The Cottage Gardener pp. 366-368 (Sept 12, 1850)
Annuals
Donald Beaton

The "Exhibition of 1851," in Mr. Paxton's beautiful glass house, on a slice of Hyde Park, bids fair to set people thinking about the best and simplest methods of erecting their plant houses in future. Instead of leaning them against walls for support, as at present, we shall find that it is possible to make them stand on their own legs, and still be as cheaply heated, and far bettor, for plants, grapes, peaches, and all. But these are not the only reasons for my thus referring to the Exhibition of 1851, but, rather, to ask the great London gardeners, who have been at issue with me on the subject of annuals for years past, how are they going to dress up their flower-gardens next May and June? For, depend on it, these expositors of arts and sciences from foreign parts will swarm over the country like locusts; and, although they may do no more harm to our crops than butterflies, it will go hard against the grain with us, if they go home and tell their wives that we had no flower crops worth speaking of. And let it not be thought for one moment that two or three hundreds of railroad miles will hinder them from going down to distant parts of the provinces. The Caledonian Lochs, and the Lakes of Killarney, and all the intervening places of note will not escape their prying curiosity; and, as if to prove the adage, "that it never rains but it pours," here, in Ipswich, we are to have the "British Association" next summer; so that, between one gathering or another, our flower-gardens all over the country are in a fair way of being visited by strangers, who, no doubt, have heard much of our gardening skill in this country from the reports of our great exhibitions, and from travellers who have, visited us on purpose to see our style and mode of gardening.

I am persuaded that, in the country at least, we shall learn more substantial gardening—that is, in the way of dressing our pleasure grounds in Way and June— during the next year or two, through the influence of this great exhibition, than we have done for the last ten years, notwithstanding all our books, exhibitions, and medals; indeed, these great competitions in London in the months of May, June, and July in each year, have just done as much to hinder the progress of our art in many of its most essential branches, as they have done in raising that of growing plants in pots far above all other attempts in any other part of the world. Even this department of pot plant culture suffers tremenduously through the very patronage which has expended its thousands upon thousands to rear it to its present standard of excellence. None of the great spirits, who have carried off medals enough to fill an ordinary sized barrow, care a single straw for the best plant in the catalogue unless they can, with a little cooking, get it into flower to stand one of the great competitions; and after the exhibition season is over, the competition plants have all the force and indulgence of the master and man expended on them for the rest of the year. Not only that, but their pockets are generally well lined with money, and they can thus encourage the best country gardeners to flock to London for higher wages, to the disadvantage of country establishments; and, after all this, there are those in distant parts of the country who know so little of the spirit and machinery, and the loss to gardening too, by which these London exhibitions are "got up," that they partly believe the London style could be carried out in the provinces; and sure enough it could, if country people would forego the pleasures and refinements of country gardening for nine or ten months in the year, in order to "get up" a score or two of huge bushes so covered with blossoms as to make their neighbours stare for a day or two, or for as many weeks, in the height of summer. Those of us, therefore, who have so far imbibed this false taste of growing plants so far beyond their natural capacities that no art can save many of them moro than a few weeks after they have been "exhibited," will now, or, rather, will find out next summer, that flower-gardening, and the decorations of our home—sweet home!—are, after all, the best and most elegant branches of our art. Let us, therefore, prove to all the world how well we understand this out-door gardening of ours. Who would have thought, when we first heard of the "Exhibition of 1851," that it would have created all this stir throughout the country? The writer feels the force of all this: he, too, has got his foot into the tight boot, and has only one good leg to stand on.

There is no other means of having a full flower-garden in May, according to our present style of decoration, than that of using annuals, sown about this time, to stand over the winter as best they may in the open ground, and to be transplanted into the beds from the beginning or middle of March to the end of April, according to the forwardness or lateness of the season, and as the beds are ready for them. As most of these annuals do not hold in bloom above a month, another set of them should be sown by the end of February, also in the open ground, and again in the first and second week in April; but not one of them to be sown where they are to flower, if summer bedding plants are to succeed them. The whole must be transplanted from time to time in regular rows, and then in May the bedding stuff must be planted out in the intervening spaces between the annuals. This is neither new nor dangerous. 1 have done so over and over again. Indeed, for anagallis and very weak plants of that habit, and for verbenas that have been struck in a hurry late, I prefer this plan of sheltering them at first turning out, to the usual way of exposing them on the naked beds. Some people put boughs of evergreens round the beds for a few days after planting out, and 1 have done so occasionally, and when no one was expected to see the garden in the mean time, we made a shift with them; but 1 must confess the practice is too slovenly and namby pamby.

In the winter, when the dead leaves are flying in all directions, and one can hardly find more hands than will keep the walks clean, 1 have for years past used evergreen boughs stuck here and there in the naked flower-beds, to break their raw appearance; and I like the plan much, although I have had to stand a good many raps from critics, who ought to know better, for recommending it to others; but save me from planting evergreen boughs next May along with the verbenas and petunias. The worst of this plan is, that in a long bad winter and a late spring, such as the last, many of these annuals are liable to go off, and to think of preserving them in frames, except for limited use, is all out of the question. We must, therefore, sow with a liberal hand, and let them take their chance.

