This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
IF there is one aspect of gardening more than another that stands out prominently in the present day, it is this - that many of the fine old hardy perennials and biennials, with others not quite hardy, yet not difficult of management, are slowly but surely rising in popular favour, and that they will ere long be eagerly sought for the decoration of the flower-garden. It is equally certain that the rage for "bedding out," in so far as it is pictured in glowing masses of scarlet and crimson, rose and blue, yellow and white, or in long ribbon-lines composed of these and other shades of colour, differently arranged, with little to relieve the glare or tone down the most pronounced hues, is gradually expending itself, for the very monotony of its annual recurrence presages its decay. The partial employment of these gaudy-coloured flowers can become, by means of judicious grouping, a great aid in the decoration of the flower-garden; it is when they hold absolute sway, when nothing else but these glaring masses of colour is employed, that they become offensive and cease to be satisfying.
The large classes of hardy perennials and biennials supply numerous plants yielding beautiful, and in many instances highly fragrant, flowers of divers types; combined with many forms of leaf foliage that, when "uncrowned by flowers" even, are by no means unattractive of themselves. But in the past few years, during the arbitrary reign of a somewhat diseased perception of beauty in the garden that failed to see much that is attractive in our fine old and many new herbaceous plants, they were ruthlessly thrust aside, as bereft of charms, and as fitted only for some out-of-the-way place remote from the flower-garden.
We have lost much, very much, by this; but we have gained an experience that will do much to exalt in the time to come the plants for which we now plead.
The mixed border, by bringing into its arrangement a little knowledge, and by the exercise of a little judicious care, can be made a kind of floral panorama the year through. There are so many flowers easily accessible, and as easily managed, that bloom at all seasons of the year, and at almost any one particular season, such a border can be so tinted with flowers as to be continuously bearing a cheerful appearance. The eye, satiated with staring masses of colour, turns with quick joy to such a border as this, when the full flower-harvest of the month of July crowns the summer with fruitfulness, and sees here a quiet and changeful beauty, so modest and unpretentious, and yet much more capable of satisfying the requirements of a true taste than yonder gaudy robe of many colours covering the breast of "Earth, our mother," and which we term "a flower-garden".
A glance at a list of perennials and biennials gives the following as among the most useful as decorative agents: those who know them intimately can fully appreciate the high floral service they are capable of rendering. An alphabetical arrangement gives us the fine dark blue Aconitum Napellus, the charming varieties of Alstroemeria, an exceedingly beautiful and profuse genus of tuberous-rooted plants of easy growth; Anemone japonica, its pale variety of hybrida, and that beautiful pure white variety Honorine Jobert, all so useful for cutting from; Anthericum Liliastrum, or St Bruno's Lily; Aquilegias, or Columbines, especially the beautiful A. glandulosa, and the scarcely less attractive A. Skinneri and A. caerulea; the blue Baptisia Australis, with its pretty pea-shaped flowers; Borago officialis, the common blue Borage; Campanula persicifolia, both white and blue, and its fine varieties, coronata caerulea and coronata alba; together with the varieties of Campanula media, better known as Canterbury Bells, among which the new and charming rose-coloured variety should have a place; the old red-flowered Centranthus ruber, very hardy and of free habit; the class of Delphiniums, one of the handsomest and most useful of all perennials, especially D. Hendersoni and D. formosum, the latter with an almost unapproachable rich hue of blue; the fine and showy varieties of Dianthus hybridus, almost perpetual summer-bloomers; Dictamnus fraxinella, both red and white, that so richly deserve a place in every garden, because both effective and fragrant; the fine new spotted Foxgloves, showing a march of improvement almost unimaginable by those not conversant with it; the fine and showy Gaillardia Richardsoni, one of the gayest ornaments for a summer flower-bed; some of the early-blooming Gladioli, such as G. Byzantinus and G. Colvilli; the double forms of Hesperis matronalis, better known as the double purple and double white Rockets, now masses of bloom; Iris Germanica, I. Xiphioides, or the English Iris; and I. Xiphium, or the Spanish Iris, of each of which there are many beautiful varieties, and all easily managed; the showy Tangier Pea, Lathyrus Tingitanus, and the equally useful L. Lindleyanus; Liliums of many kinds, all superb border-flowers; the double scarlet Lychnis Chalcedonica, the flesh-coloured Bastard Balm, Melittis melissophyllum, Nierembergia frutescens, growing in a hardy shrublike form; the yellow CEnothera macrocarpa, and the equally useful white CEnothera taraxicifolia; the beautiful blue Forget-me-not-like Omphal-odes verna; Pentstemons in variety, most useful border plants, especially the pretty blue P. Jeffreyanum, and P. (Chelone) barbatum splen-dens; Potentillas, of which there are many showy kinds; Prunella grandiflora or Pennsylvanica, a very fine species; double Pyrethrums, of which we now have quite a wealth of fine showy varieties that are most valuable border-plants; Scilla Peruviana and its white variety; Spireas, japonica, ulmaria florepleno, and umbrosa; Stachys coccinea, the autumn-flowering Stenactis speciosa; Tritonia aurea, T. crocata, and T. rosea, beautiful plants that richly deserve more general culture; Veronica spicata, and its white variety; the alpine Violas, calcarata and cornuta; V. lutea and its large-flowering varieties; and the fine V. cornuta, var.
Perfection, of great size, and of a lustrous bluish mauve colour. The foregoing by no means exhaust the list; there are hundreds of others equally valuable and equally attractive, and as unfailing as they are numerous.
Perennials and biennials afford a greater and more pleasing variety of tints of colour than the lists of ordinary bedding plants; and in the fine hues of blue, so much needed under our present systems of bedding, perennials are singularly rich. As a general rule, they are easily attainable, either by raising plants from seed, or by obtaining plants from a nursery, and when so obtained capable of almost indefinite extension; they by their beauty, by their pleasant service, and by their unbroken succession of bloom, assert their claim to a higher regard than they now receive, though we feel assured such a regard cannot be much longer withheld from them.
Already nurserymen and others are finding it to be their advantage to work up collections of these hardy plants. They are in demand, one of the best indications of their rising popularity; and when this popularity shall come - as come it will, - their use will revolutionise our system of bedding out with much positive gain. Moreover, these plants will be found to fit into, and both aid and supplement, what is known as spring gardening, now so much and deservedly followed: labour will be lessened while the most desired results are at the same time augmented; there need be no more naked beds during the winter and spring months where spring gardening is not followed; and where it is, they will assist rather than prevent or retard it.