The Book Of Town And Window Gardening
By Frances Anne Bardswell



London in summer-time—Bought flowers versus growing plants—Plants that do well in towns—Gardens of the suburbs—Some of their joys

Spring gardening in the window-box—Bulbs: gold, white, and blue—Moss carpets, dainty beds—Flowers that grow well together—Some combinations—Encouragements

>Not to start summer flowers too soon—Not to buy plants that have been forced—Not to be like everybody else—Asparagus Sprengeri—A kitchen window-box—Herbs—The watched pot—Prize window-boxes at Exeter—The nursery window-box—Seed Song

Pot-plants—Climbers—Tubs—London in June—The pleasant balcony—Practical hints

St Andrew’s Rectory garden, Doctor’s Commons—“Struggles in Smoke”—Roof-jungle at the Home for Working Boys, at Bishopsgate Street, E.C.—Amateur gardening among the slates and chimney-pots—City gardens—Tempting the sea-gull, land-bird, and butterfly


I’ll take the showers as they fall,
I will not vex my bosom;
Enough if at the end of all
A little garden blossom.

Courage is wanted to write a book about Town-gardening. Is there such a thing? Some would say “No; cats, fogs, and smuts forbid.” Yet how inseparable from London is the thought of flowers! Can we picture the West End on a summer’s day without them? The dust-laid, freshly sprinkled squares and streets, where behind half-drawn blinds there is the fragrance of many blossoms; the bright harness of horses jangling as they champ the bit, a knot of flowers at every bridle; flower-sellers with baskets at all convenient corners, and along the roadway carts of Palms and growing plants bending and waving in the wind; every man one meets has got his button-hole, and every maiden wears her posy; even the butcher-boy holds a bud between his thumb and finger, twirling it and smelling at it as he goes.

The love of flowers and an almost passionate delight in cultivating them has ever been a feature of English life, and of late years the old taste has been renewed and strengthened: no mere whim of fashion’s fancy is it, but the outcome of a nation’s feeling, deep and true; and what the English people love and long for, that they will have, despite all difficulties. Thus it comes about that London’s heart is gay with flowers. They strew our parks and open spaces, they fill the cheerful window-box and seed-sown area, and make the cold grey balcony to blossom as the rose; even where London’s traffic roars the loudest, one lights upon the pathetic back-yard garden, hemmed in by church and factory walls, the high-hung garden of the roof and parapet, the little beau-pot of the window-sill, the poetic window-plant, that shares its owner’s only living-room,—everywhere flowers, flowers, for rich and poor, especially for the rich.

There’s never a delicate nursling of the year,
But our huge London hails it, and delights
To wear it on her heart or at her ear,
Her days to colour and make sweet her nights.”

Buying flowers is easy enough, it is the growing of them in big towns that is so difficult; but the struggle is not a hopeless one, there is much that may encourage. When we hear of what others have done, still more, when we have seen their successes for ourselves, despair gives way to animation and activity.

No one will deny for a moment that there is more real joy to be felt over one plant that we have grown for ourselves than over ninety and nine bought ones; and this is not only because attending to its needs has made us love the flower as we love children and other pets and dear dependents—there is another reason. In shop-flowers the method of growth (one of a plant’s greatest beauties) is a charm left out. Sweet Peas, for instance; we buy them squeezed up in tight bunches, all pink ones massed together, or all white or purple. Where is the grace of the clinging tendril, the tender poising of the dainty blooms?


I have seen these beauties where Sweet Peas were blowing and growing in the depths of a London area along with white Pinks, Candy-tuft, and the gold-flowered Canary Creeper, but never have I beheld them in the shop: bunches of Cornflowers and even Roses, will be laid against a trail of Smilax, or something else that does not belong to either of them, such as the ever-present “French Fern” or New Zealand grass. Flower-artists of Japan, who willingly spend hours in coaxing each separate twig and flower to show its natural grace and habit, would not much care to arrange the cut flowers we buy in towns, that have been divorced completely from the stems and branches where they grow; and to say this is not to grumble at the florists, who cannot do impossibilities, but to accentuate the fact that cut flowers cannot take the place of growing ones.

Happily for the town gardener, many plants and flowers do well among the chimney-pots. Annuals less so than some, perhaps, but many of these flower satisfactorily if thinly sowed. Nasturtiums, Virginia Stock, Coreopsis, Marigold, Scabious, Sunflower, Lupin, Love-in-a-mist, Candy-tuft and Larkspur never fail us, nor Sweet Pea, if we can keep the sparrows from eating the seeds. Some town-folk tell me they think Carnations really like smoke, so well they thrive in it. Pyrethrums, both single and double, are among our best town flowers, and will grow almost anywhere and in any ordinary garden soil. The one drawback to their well-being is slugs, who find the young growths too enticing; but we can circumvent this enemy if in autumn we sprinkle ashes, soot, or lime around the crowns. In London it is never difficult to get soot, though, oddly enough, every chimney-sweeper considers our own home-made soot his perquisite, and makes us pay for it. The really best way to get rid of slugs is to catch them in orange-peel traps, made of empty half-oranges, under which they crawl, and can then be killed. Sliced potatoe is another good bait, or beet-root. The drawback of using traps is the danger of attracting the enemy. On the other hand, ashes, soot, and lime are unsightly, and may spoil our plants if allowed to touch them. A pail of salt and water we find the least unpleasing medium when culprits must be executed.

