NOW WE come to the delicious part-somewhat overcast by the anxiety of choice-of furnishing the garden with its great ornament of flowers and foliage, once the enclosing background (fence, wall, background shrubs and vines) has been tended to, and once the internal skeleton of paths, paved sitting place, arbor perhaps or fish pool have been decided on.
I do not mean it is illegal to think of peonies or roses before the last bucket of mortar is slopped, but I do mean that in a small garden the final effect will depend more on the proportions of the terrace and pool, the sense (or insanity) of the arbor or the enclosing fence and background than on the less weighty floral occupants of the place.
Once or twice I have been startled to gather from conversations that people often do not know flowers bloom on schedule.
People see tulips in bloom and say, "Why mine are just barely through the ground," not realizing some tulips bloom a month before other tulips, and this has nothing to do with culture.
Nature's schedule is either haphazard or subtly connected to many variables of temperature, light, exposure, moisture, so that only a bold and inexperienced gardener would sya, "On March 3 the following things will be in bloom," and rattle off a list. Many of those things (snowdrops, say, and early bulbous irises, the Van Tubergen scilla, early miniature trumpet daffodils, the Sardis chionodoxa, etc.) may bloom in February and be finished, or not yet in bloom on March 3. It depends on which March 3 you are talking about.
But the gardener may quite safely rely on it, that in late winter the early bulbs will bloom in Washington-crocuses and snowdrops, that sort of thing-followed by daffodils and hyacinths and early wild tulips (like the huge and gorgeous 'Red Emperor') followed by later tulips in fairly regular progression.
These will overlap with the early bearded irises. Sometimes a quite late tulip, like the splendid 'Orange Parrot', intensely per- fumed, will bloom as late as the main-early-season flush of tall bearded irises.
Camellias, which up here usually bloom with daffodils (instead of in January and February as in the Deep South) may last until the spring really warms up. Thus we may have a year in which camellias, very late daffodils and tulips, peonies, irises and quite early roses all bloom together-the flowers of late winter actually overlapping the flowers of high summer like roses.
But back to the normal progression: tulips, then irises (the usual garden azaleas are just finishing as irises being; the azaleas starting about April 15 just as the early bulbs are finishing), then peonies, then roses, then daylilies, then phlox, then dahlias and at last chrysanthemums and Japanese anenmones, blooming into Novermber.
The trumpet lilies, starting with L. regale, bloom at the end of the iris season, with early daylilies.
The usual garden hybrid trumpet lilies ('Black Dragon' and 'Golden Splendor', for example) bloom three weeks later, in late June or July, and the flat-faced and flared back auratums and speciosum lilies and their hybrids bloom in mid-July or August, depending on variety.
Meanwhile, the water lilies start blooming the end of May and continue through October, with some variation according to variety.
Honeysuckies bloom off and on, so do clematis, from iris time until frost, depending on variety, season and culture. If the great white clematis, 'Henryi', is severely pruned back in February it blooms in early summer. If not pruned at all, it blooms with late azaleas, and a little burst later in August-September.
I never have known a season, however odd, in which tulips bloomed before daffodils or camellias, nor peonies before irises.
These, I take it, are the chief garden flowers, and if you want to include poppies and anemonies and drop dahlias, that's all right.
It is not necessary to be very knowledgeable to have a steady progession of flowers from late winter to November. Just plant the flowers mentioned.
But of course the trouble arises in balancing their various claims. If the garden is a great blaze of tulips in late April, the place where they are is going to be quite bare of flowers in May. If irises are pretty solid-and I personally excuse an extravagance of irises somewhat on the same grounds that breaking an alabaster box of spikenard may be excused-then that part of the garden will be rather dull, if not dismal, for the balance of the year.
Plants cannot grow on top of one another to any important extent, and the most prevalent of all errors, among both new and old gardeners, consists of jamming things together that realy cannot be jammed. How often we plant a shrub rose, say, fuzzing over in our minds-not wishing to face the fact-the certainty that it will shade the irises and tear the blooms of the emerging daylilies.
