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HOME > Classical Novels > Norma: A Flower Scout > CHAPTER II MRS. TOMPKINS COACHES NORMA.
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 The foregoing letter was sealed and mailed that forenoon when Farmer Ames drove past on his way to the general store. But there may be some readers who have not met Natalie and her friends at Green Hill Farm, and so, are not aware that Natalie left New York City with Mrs. James, her valuable companion and friend, and Rachel, the old southern cook who had been with the Averills for many years, to live on a farm in Westchester County that had been left the girl by her mother.  
The old Colonial house on the farm was large and comfortable, so Natalie’s four school chums had agreed to spend the summer there, and board with Mrs. James. This income would help pay current expenses of housekeeping, and the girls could enjoy the freedom of country life and be happy in each other’s company.
All the amusing incidents that occurred to Natalie when she launched her plan and started a vegetable garden to help defray expenses, and the still more ludicrous experiences Janet had after she began her stock farm, are told in the two preceding volumes of this country life series, namely: “Natalie: A Garden Scout1,” and “Janet: A Stock-Farm Scout.”
The same day that Norma’s letter went to her parents, a letter written by Frances Lowden was also mailed at Four Corners. In Frances’s letter she begged her parents to leave the automobile2 at the farm when they went to Colorado for the summer months. The reason for wanting the car at Green Hill was explained in the other volumes; that Frances proposed running a jitney as her business venture that summer, and thus put Amity3 Ketchum out of his profession for the time being.
How this venture succeeded and how Frances added to this undertaking4 the other branches of work that won her the badges in scoutdom, is told in full in her book which follows this one.
The preceding evening, while four of the girls called on Nancy Sherman and Hester Tompkins to make an appointment for the meeting of the two scout patrols, Mrs. James took Norma and introduced her to Mrs. Tompkins, the flower lover.
“I trust we are not disturbing you, Mrs. Tompkins, but I wanted to introduce Norma to you, as I think you two will be very close friends after you get acquainted with each other’s ideals,” said Mrs. James.
“I’m glad you came in, as Hester just went out to visit Nancy Sherman for a little time this evening, and I am quite alone. I was just on the point of going out to my garden and watch the bud on a night-bloomer. I hope it opens tonight.”
“Oh, then, let us go with you, as Norma is going to start the flower gardens at the farm, and will be very grateful to you for any hints or helps you can give her,” explained Mrs. James.
“I’m glad to find someone who is interested in my hobby,” was Mrs. Tompkins’ reply, as she smiled at Norma. “Come right out and let me introduce you to my favorites in the flower beds.”
Norma and Mrs. James followed their hostess out to her large gardens, and Mrs. Tompkins began describing various plants as they passed them.
“You’ll find that most of my flowers in the beds nearest the house are all of the old-fashioned variety, because they give out such sweet perfume. I love to sit by my back window and smell their refreshing5 odors. It is payment in full for all the time I give to their food and growth.”
The two visitors walked slowly along the neat footpath6 and stopped frequently to stoop and smell of a bright blossom, or admire a wonderful color of a flower.
“I try to use good judgment7 in the arrangement of my plants, too, as well as to group the colors so they will blend instead of fight with each other. Sometimes, I have great difficulty in this arrangement, as a flower will open and surprise me with an entirely8 different color or shade than I expected. Quite often, the bees, or birds, will carry a germ from one flower to another when they visit it to sip9 the nectar, and this fertilization of the seed, after the flower dies, is made manifest in a totally different color in the next production of the plant.”
“Oh, how interesting! I never knew such things happened in a flower garden,” exclaimed Norma.
Mrs. Tompkins laughed at the girl’s very evident interest. “You will find stranger and more absorbing things happening in a flower garden, than this very common occurrence. Because you see, it really depends upon the breezes, the bees, or the birds—sometimes, on a creeping insect or caterpillar—to carry pollen10 and the fertilizing11 germs from one flower to another. And Nature seldom errs12 in her judgments13, either.”
“Mrs. Tompkins,” now asked Mrs. James, “do you know anything of the quality of the soil in the flower beds at Green Hill?”
