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 would appear that this system of arranging the various kinds of plants employed in the decoration of the flower-garden will soon be a thing of the past. At least, if the advice of some writers on horticultural subjects is followed, bedding-out must go, "bag and baggage," before long.
The present opposition to the style of flower-gardening that has been in the ascendant for some years past, is the result of the teaching of an eminent "arm-chair" gardener. He, in the seclusion of his study, has discovered that hardy plants are beautiful, and the most suitable subjects for out-door flower-gardening. It is only plants of certain stature, however - dwarfs and creeping things, - that finds favour with gardeners of the above type. Any species or varieties, however beautiful their flowers may be, if they require support in the way of stakes, are reluctantly admitted into the "hardy brigade;" and, as a consequence, the greater number of the most beautiful, showy, and useful of our hardy herbaceous plants are not admissible in the ideal flower-garden of those who advocate the abandonment of the bedding-out system.
Fancy the result of excluding from the herbaceous garden the stately Delphiniums, the beautiful Asterlike - flowered Pyrethrums, several species of the Lily family, Carnations, all the taller kinds of Phloxes, and a host of representative members of other families that in this windy island of ours it is absolutely necessary to stake, in some way or other, if we would see them in all their beauty, and not as bedraggled, bespattered, betattered objects - highly illustrative of their fitness for admission into the ragged brigade !
There is no use talking about doing without staking in the hardy herbaceous garden, unless we, at the same time, do without "the cream" of hardy herbaceous plants. "Order and neatness" at all seasons are the chief charms of a "fair garden;" and order and neatness cannot be maintained by going over the beds and borders "about four times" during the summer season, not even in the case where " hardy plants exclusively" are planted. To keep borders or beds of hardy herbaceous plants in an enjoyable condition, they will need going over at least once a-fortnight, from March to October; and if they get a little tidying up once a-week during that time, they will look all the better for it. It is not quite clear to me what the opponents of the bedding-out system are finding fault with in particular. Do they object to the bedding-out or massing system as a system of arranging plants of any kind? Or is their objection only to employing half-hardy plants out of doors in the summer season 1 If their quarrel is with the massing system, whether the plants be hardy or half-hardy, or a combination of both, then I venture to say that by no other system can so grand a display, as a whole, be produced, and, at the same time, the individual or special characteristics of the various plants employed be preserved.
In the mixed or promiscuous system of arrangement, the special characters of individual classes are lost in the mass when the beds or borders are looked at from a little distance.
If the objection is mainly directed against the employment of half-hardy flowering and ornamental-foliaged plants, then I ask, In what way is the flower-gardening of the present time superior to that of forty years ago, if not in the use of suitable members, in judicious numbers, of this class of plants 1 Was it not by the employment of the class of plants just referred to that flower-gardening was got out of the groove in which it had moved for generations previous to their introduction to the beds and borders'? and does not their presence give life and beauty to the flower-garden during the summer and autumn months, that is unattainable by the use of hardy herbaceous plants alone 1 It is not, however, by employing tender, and excluding hardy plants, or vice versa, that the most interesting and beautiful display of flowers can be maintained in the flower-garden the year through, but by the employment of suitable members of both sections arranged in the bedding-out or massing style. Some practitioners, however, are so extreme in their ideas, that to pursue a middle course in anything is highly distasteful to them. Hence, in the matter of flower-gardening, if their idea for the time being is in favour of tender plants, those of a hardy nature are rigorously excluded from their arrangements.
Borders, hundreds of feet long by tens of feet broad, are bedded out year after year with tender plants, and these only. The pattern may be changed from year to year - one year the panel, another the ribbon, or it may be the carpet or cushion style is selected, - but whatever shape the plan may take, tender plants are used in working it out. After some years' trial it is thought that this style of flower-gardening with tender plants costs more than it is worth; and panels, ribbons, carpets, and cushions of tender plants are unceremoniously set aside and replaced with hardy plants, arranged in the promiscuous style, with a view of reducing the cost of flower-gardening. Well, it would not be a difficult matter to lessen the expenditure still further. Why not turn the herbaceous garden into a "wild garden?" The latter style of flower-garden is the most natural. The blooming season in it is quite as long as in any other style, and by adopting it we get quit of the necessity for hoeing and raking, tying and staking, mowing and sweeping, and all the keeping incidental to other styles.