In a town garden where there is room for them, no plants do better than the Star-worts or Michaelmas Daisies. They are so easy of cultivation and so comforting late in the season, when the “bedders” of every public and private garden have succumbed to cold and wet. Later there are Chrysanthemums.

Lilies and all bulbous plants show unexpected hardiness. Our parks both east and west familiarize us with Snowdrop, Crocus, Jonquil, Narcissus, and Daffodil; and to see how happy Valley-lilies can make themselves within earshot of the bustling Strand, we need only turn our footsteps towards the dim green gardens of the Temple, where banks and parterres of them unfold their verdant cloaks beneath every April sky. Farther west, if eyes could pierce the trees and shrubs that guard the gardens of the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace, or those round Marlborough House, they would see Lilacs, Laburnums, Pinks, and Roses; and from the knife-board of a Bayswater omnibus, if our field of vision were a little broader, we should catch glimpses of Lord Ilchester’s fair gardens about Holland House, where languorous Lilies of Japan luxuriate in all their native splendour, and much of their native wildness; and this but a stone’s throw from the Great Western Railway Station and the World’s Fair of William Whiteley.

Among the gardens of the suburbs most of our town difficulties disappear; the many nursery, and market, and Rose, and Rock, and Daffodil gardens that flourish in London’s outskirts abundantly prove this. Once away from fog and smoke, there are few limitations except those that come of want of space; but land is dear, and there is little ground to spare, except for public and general gardens, where again individual joys are lost.

The suburban garden, in spite of all the hard things that have been said of it, is really not so much to be despised, and so large a part does it play in the social life of the twentieth century, that it is worth a moment’s thought.

Suburban gardens are of many kinds; there are all manner of notes in the scale. The squalid ones—alas! some are squalid—we see in London’s shabbiest border-lands. They often belong to houses filled with many different families, and are a kind of no man’s land. Hardly can we call them gardens; little enough is grown in them, though sometimes among the straggling Runner-beans and rubbish-heaps there will be a tree, a beautiful spreading tree, like a green-winged angel. Then there are the tidy patches of the fairly well-to-do workman; some made hideous by mounds of shells and grottoes, others filled with useful and pretty plants. So we go upwards, step by step, to the good-sized strip or more ambitious villa garden. Wonders are done in these. Many a busy City man, whose garden is not far from the Marble Arch, knows all about Roses, and might give lessons on Grape-growing and Orchid-forcing to his relations in the real country.

Suburban gardens naturally have not the same good chances as are enjoyed by country gardens, but they do know some joys that may be envied. One is the birds. It is not that there are more of them, but those there are, are such a pleasure. When a new bird of a rarer kind than ordinary is coaxed into the precincts of one’s own domain, how great the interest, and how many friendly traps are laid for him in the way of food, water, and material for building. And wild flowers; when unfamiliar seedlings appear, one knows not whence, here is another joy. Few people in country gardens know every leaf and blade by heart as do the owners of the small suburban garden, so carefully watched, so tenderly made the most of.

There is many a quaint touch about these gardens of the suburbs. They are often, like blouses and children’s frocks after sale-time, made of remnants. Some large old holding is cut into blocks. Block A gets bits of orchard; Block B, a piece of garden-ground with Roses and blossoming trees, Block C may have nothing but Briars and Blackberries. Or in another place a stately avenue has been cut down for building, and some magnificent Elm or Oak or Cedar has been spared, and is stranded, a forlorn-looking prisoner, in the back garden of some modern villa. Well, he is a blessing to somebody; little children may still play about beneath his sheltering arms, where the rooks yet cling to their old haunts, croaking cheerfully as ever.

Nor is it altogether unpleasing to have a garden near the busy haunts of men; the roar and rattle of the streets, that sound like the humming of innumerable bees, the strange glow of lights in the distance, the pealing of bells and the striking of many clocks, the thunder and whistle of the trains that link us with friends far off, the stir and throb of human life, that chimes in, not inharmoniously with the calmer life of Nature—all these things combine in making up the unexpressed enjoyments of the dwellers in gardens that lie close to the heart of towns.

Not wholly in the busy world, nor quite
Beyond it, blooms the garden that I love.
News from the humming city comes to it,
In sound of funeral or marriage bells.


My own belief is, that ever such a small garden is better than none, and that life without its flowers is not worth living. Should this little book be found a help or encouragement to any town-dwellers who love plants and flowers well enough to wish to see them as they live and grow, as well as to enjoy their beauty and sweetness when they are cut, the pleasant time of writing it will not have been ill spent. In every case, where possible the fruits of practical experiences have been given, imagination and exaggeration have been excluded.


Yet sun and wind, what can ye do
But make the leaves more brightly show?

