The Third of Chapters_

In this illustrated edition, by the aid of careful drawings, I have endeavoured to suggest in what the system consists; but if I were to write a book for every page that this contains, I could not hope to suggest the many beautiful aspects of vegetation which the wild garden will enable us to enjoy at our doors.

Star of Bethlehem in Grass

We will now turn from the Forget–me–not order to a very different type of vegetation—hardy bulbs and other plants dying down after flowering early in the year, like the Winter Aconite and the Blood–root (Sanguinaria). How many of us really enjoy the beauty which a judicious use of a profusion of hardy Spring–flowering Bulbs affords? How many get beyond the miserable conventionalities of the flower–garden, with its edgings and patchings, and taking up, and drying, and mere playing with our beautiful Spring Bulbs? How many enjoy the exquisite beauty afforded by flowers of this class, established naturally, without troubling us for attention at any time? The subject of decorating with Spring–flowering Bulbs is merely in its infancy; at present we merely place a few of the showiest of them in geometrical lines. The little we do leads to such a very poor result, that numbers of people, alive to the real charms of a garden too, scarcely notice Spring Bulbs at all, regarding them as things which require endless trouble, as interfering with the “bedding–out;” and in fact, as not worth the pains they occasion. This is likely to be the case so long as the most effective and satisfactory of all modes of arranging them is unused; that way is the placing of them in wild and semi–wild parts of country seats, and in the rougher parts of a garden, no matter where it may be situated or how it may be arranged. This way will yield more real interest and beauty than any other.

Look, for instance, at the wide and bare belts of grass that wind in and around the shrubberies in nearly every country place; frequently, they never display a particle of plant–beauty, and are merely places to be roughly mown now and then. But if planted here and there with the Snowdrop, the blue Anemone, the Crocus, Scillas, and Winter Aconite, they would in spring surpass in attractiveness the gayest of spring gardens. Cushioned among the grass, these would have a more congenial medium in which to unfold than is offered by the beaten sticky earth of a border; in the grass of spring, their natural bed, they would look far better than ever they do when arranged on the bare earth of a garden. Once carefully planted, they—while an annual source of the greatest interest—occasion no trouble whatever.

The Bell–Flowered Scilla

Their leaves die down so early in spring that they would scarcely interfere with the mowing of the grass, if that were desired, but I should not attempt to mow the grass in such places till the season of vernal beauty had quite passed by. Surely it is enough to have a portion of lawn as smooth as a carpet at all times, without sending the mower to shave the “long and pleasant grass” of the other parts of the grounds. It would indeed be worth while to leave many parts of the grass unmown for the sake of growing many beautiful plants in it. If in some spot where a wide fringe of grass spreads out in the bay of a shrubbery or plantation, and upon this carpet of rising and unshaven verdure there be dotted, in addition to the few pretty natural flowers that happened to take possession of it, the blue Apennine Anemone, the Snowdrop, the Snowflake, Crocuses in variety, Scillas, Grape–Hyacinths, earlier and smaller Narcissi, the Wood Anemone, and any other pretty Spring flowers that were suitable to the soil and position, we should have a glimpse of the vernal beauty of temperate and northern climes, every flower relieved by grass blades and green leaves, the whole devoid of any trace of man, or his exceeding weakness for tracing wall–paper patterns, where everything should be varied, indefinite, and changeful. In such a garden it would be evident that the artist had caught the true meaning of nature in her disposition of vegetation, without sacrificing one jot of anything of value in the garden, but, on the contrary, adding the highest beauty to spots devoid of the slightest interest. In connection with this matter I may as well say here that mowing the grass once a fortnight in pleasure grounds, as now practised, is a great and costly mistake. We want shaven carpets of grass here and there, but what cruel nonsense both to men and grass it is to shave as many foolish men shave their faces! There are indeed places where they boast of mowing forty acres! Who would not rather see the waving grass with countless flowers than a close shaven surface without a blossom? Imagine the labour wasted in this ridiculous labour of cutting the heads off flowers and grass. Let the grass grow till fit to cut for hay, and we may enjoy in it a world of lovely flowers that will blossom and perfect their growth before the grass has to be mown; more than one person who has carried out the ideas expressed in this book has waving lawns of feathery grass where he used to shave the grass every ten days; a prairie of flowers where a daisy was not allowed to peep; and some addition to his hay crop as he allows the grass to grow till it is fit for that purpose.

