeding by hand should be abandoned. Provide yourself with a weeding-hook—a little tool with claw-shaped teeth—with which you can uproot more weeds in an hour than you can in all day by hand, and the work will be done in a superior manner as the teeth of the little tool stir the surface of the soil just enough to keep it light and open—a condition that is highly favorable to the healthy development of young plants. I have never yet seen a person who liked to pull weeds by hand. Gardens are often neglected because of the dislike of their owners for this disagreeable task. The use of the weeding-hook does away with the drudgery, and makes really pleasant work of the fight with weeds.
If seedlings are to be transplanted, do it after sundown or on a cloudy day. Lift the tender plants as carefully as possible, and aim to not expose their delicate roots. Get the place in which you propose to plant them ready before you lift them, and then set them out immediately. Make a hole as deep as their roots are long, drop the plants into it, and press the soil firmly about them with thumb and finger. It may be well to water them if the season is a dry one. Shade them next day, and continue to do so until they show that they have made new feeding roots by beginning to grow. I make use of a “shader” that I have “evolved from my inner consciousness” that gives better satisfaction than anything else I have ever tried. I cut thick brown paper into circular shape, eight inches across. Then I cut out a quarter of it, and bring the edges of this cut together, and run a stick or wire through them to hold them together. This stick or wire should be about ten inches long, as the lower end of it must go into the soil. When my “shader” is ready for use it has some resemblance to a paper umbrella with a handle at one side instead of in the middle. This handle is inserted in the soil close to the plant, and the “umbrella” shades it most effectively, and does this without interfering with a free circulation of air, which is a matter of great importance.
If thorough work in the way of weeding is done at the beginning of the season, it will be an easy matter to keep the upper hand of the enemy later on. But if you allow the weeds to get the start of you, you will have to do some hard fighting to gain the supremacy which ought never to have been relinquished. After a little, the hoe can be used to advantage. If the season happens to be a dry one, do not allow the soil to become hard, and caked on the surface, under the impression that it will not be safe to stir it because of the drouth. A soil that is kept light and open will absorb all the moisture there is in the air, while one whose surface is crusted over cannot do this, therefore plants growing in it suffer far more than those do in the soil that is stirred constantly. Aim to get all possible benefit from dews and slight showers by keeping the soil in such a sponge-like condition that it can take advantage of them.
It is a good plan to use the grass-clippings from the lawn as a mulch about your plants in hot, dry weather.
Do not begin to water plants in a dry season unless you can keep up the practice. Better let them take the chances of pulling through without the application than to give it for a short time and then abandon it because of the magnitude of the task.
Furnish racks and trellises for such plants as need them as soon as they are needed. Many a good plant is spoiled by neglecting to give attention to its requirements at the proper time.
Make it a rule to go over the garden at least twice a week, after the flowering season sets in, and cut away all faded flowers. If this is done, no seed will come to development, and the strength of the plants will be expended in the production of other flowers. By keeping up this practice through the season, it is possible to keep most of them blossoming until late in the summer, as they will endeavor to perpetuate themselves by the production of seed, and the first step in this process is the production of flowers.
What flowers would you advise us to grow? many readers of this chapter will be sure to ask, after having read what I have said above about the garden of annuals.
In answering this question here, it will be necessary, in a measure, to repeat what has been, or will be, said in other chapters, where various phases of gardening are treated. But the question is one that should be answered in this connection, at the risk of repetition, in order to fully cover the subject now under consideration.
There are so many kinds of flowers offered by the seedsmen that it is a difficult matter to decide between them, when all are so good. But no one garden is large enough to contain them all. Were one to attempt the cultivation of all he would be obliged to put in all his time at the work, and the services of an assistant would be needed, besides. Even then the chances are that the work would be done in a superficial fashion. Therefore I shall mention only such kinds as I consider the very best of the lot for general use, adding this advice.
Don’t attempt too much. A few good kinds, well grown, will afford a great deal more pleasure than a great many kinds only half grown.
This list is made up of such kinds as can properly be classed as “stand-bys,” kinds which any amateur gardener can be reasonably sure of success with if the instructions given in this chapter are carefully followed.
Alyssum.—Commonly called Sweet Alyssum, because of its pleasing fragrance. Of low growth. Very effective as an edging. Most profuse and constant bloomer.
