It is not important for a garden to be beautiful. It is extremely important for the gardener to think it a fair substitute for Eden.
I recall a garden I used to see this time of year in which the specialty was irises and roses -- there was nothing else, so it was dull much of the year. Furthermore, the roses were pruned to two inches above the graft every winter and therefore were not fine large bushes, and the irises were all outmoded and superseded varieties.
But the gardener, a professor, was enchanted with it, and as the years went by I began to understand better what he saw in it. Finally, I thought it beautiful, too.
This week, in my own garden, I have been rather content and do not envy anybody. Out the kitchen door I first come to a seven-foot plant of the purplish red rose 'Roseraie de l'Hay' and then a six-foot bush of 'Mrs. Anthony Waterer,' followed by a large shrub of 'Hansa.' These are all in tones of red and purple, then a tall columnar yew. Back of these roses, peering around the side of the yew, is an eight-foot shrub of the rose 'Sarah Van Fleet.'
Just at 'Hansa' there is an arch, with a young plant of the rambler 'Sea Gull' to the right, rising from a little thicket of the old Siberian iris 'Perry's Blue' (there are vastly better Siberians now, so don't go looking for it).
On the left, growing on wires on the arch (if wires are black they are invisible) and tangling a bit with the purplish rose is a plant of the wild-looking smallish clematis 'Venosa Violacea,' which is purple with a white center or white with a purple edge.
You go up a step and encounter an old red hybrid perpetual of unknown name, possibly 'General Jacqueminot,' and it certainly smells like it. Here you have a fine patch of hosta leaves that the slugs for some reason have ignored this year.
There are other arches with roses too young to need mentioning as they do not yet count in the picture, but one of them is blooming with the pink 'Blairii No. 2,' a Bourbon rose of 1845 that an old gardener (I have read) used to call 'Old Bleary Eye.' It has a fine and strong scent, and its large full pink blooms fade at the edge so they seem to have a white rim.
The yellow rugosa rose 'Agnes' comes next, with only the last few flowers remaining, as it is the first of all to bloom, with its leaves that remind me of crinkly parsley, and a smell both sweet and with a bitter undertone, no doubt inherited from its parent, the Persian Rosa foetida (stinking rose -- a somewhat rude name not justified at all).
Along the right side of this walk are occasional bushes of the red 'Dr. Huey' that I do not value and keep chopping down, but they persist in sending up a few long branches and in bloom their very deep coloring is attractive.
I also have a couple of grapes that used to be allowed to make garlands along iron-chain catenaries, but I took against them and butchered them down to standards, like little trees on four-foot trunks. They are there simply to provide foliage, and require continual pinching and snipping through the summer to keep them from turning into great vines again.
Young plants of the white rose 'Moonlight' are in bloom, along with the purple rambler 'Violette,' but these are still too small to show up much, and the same is true of 'Mutabilis,' an old five-petaled China bush rose that I hope to persuade to grow eight feet and thus cover an arch. It opens orange-buff and dies off a raw carmine and is showy in a large plant in full bloom, suggesting great butterflies.
There is also a pillar rose, the reddish 'Gladiator,' that I do not esteem but do not feel like grubbing out, and I see the first bloom of a purple clematis, 'Lord Nevill,' is open, though it is not yet large enough to smother the rose.
At last, on the left, comes a great favorite, 'Jaune Desprez.' It is powerfully perfumed of musk, and was an 1830 effort at producing a yellow Noisette rose (its parents are supposed to be the common China daily rose and the yellow China tea rose, bred along for a couple of generations). The result is a rose about three inches wide, in clusters, of which five or seven are open at the same time. They are a rather definite pink as they open, but then become shot with apricot, buff and orange, winding up an amazing blend, rich but soft and not assertive.
Naturally I have it in a place that will never accommodate its full growth -- it wants to romp about for 15 feet, and I have it tied to a wooden post seven feet high. But of course it has no intention of pretending to be a pillar rose, and has shot out stems 10 feet here and 10 feet there, invading a peach tree and generally making a most lovely nuisance of itself.
My old clump of the American wildflower, Baptisia australis, the false indigo, is again in bloom, and so are the irises. They are the most beautiful of all flowers, but have not done as well for me as I think they should. Still, I have a couple of patches of them. One group of maybe 40 plants is drawn from current American favorites in a range of soft yellows, orchid, white, two or three tints of light blue and a deep navy one -- all extremely handsome.
The other patch, some feet distant and on the other side of the walk, consists of maybe 30 plants of superseded irises that for one reason or another I particularly like, and these again are mostly pastel with an occasional rich magenta and the rather deep purple 'Fox Grapes,' which has a grand smell. So does one of my old yellow seedlings, which smells somewhat like a mixture of damask rose and locust tree.
On the fence the long-suffering (twice she has had fence people putting in new posts in her middle) 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' which is the handsomest of all pink climbing roses -- one great burst of ruffled pink two-toned flowers lasting a couple of weeks, then nothing till next year. Invading her from the north is the wild-looking rambler 'Polyantha Grandiflora' which has beautiful shiny leaves and massive clusters of orange-scented white blooms not much larger than wild blackberries. Not many would want it.
In the pool are small pink and yellow water lilies, and here and there are fragrant pink cluster roses, five-petaled and not larger than a nickle, that I raised from seed and call 'Ginny,' though it is hardly possible that it results (as my careful crossing of the parents meant it to be) a seedling of Mme. Gregoire and 'Dortmund.' For one thing it is a musk, with the styles fused in a column, and the Lord only knows what its parentage is. Anyway, it has a musk fragrance and it reblooms a time or two during the summer -- it is not worth notice, except I like it as I raised it. It is supposed to bloom (my view, not the rose's) with the blue clematis 'Perle d'Azur' which has made a great tangled mass of far-flung stems. The clematis begins as the rose is going out, but usually I have the two together for about three days.
It is all rather jungly and I spend my life pulling out bindweed -- if I did not, it would overrun every plant I have mentioned, and for this week, at least, I see none of its disgusting twining stems on any of my babies.
It is agreeable to waddle about in one's own paradise, knowing that thousands of others have better gardens with better thises and thats, and better grown, too, and no weeds at all. To know this and grin as complacently as a terrier who just got into the deviled eggs, and to reflect there is no garden in England or France I envy, and not one I'd swap for mine. This is the aim of gardening -- not to make us complacent idiots, exactly, but to make us content and calm for a time, with sufficient energy (even after wars with the bindweed) to feel an awe-struck thanks to God that such happiness can exist.
For a few days, of course.