It is not only to places in which shrubberies, and plantations, and belts of grass in the rougher parts of the pleasure–ground, and shady moss–bordered wood–walks occur that these remarks apply. The suburban garden, with its single fringe of planting, may show like beauty, to some extent. It may have the Solomon’s Seal arching forth from a shady recess, behind tufts of the sweet–scented Narcissus, while in every case there may be wild fringes of strong and hardy flowers in the spring sun, and they cannot be cut off by harsh winds as when exposed in the open garden. What has already been stated is, I hope, sufficient to show to everybody the kind of place that may be used for their culture. Wild and semi–wild places, rough banks in or near the pleasure–ground or flower–garden, such spots as perhaps at present contain nothing but weeds, or any naturally rough or unused spot about a garden—such are the places for them. Even where all the lawn must be mown the Snowdrop may be enjoyed in early spring, for its leaves die down, or at all events ripen sufficiently before there is any occasion to mow the grass.

The Turk’s Cap Lily

But the prettiest results are only attainable where the grass need not be mown till nearly the time the meadows are mown. Then we may have gardens of Narcissi, such as men never dared to dream about a dozen years ago; such as no one ever thought possible in a garden. In grass not mown at all we may even enjoy many of the Lilies, and all the lovelier and more stately bulbous flowers of the meadows and mountain lawns of Europe, Asia, and America.

On a stretch of good grass which need not be mown, and on fairly good soil in any part of our country, beauty may be enjoyed such as has hitherto only gladdened the heart of the rare wanderer on the high mountain lawns and copses, in May when the earth children laugh in multitudes on their mother’s breast.

Crocuses in Turf

All planting in the grass should be in natural groups or prettily fringed colonies, growing to and fro as they like after planting. Lessons in this grouping are to be had in woods, copses, heaths, and meadows, by those who look about them as they go. At first many will find it difficult to get out of formal masses, but that may be got over by studying natural groupings of wild flowers. Once established, the plants soon begin to group themselves in a way that leaves nothing to desire.

The Fourth of Chapters_

Knowing, then, a little of the vast world of plant beauty quite shut out of our gardens by the “system,” in vogue, I was led to consider the ways in which it might be introduced to our gardens.

Group of Globe Flowers

Let us next see what may be done with the Buttercup order of plants. It embraces many things widely diverse in aspect from these burnished ornaments of northern meadows and mountains. The first thing I should take from it to embellish the wild wood is the sweet–scented Virgin’s Bower (Clematis flammula), a native of the south of Europe, but as hardy and free in all parts of Britain as the common Hawthorn. And as the Hawthorn sweetens the breath of early summer, so will this add fragrance to the autumnal months. It is never to be seen half so beautiful as when crawling over some tree or decayed stump; and if its profuse masses of white bloom do not attract, its fragrance is sure to do so. An open glade in a wood, or open spaces on banks near a wood or shrubbery, would be charming for it, while in the garden or pleasure–ground it may be used as a creeper over old stumps, trellising, or the like. Clematis campaniflora, with flowers like a campanula, and of a pale purplish hue, and the beautiful white Clematis montana grandiflora, a native of Nepaul, are almost equally beautiful, and many others of the family are worthy of a place, rambling over old trees, bushes, hedgerows, or tangling over banks. These single wild species of Clematis are more graceful than the large Hybrids now common; they are very hardy and free. In mild and seashore districts a beautiful kind, common in Algeria, and in the islands on and the shores of the Mediterranean (Clematis cirrhosa), will be found most valuable—being nearly evergreen, and flowering very early in spring—even in winter in the South of England.

The Mountain Clematis

Next in this order we come to the Wind Flowers, or Anemones, and here we must pause to select, for more beautiful flowers do not adorn this world of flowers. Have we a bit of rich grass not mown? If so, the beautiful downy white and yellow Anemones of the Alps (A. alpina and A. sulphurea) may be grown there. Any sunny bushy bank or southern slope which we wish to embellish with vernal beauty? Then select Anemone blanda, a small but lovely blue kind; place it in open bare spots to begin with, as it is very dwarf, and it will at Christmas, and from that time onward through the spring, open its large flowers of the deepest sky blue. The common garden Anemone (A. Coronaria) will not be fastidious, but had better be placed in open bare sandy places; and the splendid Anemone fulgens will prove most attractive, as it glows with fiery scarlet. Of other Anemones, hardy, free, and beautiful enough to be made wild in our shrubberies, pleasure–grounds, and wilds, the Japan Anemone (A. japonica) and its white varieties, A. trifolia and A. sylvestris, are the best of the exotic species. The Japan Anemones grow so strongly that they will take care of themselves even among stiff brushwood, brambles, etc.; and they are beautifully fitted for scattering along the low, half–wild margins of shrubberies and groups. The interesting little A. trifolia is not unlike our own wood Anemone, and will grow in similar places.

