There are many who say this and that of Sir John Mandeville, his
Travels; that he was not; that he was a Frenchman; that no one knows who
he was. For years he was to me an English Knight who lived at St.
Albans, and from there set out to travel over all the world seeking
adventure, and relating the peculiarities of his journey in fascinating,
if slightly imaginative, language. I rejoiced when he saw a board from
the Noah’s Ark, when he talked with the Cham of Tartary; and told of the
wonders of Ind. But comes along this and that expert who upset the
figure of the gallant Knight, and heave him from horse to ground as a
dummy figure, and burn him for firewood as a fallen idol. And why? It
appears that Sir John is no more a real being than Homer, or Æsop, or
any other of those personal names for great bundles of collected
literature; and is a literature all by himself, and a series of impudent
thieves who stole travellers’ tales and jotted them together in a
personal narrative. For all that I believe in a figure of the blind
Homer, and the impudent slave Æsop who played tricks on his master, and
I firmly believe in a stalwart figure of Sir John Mandeville, Knight,
“albeit,” he says, “I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the
town of St. Albans, and passed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesu
Christ, 1322, in the day of St. Michael.”
There is one thing, a touch of character, put in, maybe, by the skilful
editor of these travels, that makes us lean to the man as being a real
person. It is his love of Gardens, and his pains to tell of them, and
the stories of trees, and legends. And whether one who confessed to the
fraud of putting these travels together—Jean de Bourgogne, by name—was a
keen gardener or herbalist, or whether it was a literary habit of the
fourteenth century (which, when I come to think of it, is so), somehow I
feel that there is a garden-loving spirit in forming the book, and for
that I love the man.
In his wanderings Sir John meets many things, and of these I beg leave
to choose here and there one or two of his anecdotes when they touch an
idea such as gardeners love. The first is of the True Cross, and the
story of its origin. All of Sir John I have read in Mr. Pollard’s
edition, than which nothing could be more satisfactory and clear
“And the Christian men, that dwell beyond the sea, in Greece, say that
the Tree of the Cross, that we call Cypress, was one of that tree that
Adam ate the apple off; and that find they written. And they say also,
that their Scripture saith, that Adam was sick, and said to his son
Seth, that he should go to the angel that kept Paradise, that he would
send him the oil of mercy, for to anoint with his members, that he might
have health. And Seth went. But the angel would not let him come in; but
said to him, that he might not have of the oil of mercy. But he took him
three grains of the same tree, that his father ate the apple off; and
bade him, a soon as his father was dead, that he should put these three
grains under his tongue, and grave him so; and so he did. And of these
three grains sprang a tree, as the angel said it should, and bare a
fruit, through the which fruit Adam should be saved.
“And when Seth came again, he found his father near dead. And when he
was dead, he did with the grains as the angel bade him; of the which
sprung three trees, of the which the Cross was made, that bare good
fruit and blessed, our Lord Jesu Christ.”
“And if all it be so, that men say, that this crown is of thorns, ye
shall understand that, it was of jonkes of the sea, that is to say,
rushes of the sea, that prick as sharply as thorns. For I have seen and
beholden many times that of Paris and that of Constantinople; for they
were both one, made of rushes of the sea. But man have departed them in
two parts: of the which one part is at Paris, and the other part is at
Constantinople. And I have one of those precious thorns that seemeth
like a White Thorn; and that was given to me for great speciality. For
there are many of them broken and fallen into the vessel that the crown
lieth in; for they break for dryness when the men move them to show to
great lords that come hither.
“And ye shall understand, that our Lord Jesu, in that night that he was
taken, he was led into a garden; and there he was first examined right
sharply; and there the Jews scorned him, and made him a crown of the
branches of the Albespine, that is White Thorn, that grew in that same
garden, and set it on his head, so fast and so sore, that the blood ran
down by many places of his visage, and of his neck, and of his
shoulders. And therefore hath the White Thorn many virtues, for he that
beareth a branch on him thereof, no thunder or no manner of tempest may
dere him; nor in the house that it is in may no evil ghost enter nor
come into the place that it is in. And in that same garden, Saint Peter
denied our Lord thrice.
“Afterward was our Lord led forth before the bishops and the masters of
the law, into another garden of Annas; and there also he was examined,
reproved, and scorned, and crowned eft with a Sweet Thorn, that men
clepeth Barbarines, that grew in that garden, and that hath also many
“And after he was led into a garden of Caiphas, and then he was crowned
“And after he was led into the chamber of Pilate, and there he was
examined and crowned. And the Jews set him in a chair, and clad him in a
mantle; and there made they the crown of jonkes of the sea; and there
they kneeled to him, and scorned him, saying, ‘Ave, Rex Judeoram!’ That
is to say, ‘Hail, King of Jews!’ And of this crown, half is at Paris,
and the other half at Constantinople.”
From these fanciful byways Sir John goes on his way looking, as before,
for curious things, and for marvels of trees and fruits. He tells of the
fine plate of gold writ by Hermogenes, the wise man who foretold the
birth of Christ. He passes the Isles of Colcos and of Lango where the
daughter of Ypocras is yet in the form of a dragon. And he goes by the
town of Jaffa—“for one of the sons of Noah, that bright Japhet, founded
it, and now it is called Joppa. And ye shall understand, that it is one
of the oldest towns of the world, for it was founded before Noah’s
flood. And yet there sheweth in the rock, there as the iron chains were
fastened, that Andromeda, a great giant was bounden with, and put in
prison before Noah’s flood, of the which giant, is a rib of his side
that is forty foot long.”
Then he finds in Egypt some curious Apples.
“Also in that country and in others also, men find long Apples to sell,
in their season, and men clepe them Apples of Paradise; and they be
right sweet and of good savour. And though ye cut them in never so many
gobbets or parts, over-thwart or endlong, evermore ye shall find in the
midst the figure of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesu.
“And men find there also the Apple of the tree of Adam, that have a bite
at one of the sides; and there be also small Fig trees that bear no
leaves, but Figs upon the small branches; and men clepe them Figs of
Sir John, on his constant look out lets no oddment pass him by, and the
more peculiar the better. It appears he would rather see a well in a
field—“that our Lord Jesu Christ made with one of his feet, when he went
to play with other children”—than many things political or notable to
the country. And he will never come to a country but he will mention the
state of its trees and fruits, these, naturally, being important items
to the traveller of his day who might at any moment have to fall back on
the natural fruits of the field for his food. So, when he goes by the
desert to the valley of Elim, he notes the seventy-two Palm trees there
growing—“the which Moses found with the children of Israel.”
Then he comes by Mount Sinai, and there he finds the convent by the spot
where was the burning bush; and the Church of Saint Catherine is
there—“in the which be many lamps burning; for they have of oil of
Olives enough, both to burn in their lamps and to eat also. And that
plenty they have by the miracle of God; for the raven and the crows and
the choughs and other fowls of the country assemble them there every
year once, and fly thither as in pilgrimage; and everych of them
bringeth a branch of the Bays or of the Olive in their beaks instead of
offering, and leave them there; of which the monks make great plenty of
oil. And this is a great marvel.”
Now Sir John, who had a great feeling for our first father Adam, came
frequently on stories of him and of places where he lived. And he went
from Bathsheba, the town founded, as he says—“by Bersabe, the wife of
Sir Uriah the Knight,”—and journeyed to the city of Hebron. “And it was
clept sometime the Vale of Mamre, and sometimes it was clept the Vale of
Tears, because that Adam wept there an hundred year for the death of
Abel his son, that Cain slew.”
There, in this Vale of Hebron, where Sir John says Abraham had his
house, and is buried, as are Adam and Eve, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah,
and Rebecca, is also the first dwelling-place of Adam after the Fall.
“And right fast by that place is a cave in the rock, where Adam and Eve
dwelled when they were put out of Paradise; and there got they their
children. And in the same place was Adam formed and made, after that
some men say (for men were wont for to clept that place the field of
Damascus, because that it was in the lordship of Damascus), and from
thence he was translated into Paradise of delights, as they say; and
after that he was driven out of Paradise he was there left. And the same
day that he was put in Paradise, the same day he was put out, for anon
he sinned. There beginneth the Vale of Hebron, that dureth nigh to
Jerusalem. There the Angel commanded Adam that he should dwell with his
wife Eve, of the which he gat Seth; of which tribe, that is to say
kindred, Jesu Christ was born.”
* * * * *
Here then is the legend of the first Garden in which Adam delved, and
lived by the sweat of his brow. Again Sir John tells us of a place where
he noticed the trees, especially the Dry tree, and it can be seen how
much a lover of Gardens and of growing things he was, and how he looked
for and noticed these things and set them down.
“And there is a tree of Oak, that the Saracens clepe Dirpe, that is of
Abraham’s time; the which men clepe the Dry tree. And they say that it
hath been there since the beginning of the world, and was some-time
green and bare leaves, until the time that our Lord died on the Cross,
and then it dried; and so did all the trees that were then in the world.