“I’m afraid I am not well enough acquainted with it to render any verdict on it now. But I could visit you and examine it, so as to give you an intelligent answer on what flowers it will raise. The last tenant14 of the farm did not waste much time, or money, on the floral side of the grounds. His hobby was vegetable growing and the barn yard, and his wife cared little for gardening, so the beds were generally neglected.
“Fortunately, there is no danger of spoiling soil when it is not planted, and it is a very easy matter to enrich it so that any plant will thrive in it. The only impossible soil is what is known as ‘hard pan,’ but we find little of that around here.”
“I forked over some of the dirt in one of the beds and found it was rather dry and lacking in richness. Now this may be due to a sandy soil, or it may mean the soil is impoverished15 and needs more vitalizing properties before we plant the flowers,” said Mrs. James.
“If the ground was well manured early this spring or if you use good barn yard manure16 this fall, the beds will show a fine condition by next spring. I should use about a half-barrel full of manure to a square yard of the soil. But that will not do you any good for immediate17 planting. I would have to see the soil before I prescribe now for it,” explained Mrs. Tompkins.
“If Janet adds to her poultry18 business and buys pigeons and other feathered fowl19 very soon, we can use that manure for the beds. I’ve heard that poultry manure is best for flowers,” ventured Mrs. James.
“I’ll tell you what I do,” returned Mrs. Tompkins. “I believe poultry manure is one of the best to be had for any purpose with plants, as it is rich in nitrogen, easily stored and handled, and does not contain the grain or weed seeds that stall manure has and always reproduces when used in the garden. I remove any droppings from the perches20 and the floor of the house where the fowl roost; then I sweep the floors of all the coops, and use a fine tooth rake to clean out the poultry yards. These I throw in the box where that particular compost is kept. If I have any waste vegetable matter from the gardens or the kitchen garbage, I mix that with the poultry manure and leave it to decay thoroughly21.
“I have learned that such a compost heap, far enough from the house to prevent any disagreeable odors from reaching us, will attract the chickens when they are at large, each day, to exercise. They will scratch in the heap and mix it better than I can. You do not need nearly as much poultry manure as you would of stall manure.”
“What kind of manure can we use now that will not burn the plants Norma may wish to raise?” asked Mrs. James.
“As I said before, I had better test the soil before I commit myself to reply. If the soil is damp, she’d better use some wood ashes from the fire-places, to furnish the potash and improve the condition of the soil. Bone dust makes a good fertilizer that can be used at most times, but it does not provide any humus to the ground. I think I should use a fine bone dust for present needs, but use a coarse powder for spring or fall enriching.”
Norma now interrupted this conversation by exclaiming: “Oh, what a beautiful bed of gladiolis! In New York we would have to pay a dollar for six of those stalks.”
“I’m very fond of my gladiolis, and so are my bees and birds, especially the humming-birds. They hover22 in and out of the blossoms as long as there is one to hold honey or nectar. My July flowering gladiolis are planted in early spring and produce magnificent spikes23 of flowers right through to frost time. I plant many of the bulb in late autumn and protect them from the frost with straw sweepings24 from the stable.”
One corner of the garden was a mass of gorgeous color produced by great peonies. Mrs. James pointed25 at them and remarked about their size and the sweetness which she could smell as far away as she was.
“I am justly proud of them,” smiled Mrs. Tompkins. “I was careful to plant them where they would be protected from the east wind. They love a deep fertile soil and will thrive well in a sunny sheltered garden. You can grow them from seed, but you will wait a long time before enjoying the flowers. If you transplant a well-rooted plant, you will have flowers the following season.”
“I don’t suppose we can plant any roots so late as this?” queried26 Norma, anxiously.
“No, it would merely kill the plant and the root would dry up in the ground.”
The iris27, the phloxes, the pinks, lavender, portulacae and many other old-fashioned flowers were discussed, and for each one, Mrs. Tompkins had a valuable lesson to give Norma. As they went along the paths, Norma carrying a flat-bottomed basket, the hostess would dig up a small plant which had sprung up from a seed beside the older plant, and place it carefully in the basket. Thus by the time the three had covered the length of the paths in this section of the garden, Norma had almost a full basket of young slips and roots to take home for her own gardens. Then they walked over to a garden well enclosed with hedges, both low and high.