The White Japan Anemone

Few plants are more lovely in the wild garden than the White Japan Anemone. The idea of the wild garden first arose in the writer’s mind as a home for a numerous class of coarse–growing plants, to which people begrudge room in their borders, such as the Golden Rods, Michaelmas Daisies, Compass plants, and a host of others, which are beautiful for a season only, or perhaps too rampant for what are called choice borders and beds. This Anemone is one of the most beautiful of garden flowers, and one which is as well suited for the wild garden as the kinds alluded to. It grows well in any good soil in copse or shrubbery, and increases rapidly. Partial shade seems to suit it; and in any case the effect of the large white flowers is, if anything, more beautiful in half–shady places. The flowers, too, are more lasting here than where they are fully exposed.

As for the Apennine Anemone (the white as well as the blue variety), it is one of the loveliest spring flowers of any clime, and should be in every garden, in the borders, and scattered thinly here and there in woods and shrubberies, so that it may become “naturalised.” It is scarcely a British flower, being a native of the south of Europe; but having strayed into our wilds and plantations occasionally, it is now included in most books on British plants. The yellow A. ranunculoides, a doubtful native, found in one or two spots, but not really British, is well worth growing, thriving well on the chalk, and being very beautiful.

The large Hepatica angulosa will grow almost as freely as Celandine among shrubs and in half–shady spots, and we all know how readily the old kinds grow on all garden soils of ordinary quality. There are about ten or twelve varieties of the common Hepatica (Anemone Hepatica) grown in British nurseries and gardens, and all the colours of the species should be represented in every collection of spring flowers.

Anemones in the Riviera

There are many of the Ranunculi, not natives of Britain, which would grow as freely as our native kinds. Many will doubtless remember with pleasure the pretty button–like white flowers of the Fair Maids of France (Ranunculus aconitifolius fl. pl.), a frequent ornament of the old mixed border. This, and the wild form from which it comes—a frequent plant in alpine meadows—may also be enjoyed in our wild garden. Quite distinct from all these, and of chastest beauty when well grown, is R. amplexicaulis, with flowers of pure white, and simple leaves of a dark glaucous green and flowing graceful outline; a hardy and charming plant on almost any soil. This is one of the elegant exotic forms of a family well represented in the golden type in our meadows, and therefore it is welcome as giving us a strange form. Such a plant deserves that pains be taken to establish it in good soil, in spots where a rank vegetation may not weaken or destroy it.

Of the Globe Flowers (Trollius), there are various kinds apart from our own, all rich in colour, fragrant, and hardy in a remarkable degree. These are among the noblest wild–garden plants—quite hardy, free of growth in the heaviest of soil and wettest of climates, affording a lovely type of early summer flower–life, and one distinct from any usually seen in our fields or gardens; for these handsome Globe flowers are among the many flowers that for years have found no place in the garden proper. They are lovely in groups or colonies, in cold grassy places, where many other plants would perish.

The Green Hellebore

The Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) should be naturalised in every country seat in Britain—it is as easy to do so as to introduce the thistle. It may be placed quite under the branches of deciduous trees, will come up and flower when the trees are naked, will have its foliage developed before the leaves come on the trees, and be afterwards hidden from sight. Thus masses of this earliest flower may be grown without the slightest sacrifice of space, and only be noticed when bearing a bloom on every little stem. That fine old little plant, the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger), likes partial shade better than full exposure, and should be used abundantly, giving it rather snug and warm positions, so that its flowers may be encouraged to open well and fully. Any other kinds might also be used. Recently many kinds of Helleborus have been added to our gardens, not all of them so conspicuous at first sight as the Christmas Rose, yet they are of remarkable beauty of foliage and habit as well as of blossom, and they flower in the spring. These, too, show the advantage of the wild garden as regards cultivation. They will thrive much better in any bushy places, or copses, or in mutually sheltering groups on warm banks and slopes, even in hedge banks, old quarries, or rough mounds, than in the ordinary garden border. Of the difference in the effect in the two cases it is needless to speak.

Some of the Monkshoods are very handsome, but all of them virulent poisons; and, bearing in mind what fatal accidents have arisen from their use, they are better not used at all in the garden proper. Amongst tall and vigorous herbaceous plants few are more suitable for wild and semi–wild places. They are hardy and robust enough to grow anywhere in shady or half–shady spots; and their tall spikes, loaded with blue flowers, are very beautiful. An illustration in the chapter on the plants suited for the wild garden shows the common Aconite in a Somersetshire valley in company with the Butterbur and the Hemlock. In such a place its beauty is very striking. The larger rich blue kinds, and the blue and white one, are very showy grown in deep soils, in which they attain a great height. When out of flower, like many other stately Perennials, they were often stiff and ugly in the old borders and beds. In the wild garden their stately beauty will be more remarkable than ever under the green leaves in copses and by streams. And when flower–time is gone, their stems, no longer tied into bundles or cut in by the knife, will group finely with other vigorous herbaceous vegetation.

