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.
In common with most garden establishments in these days, a portion of the flower-gardening here is represented in summer and autumn on the bedding system, or grouping half-hardy and tender plants in beds and borders. Although by no means either on a modern standard respecting materials, or on an extensive scale, still a few general remarks on the growth and flowering of the plants chiefly employed, may not be inappropriate in a corner of your instructive serial. The site of the garden here was a few years ago one of the worst of quags, on which the subsequent formation of a horticultural establishment seemed most unlikely. Being, however, the only position available in the desired locality, it was ultimately decided upon. Thorough drainage, diligent cultivation, and liberal manuring, have since wrought wonders, and now the land yields excellent crops of vegetables, particularly Carrots, Onions, Asparagus, Peas.
But I find I am deviating from my intended notes on bedding plants: and to begin with Geraniums, I am sorry I can report little in their favour as far as my experience with them the last two seasons is concerned - at least, excepting those varieties grown for foliage only. Up to the end of August last, scarcely a flower made its appearance, and the effect of the sprinkling with which we have since been favoured has been largely counterbalanced by rank foliage. Hitherto the plants turned out have been cuttings struck the previous autumn; but such a system I apprehend to be unsuitable, as flowerless plants appear to be the invariable result. The method of which I am sanguine of better securing the flowering of the plants, would be to grow them in 6 or 7 inch pots the summer previous to that in which they would be required for bedding out. It might reasonably be expected that such a practice would result in counteracting strong growth, and induce a flowering disposition. This certainly involves extra labour, watering, etc, which in places where planting is done extensively is a consideration; but though fewer plants were used, they would be more satisfactory than double the number of comparatively flowerless ones.
I am of course referring specially to soils of a very rank character, such as have to be contended with here. My attention was more particularly drawn to this lately, in connection with a few Clematises planted last spring. One of these, a strong plant of Jackmannii, had up to that time been restricted to pot-culture; but with the view of prolonging its display of blooms, I resolved to have it planted out. It was accordingly planted against the low wall of a plant-house along with some five others, which were young plants in 4 1/2 or 5 inch pots. The result is, that with the exception of one strong plant of Rubella which is yielding a few blooms, they are growing vigorously and have little appearance of flowering, while the old plant of Jackmannii in question has bloomed profusely for some time, and is as like flowering as ever: so that the object of its outdoor culture has been fully secured. Heliotropes, I find, bear much the same character as Geraniums, and are of little account either for cut-flower or border display. A liberal application of rough sand, well incorporated with the soil in the beds where they are to be planted, I am hopeful will effect an improvement.
Verbenas last year (1872) did not begin flowering till September. I attributed the fact of the plants being all spring-struck as coinciding with the dull wet season we experienced in postponing their flowering, and accordingly last year propagated all the plants required in the autumn instead of spring. This year flowering began about the middle of July, and for the last six weeks has been in profusion. This has not been at the sacrifice of fresh young shoots for propagating material, as is sometimes the case with autumn-struck plants, for these have also been abundant. Verbenas prove by far the most satisfactory outdoor flowering-plants here. Besides the cut-flower supply being more plentiful than from any other source, they yield a display of bloom till far in the season, the early frosts rarely assuming such severity as to do them permanent injury. The sorts which are found to succeed well in regard to climate, etc, are old Scarlet Defiance, Purple King, and Snowflake: the latter has not such a straggling habit here as I have frequently seen it assume. Judging from the vigorous growth the sorts named make in this soil, I have concluded that fewer plants might suffice to cover the ground than are frequently used, unless the season proved unusually dry.
Planted about 12 inches apart, and pegged out as far as could be done, the growth, besides covering the ground, averages 18 inches high: in this way they would of course be unsuitable for front lines, if such should be the desired arrangement. Passing on to Calceolarias, I find the cool moist bottom the deep peaty soil affords to suit them to a nicety; and planted out in a growing condition - that is, without being coddled -they give lasting satisfaction. They are much exposed to wind, which when it prevails is generally of no ordinary force; therefore timely attention to staking is particularly necessary. The worst of these storms I ever experienced here, or in fact elsewhere, was on 26th July 1872, from due east, when some of them were all but torn out by the root. The foliage even of Turnips was blackened as if by frost, at the same time. A valuable shelter has since been provided by the erection of a substantial high wall, which effectually breaks the east and north-east winds in particular, and proves highly beneficial to flower-gardening generally. Regarding varieties of Calceolarias, none we have tried surpasses old Amplexicaulis for effect; indeed it is the only variety that claims special observation.
