TEN WEEKS IN A NIGERIAN GARDEN.
IT is exactly ten weeks to-day since we arrived at our new station, Jemaa, as beautiful a spot as any that Nature has sketched in this country of such varied and abundant loveliness.
Jemaa lies in an amphitheatre of hills, which does not in the least spell stuffiness, the station itself being eighteen hundred feet above sea-level. On our right, to the north, tower the Kagoro Hills, huge beetling crags, on whose summits, except on the sunniest day, swathes of cloud are ever drifting and brooding, and down whose precipitous walls —after heavy rain—the water pours in ghostly white streaks, with a dull persistent roar. Behind us, eastward, is the deep blue, sharply cut line of the escarpment, the Bauchi Plateau, and in front a steep fall to the river valley ; beyond that a steeper rise to the straggling mouse-coloured line of Jemaa town. Behind this rises the soft green hillside, which con- tains the wealth of the greatly discussed Anglo-Continental tin area. Looking day after day across to the gently swelling heights. it seems incredible that so much storm and.bother could be raised over a spot so peaceful and isolated. But there are tiny red scars on the hillside and the incessant dull boom of dynamite to remind one that it is not quite such untouched Nature as it looks.
Our house is a mud-and-thatch building, situated perfectly for the purpose of a view, but surrounded by a flat bare space of hard red laterite and gravel, so red as to make one blink, so hard and so bare as to turn the heart of any gardener to water within him. Still, as it was May, it had rained a good deal, we had a substantial tin of flower seeds from home, and this particular wilderness had got to " blossom like a rose."
Like most undertakings out here, it was necessary to begin from the very beginning, so, after a certain amount of pacing and planting of pegs, we marked out an acre round the house, to set a limit to our operations. The boundary was marked by a ligh t fence of split bamboos supplemented by slips of " aduruku," the tree universally employed further south for fences and enclosures—a slim, straight growth, with almost black glossy leaves and pinky-mauve blossoms.
The next step was trenching the borders, and the native labourers hewed and hacked the stony laterite to a depth of two feet, while a throng of little chattering, laughing girls from the town whisked about, each bearing a small basin or calabash on her head. This she filled with the excavated soil, scuttled down the hillside, shrieking cheerfully all the time, to throw it away and return with her little load of rich black earth from the sometime flooded river-bank.
While the borders thus filled up, the Sahib eat himself down with a sheet of paper and red and blue pencils, and designed for himself the flower-garden that was to be. Two wide, long beds running from the house-door almost to the fence, turning off at right angles, and then once again towards the house; half-way down an arm ran out, with its own little bent corner— in fact, a couple of "F's" back to back. This was the piece de resistance, most of the remaining space being devoted to round beds. My work, meantime, was the crowding of the verandah with seed-boxes, all duly labelled and surrounded with an atmosphere of intense anxiety and expectation.
We had brought with us a quantity of tubers of the big golden canna, " Charlemagne," and these, with careful sub- division, filled the borders. In the long beds we planted out double scarlet hibiscus and allamanda bushes, also brought up with us. Close to the fence we sowed thousands of creeper seeds, convolvulus of all colours, clitoria, ipomma quamoclit, corallita, doliohos, nasturtiums, aristolochia, moonflower, -wistaria, and stephanotis, and awaited results. Days of tempered sunshine and soft drizzling rain tempted me—and I fell. Down the long beds I trustfully sowed my " edging " plants, little things that must grow where they are sown, for out here they will not bear transplanting : linum, blue linaria, eutoca, yellow oxalis, nycterinia, white nemesia, and lantana, all arranged with a due regard to colour, a brave row of little white labels. . . . Then the sun shone fiercely, the clouds dis- appeared, the fine rain came no more, and I watched in vain for any sign between the white labels ; what time the Sariki and his farmers-in-chief sat on the ground before the Sahib, and with long faces reported dismally the total failure of all their first sowings. It was some comfort to know that, at all events, I had not been more easily taken in than the sons of the soiL But when that disastrous drought was over and the rains truly established, the seed-boxes were calling out to unburden themselves, and we cautiously transferred their contents out. side. Zinnias, cosmeas, and balsams are the first comers and the easiest to grow; given a cool evening for the transplanting and a good watering, they will calmly face any climatic reverse the next day. Sunflowers and marigolds are in some disfavour, and are relegated to " outlying districts," the far border where havoc may conceivably