Gateway to the Classics: Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella B. Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by  Arabella B. Buckley

Wild Flowers and Garden Flowers

Now you know how wild plants grow, how insects help to make the seeds, and how plants have to defend themselves from enemies which would eat their leaves or steal their honey.

Next let us look at the flowers in our gardens and see how far they are like the wild ones in the fields. All garden plants grow wild in some part of the world. We have taken them into our gardens, and made their flowers larger and brighter. Some still live wild in England, others have been brought from foreign countries.

The forget-me-nots in the garden border are very much the same as those we find in the lanes. The snowdrop has run wild in many parts of England. The lovely blue periwinkle, with its dark shiny leaves, grows in every Devonshire lane. The large ox-eye daisies which grow in our gardens are the same as those in the cornfields. The honey-suckle is as fine in the hedges as on the trellis-work of the porch.

But the large purple clematis and the beautiful yellow and white chrysanthemums, which grow in so many cottage gardens, come from abroad. I knew an old woman once who called them "Christmas anthems." I think she imagined that they flowered late in the year on purpose for Christmas.

The lovely yellow and purple pansies, which bloom all the summer, seem at first too grand to have come from wild ones. But you can gather small wild pansies in the lanes, and if you look inside the flower of the garden pansy you will see the curious bird's head on the top of its seed-box which we found in the violet. So the pansy, or Heartsease, is a true English plant.


Wild Pansy and Garden Pansy

I am sure you have some of the yellow and brown polyanthus in your garden. At first you will think there is nothing like it in the fields. But if you gather a cowslip and compare it with the polyanthus, you will find that all their parts are alike. For the polyanthus was once wild like the cowslip, and the gardeners have manured it, and chosen out the best seeds, till they have given it the bright colours it has now.

The reason that garden flowers are often larger and more beautiful in their colours than wild flowers is because the plants are not obliged to take so much pains to live nor to make so many seeds. The gardener puts them in good ground, feeds them well, and picks out the seeds of the best flowers to sow next year.

You can do the same if you try, and though you cannot do much in a few years you will get much finer flowers for your trouble. You must watch the plant and pick off all the withered leaves, and keep the ground raked, well manured, and free from weeds. Then you must settle which of the plants have the best and brightest flowers. Tie a little piece of cotton round the stem of these flowers, and watch when their seed-boxes are ripe, then keep these seeds to sow next year. In two or three years you will have much better flowers.

The pinks and carnations are some of the prettiest and sweetest of our garden flowers. They belong to an English family, called the Pink Family. You may perhaps not have any wild pinks in your part of the country. But you will have the ragged robin and the campion, and these belong to the same family.

If you compare their flowers with the pink, you will find that they both have narrow leaves growing opposite each other. The stem is swollen at the joint where they grow. They both have a long green cup with points, and five pink or white petals, ragged at the edge. Ten stamens grow inside on the top of the stem, and there is a tall seed-box in the middle, with two or three sticky horns.

Now try to find a ripe seed-box. It will be open at the top and its points bend out like the top of a vase. Inside is a little upright pillar with the seeds growing round it. When you find all this in a flower you will know that it belongs to the Pink Family.

Chickweed, starwort, campion, soapwort, ragged robin, and wild pink can all be found in the lanes.

But no doubt you have in your garden some double flowers—pinks, wallflowers, stocks, and roses. These have a great many coloured petals, and hardly any dust-bags or seed-box, sometimes none at all. Gardeners have made these double flowers by growing the plants in very rich earth, and sowing the seeds of those which grew the most flower-leaves instead of stamens.

Plants in the fields hardly ever have double flowers. They must make plenty of seeds. If you turn a plant with double flowers out into poor ground and let it run wild, it will go back to single flowers. But gardeners want fine blooms. So they grow double hollyhocks, dahlias, peonies, and primroses, as well as single ones.

Compare wild and garden rose, wild and garden pansy, cowslip and polyanthus, pink and ragged robin.

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