I have so often told the best way to sow them, and the Lost sorts for the purpose, that referring to our indexes is all that is left for mo to do now. 1 may remark, however, that the small sittings from coal ashes is an excellent dressing for seed-beds of any kind in the autumn, whore the plants or seedlings are intended to be left in them over the winter; and that autumn seedbeds should not be dug deep; to break the surface with a hoe an inch or two, then to strew the ashes over it, and to rake the whole backwards and forwards to mix the ashes well with the soil, is about as good a way as any we can adopt

All the Californian annuals, and they are many, seem to answer better from autumn-sown seeds than from seed put in in the spring. They present the same magic effect in the warm valleys of California which the Ixias and other irids do in our Cape Colony on the approach of the periodical rains. In California the annuals take a range different from anything else we know of in other countries. There one species occupies some hundreds of acres in succession, to the almost exclusion of all other plants. Then another and another follows exactly in the same way—a flower-garden, in short, on a magnificent scale, like all the works of nature on those vast regions. In April, the whole valleys are thus luxuriantly clothed from one end to the other, but return thither by the end of May, and all is as barren and naked as a wilderness; the annuals arc scorched to cinders, and the seeds, self-sown, remain on the baked crust until the autumnal rains, acting, hot-bed like, on the heated surface, bring them into instantaneous growth; after that, they progress slowly through the mild winters for four or five months. Not as in South Africa, where the bulbs are up and done with in half that time. Hence their suitableness for autumn sowing with us. Late in the spring whole beds may be entirely devoted to annuals alone, such as Clarkias, Collinsias, Nemophilas, and others, which may be gathered from our former lists as early flowers, that would help on from the end of April through May; others, and they have been all mentioned already, that grow taller and come in later, should be planted out in regular rows in April, and the spaces between them left so as to admit of the usual planting of "bedding out" plants in the old regular way. One grand object should be kept in view, and that is, that all the dug beds should be full; anything better than mere weeds will look more cheering than naked earth. Then there are many old border plants that can be used as annuals, of which the double varieties of rockets are a good example of early flowers. They, the rockets, come in in May, and as soon as they arc over can be removed for a succession of other things; and where is a liner (lower than the double lilac Delphinium and the tall single perennial Poppies (Papaver bractiatum and orientale); and there is a variety or two of each with the edge or bottom of the flower more or less marked with dark or lighter shades. The dwarf mimuluses are also very gay in April and May, and there are many very beautiful varieties of them, and of the taller mimulus too, of which rosea is, or was, the head of the section. the narcissus family supply many useful varieties for May, and the English and Spanish bulbous irises come in after them in June; but by far the best, the gayest, and the cheapest way to make a blaze in May and early June, is with the much neglected annuals.

I have, over and over again, in these pages, insisted on this; and regretted the prevailing fashion of having so few plants in flower in our best gardens early in the season. We should, also, begin at once to lay a good foundation, not only to succeed these annuals, but to have our bedding plants more forward than usual for planting out next May; and the best way to do that is, to lay in a larger stock of store pots of all the verbenas, petunias, anagallis, scnecio, and such things, so that a first crop of cuttings of them may be had in quantities by the middle of January; or, at any rate, that we should have plants enough in store to provide all the spring cuttings before the middle of February; for, although the old plants from the autumn propagation make stronger plants, they do not come into flower so early in May as young stuff, provided it is propagated and ready to pot off by the first week in March. I long had an idea, which was then prevalent among gardeners, that these soft plants were better from autumn-struck cuttings; and now 1 have no doubt but they would be the best, provided we could give them proper justice all through the winter and spring, but there is not one place in a thousand where sufficient room can be provided for such a stock. In the most favoured places such plants are too much crowded by one half to pass over the winter without suffering in health; and if once they get into ill health, good bye to them. It is a hopeless task to strive to recruit them again in time to be of much use early that season. All this having been proved and brought out in practice, we now, or at least most of us, plant these low soft plants from spring propagation.

I have said before, that the planter ought also to be the propagator; that is the way I manage here, and I am very fortunate in having one of the very best of that class to attend to this department. His name is Henry Faires, and a more industrious fellow never lived. Some great spirit—perhaps Linnaeus himself— found him at the Suffolk plough and cast his mantle over him, and here be is; and there is not a flower-bed, or box, or vase, in the whole garden, but he can tell you at once how many plants—of any sort—it will take to fill it "chuck full," as he calls it, I have been consulting him, for the last fortnight, as to the best means of getting the flower-garden in bloom next May and June, as for some years past we only required to be up to the mark by the beginning or middle of July, when the "London season" was over. He says it is all plain enough; but I shall give him another week to consider his plans, and then I shall give a true and particular account of all his plans; and it is hard if, between us, we do not hit on something that will be useful to many who are placed under less favourable circumstances.

Now all this brings mo to a point which has never yet been properly mooted in any of our periodicals, and as our Editor has now more room in his pages, and is never angry with me for what I say, I cannot do better than fill the rest of my letter with a statement of what I mean. When we are engaged on any work, if only planting cabbages, if we require the assistance of a second party, and expect to benefit to the fullest extent by his or her assistance, we ought to allow him or them a kind of self-interest in the undertaking; or, as we say in the country, "let them have a finger in the pie." By doing this we may get more work done, and done better too, than if we go on a different tack, and say—"such and such things must be done by such and such a time, at all hazards; and if so and so cannot do it, why some others must." By this kind of overawing we may get the letter of the law complied with; but, depend upon it, that is not the right way to make the best of your man, even if he is a stupid fellow. Self-pride, of which no human being is quite free, is not thus subdued, or made the most of. No matter how low the natural capacity or the intelligence of your assistant may be, let him but clearly understand that the issue of an experiment or job, rests as much upon his exertions in carrying it out as on your judgment in planning it, and you are sure, not only of your instructions being literally complied with, but of all that is in him to the bargain; and we all know that two heads are better than one, even if they are only ordinary ones. We gardeners, who have to carry on complicated concerns by the assistance of under gardeners, know well the value of this system, or principle; and we could never succeed as we do, unless we acted on it. We set every one, who has charge of a department under us, thinking for himself; and, although we may be disappointed at times, in the long run we are sure to benefit both ourselves and our assistants.

Beaton Bibliography