WE HAVE now got to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, as they say in books, or (in the vulgar tongue) more lousy rain.
But I recall that terrible year when in Ireland it rained so steadily that the soil became a mire in late summer and stayed that way till Christmas, and one of the harrowing stories of our literature was an account by an Irish daffodil grower. He had to get his commercial stock back in the ground or face starvation the next year.
Week after week they dawdled. Surely the rain had to stop? The main thing to learn about rain is that it does not have to stop.
He wound up planting his entire stock of tens of thousands of valuable bulbs in sloshing mud and hearty prayer.
And -- for here we come to the ray of sunshine -- no harm was done. They did not rot. They performed superbly.
It is well to remember that plant life, at least, goes on.
Disappointment is the normal lot of mortal gardeners and, very likely, immortal ones as well.
I am forever suggesting dandy things for gardeners to plant, because to me a garden is a sanctuary for the best leafy creatures, far more than it is an outdoor living room or a living picture.
But wise gardeners, almost certainly, conduct their sanctuarizing (yonder corner is sacred to wild ginger) within a conventional framework.
There is a sound therapy of fashion, at least for males, that has its analogy in gardening. The fashion theory for men is simple and unarguable, and it states that the things that matter are few:
Haircut, collar, cuffs, fingernails and shoes. The rest is commentary. A suit of dark blue, a shirt of blue or white, a tie of diagonal stripes or small all-over pattern and there you have a fellow who has gone far as a man can go in making himself look all right.
It is exactly the same in gardening. The well-proportioned walk, the firmness of the enclosing fence or wall or screen of bushes, the sturdiness of the arbor, the plainness of the fish pool, and the boldness of contrasting masses of leaves from plants -- these are the main things in garden design.
Within that framework, you can have whole inventories of rare plants or you can cop out for something as unimaginative as periwinkle.
Once the structure -- the skeleton -- is firmly in place, it does not make a great deal of difference (as far as an overall impression of harmony is concerned) whether the flesh is ample or scrawny.
Simplicity of outline, simplicity of concept is important because otherwise the garden misses that quietness that it should have.
But complexity of detail, within that simplicity, is not only allowable but necessary if the garden is to have that richness the gardener wants. A field of red gladiolus is probably cheering, but not as rich as a small clump of the same flower in a garden backed by glossy leaves, fronted with gray sage, and reflected in black water with golden ides swimming around.
You may have read somewhere that the late Miss Jekyll, the great gardener of Surrey, forbade goldfish in her pond. Their color upset her color harmonies.
She was so particular about color (any plant that produced a flower she treated like a ruby, fidgeting considerably with its setting) that the roving goldfishes with their flashes of red disturbed her. She knew what she wanted reflected in her pools and would not tolerate flashes of scarlet showing up there without planning. So she banned goldfishes.
Surely that carries it a bit far? But then who among us ever made a garden as well as she did?
Now the gardeners I feel most comfortable with not only have plenty of undisciplined goldfishes in the pool, and to hell with the color scheme, but they also have a watsonia here and a lily there and an orange rose somewhere else, that are there for no better reason than that the gardener could not resist planting them. Without (as it often happens) quite working the whole thing out.
As an experienced and not overly sophisticated gardener once said, upon seeing a spectacular garden in full bloom, "The colors, they clashes well." And it is true that many times a snapdragon or a lily will clash with its surroundings, yes, but clash well.
So I rather like the garden that is not too studied, not too self-conscious. Or, at least, that does not let you know how totally self-conscious it really is. I think we admire the gardens that look like happy accidents, or the casual results of the gardener's natural sanity and good judgment.
We know, of course, gardeners are by no means sane and have quite startling lack of judgment. But despite that, a garden can look as if its owner had both. Sometimes.
May I respectfully suggest, then, that the garden plan be forthright and plain. No tricks. Only because tricks do not succeed. A straight, wide walk. Beds of utterly plain design. No ornament to speak of (again, because it almost always detracts rather than adds to the garden's ornamental effect). And where there are posts, let them be substantial posts. Where there is fencing or paving or lighting, let it be forthright and simple.
But within the outlines a certain pleasant disorder may be granted. A bit of flopping over may be allowed at the edge of a walk. An overly ambitious vine may be allowed on a post. A reckless congestion of tulips may be allowed in a border if the overall design is simple enough.
Needless to say, my advice is better than my example. Do as I say (as doctors so wisely argue), not as I do.