And some say, by their prophecies, that a lord, a prince of the west
side of the world, shall win the Land of Promission, that is the Holy
Land, with the help of Christian men, and he shall do sing a mass under
that Dry tree; and then the tree shall wax green, and bear both fruit
and leaves, and through that miracle many Saracens and Jews shall be
turned to Christian faith; and, therefore, they do great worship
thereto, and keep it full busily. And, albeit so, that it dry, natheles
yet he beareth great virtue, for certainly he hath a little thereof upon
him, it healeth him of the falling evil, and his horse shall not be
afoundered: and many other virtues it hath; wherefore men hold it full
Then Sir John tells of a field nigh to Bethlehem, called Floridus, and
here was a maiden wrongfully blamed, and condemned to death, and to be
“And as the fire began to burn about her, she made her prayers to our
Lord, that as wisely as she was not guilty of that sin, that he would
keep her and make it to be known to all men, of His merciful grace. And
when she had thus said, she entered into the fire, and anon was the fire
quenched and out; and the brands that were burning became red Rose
trees, and the brands that were not kindled became white Rose trees,
full of Roses. And these were the first Rose trees and Roses, both white
and red, that every any man said; and thus was this maiden saved by the
grace of God. And therefore is that field clept the Field of God
Flourished, for it was full of Roses.”
* * * * *
And later Sir John tells how he saw the Elder tree on the which Judas
hanged himself. And he tells of the Sycamore tree that Zaccheus the
dwarf climbed into. And of a plank of Noah’s ship that a monk, by the
Grace of God, brought down from Ararat.
Then Sir John comes to Java on his wanderings, and by that isle is
another called Pathen, and here he saw wonderful trees, bearing bread,
and honey, and wine, and poison. Of the tree that bears the venom he
“And other trees that bear venom, against which there is no medicine,
but one; and that is to take their proper leaves and stamp them and
temper them with water, and then drink it, and else he shall die; for
triacle will not avail, ne none other medicine. Of this venom the Jews
had let seek of one of their friends for to empoison all Christianity,
as I have heard them say in their confession before their dying; but
thank be to Almighty God! they failed of their purpose; but always they
make great mortality of people.”
Yet again Sir John has marvels of other countries, where are men
who—“when their friends be sick they hang them upon trees, and say that
it is better that birds that be angels of God eat them, than the foul
worms of the earth.”
And near by is the isle of Calonak, where gardeners would indeed be
evily distressed by reason of the snail—“that be so great, that many
persons may lodge them in their shells, as men would do in a little
By taking ship Sir John goes from isle to isle discussing the sights,
and arrives at length at an isle where—“be white hens without feathers,
but they bear white wool as sheep do here”; and he passes by Cassay, of
the greatest cities of the world, and goes from that city by water to an
abbey of monks.
“From that city men go by water, solacing and disporting them, till they
come to an abbey of monks that is fast by, that be good religious men
after their faith and law.
“In that abbey is a great garden and fair, where be many trees of
diverse manner of fruits. And in this garden is a little hill full of
delectable trees. In that hill and in that garden be many diverse
beasts, as of apes, marmosets, baboons, and many other diverse beasts.
And every day, when the convent of this abbey hath eaten, the almoner
let bear the relief to the garden, and he smiteth on the garden gate
with a clicket of silver that he holdeth in his hand; and anon all the
beasts of the hill and of the diverse places of the garden come out a
3,000 or a 4,000; and they come in guise of poor men, and men give them
the relief in fair vessels of silver, clean over-gilt. And when they
have eaten, the monk smiteth efftsoons on the garden gate with the
clicket, and then anon all the beasts return again to their places that
they come from.
“And they say that these beasts be souls of worthy men that resemble in
likeness of those beasts that be fair, and therefore they give them meat
for the love of God; and the other beasts that be foul, they say be
souls of poor men and of rude commons.”
Many other marvels did Sir John see, of which I shall not tell; but he
writes always with his eye open and easy for miracles, and talks as a
gardener talks of strange flowers and fruit, as of gourds that when they
be ripe—“men cut them a-two, and men find within a little beast, in
flesh, and bone and blood, as though it were a little lamb without wool.
And men eat both the fruit and the beast. And that is a great marvel.”
Then he writes of the wonders of the country of Prester John, and of
trees there that men dare not eat of the fruit—“for it is a thing of
Of Gatholonabes, he writes, and of the sham Garden of Eden he made, and
of the birds that—“sing full delectably and moved by craft.” The fairest
garden any man might behold it was. And of the men and girls clothed in
cloths of gold full richly, that he said were angels.
And of Paradise he cannot speak, making towards the end of the book
“Of Paradise ne can I not speak properly. For I was not there. It is far
beyond. And that forthinketh me. And also I was not worthy.”
And so, after a little more, ends Sir John, and so I end, though I love
him. Yet I doubt some of his stories.
There are many ways of regarding a garden of flowers; from the
utilitarian view it is a reasonable method of utilising a space of
ground for horticultural purposes, but I prefer to take the Olympian
view and quote from “The Poet’s Geography,” to the effect that a garden
of flowers is—“A collection of dreams surrounded by clouds.”
At first sight the somewhat expansive imagery of this definition might
appear over-vague and unsatisfactory where a very definite question,
like a garden of flowers, is concerned. But, come to see it in a lofty
light, and at once its truth stands clear. A garden is the proper
adjunct of a house, and a house, fully said, is a dream come true, yet
still surrounded by the clouds of infinite possibilities. It is always
growing, is a true home. Like a flower it expands to every sweet whisper
of the wind. Like a flower it shuts at night, or opens to accept the
dew. It is something so elusive that only the garlands of love hold it
The garden, to the real house, is, like the dwelling, a place of the
most subtle fancies. Every flower there, every tree and each blade of
grass holds mystery and imagination. The Gods walk there.
The flower beds (accepting the Olympian idea) are not mere collections
of flowering herbage, but are volumes of poetry growing in the sun. Take
your hedge of Sweet Peas, for example, and tell me what they are—no—tell
me who they are. There is a dream there if you like; and while you look
at them, and sniff them delicately, is not the fussy world shut off from
you by clouds. Sweet Peas are like a bevy of winsome girls all in their
everyday frocks, scented by an odour of virginity, something
indescribably refined after the manner of the flesh, and something lofty
in their removal from the earth after the way of the spirit. I wonder
how many people feel this.
Take it more broadly in the true Olympian spirit. Take it that a house
and garden is an Olympus to each man and woman who is happy, and you
will see that your heaven for all its head in the clouds has its feet
upon the earth. Then what do the flowers mean? Lilies with pale faces
like a procession of nuns. Roses all queens of regal beauty. Violets to
whom the thrushes sing, deny it if you dare. Majestic Peonies. The
plants of soft and courtly wisdom, Thyme, Rosemary, Myrtle. Lavender,
the House-dame, prim, neat, beloved of bees and butterflies, Quakerishly
dressed in grey with a touch of unsectarian colour, yet vaguely an
ecclesiastical purple; rather slim, with full skirts, with the
suggestion that Cowslips are her bunches of keys, and the Dandelion her
One could go on for ever.
And then the gardener, like those half-immortals who worked for the
gods, or some like a god of old, even, with god-like grumbles, and
They are a strange race, these gardeners, given to unexpected meals, and
And after that, from some fragrant bush, or waving forest of Asparagus,
a bronzed man stands erect, as if he had sprung from the bowels of the
earth, where he had been contemplating the mysteries of human weakness.
And how amazed they are with us and our foibles and follies. We
remonstrate—a question of weeds, perhaps,—and are listened to with
“Weeds!” says the being, “weeds!”
He emerges more completely from the bush, showing a hand occupied with a
lot of little twigs, and a knife rather like himself to look at—not too
As if a voice from the unknown had wafted over the desert, he stands in
wonder, looking reproachfully at those who have interrupted his toil.
“The weather makes them grow.” Of course it does. We knew that. We did
not come here to call Walter to ask him what made weeds grow, but to
know why he had not weeded, at our special request, the Carnation
From a cavernous pocket in a much-mended pair of trousers of a shape
never designed by mortal hands, he produces a quantity of felt strips,
and some wall nails.
We repeat our original suggestion, that the Carnation border is choked
“So it be!”
Then, after the great being has taken observations of the sky, causing
him to screw up one eye and wag his head sagely as if he had
communication with the unseen powers, he admits that he has been
watering the greenhouse.
“The Vines take a deal o’time about now.”
It would be useless to remark to this calm person that we found, only
yesterday, a dozen plants dying in the greenhouse, and all for want of
water. But, from a sort of foolhardy courage, we do say as much.
“Yes,” says the immortal, “they need a power of water. A good drop is no
We venture to remonstrate with him, saying, in a few well chosen words,
that it would be useful of him, then, to give them “a good watering
while he was about it.”
He agrees at once. “It would do them a power of good.”
Realising that we are drifting from the main grievance, we return hot to
the bed of Carnations. We admit to having but just this moment come from
weeding them ourselves, and in so saying we hope to make appeal to his
better nature. Nothing of the kind.
“I noticed,” he says, “you sp’iled some of the layers where you’d a-been
When we have turned away defeated, he sinks again to his mysterious
task, and it seems that the ground swallows him.
Then again, in the early morning, he seems to have had overnight talks
with Mercury, or Apollo, or whoever it is who arranges the weather, as
he invariably greets us with some curt sentence.
“Rain afore noon,” or “Wind’ll be in the nor’west afore night.” Thereby
giving us to understand that he has been given a glass of nectar in some
lower servants’ hall in Olympus, and has picked up the gossip of what
Jupiter has decreed for the day. We feel, as he intends us to feel,
vastly inferior. In fact we have given way to a habit of asking his
advice on certain points, which has proved fatal.
He doles out our fruit to us just as he likes, and we feel quite guilty
when we pick one of our own peaches from our own walls.
“I see you pick a peach last night,” he says. “’Tisn’t for me to say
anything, but I was countin’ on giving you a nice dish NEXT week.”
