I took them home and spent a whole morning in separating and cutting off the spindling tops to an even length of six inches. Literally there seemed to be no end to the plants, and when I counted them I found that I had nearly a hundred and fifty heliotropes, which, after rejecting the absolutely hopeless, gave me six rows for the bed.
For several weeks my speculation in heliotropes was a subject of much mirth between Bart and myself, and the place was anything but a bed of sweet odours! The poor things lost the few leaves they had possessed and really looked as if they had been haunted by the ghosts of all the departed chickens that had gone from the fowl-house to the block. Then we had some wet weather, followed by growing summer heat, and I did not visit the bed for perhaps a week or more, when I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself; for it was completely covered with a mass of vigorous green, riotous in its profusion, here and there showing flower buds, and ever since it is one of the places to which I go to feast my eyes and nose when in need of garden encouragement! Another year I shall plant the heliotrope in one of the short cross-walk borders of the old garden, where we may also see it from the dining room, and use the larger bed for the more hardy sweet things, as I shall probably never be able to buy so many heliotrope plants again for so little money.
Now also I have a definite plan for a large border of fragrant flowers and leaves. I have been on a journey, and, having spent three whole days from home, I am able for once to tell you something instead of endlessly stringing questions together.
We also have been to the Cortrights’ at Gray Rocks, and through a whiff of salt air, a touch of friendly hands, much conversation, and a drive to Coningsby (a village back from the shore peopled by the descendants of seafarers who, having a little property, have turned mildly to farming), we have received fresh inspiration.
You did not overestimate the originality of the Cortrights’ seaside garden, and even after your intimate description, it contained several surprises in the shape of masses of the milkweeds that flourish in sandy soil, especially the dull pink, and the orange, about which the brick-red monarch butterflies were hovering in great flocks. Neither did you tell me of the thistles that flank the bayberry hedge. I never realized what a thing of beauty a thistle might be when encouraged and allowed room to develop. Some of the plants of the common deep purple thistle, that one associates with the stunted growths of dusty roadsides, stood full five feet high, each bush as clear cut and erect as a candelabrum of fine metal work, while another group was composed of a pale yellow species with a tinge of pink in the centre set in very handsome silvery leaves. I had never before seen these yellow thistles, but Lavinia Cortright says that they are very plentiful in the dry ground back of the marshes, where the sand has been carried in drifts both by wind and tide.