It brought forth28 a simultaneous exclamation29 of admiration30, as Mrs. James and Norma saw that this large garden contained all kinds of roses, from the single American Beauty standing31 upright and queenly, to the tiny bush prolific32 with pink blooms. The hedges, too, were well worth admiring and seeing.
On the side nearest the other flower-beds, the low hedge was comprised of hyssop, rosemary and lavender. On either side were hedges of roses, thickly grown and kept well-trimmed, but back of the riot of color and perfume of the rose garden proper, stood dark green privet and back of that a row of dwarf33 cedars34. This effectually screened the barns, but what really covered the grey, unpainted buildings were the luxuriant vines and creepers which were trained up over the roof, and hung in festoons from gables and dormer windows set in the roof.
Standing, as the visitors now did, beside the low hedge of flowers, and gazing across the roses to the taller hedge of cedar35 and then up at the tangle36 of green vines, the effect was lovely. And so thought the woman who had accomplished37 this effect.
After Norma had inhaled38 the perfume and sighed in an ecstasy39 of pleasure at the beautiful roses glowing before her, Mrs. Tompkins retraced40 her steps toward the house, as the twilight41 was falling and the dew began to gather on the foliage42 of the plants.
Norma carried the basket as if it were filled with frail43 creations of mist, but she asked questions, nevertheless.
“Why do you have table oilcloth spread out over the basket, Mrs. Tompkins?”
“To keep the soil from drying and to keep the roots and plants moist after they are placed in the basket. The oilcloth keeps the air from circulating about the roots and soil.”
“Then why have such a shallow basket. Would not a deep one keep away the air?”
“If we used a deep basket you would have to reach down into it and, perhaps, break a delicate stem, or catch your sleeve, or leaves of other plants, while you are removing a plant or root. By having such a shallow basket, one is not tempted44 to place other plants with their soil, on top of those in the bottom, as might be the case if one used a deep basket.”
As the three reached the back piazza45 which was completely hidden under vines, Norma remarked aloud: “It’s a wonder Mrs. Tompkins never went into the florist46 business, instead of keeping all these wonderful flowers and her valuable knowledge about them, to herself.”
Mrs. Tompkins smiled. “I’ll tell you something that I seldom speak of. I have had many tempting47 offers of large salaries and easy hours, to take charge of private greenhouses owned by millionaires who like to raise prize flowers; and also from commercial florists48 to superintend their greenhouses, because I have won quite a reputation for myself through my successful floriculture. But I stayed at home to work with my own garden and with my old-fashioned tools and ways.”
“Oh, Mrs. Tompkins! Didn’t you want fame and riches?” cried Norma, scarcely able to understand why one should refuse such wonderful gifts.
“Well, maybe I am queer, but I love flowers from a different standpoint than these growers of fancy and freakish plants,” explained Mrs. Tompkins. “It would hurt me to see the boss cutting all my young and glorious buds and blossoms to sell to a city market. I would see, in my mind’s eye, all my pets being sold to cold individuals for decorating their homes for parties, or to pin at their waist, without a thought for the sweet life of the flowers. And naturally, I would scold the owner of the greenhouse for such wholesale49 destruction. Now put me in charge of a rich man’s greenhouses, and tell me to produce a giant rose or chrysanthemum50 with which to win a prize and a newspaper comment! I couldn’t do it. I love all flowers so that I would fight to protect them. In my own home garden, I am ruler and no one tells me to strive for a prize, or sell my blossoms for money. And my flowers know I love them, so they really race with each other to see which one can offer me the finest blossoms.”
Norma laughed delightedly at this explanation, and Mrs. James nodded her head understandingly, as she murmured: “That is the way I could love the flowers if I allowed myself to specialize with them. And because I think Norma is much the same, I wanted her to try the flower gardening and then come and meet you.”
“Yes, I am that way!” declared Norma. “The other girls always laughed at me when I refused to pin flowers at my girdle, because I said they would droop51 and die so quickly. That’s why they dubbed52 me ‘Sentimental Norma.’ But it wasn’t that I hated to wear them, but that I couldn’t bear the thought of how much longer the flowers would have lived and shed their fragrance53 abroad, had they been able to remain on the plant. Then the bees and birds and all Nature would have benefited more than by cutting the flower to please one person.”
