Finally! It seems as if spring has finally arrived. As we enjoy the warming weather, many turn their thoughts to their gardens, as do we here at the Wylie House. Our annual seed sale was a great success but if you missed it, don’t worry! You can still purchase heirloom seeds from plants grown right here at Wylie House. The Bloomington Watercolor Society is still displaying their work and Quilt Show will continue through April! We hope you’ll get a chance to visit this month!
Soon the garden will be in full bloom and looking lovely! Wylie House has a long tradition of gardens being located on the property. We know from the family letters that their plot of land originally included enough space for a working farm, allowing them to grow a portion of their own food. In addition to vegetables, the family also grew many varieties of flowers. Louisa, in particular, was an avid gardener.
In February of 1890, Louisa Wylie Boisen wrote an essay describing her love of gardening and many helpful hints for growing flowers. The following are excerpts from this essay:
“In the first of the oldest and best of Books, we read that when our first parents were created they were placed in the Garden of Eden where grew “every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food,” and may we not suppose that beautiful flowers were there also? Our Savior bids us “Consider the lilies” and well may we learn a lesson from them and from each and every flower that grows.
To one who truly loves flowers their culture is not a task, but a pleasure which grows with the flowers and increases day by day. To plant the seed, to watch the first little leaf as it breaks through the soil, to see it grow and develop into the full grown plant and then burst forth into bud and blossom which ripen into fruit will ever be a delight and a mystery which does not diminish as the years roll on.”
“Let us not forget to plant some bulbs also, for they will reward us with an abundance of lovely flowers—the tulip perfect in form and rich in color, the hyacinth fragrant and beautiful, the Narcissus, the Crocus, Lilies of various kinds—all seldom cut down by frost yet always the first to bid Spring welcome—there are few flowers more beautiful than these.”
“We may plant the [word missing] and Crocus in the shrubbery or in the grass and a bed of tulips and one of hyacinths will last for years if rightly attended to and they repay us richly for a little care. We are not yet quite through with flowers which are almost no trouble at all when once planted and growing, for just here I want to put in a plea for the cultivation of wild flowers in the garden. We have some beautiful wild flowers about here which bear taming exceedingly well. It would be better, of course, to give them a home as nearly like the one from which we have taken them as possible, but there are some which seem to thrive very well when brought into the garden. The large white Trillium makes a beautiful plant for the border, throwing up fifteen or twenty stalks each crowned with its pure white flower. The Celandine Poppy seems perfectly at home anywhere in the garden and is not satisfied with blooming once, but blooms a second time. The Virginian Lungwort, it seems to me, can hardly be surpassed for the delicate blending of blue and pink in its graceful flowers and only too soon flower and plant disappear and are seen no more till Spring comes again. There are many more which may be cultivated with success but I will only mention the Hepatica, one of the earliest blooming flowers, the Dodecatheon Meadia or Shooting Star with a flower resembling the Cyclamen, the brilliant red Lobelia Cardinalis or Cardinal flower which blooms in midsummer, and the Eupatorium which blooms in the Fall. The Trailing Arbutus does not flourish away from its native hills, nor does the Partridge Berry, but I am sure that there are many other beauties hidden in our forests which we would do well to bring into our gardens.
Having succeeded with these, we long for more, and we think we will try to raise some annuals. And now our trouble begins. The seeds do not come up, or if they do, they soon wither and die. Let us see what is the matter. We have planted all the different kinds of seeds in a well prepared bed outdoors at a uniform depth of an inch or more not knowing that the usual rule is to cover them about their own depth with earth, pressing the earth firmly upon them, afterwards covering them with paper or boards so as to prevent them drying out, unless there is prospect of rain soon, when they may be left uncovered. I think it is generally best to divide the seed, and plant some early in March or April in the house in shallow boxes, and transplant to the garden in May. The seeds of greenhouse plants I would not plant in the garden at all. The plants raised in the house will give us earlier blossoms, for we can seldom plant seeds in the ground before the first of May. There are some seeds though which do not bear transplanting well and fortunately they can be planted in the open ground as soon as it can be worked; this is the case with Larkspur, Candytuft, Poppies and others. Sweet Peas always do better if planted as soon as possible and will thrive best if planted from four to six inches deep in rich soil. The flowers of the pansies planted in the Fall are the largest and finest. The seed may be planted out doors but I prefer to plant in boxes and keep in a pit or Cold frame. A second planting may be made in Feb. or March in the house and transplanted into the garden; they will bloom in May or June, and make fine blooms. You can hardly make the soil too rich for pansies and if they are sheltered from the hot sun from 12-3 o’clock—getting only the morning and evening sun—and if they have plenty of water, they will flourish even in the hot summer weather and be radiant in the Fall. In planting seeds in boxes it is not necessary to make the soil very rich. Let it be good and well pulverized, but in the garden most plants like rich ground.”
