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AN ISLAND GARDEN. New Edition. With Por-
trait. Crown 8vo, $1.25.

A. F. and R. L. With 3 Portraits, 12000, $1.30.

POEMS. New Edition, nmo, gilt top, $1.50.

Edition. i2mo, gilt top, $1.50.

i8mo, $1.25.






<$fc tttoetfite preft CambriDge

Copyright, 1894,

Ail rights reserved.







" An Island Garden " was first issued ten years
ago, in an expensive form with lithographic illus-
trations in color. It has been for some time out of
print, but the continued inquiries for it are evi-
dence of its permanent interest and value. To
meet these inquiries the publishers have made the
present popular edition of the book.

BOSTON, April, 1904.

T the Isles of Shoals, among the
ledges of the largest island, Apple-
dore, lies the small garden which in
the following pages I have endeav-
ored to describe. Ever since I could remember
anything, flowers have been like dear friends to
me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to
cheer. A lonely child, living on the lighthouse
island ten miles away from the mainland, every
blade of grass that sprang out of the ground,
every humblest weed, was precious in my sight,
and I began a little garden when not more than
five years old. From this, year after year, the
larger one, which has given so much pleasure to
so many people, has grown. The first small bed
at the lighthouse island contained only Marigolds,
pot Marigolds, fire-colored blossoms which were
the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes.
This scrap of garden, literally not more than a


yard square, with its barbaric splendors of color,
I worshiped like any Parsee. When I planted
the dry, brown seeds I noticed how they were
shaped, like crescents, with a fine line of orna-
mental dots, a " beading " along the whole length
of the centre, from this crescent sprang the
Marigold plant, each of whose flowers was like

" a mimic sun,
With ray-like florets round a disk-like face."

In my childish mind I pondered much on this
fact of the crescent growing into the full-rayed
orb. Many thoughts had I of all the flowers I
knew ; very dear were they, so that after I had
gathered them I felt sorry, and I had a safe place
between the rocks to which I carried them when
they were withered, and hid them away from all
eyes, they were so precious even then.

The dear flowers ! Summer after summer they
return to me, always young and fresh and beauti-
ful ; but so many of the friends who have watched
them and loved them with me are gone, and they
return no more. I think of the lament of Mos-
chus for Bion :

" Ah me, when the Mallows wither in the gar-
den, and the green Parsley, and the curled ten-
drils of the Anise, on a later day they spring, in
another year; but we men, we, the great and
mighty, or wise, when once we have died, in hol-
low earth we sleep, gone down into silence."


Into silence ! How deep, how unbroken is that
silence ! But because of tender memories of lov-
ing eyes that see them no more, my flowers are
yet more beloved and tenderly cherished.

Year after year the island garden has grown
in beauty and charm, so that in response to the
many entreaties of strangers as well as friends
who have said to me, summer after summer,
" Tell us how you do it ! Write a book about it
and tell us how it is done, that we may go also
and do likewise," I have written this book at last.
Truly it contains the fruit of much sweet and
bitter experience. Of what I speak I know, and
of what I know I have freely given. I trust it
may help the patient gardener to a reasonable
measure of success, and to that end I have spared
no smallest detail that seemed to me necessary, no
suggestion that might prove helpful.


Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see.

Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand I
This is a magic surprising, a mystery

Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.

What is it ? Only a handful of earth : to your touch
A dry rough powder you trample beneath your feet,

Dark and lifeless ; but think for a moment, how much
It hides and holds that is beautiful, bitter, or sweet.


Think of the glory of color ! The red of the rose,
Green of the myriad leaves and the fields of grass,

Yellow as bright as the sun where the daffodil blows,
Purple where violets nod as the breezes pass.

Think of the manifold form, of the oak and the vine,
Nut, and fruit, and cluster, and ears of corn ;

Of the anchored water-lily, a thing divine,

Unfolding its dazzling snow to the kiss of morn.

Think of the delicate perfumes borne on the gale,
Of the golden willow catkin's odor of spring,

Of the breath of the rich narcissus waxen-pale,
Of the sweet pea's flight of flowers, of the nettle's sting.