Aster.—This annual disputes popularity with the Sweet Pea. Very many persons would prefer it to any other because of its sturdy habit, ease of culture, profusion of bloom, and great variety of color. It is one of the indispensables.
Bed of Asters
Balsam.—Splendid plant for summer flowering, coming in many colors, some of these exceedingly delicate and beautiful. Flowers like small Roses, very double, and set so thickly along the stalks that each branch seems like a wreath of bloom. It is often necessary to trim off many of the leaves in order to give the blossoms a chance to display themselves. Some varieties are charmingly variegated. Being quite tender it should not be sown until one is sure of warm weather.
Calliopsis (Coreopsis).—A very showy plant, with rich yellow flowers, marked with brown, maroon and scarlet at the base of the petal. A most excellent plant where great masses of color are desired. Fine for combining with scarlet and other strong-toned flowers. An all-the-season bloomer.
Candytuft.—A free and constant bloomer, of low habit. Very useful for edging beds and borders. Comes in pure white and purplish red.
Celosia (Cockscomb).—A plant with most peculiar flowers. What we call the flower is really a collection of hundreds of tiny individual blossoms set so close together that they seem to compose one large blossom. The prevailing color is a bright scarlet, but we have some varieties in pink and pale yellow. Sure to please.
Cosmos.—A plant of wonderfully free flowering habit. Flowers mostly pink, white, and lilac. A tall grower, branching freely, therefore well adapted to back rows, or massing. Foliage fine and feathery. Excellent for cutting. One of our most desirable fall bloomers. We have an early Cosmos of rather dwarf habit, but the large-growing late varieties are far more satisfactory. It may be necessary to cover the plants at night when the frosts of middle and late September are due, as they will be severely injured by even the slightest touch of frost. Well worth all the care required.
Four-o’-Clock (Marvel of Peru—Mirabilis).—A good, old-fashioned flower that has the peculiarity of opening its trumpet-shaped blossoms late in the afternoon. Bushy, well branched, and adapted to border use as a “filler.”
Escholtzia (California Poppy).—One of the showiest flowers in the entire list. A bed of it will be a sheet of richest golden yellow for many weeks.
Gaillardia (Blanket-flower).—A profuse and constant bloomer, of rich and striking color-combinations. Yellow, brown, crimson, and maroon. Most effective when massed.
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath).—A plant of great daintiness, both in foliage and flowers. Always in demand for cut-flower work. White and pink.
Kochia (Burning Bush—Mexican Fire-plant).—A very desirable plant, of symmetrical, compact habit. Rich green throughout the summer, but turning to dark red in fall. Fine for low hedges and for scattering through the border wherever there happens to be a vacancy.
Larkspur.—Another old-fashioned flower of decided merit.
Marigold.—An old favorite that richly deserves a place in all gardens because of its rich colors, free blooming qualities and ease of culture.
Nasturtium.—Too well known to need description here. Everybody ought to grow it. Unsurpassed in garden decoration and equally as valuable for cutting. Blooms throughout the entire season. Does well in a rather poor soil. In a very rich soil it makes a great growth of branches at the expense of blossoms.
Pansy.—Not an annual, but generally treated as such. A universal favorite that almost everybody grows. If flowers of a particular color are desired I would advise buying blooming seedlings from the florist, as one can never tell what he is going to get if he depends on seed of his own sowing. The flowers will be as fine as those from selected varieties, but there will be such a medley of colors that one sometimes tires of the effect. I have always received the most pleasure from planting distinct colors, like the yellows, the blues, the whites, and the purples, and the only way in which I can make sure of getting just the colors I want is to tell the florist about them, and instruct him to send me those colors when his seedlings come into bloom.
Petunia.—Another of the “stand-bys.” A plant that can always be depended on. Very free bloomer, very profuse, and very showy. If the old plants that have blossomed through the summer begin to look ragged and unsightly, cut away the entire top. In a short time new shoots will be sent out from the stump of the old plant, and almost before you know it the plant will have renewed itself, and be blooming as freely as when it was young. Fine for massing.
Phlox Drummondi.—One of our most satisfactory annuals. Any one can grow it. It begins to bloom when small, and improves with age. Comes in a wide range of colors, some brilliant, others delicate—all beautiful. Charming effects are easily secured by planting the pale rose, pure white, and soft yellow varieties together, either in rows or circles. The contrast will be fine, and the harmony perfect. Other colors are desirable, but they do not all combine well. It is a good plan to use white varieties freely, as these heighten the effect of the strong colors. I always buy seed in which each color is by itself, as a mixture of red, crimson, lilac, and violet in the same bed is never pleasing to me.
