GARDENING IN A CATALOGUE.
STEVENSON writes somewhere of the pleasure of voyaging in an atlas. If he had been the possessor of an English garden, be would have taken an equal pleasure in planting and sowing in the seedsmen's catalogues. The gardener bag the same chance of happy expeditions to terraced walks and flowery spaces of his own imagining ; be may possess all the rarest and most difficult of blossoms for the mere trouble of turning over pages. He may choose this and reject that ; in a moment of time, without the labour and difficulty of sowing, and watering, andpricking out, and thinning out, he may clothe his beds and borders with the newest and most brilliant of carnations and columbines and larkspurs and pansies ; and then without ever giving the gardener or any- body else any reason whatever be may pull them all up and put in something else. He may build rock-gardens and water- gardens and wall-gardens in which all the most charming and most difficult of Alpine flowers flourish at will. His
roses will be the envy of his neighbours for miles ; his herbaceous border will bold a profusion, a riot, of phloxes and delphiniums ; his azaleas and rhododendrons will light his lawns with gold and crimson. He will be no less successful in the orchard and the kitchen-garden. His apples will deserve all that the nurserymen say of their apples; his peas and beans will be as large and as perfectly flavoured as those in the pictures ;. his gardener will win all the prizes. To sit with a pile of the January catalogues on the floor by an armchair, and to pick them up and scan them critically, with a nice eye for possible defects and improvements, is to be a gardener indeed.
There is even a kind of freemasonry in the making of catalogues, or at all events in the making of catalogues of flowers and plants ; vegetable seeds are a little different. It would probably be too much to expect nurserymen to be enthusiastic about the merits of each other's marrowfat peas, or runner beans, or turnips, or onions. Occasionally they are even rude, and one will describe another's pet seed as "somewhat coarse," or as "suitable for exhibition only, being deficient in flavour and quality." If you turn to the catalogue of the firm who originally introduced this seed, you will find a very different story; the quality is not less admirable than the flavour. But there are no disputes over the charms of the flowers; there is, as we have said, a real freemasonry among flower-gardeners, and their catalogues hold nothing but praises, particularly for the roses. Perhaps the gardener in rose- catalogues finds the best. How do the rose-growers contrive to invent so many different descriptions of roses? School- masters who have a difficulty in writing different reports for different boys ought to take lessons from the catalogues of roses. You may read page after page of descriptions of roses without finding a repetition; each little picture is set differently, even if it is only in the order of the words, putting "fine" before or after "free-flowering," or adding an "exquisite" or a "very distinct," or surprising you with some strange tint that you have never seen in any rose. Of all delightful catalogues of roses, the French are without doubt the most varied and the most ingenious. The French rose-grower has all the colours and all the graces at the end of his budding- knife, and he grafts them on to his pages till the little book glows and smells of roses. He takes the trouble, even, to translate his catalogue into English, whereas it is much better in French ; but the English has the right touch, and the true spirit of the rose-grower informs the most businesslike para- graphs. " According to the importance of the order I invariably do myself the pleasure of adding a few pretty varieties over and above," he announces. What could be better? "Expeditions are made from the 10th of October to the end of April." "Expeditions" means the despatching of orders; but there is a romance about an expedition that a mere consignment does not know. Nor do we guess in England all the uses that roses may be put to. In the parish of Ockley, in Surrey, there used to be a pretty custom for lovers to plant roses over the graves of their sweethearts; but the French rose-grower goes further than that,—he offers you "twelve magnificent white dwarf rose-trees, two of which are climbers, for decorating tombs, 5s. 9d.; twenty of the same for large tombs, 7s. 3d." In every case he spares no effort to ensure " good germination and the sincerity of the species." His names and adjectives are better than ours. " Evergreen rose, very climbing," describes the rose exactly. "Mistress Bosanquet" is fascinating. Undergraduates would perhaps deride " Queen of. Bedders "; but who is to dispraise " Liberty, Ige. full IL magnificent shape, col. dark fiery red, the nee [sic] plus ultra of red roses" P After that, one reads almost calmly of "a vigorous shrub, excessively floriferous." Perhaps the most attractive name of all is "The sweet little Queen of Holland." The mere label would be an ornament.
