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.
When "J. S., W." advocates any particular theory or system of gardening, we may be sure that he will fall foul of whoever may have the misfortune to disagree with him. Six years ago "J. S., W." was obliged to plant a border with hardy plants, which previously had been furnished with bedders, and since then the latter have passed under a cloud, and the former attained to the position of "J. S., W.'s" especial favourites. Not so long ago he was tilting against an unfortunate who happened to give expression to the opinion that a hardy white Phlox was not such a beautiful flower as Calanthe veratrifolia; and now I have put the proverbial foot into it, and called forth a statement as to the relative cost of hardy-flower borders and that of ordinary bedders. Had I found that it cost more labour to keep these poor bedders in first-class condition than it did to keep hardy flowers, no harm would have accrued; but, as my experience led me to believe quite the contrary to be the truth, "J. S., W." has had to put himself to an amount of trouble on behalf of hardy flowers which perhaps not another two men in the kingdom would have done. He has in this instance found a statement in the article that irritated him very much, which I do not think any one looking straight at it could have discovered.
This is how he commences his article: "Mr Brotherston refers to the comparative cost of the bedding and herbaceous or hardy-flower gardening; and the latter, according to his way of thinking, is the more expensive. ' There is no use blinking the matter,' he tells us, and I quite agree with him; but if he can make it appear that the bedding-out system, as practised at present, is less costly than the other, or even as cheap, he will have to tell your readers a great deal more," etc. Compare this with what I did say: "And then remains the great and final question - that of cost. Many are forming collections of hardy plants who never give this question a thought; or, if they do, expect it will be a saving. A few years back I remarked that the keeping of hardy plants in good order was no light matter, and was borne out in that remark by Mr Sutherland. Since then I have had a great deal more experience of them, with an extended practice in ordinary bedding and leaf bedding, and I have no hesitation in saying that these borders will require more labour to keep them in first-class order than either styles of bedding alluded to.
With our present experience, hardy plants will not be tolerated unless they are well done; and in pressing the claims of these on gardeners, there is no use in blinking the matter of labour." For several years back I have consistently advocated the claims of hardy plants, and in the same article from which "J. S., W." made his mutilated quotation, I praised them as highly as any one could. How far I go may be seen in this sentence in the same article, "No garden should be without a selection of good sorts." But it is no reason why, because hardy plants are worth cultivating in every garden, that we should ostracise, from that moment, masses of Geraniums, Calceolarias, and other bedders. Nor would I conceive it to be quite honest to withhold my experience in the matter of cost of keeping these hardy borders in the same style that our bedding borders and beds are kept, without letting it be known that a gardener does nothing to relieve the pressure of work during some of the busiest months of the year by substituting hardy flowers for bedders, but that, on the contrary, he would thereby be heaping up more work to himself.
At the same time, hardy flowering-plants, when well selected, are in themselves so deserving of culture that a garden without them wants a feature which it should not be long without. Again, it is well to have "J. S., W.'s" assurance as to the small amount of outlay on which a border of these can be kept gay from February to November. From an experience extending to a period of eight years under my own management, and a further three years when in a subordinate position, I should have deemed it impossible for any one who had a few years' experience with these flowers to assert, as your correspondent does, that going over the borders "about four times" is sufficient to spend in the way of keep and the maintenance of a constant succession of flowers. Without taking into account that part of the season up to July, during which time very little labour is required to keep things tidy, I find from that time that it takes the borders to be looked over every ten days at the least. Then, every spring there are a certain number of plants, of a rank-growing nature, to pull to pieces and replant. Double Primroses, for instance, require taking up and replanting every year in order to keep them from dying out.
There is also the propagating of Carnations and Picotees which cannot be left over two years to do any good. We propagated 350 plants of one Picotee this year without counting Clove and Self Carnations, and Anne Boleyn Pink, of which we cannot get too many. It would be interesting to know what means your correspondent takes at so small an outlay of labour to make good the gaps left by the decayed foliage of such plants as Snowdrops, Crocuses, the various Narcissi, Grape Hyacinths, Dondias, Dentarias, Scillas, Crown Imperials and other Fritillarias, Ranunculus amplexicaulis, Iris reticulata, Adonis vernalis, San-guinaria canadensis, Winter Aconites, and others. Then my experience tallies exactly with that of the Editor, in that the best of the flowers which bloom after midsummer are subjects which require to be staked. The Phlox is the only late flowering-plant which "J. S., W." can call to mind, and Delphiniums amongst summer flowers. Can he intend the many species and varieties of the tall-growing Bell-flowers, of Lychnises, Monardias, Sun-flowers, Erigerons, Lythrums, Salvias, Lobelias, Aconitums, OEnotheras, Adenophoras, Scabious, Pentstemons, strong - growing Lilies, etc, and the many fine Michaelmas Daisies, to be excluded, and only dwarf - growing subjects admitted? There is also this to be borne in mind, where dwarf-growing Alpine species are grown - namely, their tendency to go off without leaving a trace behind, excepting the label which tells where the plants used to be.