What is there to do but hang one’s head, and plead guilty?
Boys are his pet aversion. Whether boys have in some way a fellowship
with the gods (which I suspect), or whether they are victoriously
antagonistic, it matters not. They are to the gardener so many creatures
whom he classes along with snails, bullfinches, rabbits and wasps as
One can hear him sometimes invoking a god of the name of Gum. “By Gum!
them young varmints a-been ’ere again. By Gum!”
He then makes an offering to this god in the shape of a bonfire, the
smell of which is more than most scents for wonder.
It is when Walter makes a bonfire that he is more god-like than ever. He
stands, a thick figure, deep in the chest, broad in the shoulder, by the
pile of dead leaves, twigs, and garden rubbish, the smoke enveloping him
in misty wreaths, and the sun flashing on his fork as he pitches fresh
fuel on the smouldering fire. A tongue of flame, greedily licking up
leaves and dry sticks, lights on his impassive face, and a quivering
orange streak along the muscles of his arms. We are fascinated by his
arms. They contain, I believe, the history of his mortal life and
ambitions, and are a key to his hidden emotions.
On one arm is a ship under full sail, done in blue and red tattoo. Below
the ship is the word “Jane”; below that is a twist of rope. On the other
arm is a heart, the initials S.M., and an anchor.
When we were young these two arms of Walter’s were an entire literature
to us. We read him first, I think, a pirate, very grim and horrible, and
we translated “S.M.” as Spanish Main. A little later we dropped the idea
of the pirate, and took to the notion that Walter had been (if he was
not still) a smuggler who landed cargoes of rum from the good ship
“Jane,” and deposited them with the landlord of the “Saucy Mariner.” It
is noticeable that we left out the heart in all these romances. Then, at
some impressionable moment, Walter became a seaman who had given his
heart to Sarah Mainwaring, which name we got from a man who had given us
a dog, and in spite of that we accepted it as fact. I think we once
descended so low as to think that the whole thing had no nautical
significance, and was a secret sign of some terrible society who met for
purposes of revenge. This, of course, was the result of contemporary
Then came the great day upon which Walter was definitely asked what the
signs and pictures on his arms did mean.
“Mind out,” was all the answer we got, and Walter retired with the
wheelbarrow to his citadel—the potting shed.
It was tried again a little later, and this time met with a little
better response, because, I suppose, we had done more than half his
day’s work for him.
“I had them done at a fair.”
“And,” we asked breathlessly, “what was the ship?”
“Two shillin’s,” he replied, “and I never regretted it. Money well
“Was she your ship?”
“Mine?” said the god.
“Was she the ship you were in when you were a sailor?”
“Me?” said Walter. “I aint never been a sailor.”
The blow was crushing. We retired hurt, amazed, incredulous.
One day we tried the remaining arm, the one with S.M., the heart, and
the anchor emblazoned on it.
“What does S.M. mean?”
It was a moment of terrific suspense. We had drawn a mental picture of
some wonderful creature, half Princess, half like a schoolgirl, we
sighed after. The god was tying Carnations to wire spirals, and his
expression was limited, since he had a knife in his mouth.
“S.M. on me arm,” he said, removing the knife.
We nodded mysteriously, full of breathless expectation.
Walter began to smile. He stood up and surveyed us with his face alight
with the memory of some great day. To us he looked an heroic figure,
even despite the pieces of old drawing-room carpet tied to his knees
with string, and his very unkempt beard.
“You won’t exactly understand,” he said, mopping his forehead. “But I
tell ’ee if you’ve got to mind some-at after a day at a fair, you’d be
fair mazed. I give my word to my mother as I’d a-put sixpence in a
raffle for to try to win her a sewing machine, and so when the fellow
was making they images on my arm, I sed to un, I sed, put me S.M., I
sed, so’s I’ll mind to put in the sewing machine raffle, I sed, or else
if so be as I don’t I shall get a slice of tongue pie when I do get home
Our faces fell. Our hearts, full of romance, now became like lead. In
despair we put the last question, a forlorn hope in the storming of his
“And the other thing on your arms, Walter? The heart.”
“Cooriosity killed a monkey,” said he. “Mind out, I’m going round the
So was our romance killed. “Going round the corners,” was Walter’s sign
that all conversation was closed.
If one followed him “round the corners,” talk as one might, Walter
directed all his conversation to the flowers. To hear him address the
plants in the green-house was to think him indeed a god, who by some
magic spell turned the water in the can into a life-saving potion.
To-day we think that much of the soliloquy was done for our especial
“Just a wee drop, my pretty,” he would say to some flower. “Just a drink
with lunch. That’s right. Perk up now. By Gum, you do want your drop
regular, you ’ardened teetotaler. Hello, hello, what’s up with you?
Looks to me as if a snail had bided along o’ you too frequent.”
His great hand, covered with ancient scars, would lift the leaves
tenderly, and search beneath for the offending snail which, when found,
would be held up to view.
“Five-and-twenty tailors!” he would exclaim.
He would be instantly corrected. “Four-and-twenty.”
“You got your history wrong,” he used to say.
Four-and-twenty tailors went to catch a snail,
And the best man among them dare not touch his tail.
“Come the twenty-fifth,” Walter added. “That be I. So here goes, Master
With that the snail was sharply crushed underfoot, and the soliloquy
continued. He is with us still, older in years, younger than ever in
heart, with the same immortal personality, the same atmosphere of
friendship with the gods about him. He listens to orders with a smile of
amusement, just as if he had been laughing about our ways only an hour
before with some inhabitant of an unseen world. He carried his own
peculiar atmosphere with him of indulgent superiority and
warm-heartedness combined, just as the tortoise carries his house on his
back. If that story is unknown by any chance, here it is.
When the toy had once taken Jupiter in the head to enter into a state of
matrimony, he resolved for the honour of his Celestial Lady, that the
whole world should keep a Festival upon the day of his marriage, and so
invited all living creatures, Tag-Rag and Bob-Tail, to the solemnity of
his wedding. They all came in very good time, saving only the Tortoise.
Jupiter told him ’twas ill done to make the Company stay, and asked him,
“Why so late?” “Why truly,” says the Tortoise, “I was at home, at my own
House, my dearly beloved House,” and House is Home, let it be never so
Homely. Jupiter took it very ill at his hands, that he should think
himself better in a Ditch than in a Palace, and so he passed this
Judgment upon him: that since he would not be persuaded to come out of
his House upon that occasion, he should never stir abroad again from
that Day forward without his House upon his head.
This, as may be seen at once, is the Olympian aspect not only of the
house, but of the garden as well. We mortals do carry our Homes with us,
breathing a closer, less free air than the air of Olympus, when the
reigning monarch has merely to take a toy in the head to enter into a
state of matrimony. We, tortoise-like, are bound and tied by a thousand
pleasant associations to our plot of earth and our patch of stars.
Sooner than attend the ceremonies of the greatest, we linger by our
house and in our garden, so that though we may not boast with the great
world and say that we know “Dear old Jove,” or “that charming wife of
his, Juno,” still we know that we live on the slopes of Olympus, and
have a number of charming flowers for society.
Your old-fashioned man with a care to his garden will look through the
quarrel of his window to spy weather signs. This quarrel, the
lozenge-pane of a window made criss-cross, shows in its narrow frame a
deal of Nature’s business, day and night. For your gardener it takes the
part of club window, weather glass and eye hole onto his world. Through
it day and night he reviews the sky and the trees, the wind, the moon
and the stars. When he rises betimes there’s the sky for him to read.
When he returns for his tea there in the pane is the sunset framed. When
he goes to bed the moon rides past and the friendly stars twinkle.
No man is asked his opinion of the weather so much as the gardener,
except, may be, the shepherd; both men having, as it were, a
Professorship in weather given to them by the Public. It is they who
have given rise to, or even, perhaps, invented the rhymes by which they
Evening red and morning grey,
Send the traveller on his way;
But evening grey and morning red,
Send the traveller wet to bed.
There is a verse full of ripe experience. The evening sun glows red
through the lozenge-panes and into the cottage, lights up with sparks of
crimson fire the silver lustre ornaments, makes the furniture shine
again, gives the brass candlesticks a finger lick of fire, shines ruddy
on the tablecloth, and flashes back a friendly scarlet message from the
square of looking-glass. On the deep window ledge stand a row of ruddled
flower pots in which fine geraniums grow, behind them a tidy muslin
curtain stretches across the window on a tape, on the sides of the
window are hung a photograph or two, an almanac, and a picture cut from
a seed catalogue, above hangs a canary in a small cage. Only the
narrowest slip of window is clear, not more than one clear pane, and it
is through this that the evening sun streams into the cottage room. In
the morning when our friend rises, if he finds the room flooded with a
clear grey light, a light matching the silver lustre jugs, then he
quotes his verse, to be sure, and passing his neighbour says, “A fine
A rainbow in the morning
Is the shepherd’s warning
But a rainbow at night
Is the shepherd’s delight.
That sign is for the shepherd and the traveller by night, since no
ordinary being is expected to watch for rainbows by night to the
detriment of his night’s rest and his morning temper. But the shepherd
must keep a keen eye to such signs, and marks, day and night, all the
little movements of Nature, to learn her whims. As for instance, the
signs of bad weather to come:
That swallows will fly low and swiftly when the upper air is
charged with moisture for then insects fly low also.
That the cricket will sing sharply.
