Gateway to the Classics: Trees and Shrubs by Arabella B. Buckley
Trees and Shrubs by  Arabella B. Buckley

Garden Shrubs in Bloom

There is not room to grow large trees in a cottage garden, but many flowering shrubs can be planted in corners, and some of them are very lovely. The first to bloom in the year is the Japan pear, Pyrus japonica (plate, p. 61). It grows on many cottage walls, and makes them bright when the trees are bare of leaves. Its deep-red buds are showing even in January, and by the end of February the wall is covered with them. They are like pear blossoms in shape, and grow in little bunches close against the stem. If you have not got one you will easily find a sucker, growing out from some neighbour's plant, and it is not difficult to rear. In the autumn you will see its hard, green fruit.

Soon after the Japan pear is in full bloom the Ribes, or "flowering currant," will be showing its red tassels in most gardens. It was first brought from North America, and has spread all over England. You will easily know it, because its leaves are very like those of the currant-bushes in the kitchen garden, and its pretty hanging clusters of red or pink flowers are shaped like the little green blossoms of our currants and gooseberries. Then in the autumn it has hanging bunches of dark berries, which are not good to eat. A piece of Ribes cut off and stuck in the ground will grow without any trouble.

Another very pretty bush flowers in early summer. This is the Barberry, whose small scarlet fruits used at one time to be put inside sugar plums. The barberry is an interesting shrub, for it has turned some of its leaves into thorns, so that at each joint there is a three-pronged thorn, as well as the smooth, fringed leaves. The wild barberry has yellow flowers with bright red anthers, but there is a garden kind with ever-green leaves, which has deep orange-coloured flowers. They are small and hang in a long spray, and if you are clever you can try an experiment with either the wild or garden barberry.


The Wild Barberry

Look carefully at one of the flowers and you will see that the six stamens are spread out, one lying down upon each petal. At the bottom of the petal, near the middle of the flower, are two bags, out of which oozes honey in drops. The sticky stigma on the top of the seed-box stands up in the middle of the flower.

Now take a needle and touch one of the stamens at its base, just where the honey drops are. It will jump up, as if moved by a spring, and touch the sticky stigma, then after a little while it will fall down again. Now when a bee puts her head in for honey she irritates the stamen so that it jumps up and hits her and she carries the pollen-dust to another flower. Or the anther leaves some pollen on its own stigma, before it falls down again.

But we must go on, for when the "March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers" there will be plenty of shrubs to look at. There is the Spanish Broom, with its bright yellow blossoms shaped like a pea-flower. You can find wild broom growing on the heaths. It is very like gorse, only it has smooth, green stems, and no prickles. But in the wild broom the blossoms grow singly on the stem, while in Spanish broom they form bright yellow clusters. The broom has no honey, but the bees come to it for pollen-dust to make bee-bread.

If there is a Lilac bush growing near the broom you will notice how lovely the two colours, yellow and lilac, look together. You can make a very pretty nosegay from the two shrubs. But you will make a more graceful one, if you can find a Laburnum with its long sprays of golden blossom. The laburnum has plenty of honey in its flowers, and, as the bees have to gnaw a lump to get at it, they often stop a long time at each flower, and you may see many on one tree. Laburnum pods are like small pea-pods, but take care not to eat the seeds in them, for they are very poisonous.

Next the Rhododendrons will be opening their beautiful bunches of red-purple flowers among their glossy, green leaves. These come from North America. But the Elderbush, which grows in the corner, making a pleasant shade over a little seat, is a true English shrub, which almost deserves to be called a tree. It does not bloom much before July, but it is one of the first trees to put out its leaves in the early spring. Though it is not tall, it has very thick stems, and its bark is rough and corky.


Red Flower, Japan Pear

You must take the young branches if you want to make pop-guns, for in the old ones the pith is crushed up into quite a tiny space by the rings of wood outside. The leaves of the elder grow opposite to each other on the stem, and each leaf is cut into seven or nine leaflets, with one at the end. The small white flowers grow in very large flat clusters, and leave the sweet elder-berries behind them in the autumn.

If you have not an elder tree in the garden, you will very likely have a Snowball tree (see plate). This is a garden kind of Guelder rose. Its blossoms are not in a flat bunch as they are on the wild tree. They grow in a ball and they have no stamens or seedbox in them, so they make no seeds. But the leaves turn purple in the autumn and are very lovely.

By this time the big purple Clematis will be out over the porch. It will last in bloom till October, and behind it on the wall grows the Myrtle, which will be covered with white flowers in August. We all know the myrtle so well that it is difficult to believe that it is not a British shrub. It came from the south of France, and now grows in all warm parts of England, keeping our walls green all the year round. Its oval leaves give a delightful scent from the little pockets of oil, which you may see if you look through the leaf at the light.

Bring flowers and leaves of any of the shrubs mentioned.

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