The most satisfactory garden of flowering plants for small places, all things considered, is one composed of hardy herbaceous perennials and biennials.
This for several reasons:
- Once thoroughly established they are good for an indefinite period.
- It is not necessary to “make garden” annually, as is the case where annuals are depended on.
- They require less care than any other class of plants.
- Requiring less care than other plants, they are admirably adapted to the needs of those who can devote only a limited amount of time to gardening.
- They include some of the most beautiful plants we have.
- By a judicious selection of kinds it is possible to have flowers from them from early in spring till late in fall.
I have no disposition to say disparaging things about the garden of annuals. Annuals are very desirable. Some of them are absolutely indispensable. But they call for a great deal of labor. It is hard work to spade the ground, and make the beds, and sow the seed, and keep the weeds down. This work must be done year after year. But with hardy plants this is not the case. Considerable labor may be called for, the first year, in preparing the ground and setting out the plants, but the most of the work done among them, after that, can be done with the hoe, and it will take so little time to do it that you will wonder how you ever came to think annuals the only plants for the flower-garden of busy people. That this is what a great many persons think is true, but it is because they have not had sufficient experience with hardy plants to fully understand their merits, and the small amount of care they require. A season’s experience will convince them of their mistake.
Perennials will not bloom till the second year from seed. Therefore, if you want flowers from them the first season, it will be necessary for you to purchase last season’s seedlings from the florist.
In most neighborhoods one can secure enough material to stock the border from friends who have old plants that need to be divided, or by exchanging varieties.
But if you want plants of any particular color, or of a certain variety, you will do well to give your order to a dealer. In most gardens five or six years old the original varieties will either have died out or so deteriorated that the stock you obtain there will be inferior in many respects, therefore not at all satisfactory to one who is inclined to be satisfied with nothing but the best. The “best” is what the dealer will send you if you patronize one who has established a reputation for
The impression prevails, to a great extent, that perennials bloom only for a very short time in the early part of the season. This is a mistake. If you select your plants with a view to the prolongation of the flowering period, you can have flowers throughout the season from this class of plants. Of course not all of them will bloom at the same time. I would not be understood as meaning that. But what I do mean is—that by choosing for a succession of bloom it is possible to secure kinds whose flowering periods will meet and overlap each other in such a manner that some of them will be in bloom most of the time. Many kinds bloom long before the earliest annuals are ready to begin the work of the season. Others are in their prime at midsummer, and later ones will give flowers until frost comes. If you read up the catalogues and familiarize yourself with the habits of the plants which the dealer offers for sale, you can make a selection that will keep the garden gay from May to November.
On the ordinary home-lot there is not much choice allowed as to the location of the border. It must go to the sides of the lot if it starts in front of the house, or it may be located at the rear of the dwelling. On most grounds it will, after a little, occupy both of these positions, for it will outgrow its early limitations in a few years. You will be constantly adding to it, and thus it comes about that the border that begins on each side of the lot will overflow to the rear.
I would never advise locating it in front of the dwelling. Leave the lawn unbroken there. While there is not much opportunity for “effect” on small grounds, a departure from straight lines can always be made, and formality and primness be avoided to a considerable degree. Let the inner edge of the border curve, as shown in the illustration accompanying this chapter, and the result will be a hundredfold more pleasing than it would be if it were a straight line. Curves are always graceful, and indentations here and there enable you to secure new points of view that add vastly to the general effect. They make the border seem larger than it really is because only a portion of it is seen at the same time, as would not be the case if it were made up of straight rows of plants, with the same width throughout.
By planting low-growing kinds in front, and backing them up with kinds of a taller growth, with the very tallest growers in the rear, the effect of a bank of flowers
and foliage can be secured. This the illustration clearly shows.
Shrubbery can be used in connection with perennials with most satisfactory results. This, as the reader will see, was done on the grounds from which the picture was taken. Here we have a combination which cannot fail to afford pleasure. I would not advise any
home-maker to confine his border to plants of one class. Use shrubs and perennials together, and scatter annuals here and there, and have bulbs all along the border’s edge.
I want to call particular attention to one thing which the picture under consideration emphasizes very forcibly, and that is—the unstudied informality of it. It seems to have planned itself. It is like one of Nature’s fence-corner bits of gardening.