Since Londoners have learned that life without scent and colour is not worth living, England’s capital has become a City of Flowers. It is not only Covent Garden and the great floral shops of the West End that blaze with blossoms; the same idea has spread into every little outlying suburb, wherein no self-respecting greengrocer, however small his frontage, would fail to fill a shelf or two with fresh-cut flowers several times a week. Here every careful housewife holds her Saturday marketing incomplete till she has bought the bunch of sweetness that is destined to adorn the Sunday sitting-room or grace the midday meal. Cold winds of wintry spring may blow, but, wrapped in folds of pale green tissue (which sets them off amazingly), bright yellow Daffodils, purple Violets, white Narcissus, or branches of the almond-sweet Mimosa, are carried through the streets by thousands.

All this is delightful; but cut flowers, lovely and decorative as they are, can never satisfy the deeper necessities of the soul. We admire them, we enjoy them, but it can hardly be said we love them; they are too strange to us, like new friends that we have not had time to cultivate, but must let go ere we know them. As we agreed just now, really to enjoy a flower we must have grown it.

In London and all large towns gardening has its trials. Many will not attempt the task, and rely wholly on the cut flowers of the florist or the daintily filled pots and baskets he sells us, the blossoms in which last hardly longer than those we buy by handfuls. What are the inhabitants of flats and tall town tenements to do when they long for the joys of a little gardening—real gardening—and have not so much as a bit of a back-yard to call their own? Well, even in towns and cities, where there is a will there is a way. One or two alternatives are open to us; one is the Window-box, another is the Roof-garden, and there is the Balcony.

The window-box is both the easiest and the most general, but, common as are these town adornments, it is a matter of fact that very little “gardening” is done in them. For the most part the man in the street gets as much Šsthetic enjoyment out of a window-box as its owner, and often, except in the matter of payment, has about as much to do with it. The lordly mansions, in front of which are displayed the most beautiful colour-schemes during the fashionable season, are often closed at other periods of the year, while their owners are away enjoying flowers in distant places. It is of the window-gardening of that far larger class that lives in London all the year round we would say a word or two. Window-gardening might become ten times more interesting than it is now if people only woke up to a sense of its possibilities.

Too frequently the window-boxes of the million follow the fashions that are set them by the “ton,” and come out radiant only with the dawn of summer. True, in some cases, the baldness of winter and early spring is mitigated by the planting of a few small shrubs, green or variegated; but not infrequently so little interest is taken in them that the poor things are allowed to wither on their stems, either parched with thirst or frozen with cold. One would almost prefer the sight of the clean, quite empty flower-box, which does, at any rate, give a sense of rest.

Can nothing better than this be done? Why should not everybody who owns a window-box make and enjoy a spring garden in it? Nothing is easier, and it may be done in an endless variety of ways. To begin with, a whole chapter could be written about Bulbs for the window-box. These friendly little plantlets, if we invite them, will keep us bright for the first three months of any year.

Gold, white, and blue,—these are the colours we will choose, and we will start with a very cheap and simple scheme. Nothing is better for planting at the same time (quite early in the autumn) than Winter Aconites, Snowdrops, and blue Scillas. These give us brilliant colours in quick succession, and, what is more, they overlap each other, and the grass that belongs to each plant helps to make a background for the rest. In planting Snowdrops I would counsel everybody to put in two kinds, not one double and one single (to my mind a Snowdrop doubled is a Snowdrop spoiled). What we like is to place a long-stalked and a short-stalked flowerlet side by side, so as to give the same appearance of lightness we aim at in the arrangement of cut flowers in the house. For a long-stalked Snowdrop, Mr. Barr’s Galanthus Whittalli could not be improved upon. It never looks prettier than when rising from a bed of its lowlier sisters, just the little common kind we are so familiar with in London shops and baskets, where, for some inscrutable reason, they are generally bound up stiffly with twigs or box, which do their best to overpower the fresh sweet scent that properly belongs to every Snowdrop.

If our window-box is in a sunny position, these little flowers of early spring will peep up at us even during the frosts of January. The golden Aconite cares nothing for the cold of a London winter; he is used to Himalayan snows, and shows his schoolboy shining face and frilled green collar so early that he invariably takes us by surprise, though we have been looking for him. Next come the flake-white Snowdrops, “offering their frail cup of three leaves to the cold sun;” lastly the Scillas, brightly, beautifully blue.

To set these flowers off to the best advantage one must have given them a dainty bed on which to lie. When the Bulbs are planted some tufts of hardy, free-growing, flowering Moss should be put in at the same time. The common Iceland Moss does very well; it stands any amount of cold, and spreads out thickly as the days grow light. Every scrap of soil is hidden, and the flower-spikes look doubly pretty pushing through the green. If Ivy-trails are wanted, this is easily managed, but great care has to be taken with Ivy. Once started, it grows so strongly, and may injure other things. Crocuses of every hue blend well with any of the flowers just mentioned, and bloom about the same time. Another window-scheme is charming, but will be at its best a little later, through the months of April and of May. Instead of Moss (or as well as Moss, if we like both) we can make our carpet this time of Forget-me-not, through which white Cottage Tulips grow delightfully, and so do white or pale pink Hyacinths. Thus grown the Hyacinth loses the look of stiffness, which is its only fault. White Arabis is another grounding flower, which sets off scarlet Tulips (Van Thol’s we choose by preference) to perfection. The double Arabis is even prettier than the single, and very nearly as hardy. Either with or without the addition of bulbs, a very inexpensive yet pleasing combination for the window-box, that will be a joy through the most inclement May, is London Pride and Forget-me-not growing side by side. The tender pinks and blues blend charmingly, and when gathered last a long time in water. Miss Jekyll says one of her favourite combinations is London Pride and St. Bruno’s Lilies. We have not tried this for boxes, but can well believe it; London Pride is such a sympathetic little flower, and sets off everything it accompanies.