The English flower-garden evokes fewer emotions among the catalogue-makers, but there is a depth of devotion even in their restraints. When Chinese pinks are described as "very showy, almost gorgeous," the presence of the "almost" adds a distinction to every flower on the page. Sweet peas, next to roses, call forth enthusiasms of word-painting; they can be lovely, delicate, gigantic, slightly flushed, unequalled, robust, most dazzling, grand, most unique, and bold. But the names are a difficulty ; so many of them are the same, or the same but a better kind. " Lord Kenyon superseded by Lord Rosebery," you read, and " Venus superseded by Gracie
Greenwood." There is no illustration. "Lovely, not required with Prima Donna," is another observation which should be the result of experience. But it is the kitchen-garden which urges the catalogue-maker to his higher lights. Over the potato he exercises the careful supervision of a medical attendant. " We advise that in planting, a small piece be taken off the end opposite the eyes, in order that the old tuber may decay, as it is found that when the mother potato remains sound, the crop is a small one." The magnitude of the maternal sacrifice demanded of the potato is only equalled by the potato's rakish propensities when left to its own devices. A danger, you read in another catalogue, " frequently recurring is the gradual undermining of the constitution of the potato." You must study the catalogue if you want to know how to build it up again. Here and there you come across a " tip " which possibly most gardeners have beard of, but of which certainly not every gardener makes use. Cabbage and broccoli seed is often sown in vain. "To prevent the ravages of birds and mice, it will be found a good plan to steep the seed for about fifteen minutes in paraffin oil before sowing." How many gardeners could name a dozen cabbages at sight? There are many more than a dozen in the catalogues, all in their own way attractive, But you must be thoroughly familiar with a kitchen-garden seed catalogue to appreciate' the the nuances of description which tell the important truths. There might be an examination held, perhaps, in proficiency • in deciding on the meaning of catalogue-characters. Thus : "Fine handsome fruit, scarlet fleshed, prettily netted, luscious flavour ; it is a fine setter and good constitution." A setter that is prettily netted is a riddle for gamekeepers and fisher- men; but the answer is a melon. "Dark brown skin, good keeper, firm and heavy "; that is an onion. "The fruits are of an intense and brilliant colour, and of excellent flavour, and are borne in large clusters from fifty to seventy all united to one footetalk, resembling a huge branch of grapes ; a splendid long-keeping variety." It sounds like the fruit that Joshua and Caleb brought back from the brook of Eslicol; it turns out to be an admirable sort of tomato. On the opposite page you may read of " one of the most popular of radishes." These are within the reach of all, and the gardener at work among the catalogues merely has to select; the seeds do the rest. But it is when the catalogues suggest impossibilities that they are really inspiring. Gardeners who have such pleasant accessories to a kitchen-garden as cellars, or out- houses where the temperature can be maintained at 50°, can, of course, do what they please. But it is when the owner of a small garden wants to grow his own mushrooms that he realises the ambitions which a catalogue can inspire and
quench. " The cultivation of this nutritious esculent is extremely simple. The mushroom-beds are best made under cover, say under the benches of a greenhouse Should the bed get at all dry, water with tepid water; keep the walls and floor, &c., about the place damp so as to ensure a moist atmosphere and watering the bed unnecessary." But suppose the greenhouse is also wanted for flowers, which need watering? Suppose it is the only greenhouse P "The high quality of the mushroom spawn we offer is beyond question Eight bricks will spawn a bed 12 feet by 4 feet." There is nothing more tempting in the catalogues; the ease, the speed, the certainty of the crop would allure the most apathetic. The only requisite needed in the small garden, besides the eight bricks, is the vacant, well-heated greenhouse set aside for the sole purpose of growing mushrooms.