I was surprised on being informed recently it had been discarded in some districts, as where it does well, as it certainly does here, I consider it a most telling variety; and if the plants are judiciously arranged, their massive spikes of bloom impart tone to a whole border. Golden Gem is also well worthy of a place, being evidently capable of doing its part in the roughest weather. A bed of it has for some time been a thicket of bloom, and, from the continual appearance of buds, appears to be but beginning. The crimson and dark sorts, such as Ambassador, Garibaldi, and others, we reserve for pot-culture, as they were not found to be satisfactory for bedding, on account of the damage they sustained in stormy weather. Probably I may already have made too great inroads on your valuable space, and may send notes on other bedding plants here with your permission on a future occasion. D. Mackie.
Few plants in general use for the decoration of the flower-garden, in wet stormy climates especially, will, I venture to assert, maintain their reputation so creditably as the bedding varieties of the Pansy. My experience with them, at least in this, one of the most distinguished of the British Isles in the above respect, leads me to such a conclusion. Taking into consideration the facility of increasing the stalk, which is in fact next to no trouble at all here, as the young shoots root over the ground in all directions, so that it is only necessary to lift and winter them in boxes or other convenient means; on this, and also on account of the long period they continue in bloom, few plants are more worthy of space in the flower-border, particularly where the means of keeping half-hardy stuff is limited. Imperial Blue is, beyond all doubt, a superb variety, and should have a place in every garden in which Pansies succeed moderately well. Planted early in April it soon after that began to flower, and up to this date, 25th October, it has bloomed without intermission. Cliveden Blue is still flowering profusely, but has not kept up a continuous display, as has Imperial Blue. Viola cornuta Perfection is another grand addition to the list of Violas for a stormy place.
It also has done famously this season, but appears now to have exhausted itself. Viola lutea, cl. Massiffs, has not come up to the blue varieties, having grown more grossly. Plants that are used for their foliage are not the least satisfactory in such a place as this. The following, though rather common, are at once storm-proof and effective when arranged with their complementary colours - viz., Cerastium tomentosum, Dell's Beet, and Cineraria maritima. The latter appears to be quite a hardy plant here, and survives the winter in the open border. The same, by the way, may be said of certain varieties of the Fuchsia, and of Hydrangeas. About the beginning of November 1872, I counted over 40 trusses of fully-expanded flowers, if I remember rightly, on a huge plant of a Hydrangea in a neighbouring garden here, and even up till Christmas there were a goodly number of trusses on the same plant. To the foliaged plants used Geraniums remain to be added, the varieties of which were Sophia Dumaresque, Perilla, Mrs Pollock, and Louisa Smith. These, I am glad to say, all did their part much more satisfactorily than the flowering varieties; but I should have mentioned in a former paper that Vesuvius formed a slight exception, as it threw its few trusses well above the dense foliage.
Roses succeed admirably, and are worthy of being extensively grown for general decoration. Conspicuous as free flowerers in the Hybrid perpetual class are, Senateur Vaisse, Geant de Batailles, Baroness Rothschild. Among others, in an additional lot planted last spring, was Marquis de Castel-lane, which apparently yields fine full flowers. Souvenir de la Malmaison, and Gloire de Dijon, are indispensable in the Bourbon and Tea section. There are two or three annuals we think worthy of being mentioned, and Nemophila insignis is one in particular. I can endorse all that was said in behalf of this favourite annual in the 'Gardener' of December 1872: I used it this year as a substitute for Lobelia speciosa, and must in justice give it the preference for free flowering. With the view of securing a display of bloom from August onward, I did not sow till the beginning of June; it has been in fine bloom since the middle of August, and should we be favoured with moderate weather, will be effective a few weeks longer. Tagetes signata pumila is well worthy of a place; it, however, to our disappointment, outgrew Perilla Nankinensis, planted amongst it.
It does not suffer so much from the storms as do Calceolarias; but, on the other hand, from the rank character of its growth here, it is longer in producing effect than the latter, thus rendering it more suitable, perhaps, for a mixed border than for grouping; when at their best the plants presented a compact sheet of bloom. Phlox Drummondii and Saponaria are found useful; the latter last year was in good bloom in December. I shall refrain from occupying your space further with other things of minor importance. D. Mackie.