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.
It has been a little amusing to notice the frantic attempts that have recently been made to bring into contempt the flower-gardening which has been popular in British gardens for a long time now. So furious and ultra has been the character of these efforts, that there is some difficulty in believing that those who have made them possess the knowledge and skill necessary to properly appreciate the best features of the flower-gardening to which we refer. A correspondent has remarked that, like John Barleycorn, the more loudly popular flower-gardening has been abused, the stronger it has grown. Be this as it may, we are certainly of opinion that any fashion of flower-gardening that has continued for more than a quarter of a century, and that is likely to continue for an equal period to yield so much pleasure to the public at large, scarcely deserves all the hideous epithets that have been hurled at its existence, in some cases by those who evidently do not understand it, even admitting that rejoicings could be indulged in over a superior and more refined order of things.
While we thus write, we disavow any sympathy with stereotyped forms of any branch of horticulture, and would tender thanks to those ultra opponents of gay flower-beds for their assistance in introducing interesting features into our gardens. At the same time, we cannot extend our sympathy towards their attempts to rear even desirable features on the ruins of others equally, or even more, desirable.
Bed Of Succutents Suitable For Small Gardens.
There is no more reason, surely, why we should show all gay groups of flowering plants to the garden-gate, in order to so exclusively accommodate another feature, however desirable, than there is for tearing the glowing works of a Raphael or Michael Angelo from our picture-galleries to make room for the quiet sky gradations of a Claude, when there is room for both; and should there be room for both, it can be no proof of good taste to exclude either - it may be proof that "prejudice runs, while reason lags behind".
Flat surfaces, with great flaunting daubs of colour, without any toning down, or mingling of graceful objects, we have long waged war against, both by pen and practice; and the step in the right direction, by the more liberal introduction of plants less remarkable for bright colouring than for elegant forms, deserves to be hailed with heart and hand. No man can stand still, no man cares to stand still: where progress ceases, retrogression commences. It is so in everything, flower-gardening included, which, if it does not progress and accumulate fresh charms, must retrograde and fall short of serving its true end and purpose. All hail, therefore, to all that is not merely new, but worthy of the name of progress and increased interest, and among which we class "beds of succulent and curious-looking plants".
This is a style of grouping which is beginning to attract a considerable share of attention. The plants that come under this designation are singularly distinct from such as have absorbed so much of the gardener's care and resources; and beds of them are so distinct in character, and so interesting, that they have much to recommend them to popular favour. They are, moreover, from their singular, in some cases grotesque, appearance, scarcely admissible in the same beds with ordinary bedding-plants remarkable chiefly for their profuse and brilliant flowers. Unless, indeed, it be in some cases as edgings to flowerbeds, it is more appropriate to devote a few beds to themselves, both because they thus become a feature all the more distinct and appreciable, and, to our mind, are not appropriate for mingling up with flowering plants. There is so much character and singularity of appearance about these plants, that, when nicely arranged, they never fail to prove interesting, and to attract a large share of attention.
Their characters are most distinctly displayed when they are planted rather thinly on a carpeting of many of our singular-looking and perfectly hardy alpine plants; and in small gardens, for which they are specially to be recommended, and where, perhaps, only one or two beds can be devoted to them, the more natural way of grouping them is to be recommended. What we wish to be understood by this is, that a select assortment be planted in a bed according to their heights and habits. Take, for instance, a circular bed, such as that shown on the plate, which has been engraved from a photograph of a small bed intended for gardens of limited resources: here are a few varieties of striking-looking plants of diverse habits arranged in a simple manner, and which made a much more interesting-looking bed than it is possible to represent on paper. The bed is considerably raised above the ground-level.
Fig. 4. - Echeveria Glauco Metallica.
The centre plant is a variegated American Aloe, and it is surrounded by Echeveria metallica, the ground betwixt which was covered with Sedum azoideum variegatum. The plants surrounding this centre group were chiefly composed of Echeveria secunda glauca, with a few Patchy-phytums mixed in; while the edging is a line of the pretty hardy Saxifraga rosularis, the whole surface of the ground among the dwarf Echeveria being densely covered with the quaint rosette-looking Sem-pervivum Californicum, which the photograph has failed to reach, but which formed quite a feature when the bed was looked down upon.
Fig. 3. - Sempervivum Giganteum.