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.
Notwithstanding all that has been said and argued, with the aid of some reason and a good deal of ridicule, against the prevailing style of flower-gardening by means of masses of colour in flowers and foliage, the fashion seems to be gaining ground rather than falling away. It seems to gather strength from persecution; it becomes richer in detail and more refined in execution as materials accumulate and improve. Spring-bedding takes the form of massing with the materials which will suit the season; and winter-bedding is the same thing with shrubs of varied shades, and we yet expect great advances to be made with shrubs in winter-bedding.
It is in summer and autumn that the greatest display of colour is possible, and must be made, as nature is then in full dress, so that the trimmings and ornaments must be of the brightest hues, lawns and shrubberies being in their freshest green, and deciduous trees in full foliage. Beds and borders must be embroidered in the brightest colours, else the effect will be tame and monotonous. At no other season can colour-gardening be indulged in with so much satisfaction and profusion, and surely the most should be made of the opportunity. We have six months of the year cold, dull, and all but flowerless, and surely we may be pardoned the effort to make the other six months as joyous and bright as possible.
We propose noting a few combinations of colour, or rather of plants, which we have found very effective, in the hope of drawing out suggestions from other correspondents; but before doing so shall review some of the materials used.
Apart from plants with coloured foliage, Geraniums still hold the first place for producing effect, and the best among a great many is Violet Hill Nosegay; the next best is Vesuvius; Lady Constance Grosvenor holds a foremost place. Charley Carbon is first-rate with us, being very dwarf, with a bold truss of flowers, petal broad, and of a brilliant dark scarlet colour. Indian Yellow is also first-rate in poor soil. Jean Lisley, a fine flower, but too strong a grower. Ianthe, dwarf, of a peculiar laky scarlet, but fear it will be wanting in effect. Of dark reds, Bayard is the best; Stanstead Rival, very like it; Emily Lemoine promises to be very good; and Waltham seedling is very effective. In Pinks, Mrs Upton is far the most effective, though a strong grower; it beats Maid of Kent, Blue Bell, and Madame du Renne. Christine cannot be spared yet. For carpet-bedding we have a neat seedling Zonale Geranium, very dwarf, with creamy salmon flowers high above the foliage, which we hope will prove a useful thing, as it will work well in with Coleus or Golden Feather; it fits us between Violas and Alternantheras. Of yellow foliage Geraniums, Crystal Palace Gem is the best; but for carpeting, Robert Fish is very beautiful, - its yellowish foliage and orange scarlet flowers give it a very striking appearance in combinations.
Golden Tricolors of the Mrs Pollock type are of better use for massing; they are wanting in effect from a distance. The Bronze and Gold are much better, and the more of the gold the better the effect. Flowers of Spring and Mangles' variegated are still the staple in the silver-variegated section. Mont Blanc, with its white flowers, raises great expectations if it prove a good grower. Lady Plymouth is good for carpeting, giving much the same effect as Mesembryanthemum variegatum. Of Calceolarias, Raines' King, an old variety, is exceedingly hardy and prolific, and not given to disease like Aurea floribunda. Golden Gem, of a deep orange colour, is very dwarf, and a most useful variety.
Among foliage-plants for carpet-bedding the small variegated leaved Abutilon vexillarium is very neat, its habit spreading, and has a bright golden variegation - the brightest gold in a bed we know, not even excepting Golden Feather. Golden Thyme is very neat for lines, but not so good as the last, and it has a tendency to get greener unless the ground is poor. Mesembryanthemum cordifolium variegatum - bother the name - makes a beautiful groundwork to show up scarlets or reds, for edging beds and vases. Kleinia repens is exceedingly dressy in lines. Testuca glauca is also very dressy for parting lines when it does not grow over much; with us, in a dry climate, it is very short, and high in colour. Sedum glaucum in the same way as to colour, and will grow if chopped up and sown on the ground in spring. Coleus Verschaffeltii is fine for carpeting and working in with whites and yellows. Iresine Lindenii is all but discarded. Alternantheras are thrown away, except magnifica and amcena: the former, orange red, spreads and grows robustly; amcena is slow growing, but the colour rich; it grows well in heat under glass, which shows that our summers are too cold for it.
The old Cerastium cannot be discarded yet, though Antennaria tomentosa is more dressy for groundwork or edging.
One of the prettiest beds of the season of an oblong shape is planted with Violet Hill Nosegay for centre mass, a band round of Mangles' variegated, followed by a band of Coleus Verschaffeltii, and finished with a band of Golden Feather. Another bed has a groundwork of Mesembryanthemum cordifolium variegatum, dotted with Vesuvius in little round patches, banded with Alternanthera amcena, and edged with Echeveria secunda, edged with Sedum glaucum. Another, with the centre mass of Coleus, banded with Golden Feather, banded with Alternanthera magnifica, banded with Echeveria, and edged with Sedum. Charley Carbon makes a glowing bed, banded with variegated Veronica and edged with Sedum. Golden Gem Calceolaria banded by Viola Perfection, banded with Cerastium, and edged with Alternanthera. Christine for a mass, banded with Crimson King, banded with Mangles edged with Coleus. Purple King for a mass banded with Viola lutea, banded by Crimson King and edged by Mangles.
A long border under a high wall looks gay with first at back a row of Sedum fabarium, broken at equal distances with plants of Amar-anthus salicifolius; from each of these a festoon of Festuca glauca is dropped half-way across the border; inside, the festoons are planted alternately with Lady Plymouth Geranium, and bronze and gold Geraniums, three large plants of Echeveria metallica being in the centre of each festoon. The angles of the festoons filled in with Alternanthera magnifica, finishing with a straight line of variegated Mesembryanthemum, edged with Echeveria.
A series of large rectangular beds filled with masses of Waltham Seedling, Cybister, Trentham Eose, Flower of Spring, Lord Palmerston, all banded with Crystal Palace Gem, and edged with Lobelia, alternated with Dactylis glomerata var., looks very brilliant. The same series alternated with round beds, the centres of which contain a tall standard Acer negundo variegata, the stems of which are used as stakes for pyramidal plants of Zonale Pelargoniums, round which is Calceolaria Raines' King, edged with Centaurea candidissima.
A very effective bed is Rival Nosegay Ger., banded with Flower of Spring, banded with Coleus, edged with Golden Feather. These, and many more, are planted very simply. It would be difficult to make intelligible the planting of more intricate beds without diagrams, but two large beds planted to match, containing nearly 4000 plants each, are striking planted as in the accompanying plan, the beds 50 feet across.
1, vase, 4 feet across; 2, mass of Bijou Geranium; 3, band of Coleus, 4 feet wide; 4, Golden Feather, filling the angles; 5 and 6, Alternantheras amcena and magnifica alternately; 7 and 7, festoons and line of Festuca glauca; 8, ring of Golden Feather; 9, ring of Coleus; 10, triangles of Robert Fish Geranium; 11, single plants of Echeveria metallica; 12, Mes. cord. var.; 13, single plants of Centaurea candidissima; 14, ring of Festuca; 15, line all round the bed of Alternan-thera magnifica; 16, line of Echeveria secunda glauca; 17, edging 1 foot wide of Sedum glaucum; 18, Lobelia.
The weak point in this arrangement is the Lobelia, which ought to have been something with dark foliage.