Amateur gardeners are always wanting plants for some special purpose, and, for their benefit, I propose to devote this chapter to “special-purpose” information.
“What shall we grow to shade doors and windows? We want something that will grow rapidly. If a flowering vine, all the better, but shade is the all-important consideration.”
The best large-growing vine for this purpose, all things considered, is the Wild Cucumber. No other annual vine exceeds it in rapidity of growth. It will grow twenty or twenty-five feet in a season, if given something to support it to that height, therefore it is very useful about the second-story windows, which height few of our annual vines attain. It has very bright-green, pretty foliage, somewhat resembling that of the native Grape, though not so large. About midsummer it comes into bloom. Its flowers are white, delicate, fringy little things, in spikes, with a very agreeable fragrance, especially in the morning when wet with dew,—and there are so many of them that the vine looks as if drifted over with a fall of snow. The plant has tendrils by which it attaches itself to anything with which it comes in contact, consequently strings, latticework, or wire netting answer equally well for its support. Its tendency is to go straight up, if whatever support is given encourages it to do so, but if you think advisable to divert it from its upward course all you have to do is to stretch strings in whatever direction you want it to grow, and it will follow them. Its flowers are followed by balloon-shaped fruit, covered with prickly spines—little ball-shaped cucumbers, hence the popular name of the plant. When the seeds ripen, the ball or pod bursts open, and the black seeds are shot out with considerable force, often to a distance of twenty feet or more. In this way the plant soon spreads itself all over the garden, and next spring you will have seedling plants by the hundred. It soon becomes a wild plant, and is often seen growing all along the roadside, and never quite so much “at home” as when it finds a thicket of bushes to clamber over. It has one drawback, however, which will be especially noticeable when the plant is domesticated: Its early leaves ripen and fall off while those farther up the vine are in their prime, and remain so until frost comes. But this defect can easily be remedied by growing some tall plant at the base of the vines to hide their nakedness.
Another most excellent vine is the good old Morning Glory, with its blue, purple, violet, pink, carmine, and white flowers produced in such profusion that they literally cover its upper branches during the early part of the day. This is a very satisfactory vine to train about door and window. Do not give it ordinary twine as a support, as the weight of the vines, when well developed, is almost sure to break it down. Stout cord, such as is used in binding grain, is the best thing I know of, as it is rather rough, thus enabling the vine to take hold of it with good effect. This is a rapid grower, and a wonderfully free bloomer, and it will give you flowers throughout the season. It is much showier than the Wild Cucumber, but its foliage lacks the delicacy which characterizes that plant.
Another good vine for covering porches, verandas, and summer-houses, is the Japan Hop. This plant is an annual, like the other two of which mention has been made has foliage of a rich, dark green, broadly and irregularly blotched and marbled with creamy white and pale yellow. It grows rapidly, and gives a dense shade.
“I would like a sort of hedge, or screen, between the flower and the vegetable garden. What plants would you advise for this purpose?”
The Zinnia is an excellent plant where a low hedge is desired. It averages a height of three feet. It is compact and symmetrical in habit, branching quite close to the ground. It is a rapid grower, and of the very easiest culture. It comes into bloom in July, and continues to produce great quantities of flowers, shaped like miniature Dahlias, in red, scarlet, pink, yellow, orange, and white, until frost comes. It makes a most gorgeous show.
Kochia, more commonly known as “Burning Bush” or “Mexican Fire-Plant,” is a charming thing all through the season. In summer it is a pleasing green. In fall it turns to a brilliant red, hence its popular names, as given above. Its habit is very compact, and one of great symmetry. If the plants are set about a foot apart, and in two rows,—these rows a foot apart,—you will have a low hedge that will be as smooth as one of Arbor Vitæ after the gardener has given it its annual shearing. When the bush takes on its autumnal coloring it is as showy as a plant can well be, and is always sure of attracting attention, and being greatly admired.