We know some of the rugosa roses make regular thickets of stems, thornier than anything now believed to exist in hell, and we know that we are going to have to get in there and prune back, but does this deter us from planting all sorts of things right up to their thorny stems? Of course not.
Or we space daylilies and peonies nicely, we think, but secretly we know we face trouble if a weed should ever appear (and one may) because we have not left room fro our feet and our rump when weeding time comes. We therefore step on a few crowns, compact a bit of soil by the peony, and complain to high heaven like falling sparrows when either of the plants sulks a bit as the result of trampling.
In short, I do not make light of the terrible problem of too little space. Neither I nor anyone else has a convincingly good answer to a great question:
How much is a great sweep of flowers worth? Is it worth a year of dullness to have the place solid with some favorite in its season?
Believe me, 5,000 irises look a lot better than 15. I have tried it both ways and I know. But one must think whether he can give all his space to one favorite flower, at the cost of missing the flowers of March and April, the flowers of June through October.
So generally we have a few of everything.
But because the garden is small, we have to think of how plants look when they are not in flower, because we will still see them closely. We are not like the owner of a large garden where 200 feet of lawn separates us from the rose shedding its leaves from blackspot, or the Oriental poppy and bleeding heart dying avway in July (normal and non-beautiful) or the tulips looking quite ratty just as the rgal lilies start to bloom.
So we must give some of our space-already reduced to nothing, as we keep pointing out to Providence-to things that do not bloom at all, but which have foliage that improves the general effect.
We may conclude that we should have a few hostas, yuccas, worm-woods, rues, lamps ears, mulleins, senecios, meadow rues, bergenias, lady's mantles, ligularias and so on, not because they are wonderful flowers (they are not) but because their foliage is so much more handsome than that of, say, phlox or iris.
Of course, our small garden will not be able to manage a third of even these. But in our planning we still need to know how much these plants of fine leaves can do to redeem the general shabbiness of our favorite floral machines. Floral machines is a harsh term for our favorite flowers, but then we value them for flowers, and except for their flowers few would plant them.
So a balance must again be struck, and grievous deprivations bravely borne, as we give space to a lady's mantle and some lamb's ears that might otherwise have grown a lily.
Faced with space running out, it is no surprise at all that the desperate gardener tries to make everything do double duty. Surely, he will whine, there are plants good in both leaf and flower?
And of course there are. They are of enhanced value today, an age of small gardens.
If the peonies were 900 feet from the house, and visited chiefly in the great three weeks of their flowering in mid-May, it would not make much difference what their leaves look like in July. In small gardens, where there are no secrets, it makes a great deal of difference.
So it happens that peonies, which have handsomer foliage than any other major flower, are a good bit more important to the modern gardener than to the Victorian.
Daylilies are tremendously important not only because their foliage is quite lovely, in fountainy brilliant yellow-green tufts, at the time spring is everywhere (that is, April to June) but also because it does not look actively bad after they bloom. Their leaves are not only passably presentable in August, but are so dense that weeds do not grow under them-a far cry from the iris, which attracts weeds like a magnet.
Coral bells and meadow rues are tow good examples of plants that have moderately charming flowers, nothing to work yourself into a fit about, but really splendid long-lasting leaves.
Hellebores are a prime example of a plant with rather dull flowers, saucers colored white or off-white, or greenish or green or liver-colored, according to variety, but which are valued highly. And for two excellent reasons. They bloom in winter, January and February even, when the gardener is hungry for anything at all, and they have superb leathery leaves of rich green, divided like a hand with fingers. If the foliage were not so good, and if they bloomed in mid-May, nobody would care.
Next week, at great peril to myself, we shall consider specific varieties of these plants that I, at least, think worthy of space even in a small town garden. Not all could be fitted in, but some can and should be. Others would choose different varieties of peony or daffodil or rose, and that would be fine, but the list will remind you a quite definite choice has to be made-we can't have everything.