Monday, 7 January 2013

First Plantings 3

From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
I see that the poet-laureate has been taken to  task by one of his critics for his defective “orientation”, and possibly mine will be considered equally faulty when I say that the garden (which is in the shape of a Latin cross, minus the upper part) lies southeast and southwest, the shrubbery being the southeastern boundary.  It is entered from the court-yard in front of the house, which no doubt was originally the threshing-floor.  Entering this court-yard, through the arch to which I have already alluded, the ground slopes upwards  to the door of the house by a very gentle ascent; about a third of the space is enclosed by a low brick wall, four feet in height at its starting-point, but almost flush with the pavement at the top.  This enclosure had been intended as an azalea-bed, as the soil is composed entirely of decayed castagna, which in Tuscany is the equivalent for, and the nearest approach to, our peat.  There was very little in this bed when we first came; a fine old camellia-tree with semi-double scarlet flowers and big yellow anthers, a very old bush of Magnolia fiscata (a plant I had only once seen in England, and that was at Kew; I was familiar with it in China, where the Chinese women make necklaces of its flowers, as English babies thread daisies), a common rhododendron, one or two semi-moribund azaleas, and, at the upper end, a big cherry tree.
I had hoped to lift some of the paving-stones on the right hand side of the court-yard, so as to form a small border against the house, where we could plant creepers.  But unfortunately we found the over-flow pipe of one of the garden-cisterns ran down there, and it was only at the upper part that a paving-stone here and here could be moved, good soil inserted, and plants put in.  In the angle formed by the wall at the side of the arch, we placed one of the large terra-cotta lemon-tubs, conche; and planting in these is really equivalent to the open ground, and the same maybe said of the long magnolia pots several of which we put against the house wall, under the dining-room windows.  The house itself was entered by two wide, long steps, and was, therefore, well above the ground, beneath which was extensive cellarage.  Many years ago an architect friend had impressed upon me never to take a house built on the ground.  I have often blessed him for this good advice, for, even in this climate, and in the hottest day of summer, I can tell as soon as I enter a house if there is no cellarage beneath the ground-floor rooms; and in England, the want of it would soon spell rheumatism to a fearful extent.   On the left of these steps, as you entered the house, there ran all along, beneath the drawing-room windows, what looked like two stone benches, one raised above the other.  Some years after, when I had found it impossible to succeed in growing roses and other creepers in pots, I got a bricklayer to unpick, so to say, these benches, wishing to see if it were possible to plant in the earth beneath, so as to cover the walls on this side; and we then found that they were only composed brick and mortar cemented over, and were hollow inside.  So by a liberal supply of good soil beneath  and having made two openings above, we were able to plant our roses etc., satisfactorily, and all that side of the house is now covered with greenery in English fashion.  The benches themselves were so admirably adapted   for displaying pots of flowers to the best advantage, that we were much envied their possession by many people with larger and more pretentious gardens than mine could ever lay claim to be.

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