Monday, January 28, 2013

The Feeling For Plants

     One does not make a good library till one has a feeling for books, nor a good collection of pictures without a feeling for pictorial art. Neither does one make a good garden of any kind without a feeling for plants. This does not mean that the feeling must be born with the person. It would be a hopeless world if we could not acquire new sentiments and enthusiasms. One can cultivate a feeling for plants by carefully observing them, growing them, reading about them, and particularly by choosing the company of persons who know and love them. As soon as one begins to distinguish the different kinds closely, one acquires the feeling of acquaintanceship; every kind then has its own qualities, and every kind is admirable in itself. Plants have personality.
    The interest in plants is primarily, I suppose, in their forms. They are endlessly diverse. Vine, herb, tree, shrub, aquatic, they inhabit the earth and clothe it, and give significance to scenery. The greenery of vegetation is the mantle and the garnish of the planet. Leaf-forms, flower-forms, fragrances, shapes and colors and odors in fruits, twig-habit and bark and buds are all perfect of their kind. To admire a plant is to be keen in observation, appreciative of nature, responsive in sympathy and suggestion.
    The plant-grower has a special intimacy with his plants. They respond to his care; they come up slowly from the seed or the cutting; they take on new forms and adapt themselves to the conditions he provides. Often will one see a gardener run his fingers over the stem or branches and pass his hand over the foliage as if caressing the plant.
     The lover of plants enjoys them in their surroundings, in the places where they grow. When they seem to fit the place, or become a part of the general composition, they have the added beauty of association, one plant complementing another. The growth-form of one differs from the form of another; the color and fashion of bark are different; the foliage effects are distinct; yet they may not be inharmonious.
    The plant-lover responds to the plants as they grow in the wild. The bush by the roadside interests him; he looks for it as he comes and goes. The fence-row has its charm, even though he must cut it out to make room for crops. The herbs and the trees, the plant-forms in the marsh, all awaken a pleasurable response. He wants to transfer them to his grounds. It is well to have a nursery plot at one side, out of sight and out of the way, to which all kinds of things from the wild may be transferred. As they grow, some of them may be wanted for the grounds, and in any case, there is the pleasure of anticipation, of experiment.
    Much of the interest in plants is conditioned on the seasonal changes. In this are they unlike animals, and hereby do they have a special charm. The swelling of the buds in spring marks an epoch: the birds come back; the creeks are overflowing; a new odor rises from the earth; the sky is soft; the men and teams take to the fields. Then the buds burst, the leaves unfold and grow, the branches lengthen, the foliage is complete, the flowers come and fade, fruit appears; then comes the yellowing of the leaf, the dropping one by one as the autumn moves on, and finally the bare twigs go well prepared and secure into the great test of winter. Next year, will the miracle be repeated? We know it will!
    After a time one expresses one's knowledge and skill in the raising of plants. The kinds come to be familiar. The books and catalogues have a new meaning. Acquisitions are prized. Experiment is fascinating. One is proud of one's workmanship. Then does the growing of plants become a real enthusiasm.
    No modern home that has a yard is meeting its best opportunities unless it exhibits a discriminating feeling for plants. One owes it to oneself to cultivate an appreciation of plants, of gardens, and of landscapes. One owes it to one's family and to the children. -L.H. Bailey, Home Grounds: Their Planning and Planting

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