Strange that this lifeless thing gives vine, flower, tree,
Color and shape and character, fragrance too ;

That the timber that builds the house, the ship for the sea,
Out of this powder its strength and its toughness drew !

That the cocoa among the palms should suck its milk
From this dry dust, while dates from the self-same soil

Summon their sweet rich fruit : that our shining silk
The mulberry leaves should yield to the worm's slow toil.

How should the poppy steal sleep from the very source
That grants to the grapevine juice that can madden or

How does the weed find food for its fabric coarse
Where the lilies proud their blossoms pure uprear ?

Who shall compass or fathom God's thought profound ?

We can but praise, for we may not understand ;
But there 's no more beautiful riddle the whole world round

Than is hid in this heap of dust I hold in my hand.


|F all the wonderful things in the won-
derful universe of God, nothing seems
to me more surprising than the plant-
ing of a seed in the blank earth and the
result thereof. Take a Poppy seed, for
instance : it lies in your palm, the merest atom of
matter, hardly visible, a speck, a pin's point in
bulk, but within it is imprisoned a spirit of beauty
ineffable, which will break its bonds and emerge
from the dark ground and blossom in a splendor
so dazzling as to baffle all powers of description.

The Genie in the Arabian tale is not half so
astonishing. In this tiny casket lie folded roots,
stalks, leaves, buds, flowers, seed-vessels, sur-
passing color and beautiful form, all that goes to
make up a plant which is as gigantic in propor-
tion to the bounds that confine it as the Oak is
to the acorn. You may watch this marvel from
beginning to end in a few weeks' time, and if you
realize how great a marvel it is, you can but be


lost in " wonder, love, and praise." All seeds are
most interesting, whether winged like the Dande-
lion and Thistle, to fly on every breeze afar ; or
barbed to catch in the wool of cattle or the gar-
ments of men, to be borne away and spread in all
directions over the land; or feathered like the
little polished silvery shuttlecocks of the Corn-
flower, to whirl in the wind abroad and settle
presently, point downward, into the hospitable
ground; or oared like the Maple, to row out
upon the viewless tides of the air. But if I were
to pause on the threshold of the year to consider
the miracles of seeds alone, I should never, I fear,
reach my garden plot at all !

He who is born with a silver spoon in his
mouth is generally considered a fortunate person,
but his good fortune is small compared to that of
the happy mortal who enters this world with a
passion for flowers in his soul. I use the word
advisedly, though it seems a weighty one for the
subject, for I do not mean a light or shallow affec-
tion, or even an aesthetic admiration ; no butterfly
interest, but a real love which is worthy of the
name, which is capable of the dignity of sacrifice,
great enough to bear discomfort of body and dis-
appointment of spirit, strong enough to fight a
thousand enemies for the thing beloved, with
power, with judgment, with endless patience, and
to give with everything else a subtler stimulus
which is more delicate and perhaps more neces-
sary than all the rest.

Often I hear people say, " How do you make
your plants flourish like this?" as they admire


the little flower patch I cultivate in summer, or
the window gardens that bloom for me in the
winter ; " I can never make my plants blossom
like this ! What is your secret ? " And I answer
with one word, " Love." For that includes all,
the patience that endures continual trial, the con-
stancy that makes perseverance possible, the
power of foregoing ease of mind and body to
minister to the necessities of the thing beloved,
and the subtle bond of sympathy which is as im-
portant, if not more so, than all the rest. For
though I cannot go so far as a witty friend of
mine, who says that when he goes out to sit in
the shade on his piazza, his Wistaria vine leans
toward him and lays her head on his shoulder, I
am fully and intensely aware that plants are con-
scious of love and respond to it as they do to
nothing else. You may give them all they need
of food and drink and make the conditions of
their existence as favorable as possible, and they
may grow and bloom, but there is a certain in-
effable something that will be missing if you do
not love them, a delicate glory too spiritual to be
caught and put into words. The Norwegians
have a pretty and significant word, " Opelske,"
which they use in speaking of the care of flowers.
It means literally " loving up," or cherishing them
into health and vigor.