We have sometimes let the delicious Poet’s Narcissus (Pheasant’s-eye) spring up amid these charming flowers of later spring; tall, fair, and gracious, they give an added charm. If a tone of pink is wanted, not a better spring flower can be chosen than Silene, sometimes better known as the Campion or Catchfly. It can be bought in clumps at any flower-market.

If we like, it is quite possible to grow the very early bulbs along with all these flowers: they do not interfere with each other in the least. Every one takes his turn to “show off” like the ballet-dancers of grand opera, and does his part to keep a window-box bright with blossoms right on from January to the end of May.

For the encouragement of those who have to grow their spring flowers in window-boxes instead of in the open, I may quote some wise words written by one who knows.

“The window-gardener,” he says, “equally with the possessor of extensive flower-borders, may enjoy the early spring flowers, and in almost as great variety as his more fortunate neighbours. Bulbous plants will grow equally well in well-drained boxes, filled with soil that is fairly good, as in the open border. They may, indeed, grow better, for window-boxes are invariably sheltered to a great extent, and bulbs in the border have sometimes much to contend with—insufficient drainage, insect enemies, inclement weather, to which they are fully exposed, etc.”

Every one can vary his flower-scheme as he likes, season by season. Anemones, some Irises, Jonquils, and Daffodils, must never be forgotten, nor yet the simple Primrose, which looks so fair near beds of heavenly blue (Grape-hyacinth, Forget-me-not, and Bluebell, are contemporaries), and we should start our window-garden as soon as we come back from seaside holidays, say in the quiet days of late September.

Through the long winter nothing gives a more delightful sense of restful expectation than a box or border we have filled with bulbs and covered comfortably with some simple greenery. It secures for us a taste of the real pleasures of gardening. Our part is done; Nature, even in towns, will do the rest.

The bulbs lie close
In the earth’s warm keeping;
But when Spring wakes,
That now is sleeping,
Crocus and daffodil,
Hyacinth and jonquil,
Their dreams unfold
In blue and gold,
For lovers reaping.


The summer approaching with richness—
And the infinite separate houses

The spring months over, and our early blossom faded, how joyfully one hails the crowd of summer flowers, that appear as if by magic, begging us to buy them. Market-carts and barrows filled with “bedders” meet us at every turn, and their wafted sweetness in square and street is intoxicating. We must clutch these old joys and hold them. How now about the window-box?

To be practical, two courses are open to us. Bulbs are not at all fond of being moved; they like to rest in peace while their grass grows long and straggly, to feed the bulblets underground; but this does not look pretty, so if we have any place where we can store the spring flower-box, we may remove it bodily, and leave the rest to Nature. If not, we had much better clear it all out ruthlessly, and start afresh.

One mistake that should be guarded against is that of filling the summer window-box too soon. People are in such a hurry; they want to smarten up their houses with growing summer flowers, even before the end of May. To put it on the lowest ground, this is waste of money; but worse, it is cruelty. We might as well stand our darling occupants of the warm nursery outside their open windows, with nothing on but pinafores! All these summer flowers have been grown in a hot place. At all times it is well to know the previous history of each plant we buy, and something of its pedigree. Plants have their pasts as well as people, and they should be considered. We want those that have been brought up hardily, not forced.

In early summer the multitude of floral beauties before us to choose from is bewildering, yet nearly every one fixes his affections on the same flowers year by year, and no doubt will continue to do so, for they never fail to please. London would not be itself without its windows framed with clusters of white Marguerites and bright Geraniums (generally pink), with a neat edging of Lobelia. There will be slight variations in the kind and colour of the flowers, and sometimes trailing Ivy-leafed Geraniums will add a note of grace. For a lovely pink nothing surpasses the Geraniums “Christine Nielson” or “Olive Carr.” But variety is the spice of life. Why cannot some of us, for a change, choose white Geraniums—“Queen of Whites,” for instance—and fill the spaces in between with Petunias, single and double? Petunias are now brought to the greatest perfection, and may be had in splendid colours, shading from palest pink to the deepest crimson, and the fringed blossoms are exquisite. The freedom of their growth is a welcome set-off to the stately deportment of Geranium “Queens.” And we might have yellow Marguerites, with Marigolds and Nasturtiums deepening to brown and orange, Fuchsias with Heliotrope (only we must keep the Heliotrope out of a draught), or gold and spotted Calceolarias mingled with white Daisies. But is it of any use to advise Calceolarias? They are so unpopular nowadays, though some of them are not so bad, even if they do remind a little of the gaping, wide-mouthed toad. One would gladly see more Musk used; it is delicious billowing over pots of dark red Roses. Some say Carnations do well in window-boxes. We have never tried them. They are capricious always and anywhere.