be worked by hungry hens, and the " wilderness " beyond the fence where last year's seeds are scattered broadcast to take their chance. A few dahlias and daturas were tucked into small spaces, where they have protection now, and later, when the shorter-lived annuals are gone, will have ample space to spread themselves, and gaps at the back were filled in with tall amaranthus and blue borage, which latter brings affectionate memories of a northern garden, long ago. Little fragile-looking plants of mimosa and eucalyptus citriodora, which sends out fragrance at the lightest touch, were given positions where in duo time they could "o'ertop the rest," and Tom Thumb nasturtiums dibbled in everywhere. The edges where all those lost tinies should have been were now planted with Indian pinks, which we knew from experience to be good value. Finally, we sowed a precious, precious packet of " Beatrice Spencer " sweet peas. and for the next two weeks we just hung about waiting for developments, pinching out premature buds from the zinnias, discrowning the balsams that threatened lankiness, restraining the precocity of cosmeas, and untiringly "earthing up" after the furious storms which drove across the garden, threatening to wrench it all away and fling the wreck into the river below. This is, to me, a most difficult time to get through in the garden, and we did the very wisest thing—we went away for a whole fortnight and tried not to agonize over the possible and probable misdeeds of the native caretaker, tried not to "wonder about the sweet peas "—audibly, that is—more than four times a day ; and now we are back. . . .
The fence is disappearing rapidly, and the colour on it looks like some gorgeous drapery flung over a balcony. Con.. volvulus, violet, pink, and white, " Heavenly Blue," starry crimson and white ipomcea, cool refreshing splashes of mauve dolichos, with bronze leaves and purple pods; the background white with great silvery moonflowers which fill the night air with fragrance, little fiery spurts of red nasturtiums, the royal blue pea, and drooping pink racemes of corallita. The stephanotis, tacsonias, and wistaria are slower growers, so are the Dutchman's Pipe and Kaffir honeysuckle; these will, we hope, fill the spaces when the smaller fragile creepers have had their day.
There are golden-crowned Charlemagnes' all down the line, too proud even to glance down at the coreopsis and gaillardias thrusting up and out among the green.
In the flower-beds the zinnias are strictly selected, only deep crimson, scarlet fireball, yellow, and bronze coral-pink having been permitted a place, to tone with the yellow allamandas and scarlet hibiscus. The shorter plants are yellow and white argemone and snapdragons, and the pinks at the edge are Snowballs,' all pure white; there is not one offending jar of colour. One bed of zinnias is a perfect picture; only three plants in a space of six feet across, one deep dark crimson, one a true lavender, and the third a pale cream, the flowers so enormous that our friends say, " 014 but those are dahlias ! " The author of that most charm- ing book, "Under Petraia," declares she can only tolerate in her Florentine garden one zinnia, and that a white one tinged with pale green, which she admires " in tall green glasses." I often think of her when I am selecting these for my "tall green glasses," and wonder if she finds, as I do, just the very ideal spiky dark grass that goes so well with them.
The rose-bushes have beds to themselves and are only allowed a surround of pink and white double balsams. These latter, too, are kept severely in their own classes; we have rejected all the ugly spotted and striped varieties this year, and have confined ourselves to four kinds only, all double: The King,' a brilliant scarlet; The Queen,' exquisite rose- pink ; The Bride,' pure white; and the most beautiful of all, unnamed, a clear pale mauve, like the double mauve primroses beloved of our youth. This one is allowed to associate with Her Majesty' as they blend so perfectly. The white balsams are specially arranged to be in their fullest bloom when, behind them, the Golden Queen' daturas open their double yellow, scented trumpets, with a further background of mimosa, and the mauve petunias are already spreading their carpet in front. Cosmeas, our greatest treasures, are grown in round clumps ; they are fragile folk and get terribly battered by wind and rain even when carefully staked. This year they have done wonders. They are reputed to "sometimes attain a height of four feet"; ours are well over five and still growing, and the flowers, mauve, purple, and white, are in their thousands and larger than I have ever seen them. . . .
The gardener, with her garden, is as tiresome as a hen with one chicken. I do not suppose mine is a scrap prettier than anyone else's, but its great claim to interest is its youth. I can scarcely believe that where this riot and glow of colour is to-day was, ten short weeks ago, simply a barrack square!
A visitor of yesterday remarked, " It is a tiny paradise," and the beauty of it is that it grows prettier every day.