This last, of course, in wet countries, for in dry places, as in meadows
under southern mountains, there is a perfect orchestra of rasping
crickets in the grass. But in the north, on the most silent and golden
days, they say that the chirrup of a cricket foretells rain. Just as
As hedgehogs do foresee evening storms
So wise men are for fortune still prepared.
This they say, because the story runs that a hedgehog builds a nest with
the opening made to face the mildest quarter thereabout, and the back to
the most prevalent wind.
Again, and this a sign everybody knows:
That distant hills look near.
As indeed they do before rain, and many times one hears—“such a place is
too clear to-day”—or, “One can see such a land much too well,” and this
means near rain.
Like the swallows so do rooks change their flight before rain, and so,
also, do plover, for it is noticed:
That rooks will glide low on the wind, and drop quickly. And
plover fly in shape almost as a kite and will not rise high, one
or two of the flock being posted sentinels at the tail of the
Then, if the shepherd is near to a dew-pit, or any water meadow, or
passing by a roadside ditch he will notice:
That toads will walk out across the road. And frogs will change
colour before a storm, losing their bright green and turning to
a dun brown.
To all of these signs with their significance of coming rain your
shepherd will give a proper prominence in his mind, marking one, and
then searching for another until he is certain. His first clue on any
hilly ground is:
That sheep will not wander into the uplands but keep browsing in
Having taken note of this he turns to plants, particularly to his own
weather glass, the Scarlet Pimpernel, as he sees:
That the Pimpernel closes her eye. That the down will fly from
off the dandelion, the colts-foot, and from thistles though
there be no wind.
Of night signs there are many, but chiefly:
That glowworms shine very bright.
That the new moon with the old moon in her lap comes before
That if the rainbow comes at night
Then the rain is gone quite.
Near bur, far rain.
This of the bur, or halo, to be seen at times about the moon.
For a last thing they say:
On Candlemas Day if the sun shines clear,
The shepherd had rather see his wife on the bier.
* * * * *
Our friend, the weather-wise gardener,—and, by the way, there is the
Weatherwise, foolish otherwise—
has several things in his neighbourhood to tell him of coming rain, as:
That heliotrope and marigold flowers close their petals.
That ducks will make a loud and insistent quacking.
That—so they say—the cat will sit by the fire and clean her
That the tables and chairs will creak.
That dogs will eat grass.
That moles will heave.
In the garden he too will observe the birds, more especially that pert
friend to all gardeners, the robin. For they say:
If the robin sings in the bush
Then the weather will be coarse;
But if the robin sings in the barn
Then the weather will be warm.
I must confess that I have not found this come true of robins, any more
than I have found waterwag-tails coming on the lawn to be a harbinger of
rain, or that thrushes eat more snails than worms in the dry season. Of
this last I get enjoyment enough, for there is a stone in my garden to
which the fat thrushes come dragging snails. They give them a mighty
heave, and down come the snails, “crack” on the stone, until the shell
is burst asunder and the delicious morsel is down Master Thrush’s gullet
in the twinkling of an eye. The thrush is certainly my favourite garden
bird, both for his looks and his song, and the blackbird I like least,
for they are bundles of nerves, screaming away at the slightest
suggestion of danger. The robin is a fine impudent fellow and friendly
in a truly greedy way, following the smallest suggestion of digging with
an eye for a good dinner, so that if you are only pulling the earth up
in weeding you will have the brisk little gentleman at your elbow, head
cocked on one side, and an eye of the greatest intelligence sharply
fixed on you. Pigeons I regard as an absolute nuisance, their voices
sentimental to a degree, in this way quite at variance with their
selfish, greedy and destructive characters. So they say:
If the pigeons go a benting
Then the farmers lie lamenting.
Starlings are very handsome birds but as they live in congregations, or
like regiments, one can have no personal feeling for them, though I love
to watch them on winter evenings when they come in thousands from the
fields and fly to their roosting place, making the air rustle with the
quick beat of their wings.
The bullfinch is a gardener’s enemy, for he will strip the fruit buds
from a tree out of pure wantonness, and yet he is a brave bird and nice
to see about.
All the small birds give one joy though they be robbers or enemies to
young plants, or bee eaters like the blue-tit, or strawberry robbers, or
drainpipe chokers like the house-sparrows, or murderers of the summer
peace like the woodpecker with his quick insistent “tap, tap.”
In royal and fine gardens, of course, one must have two birds; the
peacock and the owl, for these two give all the air of romance needful,
though I have never myself regarded the peacock as a King of birds, for
he makes too much of a show of himself, and his wife is a humble
creature. I feel, rather, that he is a courtier strutting up and down
waiting the King’s pleasure; a place-seeker, one who will cheer the side
that pays. As for the owl, that dusky guardian of secrets, he is a far
more solid and trustworthy fellow than the gay peacock, and though he
snores in the daytime, his great round yellow eyes are open at the least
sound in his haunt.
This is far afield from the weather, so let us give the remaining saying
of birds that the gardener may notice.
November ice that bears a duck
Brings a winter of slush and muck.
That I hold to be very true.
There are still one or two rhymes that should be well noted, three of
When it rains before seven
It will cease before eleven.
March dry, good rye
April wet, good wheat.
If the ash before the oak
Then we are in for a soak.
But if the oak before the ash
We shall get off with a splash.
Then they say:
Between twelve and two
You’ll see what the day will do.
Cut your thistles before St. John
You will have two to every one.
The grass that grows in Janiveer
Grows no more all the year.
That flower seeds sown on Palm Sunday will come up double.
* * * * *
These are all very well, and what with one thing and another will come
true, at least as true as the rhyme that says:
A mackerel sky
Is very wet, or very dry.
Still it is really to the wind that the gardener looks most, and if he
have a weathercock in his garden (which with a sundial, a rain gauge,
and an outside thermometer he should always have) he will note each turn
of the wind. If he has no weathercock then he will read the wind by the
smoke of chimneys, or the turn of the leaves of trees.
And, after regarding the wind, he may remember this:
When it rains with the wind in the east,
It rains for twenty four hours at least.
And this also:
When the wind is in the south,
’Tis in the rain’s mouth;
When the wind is in the east
’Tis neither good for man nor beast.
This weather lore is naturally gleaned out of many years, some of the
sayings being of real antiquity, others, perhaps, newly coined, though I
fancy not. In spite of them you will find every gardener has a different
manner of reading the sky and the wind, some having it that mares-tails
in the sky come after great storms, others that they are the portent of
a gale. Some, if asked will reply to a question on the weather:
“With these frostises o’ nights, and the wind veered roun’ apint west,
and taking into consideration the time o’ year, and the bad
harvest”—then follows a long look into the heavens—“I don’t say but what
’er won’t rain, but then again, I dunno, perhaps come the breeze keeps
off, us mighten have quite a tidy drop.” This you are at liberty to
translate which way you choose, since the advice is generally followed
by a portentous wink, or, at least, some motion of an eyelid curiously
It is Winter, and when it is winter the earth is very secret, but it
lies like pie-crust promises waiting to be broken. A little graveyard of
the tombs of seeds and bulbs spreads before one’s eyes. Each tomb has a
nice headstone of white with the name of the buried life below written
upon it. The virtues of the buried are not written in so many words, but
their names suffice for that. In my imagination I see my graveyard like
HERE LIES BURIED
ROSE COLOURED TULIP
WHO CAME ACROSS THE SEAS
FROM THE KINGDOM
UNDER THIS EARTH
AND ONE HUNDRED OF HER SISTERS
ARE WAITING FOR THE SPRING
WHEN THEY WILL UNFOLD THEMSELVES
FROM THEIR LONG SLEEP AND ADORN
WITH THEIR PLEASANT FACES THE SOUTH
BORDER FACING THE STUDY WINDOW
That I see most clearly written over the spot where I tucked the hundred
and one beautiful sisters in their bed of rich brown earth, and I am
looking for the time when the graveyard shall begin to be green with the
shafts of their first leaves. Besides these, there are the headsticks to
the Carnations, but this patch of the graveyard is different since the
tufts of Carnation grass make long grey lines against the brown earth.
Somewhere, in each of these grey tufts, is hidden the beautiful germ of
life that is growing, growing all the time, and the wonderful chemical
process is at work there (for all the plants look so silent and quiet),
that is mixing colours and rejecting colours, and is secreting wax, and
preparing perfume. Of all moments in a garden this is to me the most
wonderful. No glory of colour or variety of shape; no pageant of ripe
Summer, or tender early day of Spring appeals to me quite in the way
this silent time does, when a thousand unseen forces are at work. I have
often wondered (being quite ignorant of the chemical side of this) what
happens to that drop of fresh colour the bee brings like a careless
artist flicking a brush. Sometimes in a Carnation of pure white, one
flower, or two, will show a crimson streak—a sport, one calls it. But
more curious still is the fringe edge of the Picotee. How, I have often
asked myself, does the colour edge find its way to its proper place? How
does the plant manage to produce just enough of that one colour to go
round each of its flowers? I have stood by a row of these plants that I
have just planted in some new bed, and wondered at the amazing industry
going on within them. They are fighting disease, supplying themselves
with proper nourishment, mixing colours, and building buds and stems. It
is a regular dockyard of a place except that there is no sound. I
imagine (quite wrongly, but merely because an instinct causes me to do
so) a lot of orderly forces like little drilled men hard at work in
green-grey suits. Those who work underground are not in green but are in
white, but should they go above the surface they would change colour
owing to contact with the light, and this is due to the presence of a
matter called chlorophyll in the cells which gives plants their green
The underground workers are hard at it always, getting water from the
ground, and in this water are gases and minerals dissolved. The workmen
send this up to those in the leaves. Those who work in the leaves are
taking in supplies of carbonic acid gas from the air, and the leaves
themselves are so formed as to get as much light as possible on one
surface. When the light meets with the carbonic acid gas in the leaves
starch is formed. This is distributed through the plant to the actual
You stand over the row of Carnations all silent, all still, and yet here
is this tremendous activity going on, building, distributing, selecting,
rejecting. A thousand workmen making a flower.
