CARPET-BEDDING is not the most artistic phase of gardening, by any means, but it has a great attraction for many persons who admire masses of harmonious and contrasting colors more than the individual beauty of a flower. Therefore a chapter on this subject will no doubt be gladly welcomed by those who have seen the striking effects secured by the use of plants having ornamental or richly colored foliage, in our large public parks, and on the grounds of the wealthy.
Let me say, just here, that the person who attempts what, for want of a better name, might be called pictorial gardening, is wise if he selects a rather simple pattern, especially at the outset of his career in this phase of garden-work. Intricate and elaborate designs call for more skill in their successful working out than the amateur is likely to be master of, and they demand a larger amount of time and labor than the average amateur florist will be likely to expend upon them. And the fact should never be lost sight of that failure to give all the care needed brings about most discouraging results. This being the case, select a design in which the effect aimed at can be secured by broad masses of color, depending almost wholly on color-contrast for pleasing results. Bear in mind that this "school" of pictorial art belongs to the "impressionistic" rather than the "pre-Raphaelite," about which we hear so much nowadays, and leave the fine work to the professional gardener, or wait until you feel quite sure of your ability to attempt it with a reasonably good show of success.
Some persons are under the impression that flowering plants can be used to good effect in carpet-bedding. This is not the case, however. In order to bring out a pattern or design fully and clearly, it is absolutely necessary that we make use of plants which are capable of giving a solid color-effect. This we obtain from foliage, but very few flowering plants are prolific enough of bloom to give the desired result. The effect will be thin and spotty, so never depend on them. Quite often they can be used in combination with plants having ornamental foliage in such a manner as to secure pleasing results, but they always play a secondary part in this phase of gardening.
The best plants to use in carpet-bedding are the following:
Coleus, in various shades of red, maroon, and scarlet, light and dark yellow, green and white, and varieties in which colors and shades of color are picturesquely blended.
Achyranthes, low-growing plants in mixtures of red, pink, yellow and green.
Alternatheras, similar to Achyranthes in habit, but with red as a predominating color. Both are excellent for working out the finer details of a design.
Pyrethrum - "Golden Feather" - with feathery foliage of a tawny yellow.
Centaurea gymnocarpa, - "Dusty Miller," - with finely-cut foliage of a cool gray.
Geranium Madame Salleroi - with pale green and white foliage. This is a most excellent plant for use in carpet-bedding because of its close, compact habit of growth, and its very symmetrical shape which is retained throughout the entire season without shearing or pruning.
It must be borne in mind by the amateur florist that success in carpet-bedding depends nearly as much on the care given as on the material used. In order to bring out a design sharply, it is necessary to go over the bed at least twice a week and cut away all branches that show a tendency to straggle across the boundary line of the various colors. Run your pruning shears along this line and ruthlessly cut away everything that is not where it belongs. If this is not done, your "pattern" will soon become blurred and indistinct. If any intermingling of colors "from across the line" is allowed, all sharpness of outline will be destroyed.
The plants must be clipped frequently to keep them dwarf and compact. Make it a point to keep the larger-growing kinds, such as Coleus, Pyrethrum and Centaurea, under six inches in height rather than over it. Alternatheras and Achyranthes will need very little shearing, as to top, because of their habit of low growth.
In setting these plants in the bed, be governed by the habit of each plant. Achyranthes and Alternatheras, being the smallest, should be put about four inches apart. Give the Coleus about six inches of lee-way, also the Centaurea. Allow eight inches for Madame Salleroi Geranium and Pyrethrum. These will soon meet in the row and form a solid line or mass of foliage.
So many persons have asked for designs for carpet-bedding, that I will accompany this chapter with several original with myself which have proved very satisfactory. Some of them may seem rather complicated, but when one gets down to the business of laying them out, the seeming complications will vanish.
In laying out all but the star-shaped and circular beds, it is well to depend upon a square as the basis to work from. Decide on the size of bed you propose to have, and then stake out a square as shown by the dotted lines in design No. 1, and work inside this square in filling in the details. If this is done, the work will not be a difficult one.
Design No. 1 will be found easy to make and admits of many pleasing combinations and modifications. Each gardener who sees fit to adopt any of these designs should study out a color-scheme of his own. Knowing the colors of the material he has to work with it will not be difficult to arrange these colors to suit individual taste. I think this will be more satisfactory than to give any arbitrary arrangement of colors, for half the pleasure of gardening consists in originating things of this kind, rather than copying what some one else has originated, or of following instructions given by others. This does not apply so much to designs for beds as it does to the colors we make use of in them.
In the designs accompanying this chapter it will be seen that simple plans are made capable of producing more elaborate effects by making use of the dotted lines. Indeed, one can make these designs quite intricate by dividing the different spaces as outlined in No. 2. A plain centre with a plain point, as shown in a, shows the bed in its very simplest form. In g, c, and d, we see these points with three different arrangements suggested, and the dotted line in the central portion indicates a change that can be made there that will add considerably to the effectiveness of the design. A little study of other designs will, I think, make them so plain that they can be worked out with but little trouble.
I would suggest that before deciding on any color-combinations, a rough diagram be made of whatever bed you select and that this be colored to correspond with the material you have to work with. Seeing these colors side by side on paper will give you a better idea of the general effect that will result from any of your proposed combinations than you can get in any other way, and to test them in this manner may prevent you from making some serious mistakes.
It will be necessary to go over the beds every day or two and remove all dead or dying leaves. Neatness is an item of the greatest importance in this phase of gardening, or any other, for that matter.
Large plants can be used in the centre of any of these designs, if one cares to do so, with very good effect. For this purpose we have few plants that will give greater satisfaction than the Dahlia. Scarlet Salvia would be very effective if yellow Coleus were used about it, but it would not please if surrounded with red Coleus, as the red of the plant and the red of the flower would not harmonize. A Canna of rich, dark green would make a fine centre plant for a bed in which red Coleus served as a background. One of the dark copper-colored varieties would show to fine effect if surrounded with either yellow Pyrethrum or gray Centaurea.
Ageratum, with its delicate lavender-blue flowers, can be made extremely attractive in combination with yellow Coleus. A pink Geranium surrounded with gray Centaurea would be delightful in the harmony that would result from a combination of these colors.
Nos. 7 and 8 illustrate the simplest possible form of bed. No. 7 is designed for plants to be set in rows. In a bed of this kind flowering plants can be used more effectively than in any of the others. Pink, white, and pale yellow Phlox would be very pretty in such a combination. No. 8 would be quite effective if each of the five sections were of a different color of Coleus. Or the whole star might be of a solid color, with a border of contrasting color. Red Coleus with Madame Salleroi Geranium as a border would look well. So would yellow Coleus edged with Centaurea.