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.
Thanks to the fine autumn weather, flowering bedding-plants have late in the season somewhat retrieved the bad repute they got into throughout the summer and early autumn months. At present date (November 10) Geraniums are still blooming freely, but tender subjects, such as Ageratums, Iresines, etc, have been destroyed by frosts; and the arrangements have, notwithstanding the dry weather, been incomplete. If one could only be certain, at least to an extent sufficient to be sure of the general run of weather, it would be a comparatively easy matter to suit our bedding arrangements to the weather; but as things go at present, any attempt at doing so is simply haphazard. When the study of the weather attains to the dignity of one of the correct sciences, what a great load off gardeners' shoulders it will be merely to consult the report of the current season's weather and arrange accordingly. As it is, there is no date which can be relied on as trustworthy, and we are obliged to take the weather as it comes, and find the bedding-out either suitable or otherwise as the case may be.
Leaving the weather out of account as a factor over which we have neither control nor sufficient knowledge to make up for want of control by other means, we are reduced to doing what we can with the subjects already in cultivation as bedding-plants, or those which may be added from time to time as their suitability is noted. The fault in the various phases through which the "bedding-out" system has come, has been the exclusion of all other modes of arrangement, or kind of plants used at particular times, if not in the fashion at that particular period. That fault is as prevalent at the present day as ever it was when lines of red, white, and blue were set off against clumps of the same and other distinct colours, varied, without being improved, by cutting up the beds and borders in kaleidoscopic fashion. Carpet-bedding when "gone into" has been rendered somewhat nauseating to many; and the "rage" for hardy plants, if too exclusively adopted, will merely mark another era in the history of modern bedding-out. To give hardy plants, as bedding plants, a fair trial, it would be necessary to alter the conformation of most gardens.
As a rule, they are not suitable for massing in geometrically formed designs, nor do many of them possess continuous blooming capacity to allow their taking a position of prominence in any such arrangements. At the same time, there are many gardens with the beds so disposed that these can be made use of both usefully and effectively. Some of the dwarf Campanulas in shades of blue and white, Salvia patens, Senecio squarrosa, yellow, the common double Feverfew, Pyrethrum parthenium, Vittadinia triloba, the common yellow Saxifrage, Antirrhinums, dwarf Mimulus, and Nepeta caerulea are a few sorts which mostly require the seeds removed in order to have a continuous display of flowers. Many other hardy flowers can be planted for display at certain seasons, as in spring, or late in autumn, when we have the most gorgeous and stately flowers of the year to select from. There is also a very neglected class of plants which are intrinsically of the highest worth to the flower-gardener, provided he selects with caution. These are hardy annuals. I think the two finest flower-beds I have seen this past season were at Whittinghame, where Mr Garrett had a bed of Godetia Lady Albemarle, and another of Saponaria calabrica, both in perfect order.
A very pretty arrangement I saw at a ducal establishment last year, was formed of a groundwork of Oxalis tropaeoloides, dotted here and there with some large growing plants. Lupinus nanus, Viscaria cardinalis, Nemophila in-signis, Phlox Drummondii, Helichrysums, Collinsia bicolor, hardy Nasturtiums, are a few I can think of as being excellent when well managed. There are very many gardens where these can be used with good effect, while, at the same time, there are other beds where Geraniums, Verbenas, and plants of that class, can be utilised in a manner that no other kind of plants can approach in effectiveness. There are also beds which can be filled with that class of plants to which the general name of carpet-bedding plants has been given. To cut up a series of large beds into geometrical figures, and fill them with these dwarf leaf-plants, is failing to abstract the greatest amount of beauty compatible from such when compared with the glowing masses which can be secured in most seasons from the same beds when filled with flowering subjects. The same want of forethought is apparent when small beds or narrow borders are planted with large-growing flowering subjects, and the great multitude of dwarf leaf-plants totally neglected.
There is room for most styles o planting in the majority of gardens, and he who studies the capabilities of the flower-beds and borders under his charge, and makes use of that kind of plant best suited to his own particular wants, will have and give most satisfaction in his arrangements. There is a consideration to be borne in mind, however, which alters somewhat the bias one may have in what is the best thing to do, and that is the expressed wish of one's employer for certain kinds of plants in certain beds or positions. It is of no use to work against these conditions. The only mode of getting over the difficulty, should it prove a difficulty, is to pay extra attention to have that particular wish, gratified to the fullest extent, and work the surroundings into conformity with it. At the same time, there is no harm in expressing one's own view, should it be very different from that of the owner. Generally it is possible to get these more into the state which one would consider best fitted to make the best of the whole, by a little pleasant statement of the difference in the two cases. Then it should be borne in mind that the arrangement proposed in opposition to one's own may prove, when carefully carried out, to be a superior one to that which we would like to substitute for it.
Bearing these thoughts in mind, and working from notes made during past seasons, no time should now be lost in making arrangements for the incoming year.
R. P. B.