The two sets of workers, in the roots and leaves, the one sending up
water and nitrogenous matter, the other making starch, are manufacturing
albumenoids for more building material. And it is more easy to think of
such creatures at work since a plant, unlike an animal, has no stomach,
or heart, or bloodvessels, and its food is liquid and gaseous.
Now of these marvels the greatest is that of the existence of life in
the plant on exactly the same initial principles as the existence of
life in man. That is the substance known as the protoplasm. It is too
amazing for me, and too great a thing to be dealt with here, but, as I
look at my silent dockyard, there are these protoplasms, in the cells of
these plants, dividing into halves and, so to speak, nestling with fresh
cells in walls of cellulose.
Think of the work actually going on beneath our eyes in the one matter
of the starch factory in the plant, where the chlorophyll (the green
colouring matter) separates the carbon from the carbonic acid, returns
the oxygen to the air, and mingles the carbon and the oxygen and the
hydrogen in the water and so makes this starch.
All this goes on when we open our windows of a morning and look out over
the garden and see just a grey line of Carnations we planted over-night.
The workers at the roots who are so busily engaged in sending up water,
are also sending with it all those things the plant needs that they can
get from the earth. Thus the water may contain iron, nitrogen, sulphur,
and potash. All that goes from the roots to the leaves is called sap.
This, when it comes to the leaves and all parts of the plant exposed to
the light, transpires, and so keeps the plant cool.
The stem, on which the supreme work, the flower, will be born, is, in
the case of our Carnations, divided into nodes and internodes, the nodes
being those solid elbows one sees. It is towards the supreme work that
our eyes are turned. It is part, if not chief part, of the pleasure of
our vigil to look forward to the day when the first faint colour shows
in the bursting bud. It is for this moment that we wait and wear out the
chill of Winter. It is towards the idea of a resurrection that our
thoughts, perhaps unconsciously, are fixed, to the knowledge that our
garden is to be born again, fresh and new in colour, in warmth and
sunshine. The very secret workings going on before our eyes, all that
Heavenly workshop where none are ’prentices and all are master-hands,
where the bee, and the ant, and the unseen insect in the air, go about
their exact duties, give one, as Autumn declines into Winter and Winter
rouses into Spring, some vague conjecture of the mighty magic of the
growing world, where no particle of energy is ever wasted.
Life in the Winter takes on this aspect of waiting wonderment. While the
rivers are in flood, and the fields are ruled with silver lines where
the ditches are full, and the Sun uses them for a mirror; while the
gulls are driven inland and follow the plough, and the starlings
congregate in the open fields, we prepare our pageant of flowers against
those days when the slumber of the earth is over, and the now purple
hedgerows are alive with tender green. St. Francis of Assisi impressed
the very sentiment on his friars, in bidding them make scented gardens
of flower-bearing herbs to remind them of Him who is called “The Lily of
the Valley,” and “The Flower of the World.”
So goes my workshop through the winter days, while a few pale ghosts of
late Roses linger on the trees, sighing doubtless to themselves, like
old gentlemen—“Ah, I remember this place before Autumn pulled down all
the green leaves, and long before all that ground was laid out for seed
plots.” And all the while my Roses are growing and, could one see into
the colour chambers of the trees, into those wonderful studios hidden in
the tiny cells, one would see these artists at work rivalling the blush
of morning, the flames of fire, the white soul of innocence, the crimson
of king’s robes, and the orange flush of sunset. There are men, I
suppose, who know to a certain extent how the secretion of these
wonderful colours is arranged; why this or that colour runs to flush a
petal to the edge, or stays to dye only the flower’s heart. But it will
ever be a marvel to me to see how these veins flow crimson, those hold
orange, and those again hold a rich yellow. The work that creates the
colour of a Pansy, that gives to the Sweet Peas those soft tints, that
shapes and colours the trumpet flower of the Convolvulus, and builds the
long horn of the sweet-scented Eglantine, gives one a joy to which few
joys are equal, and a feeling of security with the great unknown things
by which life is encompassed.
Looking again at the garden of promises, and thinking of it still as a
graveyard with headstones, I see one which is, to me, particularly
pleasant. It is by an old bush of lavender, the mother bush of my long
hedge; I read it to be written like this:
IMPRISONED IN THIS GREY BUSH
THE SCENT OF
IT IS RENOWNED FOR A SIMPLE PURITY
A SWEET FRAGRANCE AND A SUBTLE
STRENGTH IT IS THE ODOUR OF
THE DOMESTIC VIRTUES AND THE
SYMBOLIC PERFUME OF A QUIET LIFE
SHALL WEEP OVER THIS BUSH
SHALL GIVE IT WARM KISSES
SHALL STIR THE TALL SPIKES
UNTIL SUCH TIME AS IS REQUIRED
WHEN IT SHALL FLOWER AND SO
YIELD TO US ITS SECRET
There stands the bush all neatly tied, its venerable head at the moment
covered with a powdering of fine snow, and round it the first sharp
spears of Crocus leaves show, and the fat buds of Snowdrops, and the
ready bud of the yellow Aconite. All the garden is waiting, the
Pea-sticks are prepared, the paths have been cleaned, and I am waiting
and watching the little things. The trees even now are whispering that
it will soon be Spring, for all they look from a distance like a
collection of dried and pressed roots sticking up in the air, how they
are drawn in purple ink against the sky; but one day my eyes will see a
faint haze over them as if a little mist hung about them and was caught
in the branches, and then they will change so quietly that it is
impossible to tell quite when they began to look like very delicate
green feathers, and then they will change so suddenly that it is a shock
to one’s eyes to find them in a full flush of sticky bud and leaf, and
one says in accents of delighted surprise, “Why, the trees are out!”
Not every one takes pleasure in a garden during the Winter time, many
regarding it as a chill and a desolate place in itself, and taking only
an interest in the green-houses and the Violet frames; and few would
find a pleasure in washing flower-pots by the dozen on a rainy day, and
in putting fresh ashes on the paths, and in banking up Celery. But to
the keen gardener every inch of work in his garden is full of interest,
he realises the daily value of each thing he does, he knows of that
great silent work that is going on so near him, and so enjoys even the
burnishing of a spade, the rolling of lawns, and loves, as I think every
one does, the surgical work of pruning the fruit trees.
Then, when the promise is fulfilled, and the world is full of green and
colour, the wondrous alchemy of the Winter months shows its result in
the glorious painting of the flowers of Spring and Summer.
You can get no symbol finer than a path, no symbol is more used. Of
necessity a path must begin somewhere and have a destination. Of
necessity it must cross certain country, overcome obstacles, or go round
them. By nature you come at new views from a path and so obtain fresh
suggestions. A path entails labour, and by labour ease. It must have a
purpose, and so must originate in an inspiration. And yet the man who
makes a path ignores, as a rule, the high importance of his task.
It is a peculiar thing that paths made across fields, and made by the
very people whose business it is to reach from point to point in the
shortest possible time, are never straight. Their very irregularities
reflect the nature of man more than the nature of the ground they cross.
So unmethodical is man by instinct that if he were to lay out a garden
in the same frame of mind in which he crosses a field, that garden would
abound in twisted, tortuous paths, beds of irregular shapes, spasmodic
arrangements of trees, flowers, shrubs and vegetables, a veritable
hotch-potch. To overcome that he imprisons the wanderings of his mind,
divides his garden into regular shapes, and drives his paths pell-mell
from point to point as straight as his eye and a line will allow him.
This planning of a garden is an absorbing joy. To come new to a fresh
place untouched by any other hand and to work your will on it gives one
all the delights of conquest, and the pleasant fatigue of a war in which
you are bound to win. You can make your own traditions, founding them
for future ages—as, for instance, you may so plant your trees as to
force one view on the attention. You can emulate Rome and carry your
paths straight and level. In fact, that little new world is yours to
To me a winding path offers the more alluring prospect, just as it is
more pleasant to walk on a winding road where each turn opens out a
fresh vista, and the coming of every hidden corner is in the way of an
adventure. I have just made such a path.
To be precise my path is eighteen feet long and two feet and a quarter
wide. It curves twice, really in a sort of courteous bow in avoiding a
Standard Rose tree, and begins and ends in a little low step of Box;
this to prevent the cinders of which it is made from mingling with
gravel of the paths into which it runs.
I began it on a Monday. It is made through a Rose bed that was too wide
to work properly. At about nine in the morning the gardener and I stood
regarding the unconscious Rose-bed with much the same gravity as men
might regard a range of hills through which a tunnel was to be drilled.
I said, “This seems the best place to make a path through the bed.”
The gardener made a serpentine movement with his hand to indicate the
possible curve of the path and replied, after an interval: that such a
place seemed as good as any.
We then, with a certain lightening of heart after this tremendous
thought, walked into the bed and surveyed it. This tree would have to be
moved, and that one, and these half standards shifted. Good. It should
It seems that the earth requires a little ceremonial even when the
merest scratch is to be made on her surface. I am sure we wheeled a
barrow containing spades, a line, and sticks with some feeling of
processional pride. The gardener then, having come to a stop with the
barrow, spat, very solemnly on his hands. It appeared to be the exact
form of ritual required. In a few minutes we had pegged a way.
