A FELLOW REPROACHES me for mentioning too many plants he's never heard of and not enough of the ones he has.
Marigold, marigold, marigold. So much for that.
It's important, isn't it, to think of the garden as a wonderful place to be, full of wonders (not necessarily rarities) and enchantments at all seasons.
Some mischief has been done, probably, by calling the garden an "outdoor living room" as if any living room in the world had such wonderful things in it as a garden has.
And as for "plant material," that is one of the supremely vulgar phrases of this language, and I hope if anybody uses it, he will stop immediately. It is a barbarism.
Plants are not "material." The phrase is commonly used by people of careless habits, indifferent brains and, I suspect, no morals whatever.
We do not want, therefore, any "plant materials" in any "outdoor living room," but we do want bushes, herbs, flowers, water-plants and so on, and while we all have sense enough not to expect the impossible, we have a right to expect the magical.
The first lesson we might learn is that the point of the garden is to be wonderful, yet almost any gardener at first does not think that way. He thinks instead of maximal florison, how to jam as much flowering flesh as possible into the gaudy day.
He is on the right track, wanting all those flowers, but he will be forced by experience and his own disappointment to change his view a little, because the truth is that too much beauty (or what the gardener first thinks is beauty) simply defeats itself.
A woman covered solid with diamonds is not necessarily any more exciting or any more beautiful than she would be if she wore just a few dozen, or none. It is how she lights up in the eyes, how she smiles, how she varies her voice, how she moves and how she is put together that counts in giving the impression of beauty.
We have all seen hard women paved with jewels and gewgaws, though American women of sense go in for plain stuff, letting their youth serve for jewels while they are young, and their general sanity and laughter when they are old.
The garden will not give the effect the gardener wants if it is planted solid with zinnias. There are too many months of the year when zinnias do not bloom, and even when they do bloom, they are tiresome if the place is solid with them.
Sooner or later the gardener sees something somewhere that he thinks looks splendid, and he does well to stop to see exactly what is growing there that makes him happy to see it.
In almost every case, the eye will go to some wonderful color or shape - it may be a sensational spread of scarlet roses against a white wall - and he says ha, it's the roses against the white wall.
But often that is not the secret of the garden. The sober green yews, the twining Carolina jasmine, the tropical foliage of the grape vine, the misty gray-white clump of Russian sage (and not one of these in flower or fruit at the time of the roses) are the true reason the rose against the wall looks so wonderful.
Plain solid masonry, plain sturdy wood, plain expanses of water (fountains and filters are almost always a disappointment to those who try them) and plenty of plants that are beautiful (not necessarily showy) - these are the components of the garden.
Even if the gardener is a nut for some particular plant - rose, iris, lily, poppy, chrysanthemum - even then, some thought might be given to what the garden looks like in January, or August.
The main space and the best space may well be devoted to the favorite flower, but it will look all the better in its transient season, and let me emphasize how transient the season of full bloom is, no matter what the flower, if such things as yews, junipers, kerrias, hostas, rosemaries, pinks, sedums, grasses, honeysuckles, etc., are part of the general plan. Not one of them is startlingly beautiful in bloom, yet no gardener who has ever experienced the richness that modest plants give a garden, will ever willingly revert to a solid fence-to-fence tangle of marigolds, irises, azaleas, peonies or anything else.
Do not hold it against a plant if it flowers only once a year, or suppose that a variety that flowers repeatedly is somehow better. A repeat-blooming rose like 'Blaze' is hardly any rival of supremely beautiful roses like 'Silver Moon' or 'Mme. Georgoire Staechelin' (though you are sick of hearing about her by now) which bloom only in May.
What is the point of perpetual flowering or sumptuous color if the result falls short of the very magic the gardener is looking for?
Think of the lilac. It has no color to boast of, no admirable foliage, no lengthy season. It is not even a very good-looking plant, yet it has its place, for its scent and its modest unassertive charm. Would the lilac really be better if the trusses were 30 inches long and scarlet?
A garden, to my mind, ought to be rich in plants. I could never be satisfied with something like Versailles or the Villa d'Este or Union Station.
Most gardeners, alas, share my fault of wanting one (maybe we could work in half a dozen?) of everything. Even so, we can minimize our fault, I think, by choosing some plant like the grape vine and using a great deal of it in different ways (on wires, over arbors, on walls, on garlanded chains, in trees) to give some sort of unity.
The whole trouble, needless to say, is that there is no easy formula. We want lots of color but we also want repose and calmness. We want richness, but we do not want giddiness. We want good proportions - yet the size of plants is constantly changing. We do not want so many evergreens that the place looks like a setting for a memorial to Gen. Patton; on the other hand, we do not want such masses of raging colors that the eye is sated and bored.
Things must work together. We can spend our lives venturing enough so that we make mistakes (mistakes in the sense that we do not like the result, that we had thought was going to be so fine) and then working out of them.
If we persist, I do not doubt that by 96 or so we will all have gardens we are pleased with, more or less.
In the meantime, we usually learn that modesty, charm, reliability, freshness, calmness, are as satisfying in a garden as anywhere else. And in plugging right along, patience, and freedom from fretting, are supreme gardening virtues.