For use in the background we have several most excellent plants. The Delphinium—Larkspur—grows to a height of seven or eight feet, in rich soil, sending up a score or more of stout stalks from each strong clump of roots. Two or three feet of the upper part of these stalks will be solid with a mass of flowers of the richest, most intense blue imaginable. I know of no other flower of so deep and striking a shade of this rather rare color in the garden. In order to guard against injury from strong winds, stout stakes should be set about each clump, and wound with wire or substantial cord to prevent the flowering stalks from being broken down. There is a white variety, Chinensis, that is most effective when used in combination with the blue, which you will find catalogued as Delphinium formosum. If several strong clumps are grouped together, the effect will be magnificent when the plants are in full bloom. By cutting away the old stalks as soon as they have developed all their flowers, new ones can be coaxed to grow, and under this treatment the plants can be kept in bloom for many weeks.
“Golden Glow” Rudbeckia is quite as strong a grower as the Delphinium, and a more prolific bloomer does not exist. It will literally cover itself with flowers of the richest golden yellow, resembling in shape and size those of the “decorative” type of Dahlia. This plant is a very strong grower, and so aggressive that it will dispute possession with any plant near it, and on this account it should never be given a place where it can interfere with choice varieties. Let it have its own way and it will crowd out even the grass of the lawn. Its proper place is in the extreme background, well to the rear, where distance will lend enchantment to the view. It must not be inferred from this that it is too coarse a flower to give a front place to. It belongs to the rear simply because of its aggressive qualities, and the intense effect of its strong, all-pervading color. You do not want a flower in the front row that, being given an inch, will straightway insist upon taking an ell. This the Rudbeckia will do, every time, if not promptly checked. It is an exceedingly valuable plant to cut from, as its flowers last for days, and light up a room like a great burst of strong sunshine.
Hollyhocks must have a place in every border. Their stately habit, profusion of bloom, wonderful range and richness of color, and long-continued flowering period make them indispensable and favorites everywhere. They are most effective when grown in large masses or groups. If they are prevented from ripening seed, they will bloom throughout the greater part of the season. The single varieties are of the tallest, stateliest growth, therefore admirably adapted to back rows in the border. The double kinds work in well in front of them. These are the showiest members of the family because their flowers are so thickly set along the stalk that a stronger color-effect is given, but they are really no finer than the single sorts, so far as general effect is concerned. Indeed, I think I prefer the single kinds because the rich and peculiar markings of the individual flower show to much better advantage in them than in the doubles, whose multiplicity of petals hides this very pleasing variegation. But I would not care to go without either kind.
Coreopsis lanceolata is a very charming plant for front rows, especially if it can have a place where it is given the benefit of contrast with a white flower, like the Daisy. In such a location its rich golden yellow comes out brilliantly, and makes a most effective point of color in the border.
Perennial Phlox, all things considered, deserves a place very near to the head of the list of our very best hardy plants. Perhaps if a vote were taken, it would be elected as leader of its class in point of merit. It is so entirely hardy, so sturdy and self-reliant, so wonderfully floriferous, and so rich and varied in color that it is almost an ideal plant for border-use. It varies greatly in habit. Some varieties attain a height of five feet or more. Others are low growers,—almost dwarfs, in fact, therefore well adapted to places in the very front row, and close to the path. The majority are of medium habit, fitting into the middle rows most effectively. With a little care in the selection of varieties—depending on the florists’ catalogues to give us the height of each—it is an easy matter to arrange the various sorts in such a way as to form a bank which will be an almost solid mass of flowers for weeks. Some varieties have flowers of the purest white, and the colors of others range through many shades of pink, carmine, scarlet, and crimson, to lilac, mauve, and magenta. The three colors last named must never be planted alongside or near to the other colors, with the exception of white, as there can be no harmony between them. They make a color-discord so intense as to be positively painful to the eye that has keen color-sense. But combine them with the white kinds and they are among the loveliest of the lot. This Phlox ought always to be grouped, to be most effective, and white varieties should be used liberally to serve as a foil to the more brilliant colors and bring out their beauty most strikingly.
Peonies are superb flowers, and no border can afford to be without them. The varieties are almost endless, but you cannot have too many of them. Use them everywhere. The chances are that you will wish you had room for more. They bloom early, are magnificent in color and form, and are so prolific that old plants often bear a hundred or more flowers each season, and their profusion of bloom increases with age, as the plant gains in size. Many varieties are as fragrant as a Rose, and all of them are as hardy as a plant can well be. What more need be said in their favor?