Mrs. Tompkins now learned from Norma’s guileless remark how idealistic and poetical54 the girl really was. She stepped forward and placed one hand on the tangled55 waves of hair and said: “I see we are going to be very good friends, Norma.”
Norma smiled up at the plain-faced woman and Mrs. James showed her satisfaction at the way Norma was accepted by their hostess. The other girls who had gone to Nancy Sherman’s had not yet returned to the Tompkins house, so the three flower lovers sat on the narrow front piazza and waited for them.
Twilight had given way to grey evening, and the frogs began croaking56, and the little lizards57 chirping58 over in the meadow across the road as the three friends sat and talked of various things pertaining59 to floriculture.
“If you find the soil in any section of your garden of a clay nature, you will need to lighten it. Sand generally needs rich farm yard manure to strengthen it. This must be dug under and well mixed for about two feet in depth. As I said a while back, it is too late in the season to make use of farm yard composts of any kind, unless you use it in the water with which you soak the plants after sundown, at night. I keep a hogshead of water in a back corner of my garden, in which I soak manure from the barn yard and stalls. I add a small quantity of the compost to this water every time I add water in any quantity. This keeps it always at about the same degree of nourishment60.”
“We have a few lily-of-the-valley plants along the side of the house where the driveway comes in. But they do not seem to be thriving,” said Mrs. James. “Can you tell me what to give them?”
“That’s because they are in the wrong location; now they are facing the southern sun and are exposed to the rays as well as to all the air that reaches the piazza. You must dig them up this fall, Mrs. James, and place them in a shady northeast bed. Plant them on that northeast side of the house where the stone wall sticks out like a buttress61. I never knew why that freak of an out-thrust was there. But now I know why it is there—to protect and shade your lily-of-the-valley plants.”
Norma and Mrs. James smiled at this interpretation62, and Mrs. Tompkins continued: “It would be a pity if Norma had to go back to the city before she had had time to plant her bulbs for next year’s flowers. The daffodils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths and other bulbs, which need fall or early winter planting, and the hardy63 vines and shrubs64 which beautify a place so wonderfully, have to be planted in the fall when the sap is all out of the wood.”
“Mrs. Tompkins, do you think I could ever grow such lovely flowers at Green Hill, as you have back there in your gardens?” asked Norma, yearningly65.
“Why not? Perhaps better ones; for you have soil, right exposures and finer surroundings than I ever had here at Four Corners. You must understand that plants are living things and they really appreciate their environment as much as we do. But the most important factor with them is the warmth of creative love—not the mortal selfish kind, but the divine eternal unselfish love. That is why you read of a scraggy little plant half-dead in the pot, that began to revive and flourish when cared for by a bed-ridden child whose days were passed in a tenement66 cellar. That plant needed not the sunshine and air of nature, as much as the beams of love and devotion and sacrifice from a human soul.”
“When you visit us at Green Hill, Mrs. Tompkins, I am going to show you an eye-sore that spreads all the way from the barn yard end of the farm to the road that runs past the northeast corner of the property. Perhaps you can suggest a remedy for that disgrace,” said Mrs. James earnestly.
“There is no ill in Nature. It is what man makes of his opportunity. I know the spot you speak of, and I often wished I had the right to go in there and work my will in that depression.”
“Then it is yours to do as you will with it, only let Norma and me act as your aides in doing it,” laughed Mrs. James.
“If we three consolidated67 and began alterations68 on the grounds of Green Hill, few people would recognize the place in a year’s time,” rejoined the hostess, smilingly.
“We’ll do it!” declared Norma eagerly.
“When you remember the rolling, artistic69 natural grades of the farm, and the sheltered, as well as exposed areas for planting, is it not a wonder the former tenant could not see the beauty in flower-growing?” said Mrs. James musingly70.
“Will you come over the first thing tomorrow morning?” asked Norma anxiously.
The ladies laughed and Mrs. Tompkins replied: “I’ll try to drive over when Farmer Ames goes back home.”
The other girls now joined the three people on the piazza and Hester said: “We’re all going to join the scout patrol, Mother, and there will be lots of fun after this, all summer through.”

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