Madonna, if she be healthy on her coming, and is given healthy soil free from hot taint of manure, will live with you for years and love you and give you every season increasing yield of silver-white-crowned stalks, at the very time that you need them to blend with your royal blue delphiniums. But this will be only if you obey the warning of “hands and spade off.”
The three species of the well-known recurved Japan lily—speciosum roseum, s. rubrum, and s. album—have the same love of permanence; likewise the lily-of-the-valley and all the tribe of border narcissi and daffodils; so if you wish to keep them at their best, you must not only give them bits of ground all of their own, but study their individual needs and idiosyncrasies.
Lilies as a comprehensive term,—the Biblical grass of the field,—as far as concerns a novice or the Garden, You, and I, may be made to cover the typical lilies themselves, tulips, narcissi (which are of the amaryllis flock), and lilies-of-the-valley, a tribe by itself. You will wish to include all of them in your garden, but you must limit yourself to the least whimsical varieties on account of your purse, the labor entailed, and the climate.
Of the pieces of ground that you describe, take that in partial shade for your Madonna lilies and their kin, and that in the open sun for your lilies-of-the-valley, while I would keep an earth border free from silver birches, on the sunny side of your tumble-down stone-wall rockery, for late tulips and narcissi; and grape hyacinths, scillas, trilliums, the various Solomon’s seals, bellworts, etc., can be introduced in earth pockets between the rocks if, in case of the deeper-rooted kinds, connection be had with the earth below.
It is much more satisfactory to plant spring bulbs in this way,—in groups, or irregular lines and masses, where they may bloom according to their own sweet will, and when they vanish for the summer rest, scatter a little portulaca or sweet alyssum seed upon the soil to prevent too great bareness,—than to set them in formal beds, from which they must either be removed when their blooming time is past, or else one runs the risk of spoiling them by planting deep-rooted plants among them.
The piece of sunny ground in the angled dip of the old wall, which you call “decidedly squashy,” interests me greatly, for it seems the very place for Iris of the Japanese type,—lilies that are not lilies in the exact sense, except by virtue of being built on the rule of three and having grasslike or parallel-veined leaves. But these closely allied plant families and their differences are a complex subject that we need not discuss, the whole matter being something akin to one of the dear old Punch stories that adorn Evan’s patriotic scrap-book.
A railway porter, puzzled as in what class of freight an immense tortoise shall be placed, as dogs are the only recognized standard, pauses, gazing at it as he scratches his head, and mutters, “Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs, but this ’ere hanimal’s a hinsect!” The Iris may be, in this respect, a “hinsect,” but we will reckon it in with the lilies.