Many persons, I find, are under the impression that we have few, if any, native flowering plants and shrubs that are worthy a place in the home-garden. They have been accustomed to consider them as “wild things,” and “weeds,” forgetting or overlooking the fact that all plants are wild things and weeds somewhere. So unfamiliar are they with many of our commonest plants that they fail to recognize them when they meet them outside their native haunts. Some years ago I transplanted a Solidago,—better known as a “Golden Rod,”—from a fence-corner of the pasture, and gave it a place in the home-garden. There it grew luxuriantly, and soon became a great plant that sent up scores of stalks each season as high as a man’s head, every one of them crowned with a plume of brilliant yellow flowers. The effect was simply magnificent.
One day an old neighbor came along, and stopped to chat with me as I worked among my plants.
“That’s a beauty,” he said as he leaned across the fence near the Golden Rod. “I don’t know’s I ever saw anything like it before. I reckon, now, you paid a good deal of money for that plant.”
“How much do you think it cost me?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he answered, looking at the plant admiringly, and then at some of foreign origin, near-by. He knew something about the value of these, as he had one of them growing in his garden. He seemed to be making a mental calculation, based on the relative beauty of the plants, and presently he said:
“I ain’t much of a judge of such things, but I wouldn’t wonder if you paid as much as three—mebby four—an’ like’s not five dollars for it.”
“The plant cost me nothing but the labor of bringing it from the pasture,” I answered. “Don’t you know what it is? There’s any quantity of it back of your barn, I notice.”
“You don’t mean to say that’s yaller-weed,” exclaimed the old gentleman, with a disgusted look on his face. “I wouldn’t have it in my yard. We’ve got weeds enough ‘thout settin’ ‘em out”. He went away with a look on his face that made me think he felt as if he had been imposed on.
While it is true, in many instances, that “familiarity breeds contempt,” it is equally true that familiarity without prejudice would open our eyes to the fact that beauty exists all about us—in lane, and field, and roadside, and forest. We are not aware of the prevalence of it until we go in search of it. When we go out with “the seeing eye,” we find it everywhere. Nothing is so plentiful or so cheap as beauty to the lover of the beautiful. It may be had for the taking. We have fallen into the habit of looking to foreign lands for plants with which to beautify our gardens, thus neglecting and ignoring the beauty at our own doors. A shrub with a long name and a good big price attached will win our admiration, while a native plant, vastly more desirable, will be wholly overlooked. It ought not to be so. “Home first, the world afterward” is the motto of many patriotic men and women, and it ought to be the motto of the lover of the beautiful in plant-life when he is seeking for something with which to ornament the home-grounds.
Many persons have, however, become greatly interested in our native plants, and it is apparent that the interest of the masses in whatever is beautiful is steadily increasing. The people are being educated to a keener appreciation of beauty than ever before. It is encouraging to know that a demand has sprung up for shrubs and plants of American origin—a demand so large, already, that many nurserymen advertise collections of native plants, some of them quite extensive. Appreciation of true beauty is putting a value into things which have heretofore had no idea of value connected with them.
The dominant idea I had in mind, when this chapter was planned, was that of enlisting the boys and girls in the work of making a collection of native plants. I would have them make what might properly be called a wild garden. But I would not confine the undertaking to the boys and girls. I would interest the man or woman who has a home to make beautiful in the material that is to be found on every hand, waiting to be utilized. Such a garden can be made of great educational value, and, at the same time, quite as ornamental as the garden that contains nothing but foreign plants. It can be made to assist in the development of patriotic as well as æsthetic ideas. It can be made to stimulate a healthy rivalry among the boys and girls, as well as the “children of a larger growth,” as to whose collection shall be most complete. In the care and culture of these plants a skill and knowledge may be attained that will be of much benefit to them in the future, and possibly to the world. Who knows? We may have among us a young Linnæus, or a Humboldt, and the making of a wild garden may tend to the discovery and development of a talent which coming years may make us proud to do honor to the possessor of.