“After we have learned to raise flowers from seed we are not satisfied until we have some pot plants—indeed some persons do not have any other kind. And certainly there is great satisfaction to be had in pot plants of thrifty growth. Even the very busy housewife who hardly has time to look in the garden can have a few house plants—to take care of them requires only a few moments daily and their bright blossoms and sweet perfume gladden and cheer her often weary heart. Pot plants usually need rich soil and plenty of water and light and heat of course. In Summer we can hardly give them enough water, in winter, especially in very cold weather, they need but little. In Summer it is well if they can be sheltered from the mid-day sun, in Winter give all the sunlight possible. Chinese Primroses, Begonias and some others will do well if not exposed to the direct rays of the sun at all, but I would rather give them sunlight even if they droop a little under it at midday. The Geranium is not a favorite with all, but there is no other plant which repays us better for our care than the Geranium in all its varieties and which is more long suffering under neglect. The Amateur cannot find any plant more suitable to begin with. It is easily rooted from cuttings—with the exception of the Apple Geranium which grows best from seed—and it will grow in almost any kind of soil. It will bear the hottest sun and will not die if once in a while we forget to water it. It has no insect enemies and is very easily kept thro’ the winter. And then in each variety the leaf is beautiful and in some the fragrance is delightful; while for profusion of bloom it can hardly be surpassed. During the whole Summer the Zonale Geranium is seldom without flowers, and the colors range from white through every shade of red with flowers both single and double. The Rose, the Queen of flowers, does well both as a pot plant and as a bedding plant. I speak now of the Monthly Rose—and when grown in perfection what is more beautiful! Unlike the Geranium it can not always be depended upon. Sometimes our bushes are loaded with beautiful and fragrant blossoms, and again they fail to respond to the most careful treatment, the leaves turn yellow and drop off and the plant dies a lingering death and we cannot discover the cause. And then the rose slug and the scale bug, the thrips, the aphis and the red spider all must have a taste of it at one time or another and our beautiful roses are blighted and we are in despair. We do not give up thought and we generally succeed in having some roses in the course of the year.”
“But time fails me to speak of the many beautiful flowers so dear to every flower-loving heart. The culture of flowers when once we become interested in it is of peculiar fascination and the great danger is that [we] can never be satisfied but are always wanting more. If we could confine ourselves to a few plants and keep them always in the highest state of cultivation it would be better and then their care would never be a burden but only a labor of love and a source of recreation.
Does it pay? I answer,Yes. Not always in dollars and cents, but in health and strength and pleasure and in creating a love for the beautiful and pure. Teach the children to love flowers, let the boys help their Mothers and Sisters, give them a few plants of their own to care for. Let the girls put on their sunbonnets and gloves if they choose, and rubbers, and go into the garden with a trowel and a rake and after the heavy digging is done, let them plant the seeds and pull up the weeds, transplant the seedlings and love and care for the tender plants. What if a little healthful sunburn darkens their skin or a few freckles even dare to show themselves. Their cheeks will catch the red of the rose, their eyes will grow brighter and their spirits lighter. The love of the good and true and beautiful would take the place of the love of pleasure and of dress which ruins so many girls. And our boys would not live to linger on the hot and dusty street corners, where so much evil is learned, but would be content to stay at home and help make home beautiful and to learn the great lesson which Nature would teach us. That floriculture pays financially too, we must believe when we see the many beautiful, floral catalogues which are now being sent broadcast over our land. While some of the illustrations and descriptions may be exaggerated yet upon the whole we find that the florists deal honestly with us.
As I close this imperfect and incomplete paper I would like to pay a tribute of respect and gratitude to Peter Henderson, the well known florist of New York who died last month. I do not know of any one who has done more to help the Amateur than he. He had no secrets of trade but shared with his customers all that he thought would prove helpful to them. His books, “Practical Floriculture,” “Gardening for Pleasure,” “Gardening for Profit,” “Garden and Farm Topics,” and “Handbook of Plants and Horticulture” are invaluable to the Amateur and to the professional gardener alike, and he will be lamented by many unseen and unknown friends in many lands.”