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.
Owing to the exceptionally late and cold season, many gardeners will be unwilling to fill the flower-beds under their charge as early this year as usual. As a matter of fact, most of the subjects planted at the orthodox period would, in most seasons, be all the better of being left out of the ground for a week or two later. The difference in growth and flowering qualities displayed by such things as Verbenas, Lobelias, etc, when planted at a time that they are able to rush away into growth at once, instead of hanging on in a semi-torpid condition until the temperature of earth and air gets warmer, is very marked. We have noticed this repeatedly, and in our own case will so far act on it as to plant nothing except the hardier kinds of bedding-plants before June. Everything up to this date is still under cover; and though it somewhat disarranges one's plans to have houses and pits full of bedding-plants at the middle of May, it would prove more inconvenient and more damaging to turn them out of their shelter before the weather gets warm enough to give them no check. It is somewhat remarkable, considering the long time the present system of flower-gardening has been the fashion, that so little attention is paid to the requirements of the various kinds of plants employed.
In the kitchen-garden Cauliflowers get a very different kind of treatment from Potatoes or Carrots, and the wants of Globe Artichokes or Rhubarb are as different as can be from the requirements of Turnips or of Parsnips - and these varying wants are appreciated and duly acted on by gardeners; but when the flower-beds are turned over, in many cases the treatment is alike for Geraniums and Verbenas, for Calceolarias or Gazania. It is certain that Verbenas and Calceolarias, Lobelias, Violas, and Iresines will not give satisfaction treated year after year like Geraniums. The quantity of manure that Verbenas and Iresines - Lindeni especially is kept in view - require to keep them growing, and to keep the former flowering in a vigorous state, is very great. Stable manure is very suitable for these. Lobelias and Violas do best manured from the cow-houses. In addition to a liberal dressing dug into the ground, these may all be treated with advantage to a mulching of "mushroom-dung mixed with soot. Iresines should not be planted too quickly, - this is such an effective plant when properly managed that it is worth a little extra care in its cultivation.
Two to three thousand plants of I. Lindeni are used here every season, and sometimes it is planted in a mixture of half dung and soil, and mulched after planting. Alternantheras will be tried this year - a few thousands - also Coleus Verschaffelti; but these will not be trusted out till about the end of June at earliest. Both will have a thoroughly good trial; but from former experience we much doubt their succeeding satisfactorily. Watering causes a deal of extra employment to flower-gardeners, which might sometimes, at least, be in a great measure dispensed with. If weather and soil are dry when planting is being proceeded with, the plants may be put out into their places without filling in the soil level round the plants until after a good watering sufficient to moisten it on all sides, and to a good depth, has been given. In a short time the beds require to be levelled, and if a mulching of rotted manure can be spared at same time, most plants will be in a position to make a start for themselves without further attention. Watering, unless a necessity, is an evil which ought to be avoided. Where carpet-bedding is indulged in, a different regime is necessary with regard to applying water.
Owing to the closeness that the plants are put to each other, watering in dry weather is a necessity that cannot be avoided without harming the appearance of the beds; but even here no more than is simply requisite should be given. It is during the beginning of the season that water is most necessary here also. Many seedling plants sown in frames in April will be no more than ready now for pricking out into their places: these comprise such good autumn-flowering plants as Asters, Phlox Drummondii, and Marigolds. In dry weather we draw the roots of these through a mixture of soil and water, which keeps the roots fresh until the plants make a start into the soil. Staking all plants as, or before, they require it, in mixed borders, is a necessary portion of the work of the month. The hoe should also be plied now without stint, and all weeds kept down both on beds and walks. All plants required to be kept low should be pinched from the first in order to obtain a bushy growth, so as to do with fewer pinchings later on. Violas and bedding Pansies will require going over, and all seed-capsules and decaying flowers gathered off. This, in addition to a mulching of rotted manure, will go far to keep these in a free-flowering condition.
Early-flowering herbaceous plants, if denuded of flower-spikes as these begin to decay, will flower again, in many instances, late in autumn. Annuals over-thick in beds or borders should be immediately thinned out in order to keep them in a floriferous state till late in autumn. It. P. B.