I suppose a spade is the first implement of peace ever made by human
kind. It is certainly the pleasantest to hold. A rake is a more
dandified affair, a hoe not so well-formed. The scythe and the sickle
have a store of poetry and legend about them, but the rake and the hoe
contain no romantic virtues. Although the plough is the recognised
implement of peace in symbolical language, it joins hands with war in
that same language—“turning their swords into ploughshares”—and so loses
much of its peaceful meaning, but the spade remains always the sword of
the man of peace, one weapon by which he conquers the ground and makes
the earth yield her fruits. For me the spade.
The gardener, having spat upon his hands regarded the earth and sky as
if to mark and measure the earth and the heavens, and them to witness
his first cut. The spade, lifted for a moment, drove deep into the
earth. The soil, pressed by the steel, turned. A new path was begun. How
long is it to last?
There are garden paths, so commenced, have made history in their day,
why not mine? Kings, Princes, Lords, Queens, Maids of Honour, spies and
honourable men have trodden garden paths, measuring their small length
and discussing everything in the states of Love or Country to come to
some decision. The Poppies Tarquin slew gave their message. The Pinks
that Michonis brought to Marie Antoinette grew by some garden path; that
very bunch of Pinks in which lay a note promising her safety, brought
her death more near. What comedies, what tragedies, vows made and
broken, kisses stolen and repented, have not had for platform just such
a path as mine.
At the first hint of broken soil a robin, pert and ready, took up a
position on a bare limb of Penzance Briar, and began to eye us merrily
just as if he, I and the garden were all out for a day’s worm hunting.
Said I, “Dick, we are out to make a garden path, incidentally to make
history.” For I had my idea of the “History of Paths” well at the back
of my mind.
The robin replied (or as good as replied), “If it’s history you’re
after, it’s insects I’m here for, so we’ll come at a bargain.”
Meanwhile the gardener turned another clod.
Said the robin, “I never saw any one so slow.”
Slow as we might have been we were quick enough in imagination. For one
thing there was the question of edging. Tiles, bricks, box, stones,
which was it to be?
Half-way down the trench we had made, just at the acute point of the
greater curve, the gardener propounded the question of the edging. He
leaned on his spade, and turning to me asked if I had thought to
something to edge the path with. Now my thoughts were far away from that
idea and were hovering like butterflies over a vision of the Path
Complete. I saw, for Springtime, a row of Daffodils nodding and yellow
in the breeze. For Summer I saw Carnations gleaming richly, and the
Roses all blooming. Overhead the driven sky hung out blue banners of
distress as if signalling for fine weather. Plumb to earth my thoughts
“About something to edge with?”
Almost before I had time to speak, he continued. I had begun with the
Every one knows what it is to come on the rocks in the soil of a
gardener’s mind. It is, as a rule, some old idea taken deep root which
forms a rock of resistance. Sometimes it is a rock idea about taking
Geranium cuttings, sometimes an idea about the time for pruning fruit
trees or the method of pruning them, sometimes it concerns certain
plants which he refuses to allow will live in the garden and so lets
them die. One is never quite certain when or how the objection will
arise. I had sent out a feeler for Box and I struck a rock.
“Box!!” he said in a voice of awe, as if the gods overhearing would be
angry. “Where am I to get Box from? And if I was to get Box, Box don’t
grow so high,”—he held his hand a mustard seed height from the
ground—“not in ten years. It’s awkward stuff, Box, to deal with. In a
garden this size that needs an extra man—and plenty of work for a boy
too, when all these leaves is about—growing hedges of Box or what not is
not possible. Not that I have anything to say against Box, far from it.
No. It looks well in some places, but if you was to ask me, sir, I think
it’ud be the ruin of this Rosebed.”
Said the robin to me, “The man’s mad.”
I answered quickly, “It was merely a sudden idea of mine.”
He relapsed into silence for a moment. Then he said, “flints.”
I knew it was to be a battle. I hate flints. Nasty, ugly, tiresome
eyesores. Gardeners love flints just as many of them love Laurels and
I said very rashly, “But where are we to get flints?”
Of course I should have known that he had a cartload of flints up his
sleeve. He scraped his boots, walked away, and returned with a jagged
thing like one petrified decayed tooth of a mammoth. This he thrust into
the ground, and then surveyed it with pride.
“That,” he said, “is something like.”
“Something like what?” said I.
“A double row of these,” he said, “with here and there one of a
different colour would never be equalled.”
I agreed with him sarcastically. “Never,” said I, “would they be
equalled for utter hideousness. Far be it from me,” I said, “to fill the
hearts of my neighbours with envy of this border.”
“You don’t care for them?”
“Chuck it at him,” said the robin.
“I wouldn’t be seen dead in a path bordered with flints,” I said.
More in sorrow than in anger he removed the offending flint, and we
resumed work. The last time we had used bricks for an edging they had
all cracked with the frost, so that idea was left alone. Not, of course,
that all bricks crack, but the bricks about here seem to be very soft.
I asked if we had any tiles.
He knew of some tiles, a lot of them, nearly buried in the earth and
covered with Moss. They were an old line running by the path inside the
wall by the paddock; the path by the rubbish heap.
“But,” he said, having the rout of the flints in his mind, “it would
take a man all day to dig them up, and scrape them and wash them, and
then he couldn’t say they would be any use when it was done. And in a
garden where an extra man——”
“I will do it myself.”
“Fight it out,” said the robin.
More or less in silence, and really in excellent tempers, we finished
the trench that was to receive the cinders and ashes.
I washed the tiles. There were exactly ninety of them required. I
started to wash them in the cold water of a stable bucket, and I
regarded each one as a thing of beauty as I did it. After having done
forty I began to think it would be a good thing to give prisoners to do
to teach them discipline. After seventy, I decided to recommend that
particular form of torture to some Chinese official. By the time I had
finished I felt that some medal should be struck to commemorate the
The gardener, at the close of that day, looked at my heap of tiles.
I said, “I have finished them.”
He replied, “I was just coming to lend a hand.”
To which, as I was not going to let the sun go down upon my wrath, I
answered, “Thank you.”
I think an ash-heap is the most desolate object I know. The dreary
remains of burnt-out fires make a melancholy sight, but I remember that
as a child that corner of the garden where stood the heaps of ashes and
ancient rubbish was as the mines of Eldorado to me. Here, if one dug
deeply enough, one found pieces of broken pottery, in themselves equal,
by power of imagination, to any discovery of Roman remains. To the
whitened bones I found I gave names, building from them adventures more
lurid than those of Captain Kydd. To the ashes I gave gold and jewels,
delving as if in a mine, sifting, with childlike seriousness, the heap
of fire slack, and coming on some bright bit of glass that shone for me
like a kingly diamond, I held it to the light and renewed the ardour of
my soul in its gleaming rays. After all, are not pieces of broken glass
as beautiful as many jewels if they are self-discovered and lit by the
light of joy? That corner of the garden, hidden by shrubs, by
low-growing nut trees and shaded by ancient Elms, has been for me the
Forest of Arden, of Sherwood, the deeps of the Jungle, an ambush, a
hiding-place, a tree covered island, each in its turn absolutely
satisfying to my mind. The sun’s rays shooting down through the branches
have found me seated, dirty, dishevelled, but incomparably happy,—a King
with an ash heap for a throne.
To an ash heap, then, I repaired on the following day, there to gather
loads of cinders and slack for my garden path. Already in my mind the
Roses bloomed by the path side; the tiles, evenly set, were leaned
against by blue-eyed Violas; Carnations waved gorgeous heads at my feet.
My friend the robin was there betimes and took upon himself to sing a
little song to cheer me. After that, with his bright eyes glinting, he
hopped upon the bed and inspected my labours.
The gardener coming upon me glanced at the row of neatly placed tiles.
“I’m glad I thought o’ they,” he said.
“Hit him,” the robin chirruped.
“You think they look well?” said I.
“As soon as I thought of they tiles,” he answered, “I knew I’d a thought
of a grand thing.”
So he took all the idea to himself, and went on solemnly pounding down
the cinders with a heavy stone fastened onto a stick.
And now the path is finished, and curves smooth and sleek between the
Rose trees, and answers firmly to the tread. All day long I have been
planting cuttings of Violas alongside the path; and behind them are rows
I wonder who will walk upon my path in a hundred years time, and if by
then they, whoever they be, will think our methods of gardening very
old-fashioned and odd. And I wonder if we shall seem at all quaint to
people who will come after us, and if our clothes will be regarded as
odd and wonderfully ugly.
Once, I remember, I saw into the past in such a vivid way that I still
feel as if I were living out of my date by living now. It was on the
occasion of some fête in the country which was to be held in some big
gardens. Certain ladies were presiding over an entertainment that set
out to represent a series of Eighteenth Century booths. The daughter of
the house where I was stopping had spent time, money, and taste in
getting very accurate and beautiful dresses of about 1745. They wore
these, powdered their hair, and placed patches on their cheeks, and
prepared baskets of lavender tied up in bundles to sell at the fair.