Walking or driving about the streets and squares of the West End of London on a June day, when all the window-boxes are at their gayest, it is amusing to notice how some localities favour certain flowers. At Queen’s Gate for several seasons past there has been what shopkeepers call “a great feeling” for white Marguerites and Genista. Here, again, I use shopkeeper language. “Genista” is London shop for the almond-scented, yellow-flowered Citisus which, though really a conservatory plant, deigns to brighten the window-boxes of London fašades, reminding delightfully of the golden gorse-blossoms that have the same sweet smell, and are blooming at the same moment about the heaths and waste-lands of the country. Genista must have the sunny side of the street; we should bear that in mind. Some Clubs, too, adopt certain flowers and colours, remaining very constant to their specialities. It would be interesting to reckon up the number of Daisies that bud and blow in town during the “season.” Never need Londoners quit the region of bricks and mortar to count the “daisies of the dappled field;” there are nearly as many of them to be seen in town. The Daisy is such a human flower. Nettles, they say, are never met with but near the haunts of man, and we are really very much obliged to them, for boiled Nettle is nearly as good as Spinach, and Daisies are just as friendly. I have seen them on the golf-links of Norfolk in chill December, their fringed and yellow eyes gazing benevolently at the golfers. Wordsworth knew all about the Daisy.

Methinks that there abides in thee
Some concord with humanity
Given to no other flower I see
The forest through


One very charming scheme that has been adopted with great success for the sunny side of the street is to have the whole house painted white, and to fill every box and balcony with the lovely tendrils of Asparagus Sprengeri, and nothing else. This ripples over most luxuriantly; to look at it makes one feel cool on the hottest day. After two hours’ eye-strain at the Royal Academy no sight could be more refreshing. The Sprengeri is often used for pendant baskets, which it furnishes to perfection.

However handsome may be the receptacle for our flowers, no arrangement is really so pretty as that which gives them trailing blossoms and greenery to hang and cluster over the hard edge. Campanulas are always ready to do this gracious task, and can be had either in pink or white to suit every requirement.

If we live in a flat that has a good many windows and aspects, we may enjoy a great number of different growing plants. Before the kitchen-window I should have a box for parsley and a herb or two. They make for grace as well as use. Some herbs grow very prettily, and their aromatic, refreshing scent (so unaccustomed in a town drawing-room) will please more than that of the costliest exotic. I have sometimes amused myself by making a nosegay out of nothing but herbs. In a sick-room it is priceless. Wormwood—the herb that in France is used for making absinthe—is a very graceful grower, of pale grey green not unlike Southernwood or Old-Man, but finer, and it has a more delicate and subtle scent. Another herb, Sweet Cicely, is often mistaken for a fern, though it is softer and bears flowers. Mint, Balm, Sage, and Rue make a pleasing bunch, and these herbs will grow anywhere; they are not afraid of London smoke. Parsley is more difficult to manage, but is just as tricky in the garden as in the box. It is perhaps as well to buy this with our cabbages and cauliflowers. Some of the other herbs are really not procurable in towns, however gladly we would pay their price, so it is worth while trying to grow them for ourselves, and it can be done.

All town gardeners must make up their mind to contend with difficulties. The worst of them are smoke and smuts. Smoke, however, is not nearly so bad in summer as in winter, nor are there then so many flying children of the soot. We must wash and sponge and syringe, and we must use soft water. Oh, the magic of soft water in the plant-world! but how often the dry and panting flowers sigh for it in vain. We forget or omit to store the water heaven sends us, though nothing is simpler to arrange than a pipe leading from the gutter on the roof down to the ground. Instead of feeding our plants with rain-water we turn the nearest tap, and torment them with hard water from the main. This is what Londoners do, anyway; I hope it is not the same in other towns. On the whole, growing plants give very little trouble, and make slight demands upon our time, but, like children, they are ruined by alternations of petting and neglect; the little care we give them must be constant, and, as usual, experience is the best teacher. “The watched pot never boils,” they say, and picnic experiences have taught us to believe the proverb; but it does not apply to plants and flowers, which always do better for being noticed. It has come to be a family fiction, in which we more than half believe, that flowers will not thrive unless they are watched. Looking at them seems to make them grow, which of course is only another way of saying that they pay for close attention, and the stitch in time that saves.

At Exeter, already one of the most beautifully kept of English towns, the window-box bids fair to become a striking feature. An enthusiast in horticulture, anxious to improve its southern entrance, is offering prizes for the best window-sill gardening in that locality. Three months are allowed for exhibition, and consolation prizes give a chance to all. The idea is a good one, and almost sure to be imitated in other places. I have often wished that every nursery-window in London might have its window-box for simple flowers. A child’s delight in the first shoot above the ground is a pretty thing to see, and after that there is the miracle of the bud and bloom. How much more meaning has the pretty “Seed Song” to a town child who has himself with his own hands sowed the little seedlets and watched the wonder of their birth in his very own window-box! I borrow two half verses of it, for the benefit of those to whom it is unfamiliar.

