July

By Vita Sackville-West

 

July 20, 1947

 

This is a good moment to think of your future stock. Plants, and even seeds, are expensive to buy, but by raising your own nursery you can get plants by the thousand if you wish, for no cost beyond your own time and labour. It is well worth saving the seeds of annuals, biennials, and even perennials, either from your own garden or the gardens of friends who may have better varieties than you have.

They must be quite ripe, and can be stored in little air-tight tins, such as the tins that typewriter ribbons come in, and won in September when they will have time to make sturdy growth before the winter. Pansies, Indian pinks, columbines, foxglove, forget-me-not, primrose, polyanthus, anemones, lupins, and many other garden flowers can be thus harvested. Sow them thinly in drills on a finely pulverized seed-bed, and move them to their flowering quarters in the spring.

Remember that home-saved seeds will not necessarily come true, as the insects will have interfered with them. All the same, it is worth trying, and you might even get an interesting hybrid.

 

If you feel more ambitious you will be well advised to buy some packets of the improved varieties from a regular seedsman. Messrs. Sutton, of Reading, have some fine columbines. Crimson Star, Scarlet and Gold, Longissima, a magnificently long-spurred yellow, and Azure Fairy, a really lovely pale blue, will all surprise you if you have hitherto grown only the old-fashioned kinds. The results of a pinch of seed from the grand new delphiniums (obtainable from Messrs. Blackmore and Langdon of Bath), if you can't cadge some from a friend, will put you out of conceit with the sorts that have hitherto contented you. Seeds of the hybrid Alstroemeria, or Peruvian lily, will germinate freely, but as they are rather tricky to transplant, I should advise you to sow them direct where you want them eventually to grow they like good drainage and full sun, and the Ligtu hybrids, pink or buff-coloured, are the sort to ask for or Alstroemeria haemantha if you want a flaming orange one. Cover the seedlings with bracken, or with the twiggy tops of old pea-sticks if you haven't any bracken, for the first winter of their young life.

 

Lilies may also be raised from seed, instead of paying half a crown or more for a single bulb. Lilium regale will come up as thick as mustard and cress by this method you will have to wait two or possibly three years before the bulbs come to flowering size, but think of the economy and of the staggered crop that you can raise, if you sow even one little row of seed every year.

 

Clematis will grow from seed, and so will broom; but as both these hate being disturbed it is advisable to grow them single in small pots, when they can be tipped out without noticing that anything has happened.

Cutting of many flowering shrubs such as ceanothus, can be taken in July. Set them very firmly in a drill filled with sharp sand, in the open in the shade. As with rose cuttings, you should put in more than you need. A closed frame or even a hand-light put over cuttings for the first ten days or so will help them to strike, but they will give quite good results without this.

 

July 10, 1949

 

One learns a lot from visiting other people's gardens. One gets ideas. I got a lot of ideas from a famous garden I visited recently; so many, that I feel like a wine-glass spilling over; so many, that I cannot compress them all into this short article. So in this article I will concentrate only on the hedges I saw in that famous garden.

Hedges are always an important feature in any garden, however small, however large. Hedges are the things that cut off one section of the garden from another they play an essential part in the general design. The only question is: What shall we plant for our hedges?

 

In this article I shall disregard the question of the flowering hedges; that is another subject, to which I hope to revert later on. I am here concerned only with the solid, useful hedge, deciduous or evergreen. We don't show nearly enough imagination about these. We still stick to such dull things as privet or Lonicera nitida, not realising that we can make a muddle-of-a-hedge, which has a solidity and a character of its own.

 

In that famous garden I saw many different kinds of hedge, all planted in an imaginative mixture. There was yew mixed with box, and yew mixed with holly, and holly mixed with copper beech, and hornbeam mixed with ordinary beech, and one hedge mixed with five different sorts of plants in it – beech, holly, yew, box and horn-beam, I think they were – but the most surprisingly sumptuous hedge, to my mind, was one made entirely of the copper beech.

 

We all know the copper beech as a tree; but few of us have thought of it growing as a hedge. Grown as a tree it has now acquired suburban associations. It works in with such things as Prunus Pissardii, very pretty in their way, but with which we are now only too familiar. Grown as a hedge, the copper beech acquires a completely different character. You would not believe the richness of its colouring. It has purple tinges in the depths of it, a sort of mulberry purple, and then Venetian red; and then the tips of the young shoots so bright a ruby as they catch the sunlight – oh, why, I cried to myself, don't we all plant even a short length of copper beech hedge? For my own part, I am certainly going to.


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