Amaranthus is another very pleasing plant for hedge purposes. It grows to a height of about four feet. Some varieties have a dark, bronze-green foliage, others foliage of a dull, rich Indian-red, while some are yellow-green—quite rare among plants of this class. The flowers, which are small, individually, are thickly set along pendant stems, and give the effect of ropes of chenille. In color they are a dull red, not at all showy in the sense of brilliance, but really charming when seen dropping in great profusion against the richly colored foliage. Our grandmothers grew the original varieties of this plant under the name of “Prince’s Plume,” “Prince’s Feather,” or “Love Lies Bleeding.” But since the florists have taken it in hand, and greatly improved it, it no longer retains the good old names which always meant something. To secure the best results with this plant, when grown as a hedge or screen, set it in rows about a foot apart, each way, and use some of the dwarf sorts for the front row. Or a flowering plant of contrasting color—like the Nasturtium, or the double yellow Marigold, or the velvety African variety, with flowers of a dark maroon shading to blackish-brown—can be grown at its base, with fine effect.
Sweet Peas make a good screen if given proper support, and planted thickly.
“I would like a large group or bed of ornamental foliaged plants on the lawn, but have grown rather tired of Cannas and Caladiums.”
If very large plants are wanted, I would advise, as best of all, Ricinus, better known, perhaps, as Castor Bean, or Castor Plant. This is an annual of wonderfully vigorous growth. It often reaches a height of ten feet, in good soil, with a corresponding spread of branches. Its leaves are often a yard across, of a dark coppery bronze, with a purplish metallic lustre that makes the plant very striking. The best effect is secured by growing four or five plants in a group. None of the tropical plants that have come into prominence in gardening, during the past ten or twelve years, are nearly as effective as this easily-grown annual, whose seeds sell at five cents a package. For a very prominent location on the lawn or anywhere about the home-grounds no better plant could be selected.
The Amaranthus advised for hedge use makes a very showy circular bed on the lawn when grown in large masses, in the centre, surrounded with flowering plants of a strongly contrasting but harmonious color. The Calliopsis, rich golden-yellow marked with brown, combines charmingly with the dull, deep, rich reds which characterize the foliage and flowers of the most desirable varieties of this too much neglected annual. There are new varieties advertised of rather dwarf habit, with golden-green foliage, that could be used about the red-leaved kinds with fine effect.
“I would like a bed of very brilliant flowers for the front yard. Can’t have many, for I haven’t time to take care of them, so want those which will give the most show for the least trouble. Would like something so bright that it will compel people to stop and look at it. What shall I get?”
An exceedingly brilliant combination can be made by the use of scarlet Salvia, as the centre of a bed six or eight feet across, with Calliopsis surrounding it. The scarlet and yellow of these two flowers will make the place fairly blaze with color, and they will continue to bloom until frost comes. They require next to no care.
The annual Phlox makes a fine show if proper care is taken in the arrangement of the various colors with a view to contrast. The pale rose variety combines beautifully with the pure whites and pale yellows. A bed of these three colors alone will be found much more satisfactory than one in which a larger number of colors are used. Set each color in a row by itself. Such a bed will “compel” persons to stop and admire it, but they will do it for the sake of its beauty rather than its great brilliance.
Petunias are excellent plants for large beds where a strong show of color is desired. They bloom early, continue through the season, and require very little care.
The Shirley Poppy makes a brave show about the last of July, but after that it soon dies. If it were an all-season bloomer it would be one of our most popular plants for producing a brilliant effect. I would advise using it, and filling the bed in which it grew with other plants, after its flowering period was over. Its rich colors and satiny texture make it a plant that always attracts attention.
Scarlet Geraniums are used a great deal where a strong color-show is desired, but they are not as satisfactory as many other plants because of their ragged look, after a little, unless constantly given care. The first flowers in truss will fade, and their discolored petals will spoil the effect of the flowers that come after them if they are allowed to remain. It is not much of a task to go over the plants and pull out these faded flowers every, day, but we are not likely to do this. I prefer single Geraniums to double ones for garden use, because they drop their old petals, and never take on the ragged appearance which characterizes the ordinary bedding Geranium.
“I would like a low bed—that is, a bed near the path where it will be looked down upon. Tall plants would be out of place there. Tell me of a few of the best kinds for such a location.”
The Portulacca is well adapted to such use, as it never grows to be more than three or four inches in height, but spreads in a manner to make it look like a green carpet, upon which it displays its flowers of red, rose, scarlet, yellow and white with very vivid effect. This plant might well be called a vegetable salamander, as it flourishes in dry, hot locations where other plants would utterly fail. It fairly revels in the hot sunshine of midsummer.