Little brown seed, oh! little brown brother,
Are you awake in the dark?
Here we lie cosily, close to each other:—
Hark to the song of the lark!

Little brown seed, oh! little brown brother,
What kind of flower will you be?
I’ll be a Poppy—all white like my mother.
Do be a Poppy like me


Visions of blue Violet plots,
White Daisies and Forget-me-nots

Some of us have a balcony as well as a window-box. Here is a field indeed; we have more space, more opportunity for display. Rescued from the hands of the florist, balcony-gardening becomes one of the most interesting of occupations. Here we may aspire to creepers and climbers in a good aspect, even to Roses. Imagine it in London!

Rose-trees, either side the doorway
Growing lithe and growing tall,
Each one set, a summer Warder
For the keeping of the hall

Climbers in pots that make thick summer growth are easiest to manage; these we can get fresh every season, and they greatly brighten up the old friends that have lived with us from year to year through the adversities of frost and fog. Major Convolvulus and the perennial “Morning Glories” do well, also Canariensis; but all these must have sun.


For a town wall-plant nothing can surpass the Winter Jasmine, whose yellow blossoms cheer the dullest months, and in summer we welcome its long green trails, which we must not forget to cut back every autumn, or it will get too straggly. It is always the year’s young shoots that are wanted for beauty. Forsythia, with its golden flowers of February and March, delight us sometimes on the fronts of London houses in very early spring, but the foliage is not so decorative afterwards, and for the balcony we must have summer beauty. The Virginia Creeper, that we have brought from the generous West (along with other pretty things and people), is now so familiar that we forget that it is really a new-comer. It was in 1841, at the back of a house in Rutland Gate, that the Virginia Creeper made its first appearance in London. Since then how much it has done to beautify our towns, both the common kind and the small-leaved Ampelopsis Veitchii, whose habit of self-clinging renders it so invaluable. Some critics think we use this Creeper too freely, but I do not agree with them. Either on grey stone or brick, or trellis-work or rails, its light festoons of green, or red, or crimson—as the sun has dyed them—give summer grace and autumn colour. Of the Ivy there is no occasion to speak, except to remind that there are more kinds than one. Good balcony shrubs for backgrounds are easily found, and in many contrasting tints of green and gold. With respect to pot plants, Mrs. Earle gives a suggestion that is worth following up:—

“One day outside a dining-room window of a London house I noticed some large, heavy, oblong Japanese flower-pots planted with single plants. They looked very well, as one was able to see the growth of the plants. The pots were glazed, and much thicker than the ordinary flower-pot. This lessens evaporation, and their weight prevents them from being blown over.”

Ordinary flower-pots are not suitable in our climate for outer windows and balconies.

I am convinced that for furnishing the balcony there is a great future for strong, well-made, handsome pots. It is wonderful what can be grown in them. No one understands this better than the flower-lover who has ever lived in any of the West Indian Islands, where there is no soil, and everything has to be grown in pots and tubs. Tubs are charming, so cheap, so easy to manage, and so decorative when tastefully painted. Plants always take kindly to tubs, and both tubs and pots can be arranged and moved about with ease—a great convenience when ladies undertake the work.

But tubs and pots are not the only receptacles that are useful for balconies, verandahs, leads, and window-doorways. Italian oil-jars answer very well, either whole or sawn in half to make two. Seakale pots serve the same purpose. For painting them in colour, nothing is better than a low-toned green, which harmonizes with all else. There is a certain dull red that pleases some tastes; but red is a colour that tires.

The quality of the material of which the receptacles are made must be considered, as it has a great deal to do with the amount of water the plants will require. Ordinary flower-pot ware is very porous, and plants grown in large flower-pots require more frequent watering than when grown in anything else. The evaporation through plain wood is not nearly so great as through unglazed earthenware, and when the wood is painted it is still less. Glazing an ordinary flower-pot makes it more protective. Old petroleum barrels (when the oil has been turned out) and butter-tubs are excellent plant-holders, but of course must have ample provision made for drainage, and several good-sized holes must be pierced at the bottom. If the tub or pot has not much depth of room underneath, it should be set on bricks, or raised in some other way. This assists drainage, and keeps the holes from being blocked by worms or otherwise. Re-potting is very seldom required if in the first instance good compost is freely given. The best way of feeding our tub plants and shrubs is very clearly explained in a paper on “Tub Gardening,” by Mr. Alger Petts in The Garden of September 21, 1891. It is well worth study by those who mean to take seriously to tub-gardening; but most likely the tub-gardeners of the London balcony do not expect their plants to live long. They would do so, however, if properly looked after and given a fair chance. One great advantage about flowering pot and tub plants is that they bear more blossoms grown in this way than if they were in the open border; the strength of them goes to blossom instead of root, as everybody knows.

