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.
FLOWER-GARDENING has been, for the season which may be said to be now gone, gardening without the flowers. The spring gardening was only a partial success, or almost a failure, from the havoc the severe winter made among things of a herbaceous and annual character, bulbs being also late, and the whole effect patchy and unsatisfactory. The summer bedding has throughout had to struggle for existence. Tender foliage plants, both dwarf and tall, have been starved out; exotic succulents have been rotted out; and the flowers of Geraniums, Calceolarias, Violets, etc, have been washed out. Such is the tale which has generally to be told, especially on retentive soils. In situations where the soil is light and porous, a fair display of flowers is to be found, though of a beaten and imperfect aspect. Flowering plants of the bedding section, on the whole, have had but a draggled time of it.
If anything has been more satisfactory than another, it is plants of the hardy herbaceous class, whether of the low carpeting character, as the Saxifragas, Sedums, and Antennarias, or of the Funkias, Bamboos, Bocconias, and suchlike. Even the flowering herbaceous plants have all done well, especially those of any sturdiness and substance, such as the Delphiniums, Campanulas, Alstroemerias, and now even the Phloxes and Dahlias. The Spiraeas, among flowering shrubs, are making at the present time a fine show, with a great variety in habit of growth and colour of flowers. These, with their herbaceous relations, are really indispensable, and destined to be much more largely planted. A lesson is to be learned from all this in the consideration that our flower-gardening is entirely dependent on the state of the weather, and that since weather forecasts of six months cannot yet be achieved, we ought to prepare a due proportion of dull weather as well as sunshiny beds, the former to predominate, in deference to the prevailing climate of these islands.
Fortunately there is a growing public taste for the interesting as well as for the gaudy flower-beds, and these may be made both showy and tasteful by a judicious mixture of herbaceous and foliage plants, banding them round with edgings of the summer bedders, or embroidering them with hardy carpeting plants; or more prominence might be given to tall foliage plants, such as Solanums, Cannas, even hardy Ferns, banded with Geraniums, Calceolarias, Lobelias - in short, the usual summer bedders. Many of the hardy herbaceous class of plants have been quite gay this season, and point to the fact that, planted in rich soil, with attention, abundant watering, and thinning out the shoots as they go out of flower, the season of bloom would be much prolonged. In this way, we think, many might be found to yield throughout the summer months quite as good a show as Geraniums and Lobelias, and, as far as flowers are concerned, superior to the foliage plants we have just been noting. Geranium sanguineum is a plant which has been equal to most bedding plants this season, and might be used with advantage to fill the centres of large beds, and is all the better not to have too rich a soil to grow in.
The foliage is of a bright showy green, and the flowers of a brilliant purple red.
For a yellow flowering plant, Corydalis lutea has been and is fine. The foliage alone recommends it, even if it were not so profuse and continuous in flowering. For a blue edging-plant, nothing could approach Myosotis palustris. This past season it has been a continuous sheet of the clearest blue since March. Another little plant which is suitable for edgings has been in bloom all the summer - viz., Erodium Reichardii, quite a carpet-plant, and it is a wonder it has not been pressed into the service before now. These four common herbaceous plants - three of them British - we feel sure would make or would have made this summer quite a showy lasting bed, planted as noted: the Geranium for a centre mass, with the Corydalis to follow in a band around, then the Myosotis, and last the white-flowering Erodium. These have all been under our eye all summer, flowering in patches, and we feel sure they will not disappoint any one trying them in a bed as indicated. We have no doubt other arrangements would occur to others better acquainted with herbaceous plants. The Veronicas are a large class containing tall as well as dwarf-creeping species of trim habit, and showy.
Some of the Everlasting Peas are quite gorgeous on heavy rich soil, such as Lathyrus grandiflorus and latifolius, but especially the last. For large beds they should be allowed to creep over some Spruce or other branches laid over the surface of the bed, same as is sometimes done for Tropaeolum and Clematis: they then make a close hard mass, with the flowers elevated above the foliage. We can vouch for their grand effect from well-established plants, and if growing in deep soil well watered or naturally moist, they last three months in bloom. Pity they are scentless!
Annuals of the hardier sorts have had grand opportunities this year of showing their colours and characters. Clarkias, Nemophilas, Linum grandiflorum, Phlox Drummondii, but especially the upright-growing kinds or the prostrate sorts, have been beaten down and rotted by the rains. Tender annuals, such as Asters, Zinnias, and Everlastings, have shared the fate of the sub-tropical bedders, and pushed the hardier annuals into consequent prominence, showing what is really best worth growing. There is a richness and variety of colour among annuals which is not approached among any other class of hardy plants, and such a season as the last should arouse gardeners to the claims of the much too neglected annuals of the hardy kinds.
The Squire's Gardener.