In order to attain the highest degree of success with the Peony, it should be given a rather heavy soil, and manure should be used with great liberality. In fact it is hardly possible to make the soil too rich to suit it. Disturb the roots as little as possible. The plant is very sensitive to any treatment that affects the root, and taking away a “toe” for a neighbor will often result in its failure to bloom next season. Keep the grass from crowding it. Year after year it will spread its branches farther and wider, and there will be more of them, and its flowers will be larger and finer each season, if the soil is kept rich. I know of old clumps that have a spread of six feet or more, sending up hundreds of stalks from matted roots that have not been disturbed for no one knows how long, on which blossoms can be counted by the hundreds every spring.
Dicentra, better known as “Bleeding Heart,” because of its pendulous, heart-shaped flowers, is a most lovely early bloomer. It is an excellent plant for the front row of the border. It sends up a great number of flowering stalks, two and three feet in length, all curving gracefully outward from the crown of the plant. These bear beautiful foliage—indeed, the plant would be well worth growing for this alone—and each stalk is terminated with a raceme of pink and white blossoms. It is difficult to imagine anything lovelier or more graceful than this plant, when in full bloom.
The Aquilegia ought to be given a place in all collections. It comes in blue, white, yellow, and red. Some varieties are single, others double, and all beautiful. This is one of our early bloomers. It should be grown in clumps, near the front row.
The Iris is to the garden what the Orchid is to the greenhouse. Its colors are of the richest blue, purple, violet, yellow, white, and gray. It blooms in great profusion, for weeks during the early part of summer. It is a magnificent flower. It will be found most effective when grouped, but it can be scattered about the border in such a way as to produce charming results if one is careful to plant it among plants whose flowers harmonize with the different varieties in color. Color-harmony is as important in the hardy border as in any other part of the garden, and no plant should be put out until you are sure of the effect it will produce upon other plants in its immediate neighborhood. Find the proper place for it before you give it a permanent location. The term, “proper place,” has as much reference to color as to size. A plant that introduces color-discord is as much out of place as is the plant whose size makes it a candidate for a position in the rear when it is given a place in the immediate foreground.
Pyrethrum uliginosum is a wonderfully free bloomer, growing to a height of three or four feet, therefore well adapted to the middle rows of the border. It blooms during the latter part of summer. It is often called the “Giant Daisy,” and the name is very appropriate, as it is the common Daisy, to all intents and purposes, on a large scale.
The small white Daisy, of lower growth, is equally desirable for front-row locations. It is a most excellent plant, blooming early in the season, and throughout the
greater part of summer, and well into autumn if the old flower-stalks are cut away in September, to encourage new growth. It is a stand-by for cut flowers for bouquet work. Because of its compact habit it is a very desirable plant for edging the border.
It is difficult to imagine anything more daintily charming than the herbaceous Spireas. Alba, white, and rosea, soft pink, produce large, feathery tufts of bloom on stalks six and seven feet tall.The flowers of these varieties are exceedingly graceful in an airy, cloud-like way, and never fail to attract the attention of those who pass ordinary plants by without seeing them.
The florists have taken our native Asters in hand, and we now have several varieties that make themselves perfectly at home in the border. Some of them grow to a height of eight feet. Others are low growers. The rosy-violet kinds and the pale lavender-blues are indescribably lovely. Nearly all of them bloom very late in the season. Their long branches will be a mass of flowers with fringy petals and a yellow centre. These plants have captured the charm of the Indian Summer and brought it into the garden, where they keep it prisoner during the last days of the season. By all means give them a place in your collection. And it will add to the effect if you plant alongside them a few clumps of their sturdy, faithful old companion of the roadside and pasture, the Golden Rod.
It hardly seems necessary for me to give a detailed description of all the plants deserving a place in the border. The list would be too long if I were to attempt to do so. You will find all the really desirable kinds quite fully described in the catalogues of the leading dealers in plants. Information as to color, size, and time of flowering is given there, and you can select to suit your taste, feeling confident that you will be well satisfied with the result.
Just a few words of advice, in conclusion:
Don’t crowd your plants.
Allow for development.
Don’t try to have a little of everything.
Don’t overlook the old-fashioned kinds simply because they happen to be old. That proves that they have merit.
Keep the ground between them clean and open.
Manure well each spring.
Stir the soil occasionally during the season.
Prevent the formation of seed.
Once in three or four years divide the old clumps, and discard all but the strongest, healthiest portions of the roots. Reset in rich, mellow soil. Do this while the plants are at a standstill, early in spring, or in fall, after the work of the season is over.