Like the musician, the painter, the poet, and
the rest, the true lover of flowers is born, not
made. And he is born to happiness in this vale
of tears, to a certain amount of the purest joy that
earth can give her children, joy that is tranquil,


innocent, uplifting, unfailing. Given a little patch
of ground, with time to take care of it, with tools
to work it and seeds to plant in it, he has all he
needs, and Nature with her dews and suns and
showers and sweet airs gives him her aid. But
he soon learns that it is not only liberty of which
eternal vigilance is the price ; the saying applies
quite as truly to the culture of flowers, for the
name of their enemies is legion, and they must
be fought early and late, day and night, without
cessation. The cutworm, the wire-worm, the
pansy-worm, the thrip, the rose-beetle, the aphis,
the mildew, and many more, but worst of all the
loathsome slug, a slimy, shapeless creature that
devours every fair and exquisite thing in the gar-
den, the flower lover must seek all these with
unflagging energy, and if possible exterminate
the whole. So only may he and his precious
flowers purchase peace. Manifold are the means
of destruction to be employed, for almost every
pest requires a different poison. On a closet
shelf which I keep especially for them are rows
of tin pepper-boxes, each containing a deadly
powder, all carefully labeled. For the thrip that
eats out the leaves of the Rosebush till they are
nothing but fibrous skeletons of woody lace, there
is hellebore, to be shaken on the under side of all
the leaves, mark you, the under side, and think of
the difficulties involved in the process of so treat-
ing hundreds of leaves! For the blue or gray
mildew and the orange mildew another box holds
powdered sulphur, this is more easily applied,
shaken over the tops of the bushes, but all the


leaves must be reached, none neglected at your
peril! Still another box contains yellow snuff
for the green aphis, but he is almost impossible
to manage, let once his legions get a foothold,
good-by to any hope for you ! Lime, salt, paris
green, cayenne pepper, kerosene emulsion, whale-
oil soap, the list of weapons is long indeed, with
which one must fight the garden's foes ! And it
must be done with such judgment, persistence,
patience, accuracy, and watchful care ! It seems
to me the worst of all the plagues is the slug,
the snail without a shell. He is beyond descrip-
tion repulsive, a mass of sooty, shapeless slime,
and he devours everything. He seems to thrive
on all the poisons known ; salt and lime are the
only things that have power upon him, at least
the only things I have been able to find so far.
But salt and lime must be used very carefully, or
they destroy the plant as effectually as the slug
would do. Every night, while the season is yet
young, and the precious growths just beginning
to make their way upward, feeling their strength,
I go at sunset and heap along the edge of the
flower beds air-slaked lime, or round certain most
valuable plants a ring of the same, the slug
cannot cross this while it is fresh, but should it
be left a day or two it loses its strength, it has no
more power to burn, and the enemy may slide
over it unharmed, leaving his track of slime. On
many a solemn midnight have I stolen from my
bed to visit my cherished treasures by the pale
glimpses of the moon, that I might be quite sure
the protecting rings were still strong enough to


save them, for the slug eats by night, he is invisi-
ble by day unless it rains or the sky be overcast.
He hides under every damp board or in any nook
of shade, because the sun is death to him. I use
salt for his destruction in the same way as the
lime, but it is so dangerous for the plants, I am
always afraid of it. Neither of these things must
be left about them when they are watered lest the
lime or salt sink into the earth in such quantities
as to injure the tender roots. I have little cages
of fine wire netting which I adjust over some
plants, carefully heaping the earth about them to
leave no loophole through which the enemy may
crawl, and round some of the beds, which are
inclosed in strips of wood, boxed, to hold the
earth in place, long shallow troughs of wood are
nailed and filled with salt to keep off the pests.
Nothing that human ingenuity can suggest do I
leave untried to save my beloved flowers ! Every
evening at sunset I pile lime and salt about my
pets, and every morning remove it before I
sprinkle them at sunrise. The salt dissolves of
itself in the humid sea air and in the dew, so
around those for whose safety I am most solici-
tous I lay rings of pasteboard on which to heap
it, to be certain of doing the plants no harm.
Judge, reader, whether all this requires strength,
patience, perseverance, hope! It is hard work
beyond a doubt, but I do not grudge it, for great
is my reward. Before I knew what to do to
save my garden from the slugs, I have stood at
evening rejoicing over rows of fresh emerald
leaves just springing in rich lines along the beds,


and woke in the morning to find the whole space
stripped of any sign of green, as blank as a board
over which a carpenter's plane has passed.