I saw them one morning start for the place where the fair was to be
held. They came into the garden all dressed and in white caps, and they
walked arm-in-arm down a path bordered with Pinks and overhung with
Roses, and the sun gleamed on their flowered gowns and on their powdered
hair. I could almost hear them say—“La, Mistress Barbara, but I protest
it is a fine morning.” There was nothing incongruous in sight, just
these walking flowers passing the banks of Roses, pink as their cheeks,
and the Pinks white as their powdered hair. I felt at my side for my
sword, and put up my hand to my neck to smooth the fall of my lace
ruffles, but, alas, nor sword nor lace was there.
In the ordering of paths such as I have written there are many ways, and
some are for paths all of grass, and some for tiles, and some for flags
of stone, some for gravel, and some for brick laid herring-bone ways.
Each has its proper and appointed place, as, for instance, that flags of
stone are proper by a balustrade where are also stone jars to hold
flowers and stone seats arranged. And brick, which of all the others I
most prefer, as it is more warm to look at and helps the garden by its
rich colour, is good in intimate small gardens as well as in big, and
gives a feeling of cosiness to old-fashioned borders, and is nice near
to the house, and is good to set tubs for trees on, or tubs filled with
gay flowers. Of grass paths, in that they are soft and inviting, I like
them well enough, but they are wet underfoot after rain and dew, and
need a deal of care and trimming; but in such cases as small set gardens
with queer-shaped beds and low Box borders, I mean bulb gardens, to be
afterwards used for carpet bedding or for a show of some one thing, as
Begonias, or Zinnias, or Carnations, they are without equal. They should
be kept very precious, and well free of weeds, otherwise their beauty is
gone and they have a lack-lustre air, very uncomfortable. As for gravel,
it is a good thing in place where the ground is low and moist, for it
will remain dry better than anything if it is properly rolled and well
made. Often it is not properly curved and drained, and Moss and weeds
collect at the sides, whereby your garden will seem unkempt and dull.
Indeed the garden paths are of supreme importance to the appearance of
your garden, as if they be left dirty, or covered with leaves or moss
they will spoil all the neat brightness of the flowers, and are apt to
look like an unbrushed coat on a man otherwise well dressed. This is
especially the case with broad paths and drives. How often one has
judged of a gardener by the appearance of his drive! The first glance
from the gate up the drive will give you a fair guess at the gardener
and his methods, and you can tell at once if he be a man of decent and
tidy habits, or a man to leave odd corners dirty and full of weeds. That
last man is just such an one as will burnish up his place on the eve of
a garden party, and give everything a lick and a promise, and will stand
by his greenhouses with an expression on his face of an holy cherub when
the visitors are being shown his stove plants. That man will be for ever
complaining of overwork and will wear a face as long as a fiddle if he
is asked pertinent questions of unweeded paths. “Such a work,” he will
say, “should be done by an extra boy. As for me, am I not by day and by
night protecting the peas from the birds, and the dahlias from earwigs,
and the melons from the ravages of slugs?” And you may know from this
that he is the type of man who loses grape scissors, and who leaves bast
about, and mislays his trowel, and neglects to give water to your
favourite plants, so that they wither and die. No. Look well that you
get a man who is fond of keeping himself clean, and he will keep his
paths clean, as is the case in a man I know who started a fruit garden
in the country. He, it was, who showed me his men working on a Saturday
afternoon at cleaning up the paths. And when I stood amazed at this he
took me into the shed where the tools were kept, and there I saw spades
shining like silver, and forks burnished wonderfully, and everything
very orderly. I clapped my hands, and looked round still in wonder, for
I marvelled to see such neatness and order in a place that is the shrine
of disorder—as tool sheds, potting sheds, and the like, which are a
medley of stick, earth, leafmould, old pricking-out boxes, tools, wire,
and other miscellaneous objects. And I marvelled still more to see
through the open door men at work—on the afternoon devoted to
holiday—picking leaves from the paths, and setting the place in order.
I said, “This is well done indeed.”
And he answered, that this was the secret of all good gardening, pride
and carefulness, and that now he had shown them the way his men were so
proud of their tool-shed that they brought admiring friends to see it of
a Sunday afternoon. Then I knew if there was money to be made growing
fruit in England (which there is) then this man would make it (which he
Now this talk of paths gives one the idea that people do not here make
enough of their paths, as the Japanese do, for there they are skilled in
small gardens, and especially in landscape gardens on a tiny scale,
making little hills and woods, and views, lakes, streams, and rock
gardens in a space about the size of the average suburban garden. Then
they are very choice of trees, and value the turning colour of Maples,
and the droop of Wisteria, and the shape and blossom of Plum and Cherry
trees as fine garden ornaments, while we grow our wonderful lawns. Our
lawns, indeed, are remarked by all the world, and wherever you see the
words “English Gardens” abroad you will know that the people have made a
lawn and watered it, and are proud of its fat smooth surface of velvet.
But we make the mistake, I think, of growing forest trees on the edge of
our lawns and do not enough encourage the wonderful and beautiful
varieties of flowering shrubs that there be. Above all we seem to have a
passion for dank, black, lustreless Ivy, beloved only of cats, spiders
and snails. I have seen many beautiful walls of stone and brick utterly
destroyed and defaced by ill-growing Ivy, where the bare walls would
give a fine warm background to our flowers.
The great thing in paths is to make them a little secret, leading round
trees to a fresh view, and interlacing them in pretty and quaint ways,
but we, a conservative people, are ill-disposed to cut new paths except
in new gardens, and often leave badly designed paths for lack of a
little good courage. But we are learning by degrees, and I think the
abominations of gardening are leaving us, such as the monkey-puzzle tree
in the centre of a round bed, and the rows of half-moon beds cut by the
side of our lawns and filled with Geraniums and Lobelias, and the rustic
seat (horror!), and the rustic summer-house made of rough pieces of tree
limbs badly nailed together (horror of horrors!). Now we know more of
the way to make pergolas, and terraces, and how to build summer-houses,
and the curse of the Mid-Victorian gardening is come to an end with the
antimacassar, and the wax fruit under a glass case, and the sofa with
Of course, true gardening is the work and interest of a lifetime, like
the collecting of objects of Art, and as such inspires much the same
eager passion and healthy rivalry. Therefore let the setting of your
collection be as perfect as possible, and those paths leading to the
choice collections as fine as the velvet on which priceless enamels are
laid. Indeed enamel is a happy word, for what do your flowers do but
enamel the earth with their sweet colours, and in pattern, choice, and
variety, will surpass all things made by man alone.
And here I take my leave of paths, that great subject that should indeed
be a book to itself, for if a man sit down to think of paths he begins
to follow one himself, and, starting from the cradle, ends at the grave,
or, pursuing some path of history, comes into the broad high-road of all
learning, or looking up and observing the stars finds a train of thought
in following the path of a star. In a garden path, or from it, he may
meditate all these things with right and proper circumstance of mind,
for he has flowers at his feet full of the meat of good things, rare
remembrancers of history, and exquisite things on which to base a
philosophy; while, as for the stars, are they not the Daisies of the
Fields of Heaven?
It is a beautiful custom that we put flowers on the graves of our dead,
and is more fraught with meaning than many know, for it is as a symbol
resurrection that they are so placed, inasmuch as the flower that seems
to perish perishes only for a while but comes up again as beautiful, and
though it die into the soil it reappears all fresh and lovely with no
sign of the soil to mar its beauty. But it is more beautiful to plant
the graves of those we love with flowers, as then we symbolise that they
are alive in our hearts and for ever flowering in our thoughts. And the
shadow of the church over them is but the shadow of the wing of sleep.
All our lives, said a French King, we are learning how to die; and when
the time comes we cannot help but think of that Garden of Sleep where we
must be placed along with other sleepers, there to wait.
In England it has long been a habit to plant the more melancholy trees
and shrubs in churchyards, as Yew trees, Myrtle, Bay, and the evergreen
Oak. In this way a sense of gloom was intended, much at variance with
the Christian doctrine that proclaims a victory over death. But instead
of this effect of sombreness the presence of these evergreens gives an
extraordinary air of quiet peace, of something perpetually alive though
at rest. Often and often I have taken my bread and cheese into a country
churchyard, and have sat down on the grass and leaned my back against
some venerable monument, and there lunched. I take it that this is no
disrespect to the dead, that the living should join company with them
even to the extent of spreading crumbs of bread over their resting
places. I take it that the smoke of a pipe is no sacriligeous sight in
the neighbourhood of tombs; for it is but a friendly spirit prompts it,
and no violation of the repose of these dead people. No; no more than
does the distant roar of the ship’s guns at practice disturb these quiet
In more than one churchyard there are the stocks remaining where
malefactors were placed, and so seated were they that all the good folks
passing in and out of church were forced to pass, almost to touch the
feet of the wrongdoers as they trod the path to the porch. One place I
know in particular where the stocks remain, and a goodly Yew tree having
grown thick and strong behind the seat forms a fine back to lean
against. From here I have surveyed the landscape over the tops of grey
old tombs, now all aslant over the heads of the sleepers. Here the
squire of 1640 rests facing the Cornfields once he cut and sowed and
stacked. There a lady, Christabel by name, faces the flagged walk to the
stone porch. There is grass over them now, and the merriest Daisies
grow, and Moss covers the laughing cherubims, and Lichen has crept into
the words that set forth their marvellous number of virtues. Spring
comes here just as it comes to other gardens, and the trees bud just as
daintily, and the young grass is every bit as green, and the first
Crocus lights his lamp, and the Dandelion flares as bravely with his
crown of gold.
