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.
In a paper read not long since before the Central Horticultural Society by Mr Joseph Newton, the well known landscape gardener, who has just returned from a visit to America, occurs this passage on subtropical gardening: "This has been introduced into the London Parks wherever the gardenesque has been employed, but not in the American Parks which I have just visited. Having studied this subject both at home and on the Continent, I am able to speak with some degree of confidence, and I can safely attest that Battersea Park carries off the palm for subtropical gardening." That is certainly a flattering testimony to the genius and ability of Mr John Gibson, the superintendent of Battersea Park; and the general impression will prevail that it is a truthful one. Having for ourselves inspected Mr Gibson's handiwork, the first of our "Records" shall be some account of what has been done at Battersea Park in the past summer, and how it looked on the occasion of our visit at the end of September.
Entering the Park in company with Mr Gibson from the Chelsea Suspension Bridge, we were conducted along the east end of it, by the Brighton Railway, through what has hitherto been something akin to a neglected waste, but which was then being changed in its features, for the excavators were at work, and bent on giving a new character to the aspect of the scene. What had been a rough uneven bank was being converted into a broad walk, between banks of shrubbery and ornamental trees; and about half way along the distance was the spot where it is intended to construct a rockery, with cool shady walks about it, and other accessories. "When these improvements are worked out, Battersea Park will have additional features of interest of no common order.
Then issuing into the broad drive on the south side of the Park, which runs from the east in a westward direction, we caught a glimpse of the pile of artificial rock-work Mr Gibson had constructed in a prominent point of that piece of land surrounded by the lake, and which is known as the continent. It is intended to bring a water-fall over the rock-work, and when it is accomplished, it will considerably enhance the appearance of this part of the park. On the opposite shore, and near to where we were standing, a huge shrubbery bank was being formed, with a garden in a lower level between it and the lake; and this will be reached by pleasant winding paths, which were already being constructed.
On either side of the drive many of the hardy annuals used for floral effect during the summer were still gay, especially the varicoloured double Helichrysums, and that old favourite of our gardens, the sweet Allysum, blooming from self-sown plants that had come from the seed shed by the first crop of flowers early in the summer.
Some way along this drive, access is gained to the subtropical department by a path on the right. Roughly, it may be described as a vast amphitheatre, sheltered on every hand by raised banks planted with shrubs, and surmounted by tall and ornamental trees. Advantage was taken of the original features of this spot to form a site for the subtropical work, and where the surroundings were not of the character required they were furnished by artificial means. Year by year some new feature is added, and so year by year there is a progressive development, reaching on to higher stages as each becomes perfected. The beds are on turf, and in many instances are raised considerably above the level of the greensward, while some are on warm sloping banks. A large irregular circle of greensward in the centre, with a broad band on the right hand of the main walk, sometimes narrow, sometimes much deeper in width, gives a general outline of the department. To this has been added in the past two or three years a portion of what is known as the continent, and more recently a piece of Alpine planting, well worthy a visit in the season for the capital representation secured.
But of this more anon.
Starting from the point of entry, some vigorous specimens of the bold-foliaged Aralia Sieboldi met the eye, which stands the winter without any protection, and has done so for the past five years. From one plant Mr Gibson had obtained the many specimens he now has in cultivation. In a kind of grassy bay, sheltered by protecting banks of shrubbery, were some grand banks of Cannas, edged with lines of the Cardoon, and variegated Chrysanthemum Sensation; and at each end were banks of Cardoons as well. This old kitchen-garden plant formed a capital contrast to the dark-leaved Cannas. Just by were raised circular beds in a kind of glen. The farthest had as an occupant a huge Musa Ensete, the other a huge plant of Chamaerops Fortunei; between these was a good circular mass of Coleus Verschaffelti - round this Golden-Chain Pelargonium, edged with Echeveria secunda glauca. In front of this lot of beds was a clump of fine plants of Nerium Oleander plunged in pots; and there were three specimen Palms, as well as specimens of Yucca gloriosa, and Y. recurva, to complete the picture.
This was in reality a garden in itself, and bore much such a relationship to the great garden around it that one of the small chapels in Westminster Abbey does to the lofty and magnificent building that encompasses it. Near this Wigandia caracassana, which Mr Gibson terms "one of the kings among foliaged plants," was very fine. There were two rows of it, each plant about 3 1/2 feet in height, almost filling a long bed, and these were edged with Plumbago capensis, and an outer edging of the Golden-Feather Pyrethrum. When it is stated that these fine plants were raised from cuttings struck in March last, some idea can be gained of its adaptability for this kind of work. Here was Aralia Sieboldi again on some raised slopes - a position which assists it to ripen its wood. It was showing signs of blooming, but it was very doubtful if the flowers would develop themselves before the frost set in. Then came another fine thing - namely, Solanum marginatum, so named from having a kind of silvery edging to the leaves, which are spined above and beneath. This is raised from seed one year, and the plants are held over till the next for planting out.