I would suggest the formation of a wild-garden society in each country village and neighborhood. Organize expeditions into the surrounding country in search of shrubs and plants. Such excursions can be made as delightful as a picnic. Take with you a good-sized basket, to contain the plants you gather, and some kind of a tool to dig the plants with—and your dinner. Lift the plants very carefully, with enough earth about them to keep their roots moist. On no account should their roots be allowed to get dry. If this happens you might as well throw them away, at once, as no amount of after-attention will undo the damage that is done by neglect to carry out this advice.
The search for plants should begin early in the season if they are to be transplanted in spring, for it would not be safe to attempt their removal after they have begun to make active growth. April is a good time to look up your plants, and May a good time to bring them home. Later on, when you come across a plant that seems a desirable addition to your collection, mark the place where it grows, and transplant to the home grounds in fall, after its leaves have ripened.
In transplanting shrubs and herbaceous plants, study carefully the conditions under which they have grown, and aim to make the conditions under which they are to grow as similar to the original ones as possible. Of course you will be able to do this only approximately, in most instances, but come as near it as you can, for much of your success depends on this. You can give your plants a soil similar to that in which they have been growing, and generally, by a little planning, you can arrange for exposure to sunshine, or a shaded location, according to the nature of the plants you make use of. Very often it is possible to so locate moisture-loving plants that they can have the damp soil so many of them need, by planting them in low places or depressions where water stands for some time after a rain, while those which prefer a dry soil can be given places on knolls and stony places from which water runs off readily. In order to do this part of the work well it will be necessary to study your plants carefully before removing them from their home in the wood or field. Aim to make the change as easy as possible for them. This can only be done by imitating natural conditions—in other words, the conditions under which they have been growing up to the time when you undertake their domestication.
Not knowing, at the start, the kind of plants our collection will contain, as it grows, we can have no definite plan to work to. Consequently there will be a certain unavoidable lack of system in the arrangement of the wild garden. But this may possibly be one of the chief charms of it, after a little. A garden formed on this plan—or lack of plan—will seem to have evolved itself, and the utter absence of all formality will make it a more cunning imitation of Nature’s methods than it would ever be if we began it with the intention of imitating her.
Among our early-flowering native plants worthy a place in any garden will be found the Dogwoods, the Plums, the Crab-apple, and the wild Rose. Smaller plants, like the Trillium, the Houstonia, the Bloodroot, the Claytonia and the Hepatica, will work in charmingly in the foreground. Between them can be used many varieties of Fern, if the location is shaded somewhat, as it should be to suit the flowering plants I have named.
Among the summer-flowering sorts we have Aquilegia, Daisy, Coreopsis, Cranesbill, Eupatorium, Meadow Sweet, Lily, Helianthus, Enothera, Rudbeckia, Vervain, Veronia, Lobelia and many others that grow here and there, but are not found in all parts of the country, as those I have named are, for the most part.
Among the shrubs are Elder, Spirea, Clethra, Sumach, Dogwood, and others equally as desirable.
Among the late bloomers are the Solidagos (Golden Rod), Asters, Helenium, Ironweed, and others which continue to bloom until cold weather is at hand.
Among the desirable vines are the Ampelopsis, which vies with the Sumach in richness of color in fall, the Bittersweet, with its profusion of fruitage as brilliant as flowers, and the Clematis, beautiful in bloom, and quite as attractive later, when its seeds take on their peculiar feathery appendages that make the plant look as if a gray plume had been torn apart and scattered over the plant, portions of it adhering to every branch in the most airy, graceful manner imaginable.
Though I have named only our most familiar wild plants, it will be observed that the list is quite a long one. No one need be afraid of not being able to obtain plants enough to stock a good-sized garden. The trouble will be, in most instances, to find room for all the plants you would like to have represented in your collection, after you become thoroughly interested in the delightful work of making it. The attraction of it will increase as the collection increases, and as you discover what a wealth of material for garden-making we have at our very doors, without ever having dreamed of its existence, you will be tempted to exceed the limitations of the place because of the embarrassment of riches which makes a decision between desirable plants difficult. You can have but few of them, but you would like all.