London in June! How beautiful it is, especially at the West End, the best End! and who can doubt it owes much of its beauty to plants and flowers? There they are, in shops and dairies, even among the delicate confections of the modiste, pots of green Ferns, even fragrant blossoms. On a summer’s day in Bond Street I have sometimes stopped involuntarily to feast my eyes on the artistic arrangement of a shop-front, where blocks of ice and silvery white-bait, the scarlet lobster and the subtle pinks of salmon mingle with trails of grass and seaweed green. This is delightful, but we should like more of it. Why should not our streets be even gayer than they are now, and sweeter? Over the shop-fronts and on leads, as well as in the window-box or on the balcony, we would see something fresh and growing. Cut flowers are all very well, but they make only for beauty. The growing plant is a health-helper, as well as pleasing to the eye, for the carbonic fumes that kill us are positively good for plants; they live on and enjoy them. Trees and all green things are good; but trees, unless a street is very wide indeed, take up too much room, robbing us of light and preventing the air from circulating.

Balcony-gardening need never do this; we can keep to low-growing things and creepers. Many a town house has balconies large enough to lounge in. On a July evening, under the delicate thin curve of a new moon, or in starlight, how sweet the summer dusk, even in London, and flowers are just as fragrant here as in the country. Where so welcome as in cities are “pointed blossoms rising delicate, with the perfume strong we love”?

I was once a frequent visitor at a London house which was always kept full of growing plants, and could never enjoy one of them. Why? Because I knew each one was dying every moment. They were treated exactly like furniture. A dark corner would be “lighted up” by the splendour of a Scarlet Geranium in full bloom; (it did not remain scarlet long); a Daphne showed its fragrant stars on a davenport close to the fireplace, and a long way off the window. No one ever picked off a dead leaf or gave the plants so much as a cupful of cold water. Every few days the florist’s man came round, took away the invalids—for such they had become—and arranged a fresh lot. Poor plants, they had my sympathy! I do not think this treatment of flowers shows the least real love for them; better were it to grow the humblest blooms out in the open air, upon the balcony.

In a lady’s paper the other day I chanced to see some practical hints on how to convert a London balcony into a miniature garden, and thought them worth transcribing.

“One of the first things to be considered is what flowers will flourish in the smoky atmosphere. I have noticed that the ivy-leaf Geranium does well, and this makes a brave show, and grows rapidly. Close to the front of the balcony have some narrow boxes made of wood, painted green, and fill these with plenty of plants, which can be trained to the rails of the ironwork, and thus make quite a screen. A striped awning should be fixed to the wall of the house just above the drawing-room windows, and this can be made removable by driving iron staples into the wall and sewing rings on to the canvas awning. In the front three iron uprights must be fixed to the balcony, one at each end, and one in the middle. The top of each upright can be bent over to form a ring, and the awning can be tied on to these with strong tapes. Two large hanging baskets of ferns should be suspended from a thin rod, which is passed from end to end of the iron uprights, and if two more baskets are hung from the lowest rail of the balcony in front, the bower will be complete. With some matting on the floor and two lounge wicker chairs, this will make a charming retreat on a hot day and a cool lounge on a sultry evening.”

I can exactly picture such a balcony as this, and would edge the box with plants of musk, the smell of which would be delicious in the drawing-room, especially on a summer’s afternoon, just after it had been watered.


High over roaring Temple Bar
And set in Heaven’s third story
O, green is the colour of faith and truth

When one comes to write of roof and back-yard gardens the pen must run less glibly; such oases in the dust and drouth of towns are few and rare. The roofs of English houses are not shaped well for gardening, and if there happen to be a back-yard, it is often more like a well than a garden; not a dripping well lined with fern and soft with moss, but a well walled round with smoke-black bricks, and not much of a sky above it. Yet garden-lovers do make their little plots somehow, even in London’s heart, and live there happily tending their flowers. In the broad City thoroughfare that leads from Blackfriar’s Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral stands a church among the shops and marts—an old church built by Sir Christopher Wren. Behind this building, up a narrow street—little more than a passage—is a Rectory-house hemmed in at back and sides with factories; yet, hidden away in this strange corner may be found a bower of greenery. Mrs. Clementi-Smith, the Rector’s wife, shall tell the story of her City garden in her own words. We must imagine it to be in the month of March.


“The foreground of our garden consists of a bank of rock work, interspersed by hundreds of the very finest Crocuses which one could find anywhere, mostly purple, bright mauve, pure white, and a few yellow. These were put in last autumn, and have certainly done splendidly, in spite of smuts and smoke. The only grievous thing about them is that, when the flowers are over, the bulbs will have to be pulled up and thrown away, as we have found that one season is quite enough for them; they would not flower again if left in for another year.”

In gardens such as this bulbs do better than anything else; they give back the treasure that was stored up by them when living in the air and sunshine. A little greenhouse between the wall and rock garden is full of ferns. Geraniums will not grow, but Cyclamen and Palms are well content, and Azaleas manage to bloom for one year—not more, as there is not enough sun to ripen the new wood. One fair-sized tree stands in the middle of the plot, a Lime; not a good town tree, because its foliage fades and falls so soon. This one is to come down and make room for an apple-tree.

The annals of another City garden are worth recording because so instructive. They were confided to the sympathetic ears of the editor of The Garden under the title of “Struggles in Smoke.” Every reader sympathized. This garden, too, lay in the shadow of a cathedral, but in the north of England.