In the thickest of my fight with the slugs some
one said to me, " Everything living has its enemy;
the enemy of the slug is the toad. Why don't
you import toads ? "

I snatched at the hope held out to me, and im-
mediately wrote to a friend on the continent, " In
the name of the Prophet, Toads!" At once a
force of only too willing boys was set about the
work of catching every toad within reach, and
one day in June a boat brought a box to me from
the far-off express office. A piece of wire net-
ting was nailed across the top, and upon the
earth with which it was half filled, reposing
among some dry and dusty green leaves, sat three
dry and dusty toads, wearily gazing at nothing.
Is this all, I thought, only three ! Hardly worth
sending so far. Poor creatures, they looked so
arid and wilted, I took up the hose and turned
upon them a gentle shower of fresh cool water,
flooding the box. I was not prepared for the
result! The dry, baked earth heaved tumul-
tuously ; up came dusky heads and shoulders and
bright eyes by the dozen. A sudden concert of
liquid sweet notes was poured out on the air from
the whole rejoicing company. It was really beau-
tiful to hear that musical ripple of delight. I
surveyed them with eager interest as they sat
singing and blinking together. "You are not
handsome," I said, as I took a hammer and
wrenched off the wire cover that shut them in,


" but you will be lovely in my sight if you will
help me to destroy mine enemy ; " and with that I
turned the box on its side and out they skipped
into a perfect paradise of food and shade. All
summer I came upon them in different parts of
the garden, waxing fatter and fatter till they were
as round as apples. In the autumn baby toads
no larger than my thumb nail were found hop-
ping merrily over the whole island. There were
sixty in that first importation ; next summer I
received ninety more. But alas ! small dogs dis-
cover them in the grass and delight to tear and
worry them to death, and the rats prey upon them
so that many perish in that way ; yet I hope to keep
enough to preserve my garden in spite of fate.

In France the sale of toads for the protection
of gardens is universal, and I find under the head
of " A Garden Friend," in a current newspaper,
the following item :

" One is amused, in walking through the great
Covent Garden Market, London, to find toads
among the commodities offered for sale. In such
favor do these familiar reptiles stand with English
market gardeners that they readily command a
shilling apiece. . . . The toad has indeed no
superior as a destroyer of noxious insects, and as
he possesses no bad habits and is entirely inof-
fensive himself, every owner of a garden should
treat him with the utmost hospitality. It is quite
worth the while not only to offer any simple in-
ducements which suggest themselves for render-
ing the premises attractive to him, but should he
show a tendency to wander away from them, to


go so far as to exercise a gentle force in bringing
him back to the regions where his services may
be of the greatest utility."

One of the most universal pests is the cut-
worm, a fat, naked worm of varying lengths. I
have seen them two inches and a half long and as
large round as my little finger. This unpleasant
creature lives in the ground about the roots of
plants. I have known one to go through a whole
row of Sweet Peas and cut them off smoothly
above the roots just as a sickle would do ; there
lay the dead stalks in melancholy line. It makes
no difference what the plant may be, they will
level all without distinction. The only remedy
for this plague is to scratch all about in the earth
round the roots of the plants where their ravages
begin, dig the worms out, and kill them. I have
found sometimes whole nests of them with twenty
young ones at once. Lime dug into the soil is
recommended to destroy them, but there is no
remedy so sure as seeking a personal interview
and slaying them on the spot. They are not by
any means always to be discovered, but the gar-
dener must again exercise that endless patience
upon which the success of the garden depends,
and be never weary of seeking them till they are