Some may object to contrasting the herbaceous with the wild garden in the matter of keeping or otherwise. Well, the comparison is just as fair as in the case of a garden bedded out with tender plants and one devoted to herbaceous plants only. The systems are different; and, in my opinion, praising the one and condemning the other is a mistake. Each has its own peculiar beauties to present us with, and it is only those of one idea that would restrict us to one or the other system, or to a choice between hardy and half-hardy plants for the decoration of the flower-garden. In our own case we use both hardy and half-hardy plants as bedding-out plants, and we find the plan answers our purpose; and before discontinuing it, the objections urged against it will have to be of a different kind to any that have hitherto been advanced.
It would also appear, from the teaching of the authority referred to at the beginning of this paper, that we are not only wrong as regards the class of plants we employ at present in the decoration of our flower-gardens, but that we are also wrong in keeping our gardens in so orderly and clean a state as is usually the case. We are seriously informed that "the eternal raking and scraping and brushing of the garden leads to primness and ugliness - starves the trees, and causes endless labour for worse than nothing." Now here is information for lovers of well-kept gardens; but it is just the kind that might be looked for from any one who prefers to see Carnations tossed about and spoiled - so far as their flowers are concerned - by the force of the wind, rather than supply them with supports in the way of neat stakes.
I am of opinion, however, that there are not many practical gardeners who have such a superabundance of labour at their disposal, as leads them to expend it in creating "primness and ugliness" in the gardens under their charge. With "arm-chair" gardeners, however, the case may be different. The outdoor departments under their care may not be extensive enough to employ all their leisure time in a profitable manner; and hence for the sake of bodily exercise they may at times overdo the raking and scraping, brushing and scrubbing business. The same teacher condemns the practice of collecting leaves after they have fallen from the trees, and also the cutting of grass in flower-gardens. He says, "The leaves should be allowed to fall and rest on and nourish the surface." "Well, we cannot prevent the leaves from falling, neither can we compel them to rest on the surface where they fall.
After dropping from the trees, they are constantly being shifted from place to place by every breeze that blows; and unless they are gathered and put away, the majority of them get driven into quiet corners and sheltered nooks, where their presence is of no use.
No doubt, to allow leaves after they have fallen from the trees to remain ungathered about lawns and pleasure-grounds, we would thereby provide in the garden amusement and information of certain kinds for the inmates of the dwelling-house, without putting them to the trouble of going out of doors to see the performance or acquire the knowledge. It would also produce some mirth to see the young ladies of the house going forth to visit their floral favourites after a summer shower, with their feet and legs encased in clogs and leather gaiters, or mounted on stilts to prevent themselves from getting wet feet and draggled tails, each armed with a long-handled rake or scraper, wherewith to search for their pets among the long grass, rotten boughs, and half-rotten leaves. The fair ones might not think this the most comfortable way in which to take a stroll about the flower-garden on a sultry summer afternoon; but the picturesque appearance they would exhibit while going to and fro, extricating "spreading colonies of choice things" from dead leaves and other rubbish in various stages of decay, would in some measure recompense them for any little inconvenience they might suffer through the use of the gaiters and stilts.
When sitting by a window on a dry breezy day, it is very amusing to watch withered leaves "racing and chasing "each other, like the pursuers of young Lochinvar on Cannobie Lee, up and down the lawns, in and out amongst the shrubs and trees, gathering in thousands, and forming little irregular-shaped hillocks here, bolting up in the air Will-o'-wisp fashion yonder, gambolling, turning somersaults, and cutting all sorts of antics like legions of "leaflets" out for a holiday. Then by observing the direction in which the majority are travelling, a pretty correct idea may be formed of the direction in which the wind is blowing at the time, without vacating the chair to consult the weathercock. On these grounds, it might be advisable to discontinue the practice of collecting the leaves as they fall from the trees; but I fear there are not many gardeners or their employers who will think so. J. H., B.