The Delphiniums, or tall Perennial Larkspurs, are amongst the most beautiful of all flowers. They embrace almost every shade of blue, from the rich dark tone of D. grandiflora to the charming cærulean tints of such as D. Belladonna; and being usually of a tall and strong type, will make way among long grasses and vigorous weeds, unlike many things for which we have to recommend an open space, or a wood with nothing but a carpet of moss under the trees.

Tall Perennial Larkspurs

One of the prettiest effects which I have ever seen was a colony of tall Larkspurs. Portions of old roots of several species and varieties had been chopped off when a bed of these plants was dug in the autumn. For convenience sake the refuse had been thrown into the neighbouring shrubbery, far in among the shrubs and trees. Here they grew in half–open spaces, which were so far removed from the margin that they were not dug and were not seen. When I saw the Larkspurs in flower they were certainly the loveliest things that one could see. They were more beautiful than they are in borders or beds, not growing in such close stiff tufts, but mingling with and relieved by the trees above and the shrubs around. Little more need be said to any one who knows and cares about such plants, and has an opportunity of planting in such neglected places. This case points out that one might make wild gardens from the mere parings and thinnings of the beds and borders in autumn in any place where there is a collection of good hardy plants.

The engraving on the next page represents one of the most beautiful effects obtained in his wild garden by an acquaintance of mine who began when he knew very little of plants and their favoured haunts, and succeeded well in a not very favourable site. Herbaceous Pæonies were amongst those that succeeded best. The effect was very beautiful, either close at hand or seen at a considerable distance off. Herbaceous Pæonies are amongst the most free, vigorous, and hardy of perennial plants, and with them alone most novel and beautiful effects may be carried out in most places where there is room. Even in comparatively small gardens, a group or two outside the margin of a shrubbery would be desirable. The effect of the blooms amongst the long grass of the wild garden is finer than any they present in borders, and when out of flower they do not seem to be in the way, as they often are thought to be when in borders and beds. It is almost needless to speak here of the great variety of forms now obtainable amongst these herbaceous Pæonies, many of which are agreeably scented. The older forms were not remarkable in that respect, but rather the contrary. In addition to the splendour of colour for which Pæonies are long and well known, there are now many delicately–coloured and tinted varieties. The whole race is undeservedly neglected. People spend plenty of money on greenhouses which will never produce anything so handsome as a well–grown group of herbaceous Pæonies in the open garden; yet when they are grown they are often begrudged a few feet of good soil, though that is all they would require for years at a time. My friend’s Pæonies formed a group that could be seen from a distance; when I saw them they were surrounded by long and waving grass. I cannot give any idea of the fine effect.

Double Crimson Pæonies in Grass

The Clematis–like Atragene alpina is one of my favourite flowers—seldom seen now–a–days, or indeed at any time, out of a botanical garden, and till lately not often seen in one. It likes to trail over an old stump, or through a thin low bush, or over a rocky bank, and it is a perfectly hardy plant. Speaking of such plants as this, one would like to draw a sharp distinction between them and the various weedy and indistinct subjects which are now creeping into cultivation owing to the revival of interest in hardy plants. Many of these have some botanical interest, but they can be only useless in the garden. Our chief danger now is getting plants into cultivation which are neither very distinct nor very beautiful, while perhaps we neglect many of the really fine kinds. This Atragene is a precious plant for low bush and bank wild garden.

Among plants which one never sees, and which, indeed, one never ought to see, in a flower garden, are the Meadow Rues; and yet there is a quiet beauty and grace about these plants which entitle them to some consideration; and the flowers, too, of certain species, particularly the one here shown in the illustration on page 1, are of singular beauty. When it is considered that all the species will grow anywhere—in any hedgerow or lane or byeway, or among coarse grass, or in a copse, or under the shrubs, in places usually abandoned to common weeds, there is no reason why numbers of them should not be rescued from the oblivion of the botanic garden.

The Fifth of Chapters_

I was led to think of the enormous number of beautiful hardy plants from other countries which might be naturalised, with a very slight amount of trouble, in many situations in our gardens and woods—a world of delightful plant beauty that we might in this way make happy around us, in places now weedy, or half bare, or useless.

