This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
The advantages to be derived from an extension of the subtropical system of bedding in private gardens, must sooner or later force its way upon the minds of those who have much experience of flower-gardening. The same plants, it is true, that are employed in the more favoured climate of the south, cannot be brought into general use in northern latitudes; but at least many plants - and not a small number either - might be used to much advantage and good effect.
The meagre attempts at outdoor embellishment with many plants devoid of natural beauty, and many of them of little interest, except to botanists and scientific men, have already distracted attention from what was promulgated not long ago as being an ideal system of flower-gardening. Plants which possess few attractions of habit, form, or colour, and which are extravagantly extolled on paper and tinselled with fine words that are technically true but practically misleading, are not likely long to retain a hold of public favour. We have been too well schooled to admire gracefulness of habit, beauty of outline, and symmetry, to accept a plant as something startling because it has a long name.
Upon the other hand, there are innumerable sources to draw from, at a very cheap rate, which will supply us with adequate material to embellish and beautify our dressed grounds. From seeds alone there is an abundant wealth to be obtained of choice plants of rapid growth, and possessing in no inconsiderable degree the habits and properties that are best calculated to suit the tastes of the age in which we live. I am not now going to enter upon any exposition of cultural treatment, - my object is rather to ask all interested in flower-gardening to "compare notes," and to insert in their note-books the "true" relative effects produced by the different plants generally employed for the summer and autumn decoration of dressed grounds and flower-gardens. I look in vain for anything like a show, to be obtained by grouping hardy plants. The past dry summer has so completely exhausted them, and in some cases reduced them to absolute poverty, as far as appearance is concerned, that no amount of laudation upon paper can possibly retain the position that was claimed for them amongst summer decorative plants. No. A good many have lost their lives (poor things!) during the past winter, and the reputation of a great many more has been decently interred since the late heat and protracted drought.
Who will say that this is an over-coloured picture 1 I am writing from practical experience, and some disappointment at the turn events have taken in regard to many so-called hardy plants. What is a hardy plant 1 And who shall draw the line of demarcation (accurately) between what is a hardy plant and what is not, after the experience of recent winters 1 In all fairness, then, the half-hardy plants, commonly called subtropicals, are as cheap, some of them cheaper, and vastly, incomparably, more effective than the stalwart specimens that have been dangled before our eyes for some time past.
We will now look at the opposite side of the picture, and glance briefly at the material that can be raised from seeds within the short period of four months, and the relative effect produced by the two classes of plants. The different varieties of Ricinus, Cannas, Zea japonica variegata (which is as handsome or more so than the finest Pandanus Veitchii I ever saw when well grown), the lovely Acacia lopantha, Solanum marginatum, and the green prickly varieties, Daturas, with Balsams and different-coloured Pelargoniums for front lines, and many other plants equally simple to raise and cultivate.
I have omitted the many kinds of Palms, and other plants that could be objected to on the ground of cost, which are of course additional attractions; but as my object is to show how a fine effect may be produced in a simple way and by simple means, and to contrast or rather compare the display created by associating and blending plants of graceful habits and different colours with Phloxes and Sun Roses, I do not think it is necessary to give a very comprehensive list. But what of the relative cost 1 The short list that I have given as an example contains nothing costly or expensive - the plants can all be raised from seeds; it is in their rapid growth and development when generously treated that they excel most other subjects in appearance and effect. If they are planted 6 feet apart they will touch each other in six weeks, provided they have not been starved before being planted out. A few bright colours worked in amongst them for large beds will give tone to a large garden, and save the annual propagation of thousands of smaller plants, which are bright in their way, but beyond a passing look are both tame and ineffective.
I will now conclude as I began, by asking all who are interested in flower-gardening to draw their own inferences from the suggestions I have ventured to make, and to draw them from actual comparison while there is yet material in abundance to compare notes which will enable one and all to conceive fresh arrangements for another year. W. Hinds.