The good old Verbena is another very desirable plant for a low bed. It is of spreading habit, blooms profusely and constantly, and comes in a wide range of beautiful colors.
The Ageratum is a lovely plant for a low bed, with its great masses of soft lavender flowers. Fine effects are secured by using dark yellow Coleus or golden Pansies as an edging, these colors contrasting exquisitely with the dainty lavender-blue of the Ageratum.
“What flowers shall we grow to cut from? Would like something that is not coarse, and something that will bloom for a long time, and has long stems.”
At the head of the list I would place the Sweet Pea. This is a favorite, everywhere, for cutting. The most useful varieties are the delicate rose and white ones, the pure whites, the pale pinks, the dainty lavenders, and the soft primrose yellows.
The Nasturtium is an old favorite for cutting, and a corner of every garden ought to be given up to a few plants of it for the special purpose of furnishing cut flowers.
The Aster is a magnificent flower,—it seems to be growing better and better each year, if such a thing is possible,—and nothing else among the annuals compares with it in lasting quality, when cut. If the water in which it is placed is changed daily, it will last for two weeks, and seem as fresh at the end of that time as when first cut. The most useful variety for cutting is the “Branching Aster,” with stems a foot or more in length. This makes the flowers of this class particularly useful for vases. I would advise growing three colors, when it is wanted solely for cutting—white, pale rose, and delicate lavender.
The newer varieties of Dahlia—especially the “decorative” section—are superb for cutting. Their flowers are not formal like those of the old double kinds, and being borne on long stalks, they can be arranged very gracefully. Like the Aster, they last well. They will be found among the most useful of our late flowers for large vases, and where striking and brilliant effects of color are desired.
The Gladiolus is also well adapted to cutting, and is very effective when used in tall vases, the entire stalk being taken.
Scabiosa, often known as “Mourning Bride,” is an excellent plant for vase-use, and deserves more attention than it has heretofore enjoyed. Its flowers are quite unlike most other annuals in color, and will be appreciated on that account. The dark purple varieties combine delightfully with those of a lighter tone in yellow, and with pure whites. As the blossoms are produced on long stems, they dispose themselves very gracefully when used in rather deep vases.
Every garden should have several plants of Mignonette in it, grown for the especial purpose of cutting from. This is one of the most fragrant flowers we have among the annuals.
For small vases—little vases for the breakfast table, or the desk, and for gifts to friends—one ought to grow quantities of Heliotropes, Tea Roses, and Pansies.
To cut from, early in spring, nothing is lovelier than the Lily of the Valley.
For larger vases, the Dicentra is always pleasing, coming close after the Lily of the Valley. Cut it with a good deal of foliage, and be careful to give each stalk ample room in which to adjust itself. A vase with a flaring top is what this flower ought to have, as its stalks have just the curve that fits the flare. A straight vase obliges it to stand up so primly that half the charm of the flower is destroyed.
For late fall cutting, there is no other flower quite equal to the Cosmos. The pink and white varieties are lovely when cut by the branch, and used in large vases. They seem especially adapted to church decoration.
“We want some flowers that will bloom late in the season. Are there any that can be depended on after early frosts?”
Yes. First on the list I would name the Aster. This sturdy annual is seldom at its best before the first frosts, and can be considered in its prime during the first half of October. And it will last until cold weather sets in.
Ten Week Stock—the “Gillyflower” of grandmother’s garden—is a late bloomer. The snows of November often find it full of flowers, and are powerless to injure it. It is delightfully fragrant, and particularly adapted to cutting, because of its long spikes of bloom. It comes in white, rosy-purple, red, and sulphur-yellow.
The Marguerite Carnation deserves a place in every garden because of its great beauty, and its late-flowering habit. While not all the plants grown from seed will give double flowers, a large share of them will be so, and in form, size, and color they will compare very favorably with the greenhouse varieties of this favorite flower. Most of them will have the true Carnation fragrance. For choice little bouquets, for home use, or to give your especial friends nothing can be more satisfactory. You can expect a dozen flowers from each plant where you would get but one from the greenhouse sorts.