“Everything we touched was black, and how strong it all smelt of smoke and the mingled fumes of fried fish and burnt shoe-leather from the small shops that backed on to it! The garden was at the very edge of a wind-swept hill, the ground falling away so suddenly below it that the tops of the chimneys of the City beneath were just at the proper level to pour their smoke right into it. When the wind blew from the south, the thick clouds from the foundry and factory chimneys made it impossible to see across the garden. Then we had to set to work.”

Nothing teaches so well as an object-lesson. Let us hear what flowers were persuaded to grow in this garden of difficulties, where cats and sparrows, we learn, were nearly as troublesome as the smoke.

“Tiger Lilies seemed to love us best. These grew and spread and triumphed, till at times the garden glowed with an orange glory. Their cousins, the White Lilies, would have nothing to do with us. Naturally, bulbs were the most satisfactory things, and Crocus, Narcissus and Tulip were joyful, but soot-coloured Snowdrops were not inspiring. We felt rich when the Lilies of the Valley were in bloom—there were always enough to give away. We revelled in the carpets of Woodruffe and white Periwinkle, from which sprang great clumps of the yellow Trollius and the silvery stars of Astrantia. Auriculas, Double Daisies, Violas and Pansies did their best to make up to us for the lack of Violets and Mignonette.” A good list, and there is more to follow. “Christmas Roses did well, but very few bedding plants answered. Various Irises, Campanulas, Monkshood, Canterbury Bells, Lychnis and masses of Epilobium-Angustifolium made things bright. The old pink Cabbage Rose and Gloire-de-Dijon flowered well. Cornflowers and Larkspurs were happy, and one small Pear-tree yielded fruit.” What love and toil must have gone to give such rich results, and how great the joy, can only be guessed by those who have had a like experience.


Roof-gardens are even rarer than yard-gardens. One that is full of interest may be seen in Bishopsgate Street, E.C., at the Home for Working Boys. Trees of quite a respectable size are grown in it; Sycamore trees twenty feet high, Limes from eight to ten feet, with Nut and Cedar, Chestnut, Holly, Fir, and Plane. Cats are, of course, a hindrance, but the wire netting which keeps them out is hidden in summer by Virginia Creeper, and on the parapets and in tubs and boxes are Evergreens and Orange plants, and bushes of Rose and Lilac. Eight or ten sorts of flowers bloom freely, Petunias doing best of all. Gardening operations, as carried on by the boys and Superintendent, are an unfailing source of amusement to the children of the surrounding poor. A pond and fountain with spray rising sixteen feet high are crowning glories of this shady jungle, where, but a few years since there was nothing to be seen but a bare zinc roof, some twelve yards square. The place has now been pet-named “Pelham Park.”

A private roof-garden at the back of a London house, four stories from the ground, is graphically described by an amateur gardener, who says he “fights for failure,” but he does so cheerfully. There are some points, he says, on which the many-acred owner of a country garden might envy his rival on the roof. One is his personal intimacy with his garden kingdom and its subjects.

“Up among the chimney pots he has watched each plant through all difficulties struggling up into timid blossoms; he has washed away daily smuts and combated incessant sparrows with cotton entanglements, and now knows every flower, nay, every petal, with a personal love. He will tell you which day of the week the Pansy lost its second bud through the sparrows, just when it looked certain to be quite as good as the flower he got last year; or he will show you how the Canariensis, baffled by the same marauders last Friday week, has tried again with a second shoot which will be out before Wednesday; those Pansies were specially bought at Covent Garden; as for the Sweet Peas, they came as seedlings, not a tenth their present size, and they will be even better in a fortnight. The Solanum is a special prize, and comes from a country garden; but dearer than that is the Geranium, grown from one of his own cuttings, a real scion of the family.”

A Geranium among the slates and chimney stacks! This was a triumph indeed; enough to make the Clementi-Smiths at St. Andrew’s Rectory envious.

In these roof-gardens there are joys undreamed of by the stranger. A real honey-bee buzzing and working over the flower-beds, even a spider—a real garden spider, with a shining web, a country-looking weed, a stinging nettle,—a lively one that knows how to sting, and on one bright still evening, when the sunshine lingered on the gas-work’s chimneys, a humming-bird hawk-moth fluttering well-pleased among the flowers.

After these flights among the tiles and chimney-stacks it is tame work, talking of the City gardens of the level ground; but, after all, they are the commonest and most generally useful. The dreary churchyards now made into play-grounds, where a few simple flowers bloom, and there is a shrub or two; we may see such any day at St. John’s in the Waterloo Road. And there are the old, old gardens about the Temple and the Law Courts; how many generations of lawyers they have cheered (not one space can be spared); and who has not felt a thrill of joy when nearing St. Paul’s Cathedral, to see the fresh green of the trees and the indescribable beauty of the rustling, swaying boughs, so strangely sweet in such a spot.

Not the least good done by our City gardens is the welcome given by them to bird and butterfly; even the seagulls did not come to London till after we had planted trees on the Embankment and laid down turf. The more gardens we make, the more country visitors will come to them, gladdening the Londoner with rural sounds.

A cuckoo cried at Lincoln’s Inn
Last April, somewhere else one heard
The missel-thrush with throat of glee;
And nightingales at Battersea


End of Town And Window Gardening by Frances Anne Bardswell