Poppy.—Brilliant and beautiful. Unrivalled for midsummer show. As this plant is of little value after its early flowering period is over, other annuals can be planted in the bed with it, to take its place. Set these plants about the middle of July, and when they begin to bloom pull up the Poppies. The Shirley strain includes some of the loveliest colors imaginable. Its flowers have petals that seem cut from satin. The large-flowered varieties are quite as ornamental as Peonies, as long as they last.
Portulacca.—Low grower, spreading until the surface of the bed is covered with the dark green carpet of its peculiar foliage. Flowers both single and double, of a great variety of colors. Does well in hot locations, and in poor soil. Of the easiest culture.
Scabiosa.—Very fine. Especially for cutting. Colors dark purple, maroon, and white.
Salpiglossis.—A free-blooming plant, of very brilliant coloring and striking variegation. Really freakish in its peculiar markings.
Stock (Gillyflower).—A plant of great merit. Flowers of the double varieties are like miniature Roses, in spikes. Very fragrant. Fine for cutting. Blooms until frost comes. Red, pink, purple, white, and pale yellow. The single varieties are not desirable, and as soon as a seedling plant shows single flowers, pull it up.
Sweet Pea.—This grand flower needs no description. It is one of the plants we must have.
Verbena.—Old, but none the worse for that. A free and constant bloomer, of rich and varied coloring. Habit low and spreading. One of the best plants we have for low beds, under the sitting-room windows. Keep the faded flowers cut off, and at midsummer cut away most of the old branches, and allow the plant to renew itself, as advised in the case of the Petunia.
Wallflower. — Not as much grown as it ought to be. Delightfully fragrant. Color rich brown and tawny yellow. General habit similar to that of Stock, of which it is a near relative. Late bloomer. Give it one season’s trial and you will be delighted with it. Not as showy as most flowers, but quite as beautiful, and the peer of any of them in sweetness.
Zinnia. — A robust plant of the easiest possible culture. Any one can grow it, and it will do well anywhere. Grows to a height of three feet or more, branches freely, and close to the ground, and forms a dense, compact bush. On this account very useful for hedge purposes. Exceedingly profuse in its production of flowers. Blooms till frost comes. Comes in almost all the colors of the rainbow.
Because I have advised the amateur gardener to make his selection from the above list, it must not be understood that those of which I have not made mention, but which will be found described in the catalogues of the florist, are not desirable. Many of them might please the reader quite as well, and possibly more, than any of the kinds I have spoken of. But most of them will require a treatment which the beginner in gardening will not be able to give them, and, on that account, I do not include them in my list. After a year or two’s experience in gardening, the amateur will be justified in attempting their culture—which, after all, is not difficult if one has time to give them special attention and a sufficient amount of care. The kinds I have advised are such as virtually take care of themselves, after they get well under way, if weeds are kept away from them. They are the kinds for “everybody’s garden.”
Let me add, in concluding this chapter, that it is wisdom on the part of the amateur to select not more than a dozen of the kinds that appeal most forcibly to him, and concentrate his attention on them. Aim to grow them to perfection by giving them the best of care. A garden of well-grown plants, though limited in variety, will afford a hundredfold more pleasure to the owner of it than a garden containing a little of everything, and nothing well grown.
In purchasing seed, patronize a dealer whose reputation for honesty and reliability is such that he would not dare to send out anything inferior if he were inclined to do so. There are many firms that advertise the best of seed at very low prices. Look out for them. I happen to know that our old and most reputable seedsmen make only a reasonable profit on the seed they sell. Other dealers who cut under in price can only afford to do so because they do not exercise the care and attention which the reliable seedsman does in growing his stock, hence their expenses are less. Cheap seed will be found cheap in all senses of the term.
I want to lay special emphasis on the advisability of purchasing seed in which each color is by itself. The objection is often urged that one person seldom cares to use as many plants of one color as can be grown from a package of seed. This difficulty is easily disposed of. Club with your neighbors, and divide the seed between you when it comes. In this way you will secure the most satisfactory results and pay no more for your seed than you would if you were to buy “mixed” packages. Grow colors separately for a season and I am quite sure you will never go back to mixed seed.