Another enemy to my flowers, and a truly for-
midable one, is my little friend the song-sparrow.
Literally he gives the plot of ground no peace if
I venture to put seeds into it. He obliges me to
start almost all my seeds in boxes, to be trans-
planted into the beds when the plants are suf-


ficiently tough to have lost their delicacy for his
palate and are no longer adapted to his ideal of
a salad. All the Sweet Peas, many hundreds of
the delicate plants, are every one grown in this
way. When they are a foot high with roots a
foot long they are all transplanted separately.
Even then the little robber attacks them, and,
though he cannot uproot, he will "yank" and
twist the stems till he has murdered them in the
vain hope of pulling up the remnant of a pea
which he judges to be somewhere beneath the
surface. Then must sticks and supports be
draped with yards of old fishing nets to protect
the unfortunates, and over the Mignonette, and
even the Poppy beds and others, I must lay a
cover of closely woven wire to keep out the
marauder. But I love him still, though sadly he
torments me. I have adored his fresh music ever
since I was a child, and I only laugh as he sits
on the fence watching me with his bright black
eyes; there is something quaintly comical and
delightful about him, and he sings like a friendly
angel. From him I can protect myself, but I
cannot save my garden so easily from the hideous
slug, for which I have no sentiment save only a
fury of extermination.

If possible, it is much the best way to begin in
the autumn to work for the garden of the next
spring, and the first necessity is the preparation
of the soil. If the gardener is as fortunate as I
am at the Isles of Shoals, there will be no trouble
in doing this, for there the barn manure is heaped
in certain waste places, out of the way, and left


till every change of wind and weather, of temper-
ature and climate, have so wrought upon it that
it becomes a fine, odorless, velvet-brown earth,
rich in all needful sustenance for almost all
plants, " well-rotted manure," the " Old Farm-
er's Almanac " calls it. But if there is no mine
of wealth such as this from which to draw, there
are many fertilizers, sold by all seed and plant
merchants, which will answer the purpose very
well. I have, however, never found anything to
equal barn manure as food for flowers, and if not
possible to obtain this in a state fit for immediate
use, it is best -to have several cart-loads taken
from the barn in autumn and piled in a heap near
the garden plot, there to remain all winter, till
rains and snows and cold and heat, all the powers
of the elements, have worked their will upon it,
and rendered it fit for use in the coming spring.
Many people make a compost heap, it is an
excellent thing to do, piling turf and dead
leaves and refuse together, and leaving it to slow
decay till it becomes a fine, rich, mellow earth.
In my case the barn manure has been more easily
obtained, and so I have used it always and with
complete success, but I have a compost heap also,
to use for plants which do not like barn manure.
As late as possible, before the ground freezes,
I dig up the single Dahlia tubers (there are no
double ones in my garden), and put them in
boxes filled with clean, dry sand, to keep in a
frost-free cellar till spring. I find Gladiolus bulbs,
Tulips, Lilies, and so forth, will keep perfectly well
in the ground through the winter at the Shoals.


Over the Foxgloves, Iceland Poppies, Wallflowers t
Mullein Pinks, Picotees, and other perennials, I
scatter the fine barn manure lightly, over the
Hollyhocks more heavily, and about the Rose-
bushes I heap it up high, quite two thirds of their
whole height, you cannot give them too much,
only be careful that enough of their length, that
is to say, one third of the highest sprays, are left
out in the air, that they may breathe. In the
spring this manure must all be carefully dug into
the ground round their roots. About Honey-
suckles, Clematis, Grapevine, and so forth, I pile it
plentifully, mixed with wood ashes, which is espe-
cially good for Grapevine and Rosebushes. But
the white Lilies, and indeed Lilies generally, do
not like to come in contact with the barn manure,
so they are protected by leaves and boughs, and
the earth near them enriched in the spring, care-
fully avoiding the contact which they dislike.
When putting the garden in order in the autumn,
all the dry Sweet Pea vines, and dead stalks of all
kinds, which are pulled up to clear the ground, I
heap for shelter over the perennials, being careful
to lay small bayberry branches over first, so that
I may in no way interfere with a free circulation
of air about them. In open spaces where no
perennials are growing I scatter the manure
thickly, that the ground may be slowly and surely
enriched all through the winter and be ready to
furnish bountiful nourishment for every green

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterAn island garden → online text (page 1 of 9)