The Giant Scabious

What first suggested the idea of the wild garden, and even the name to me, was the desire to provide a home for a great number of exotic plants that are unfitted for garden culture in the old sense. Many of these plants have great beauty when in flower, and perhaps at other seasons, but they are frequently so free and vigorous in growth that they overrun and destroy all their more delicate neighbours. Many, too, are so coarse that they are objectionable in choice borders, and after flowering they leave a blank or a mass of unsightly stems. These plants are unsightly in gardens, and the main cause of the neglect of hardy flowers; yet many are beautiful at certain stages. A tall Harebell, for example, stiffly tied up in a garden border, as has been the fashion where plants of this kind have been grown at all, is at best of times an unsightly object; but the same plant growing amongst the long grass in a thin wood is lovely. The Golden–rods and Michaelmas Daisies used to overrun the old mixed border, and were with it abolished. But even the poorest of these seen together in a New England wood in autumn form a picture. So also there are numerous exotic plants of which the individual flowers may not be so striking, but which, grown in groups and colonies, and seen at some little distance off, afford beautiful aspects of vegetation, and quite new so far as gardens are concerned. When I first wrote this book, not one of these plants was in cultivation outside botanic gardens. It was even considered by the best friends of hardy flowers a mistake to recommend one of them, for they knew that it was the predominance of these weedy vigorous subjects that made people give up hardy flowers for the sake of the glare of bedding plants; therefore, the wild garden in the case of these particular plants opens up to us a new world of infinite and strange beauty. In it every plant vigorous enough not to require the care of the cultivator or a choice place in the mixed border will find a home. Of such plants there are numbers in every northern and mountainous country, which travellers may gather and afterwards grow in their own gardens. The taller Achilleas, the stately Aconites, the seldom–seen Actæas, the huge and vigorous, but at certain seasons handsome, Althæas, Angelica with its fine foliage, the herbaceous kinds of Aralia from the American woods, also with fine foliage, the Wormwood family (Artemisia), the stronger kinds of American cotton–weed (Asclepias), certain of the vigorous species of Asparagus, Asters and their allies in great variety, the larger and more vigorous species of Astragalus, certain of the larger species of Betonica, pretty, and with delicate flowers, but hardly fit for the mixed border, various free and vigorous exotic Grasses, large and showy Bupthalmums, the handsome creeping Bindweeds, too free in a garden, the most vigorous Campanulas, exotic Thistles (Carduus) and their allies, the more remarkable kinds of Carex, numerous Centaureas, somewhat too coarse for the garden; and among other strong and hardy genera, the following are chiefly suitable for the wild garden:    

Crambe,  Galega,  Rhaponticum,  Digitalis,  Helenium,  Rheum,  Dipsacus,  Helianthus,  Rudbeckia,  Doronicum,  Heracleum,  Scolymus,  Echinacea,  Inula,  Senecio,  Echinops,  Kitaibelia,  Sida,  Elymus,  Lavatera,  Silphium,  Epilobium,  Ligularia,  Solidago,  Eryngium,  Ligusticum,  Sonchus,  Eupatorium,  Mulgedium,  Symphytum,  Euphorbia,  Onopordon,  Veratrum,  Ferula,  Phytolacca,  Verbascum,  Funkia,  Polygonum,  Vernonia

Giant Cow Parsnip

The Sixth of Chapters--

Many of the beautiful wood and shade–loving plants of our own and similar latitudes—things that love not the open sunny hill–sides or wide meadows, but take shelter in the stillness of deep woods or in dark valleys, are happy deep between riven rocks, and gaily occupy the little dark caves beneath the great boulders on many a horror–stricken mountain gorge, and which garland with inimitable grace the vast flanks of rock that guard the dark courses of the rivers on their paths through the hills.

The Seventh of Chapters--

The numerous hardy climbers which we possess are very rarely seen to advantage, owing to their being stiffly trained against walls. Indeed, the greater number of hardy climbers have gone out of cultivation mainly for this reason. One of the happiest of all ways of using them is that of training them in a free manner over trees; in this way many beautiful effects may be secured.

The Eighth of Chapters--

It must not be thought that the wild garden can only be formed in places where there is some extent of rough pleasure–ground. Excellent results may be obtained from the system in comparatively small gardens, on the fringes of shrubberies and marginal plantations, open spaces between shrubs, the surface of beds of Rhododendrons, where we may have plant–beauty instead of garden–graveyards


My object in the Wild Garden is now to show how we may have more of the varied beauty of hardy flowers than the most ardent admirer of the old style of garden ever dreams of, by naturalising innumerable beautiful natives of many regions of the earth in our woods and copses, rougher parts of pleasure grounds, and in unoccupied places in almost every kind of garden.