There are these quaint quiet churchyards over the length and breadth of
England, where the dead lie so comfortably under the fresh English
grass. Some are full of flowers planted by loving hands; Roses grow
beside the church and shower their petals over the grey stones of the
tombs, and Spring flowers have been set in the grass to nod beside the
headstones sleepily. Others are bare and bleak, standing exposed to wind
and weather on a hillside, with stone walls about them, and a church
buffeted by every storm; yet these are sometimes most peaceful gardens,
and Ling and Gorse scent the air, and twisted Fir trees, and gnarled old
Pines, all leaning over, wind-bent, stand guard over the sleepers; bees
busy in the heather, lizards green as emeralds, and the bright
butterflies give the feeling of incessant life; they give that glorious
feeling that the great pulse still beats; that Nature all alive is yet
at one with the dead.
The gardener of these our dead, what a queer man is he! What a peculiar
profession he follows! To bury is but to plant the dead that they may
flower into that new life. And he is usually a humorous character, a man
of well-chosen words who surveys his garden of headstones and has a word
for each. He is no respecter of persons, since in the tomb all are
equal, and to see him at work preparing a fresh place for burial is to
think that the gravedigger’s work is no melancholy task. In the heat of
summer, half buried in the grave himself, he sings some old catch as he
shovels up the earth. “Poor little lamb,” he may say of a dead child;
“well, thee’ll bide here against our Lord wants ’e.”
I have seen such a man, his clothes brown with grave earth, a Daisy
between his lips (something to mumble, as he does not smoke on duty),
and watched his face as the lytchet gate clicks. His daughter, a flower
herself, is bringing his dinner, which he eats cheerfully leaning
against one side of the grave for support. This, with a thrush singing
somewhere, and the wheeze of the church clock, and the frivolous screams
of swifts make death a comfortable picture.
Here we have Nature triumphant, the Earth with her children asleep in
her lap. But a monstrosity has crept into our graveyards—God’s
Gardens—and in place of flowers with their joy, their symbolical message
of resurrection, one sees ghastly things of bead work and of wax,
enclosed in hideous glass cases with a mourning card in the centre of
them. This is not seemly nor decent in a place where the Earth reclaims
her children, where nothing ugly should be. It is within the reach of
everyone to buy fresh flowers and to renew those flowers from time to
time, and they should be left, if they are placed there, to die. Away
then with glass jam-jars filled with water, with bead wreaths, and all
ill-taste and hideous distortion of grief, and let us have our offerings
made as if to the living, for our dead live in our hearts, nor torture
them with horrid and distressing objects on their graves. I would have
every churchyard a garden kept by the pence of those who have laid their
dead there to rest; and I would have flowers and shrubs planted and
paths made, and seats placed, so that all should be kept fair and
In Switzerland, where I was once, I saw the most delightful graveyard I
have ever seen. The church stood on a bluff overlooking a river, a swift
running noisy river that sang songs of the mountains and of the big
fields and of the bustling towns, a dashing river alive with music,
loving the sound of its own voice. Above was this church and its yard,
and a little below, the village. The church was low-built and old, with
a wooden tower on which a cock stood guard; and it was whitewashed, and
toned by sun and rain, and a clock in the tower marked the passage of
time, solemnly, “tick-tock; tick-tock.” Along the south wall outside the
church was a bench, and a Wisteria over the bench, and a little jutting
roof over the Wisteria. This bench, time-worn as all else was time-worn
(as the wall was polished by several generations of backs), faced the
graveyard. If you sat on this bench you might take a glance at a man’s
life there in one long look, for there was a mill near by, and an Inn,
and a shoemaker’s, and a forge—the blacksmith was the undertaker, too,
any one could see from the fact that he was making a coffin. Besides
these you could see mountains covered with snow and wreathed in clouds;
great stretches of country, a wood, and the river. What more can there
be, saving only a sight of the sea?
But what struck me most forcibly was the appearance of the graveyard,
for each grave had flowers growing by it, and a little weeping willow
planted to hang over it, and there was something so pleasant to me in
this that I was filled with delight of the place as I sat there. It was
a real garden, so fresh and bright with flowers and with ugly
bead-wreaths as are so usual in foreign countries, and now, alas! in our
own. And it was so homely to think of the elders of that place who sat
looking at the graves and meditating—very likely—on the spot where they
themselves would lie. I remembered then, as I sat there, the description
of the graveyard in David Copperfield, and the words came almost exact
into my head.
“One Sunday night my mother reads to Peggotty and me in there, how
Lazarus was raised from the dead. And I am so frightened that they are
afterwards obliged to take me out of bed, and show me the quiet
churchyard out of the bedroom window, with the dead all lying in their
graves at rest, below the solemn moon.
“There is nothing half so green that I know anywhere as the grass of
that churchyard; nothing half so shady as its trees; nothing half so
quiet as its tombstones. The sheep are feeding there, when I kneel up,
early in the morning, in my little bed in a closet within my mother’s
room, to look out at it; and I see the red light shining on the
sun-dial, and think within myself, ‘Is the sun-dial glad, I wonder, that
it can tell the time again?’”
Even as I remembered those words I looked up and noticed a sun-dial on
the wall of the church just over my head, and, curiously enough, just
that peace that those words give to me seemed to come to me from the
sight of the sun-dial, and the repose of the scene before me.
It is good, I think, to meditate on these things, and all who garden,
who are, as it were, in touch with the soil, must sometimes let their
thoughts linger over the other gardens where the dead are, and where
Spring comes as blithely as in any other spot.
Although the gardens that are what are called “show-places,” tended and
nursed by a staff of men, do not bring one into such close contact with
earth as earth, still in the greater garden is a peace no other place
knows but the graveyard. This is no morbid thought, nor over
introspective, but, I think, makes me feel more sanely and not so
fearfully of death. In the same way do the poor keep their grave clothes
ready and neat in a drawer, with pennies sewn up in linen to put over
their tired eyes, and everything decent for the putting away of their
bodies. So does the wood of trees enclose them, and good and polished
wood in the shape of coffin-stools is there to bear them up. And I have
heard many talk of how they wished to lie facing the porch of the
church; and others who wished they might be near by the gate so that
folks passing in and out might remember them.
This may seem a subject not quite fitted to a book which is to tell of
the Charm of Gardens, and yet I am sure lovers of gardens will know just
what I mean. To think of and know of the peace and beauty of certain
graveyards is to gain consolation and quietude such as the knowledge and
thought of all beauty gives. What a wonderful thing it is that we can
paint the earth with flowers, set here crimson, and there orange, here
purple, and there blue; range our colours from white to cream, to deep
cream, to all the shades of all the colours, to deep impenetrable
purple, more black than black, like the dusky eyes of anemonies.
When it is night, and “the dead all lying in their graves at rest, below
the solemn moon,” the thousand thousand Daisies of the fields have
closed their eyes, and the Buttercups’ golden glaze is mellowed by the
moonlight, still there are flowers gay in the sunshine somewhere in the
world. Though the garden is chequered in the blue-green light and heavy
shadows, and the owls hoot in their melancholy voices, still there are
birds somewhere in the world singing. And though, across the way behind
the wall, white in the moonlight, lies the dark churchyard, and all is
very still there, still, I think, they, whose names are carved there on
the stones, are not in the dark, and do not know the damp and mouldy
earth, but are somewhere in some world more light and beautiful than
The solemnity of this type of thought is seldom given to me by flowers;
it is more the breath of trees, and the deep places of a wood, that
gives one this feeling of hush and peace. Flowers are gay, stately,
exuberant, simple, but always joyous, as witness the pert questioning
faces of Pansies, and the languorous droop of Roses, the stately
propriety of Lilies, the romantic splendour of purple Clematis, and the
passionate beauty of the coloured Anemonies. In a garden are all moods,
from that given by a school of white Pinks, to the masterly exactitude
of the Red-Hot Poker, or the limpid and very virginal appearance of
Lavender. Youth itself comes in full blood with the blossom on fruit
trees; the slim elegance of childhood with the Narcissus and the
Daffodil. Daintiness herself is in Columbine; maidenly virtue is in the
hang-head Snowdrop. Zinnias have the melodious colours of the East;
Jasmine and Honeysuckle hold the spirit of the porch. Sweet Peas, all
laughing and chattering, are like a bevy of young girls; while the proud
Hyacinth, erect up his stem, his hair tight curled, his breath strong
and sweet, is to me like some hero of the days of William of Orange, a
hero in a curled full-bottomed wig. The Iris has the poetry of river
banks; the Sunflower peering over a cottage garden wall, spells rustic
ease. Fuschias I count very Victorian, like ladies in crinolines;
Geraniums also are prim and most polite. Wallflowers I place as
gipsy-like, a scent somehow of the wind on the road; while the
Snapdragons have a military spirit and grow in brightly uniformed
regiments. Carnations are courtiers, elegant, superbly dressed, yet with
a refinement all their own; and Larkspurs, like charity schools of
children, all dressed alike and out for a walk, on the tall stalk.
Primulas, deep-coloured or pale, I feel somehow to be the flowers of
memory; and Sweet Sultans are like Scots lords in foreign clothes. There
are a hundred others, all with some little fanciful meaning to those who
grow them, but all, I think, are full of joy; no flower is sad. It is
the trees, the voices whispering in whose leaves bring deeper thoughts.
There are those who say that happiness would come could we but find the
Blue Rose; and others that there are places one must need find like El
Dorado; and others that a magic charm will bring us the joy we desire.
They are all wrong. Happiness lies in the Rose at your hand, El Dorado
is at your door, the magic charm!—listen, there is a thrush singing.