The Cottage Gardener 4(80): 18-19 (April 11, 1850)
Bedding Plants
D. Beaton

SCARLET GERANIUMS.—Specimens of two soils from Sussex were lately analysed by Professor Way, the Consulting Chemist to the English Agricultural Society, and found by him to be "exactly alike," both in their mechanical and chemical properties; yet the two samples were respectively from the best and from the worst wheat land in the county. This is sufficiently curious, if not puzzling; but not more so, I think, than that two plants raised from seeds out of one pod should vary so much in their natures, that one of them refuses to bloom freely, or even to put out its leaves kindly, in the same bed, or on the same kind of soil, where the other flourishes in all the beauty of its native race. Yet such is a fact, which certain seedlings of Scarlet geraniums have clearly established, and of which I have often remarked in these pages. Of these scarlet geraniums for flower-beds I said enough last autumn, but to those new readers who may not have that part of the work, their names may be acceptable. Shrubland Scarlet is the strongest of them all, and has the largest truss. Smith's Emperor and Superb, Prince of Wales, and several other names are also given to seedlings of this variety which never fail to come true from seeds. I have reared hundreds of them from seeds, but never saw any variation, except in the leaf. The next largest trusser is a new one, sold last year by Mr. Ayres, of Blackheath, called The Gem of Scarlets. Conway's Royalist and Frost's Compactum are the two next largest trussers, both of them being well horse-shoe marked in the leaf. The Royalist is, indeed, the best "horse-shoe" geranium I have seen. Our seedling Punch is a far better bedder and trusser than either of the above, except the Shrubland Scarlet, on our light soil, but on rich or heavy land it does no good. Nine or ten celebrated seedlings have passed through my hands, which do remarkably well in the places where they originated, and in many other localities, but I failed to establish them here. Tom Thumb is one of the number. On the whole, therefore, to give a good list of scarlet geraniums would be as likely to disappoint as to be of general use.

I have often said, one can hardly have too many scarlet geraniums; and I only know of one bed in a good flower-garden where they come amiss, and that is in the centre bed of a regular figure of any shape where the rest of the beds come all round it. No matter what beautiful plants and flowers may occupy the rest of the beds, the eye will pass over them and rest on the brilliancy of the centre mass. Besides, some shades of pink and purple, which might occupy any of the beds next the centre one, would be neutralised by the scarlet in it; a neutral bed should always occupy the centre round which the chief colours in flower-garden plants are to be arranged; and for such a centre bed I know of no plant more suitable than Mangle's Variegated Geranium. The flowers of this are small, and of a light pink shade, but the whiteness of the leaves drown the pink colour so far as to establish a neutral bed; and any colour may be placed next to this bed without imparing its strength, and yet we cannot call it a white bed. The old Bouvardia and the Zauchsneria would pass for small scarlet beds, and so might the old Alonsoa; but where scarlet verbenas and geraniums are much used, these things are too sober or subdued colours for a good arrangement of tints; and they are only fit for a miscellaneous assemblage of beds where no decided system of arranging the colours is attempted.

PURPLE.—I find this colour the most difficult to represent properly, either in shades of purple or strictly as a distinct colour. We have not a single true purple verbena yet worth planting as such, but they furnish abundance of shades. I thought, from a figure and description of the Royal Purple Verbena in "The Florist," that at last the desideratum was supplied, but I was deceived; and Walton's Emma is still the best purple verbena we have for a bed, but it is too dark for a real purple. The next best purple is Heloise, a beautiful bedding verbena, but still not a true purple. Plant either of these two best purple verbenas alongside of the light purple variety of the American groundsel, or the petunia, nearest to that colour, and you will soon see the reason I have for saying that we have no real purple amongst the verbenas. The original red or purple petunia, P. phoenicea, has not yet been improved on in colour for a bed in that family, though we have several as good and many better ones with darker or lighter shades of purple; but we have nothing better than a petunia that will do for a bed to last out the season.

We do not, in these days, call a plant fit for a flower-garden because it is a beautiful mass of colour while it lasts, which may not be longer than from a month to six weeks, unless it has other properties equally valuable in the eyes of a flower-gardener. One of the most essential secondary qualities of a flower-garden plant is to have creeping or very numerous fibrous roots, so as to enable the planter to remove it from place to place, either in the reserve garden before a place is open for it in the flower-garden, or from the flower-bed after it has done flowering. People who know little of these things will sit down and write you a fine story about the "facilities in these our days" for keeping up a succession of bloom, for a whole season, anywhere; all that you have to do is to remove everything as fast as it gets out of bloom, and fill up its place with something else brought forward on purpose in pots, or in the reserve garden; and really on paper it does seem very easy to do all this. But having for the last ten years paid particular attention to this branch of gardening—as much so, indeed, as any gardener in this country, and having also as much money allowed for carrying out my plans as most gardeners—I can safely repeat that this is the most difficult branch of our art, and the least understood by all our writers on gardening, mysolf among the number. The most successful results at flower-gardening are to be obtained by the least number of plants, provided that as many are used as will give all the principal colours of scarlet, purple, pink, blue, yellow, lilac, and white.

The most dwarf purple-flowering plant for this kind of gardening is verbena Sabina; and though not a good purple, it is still a very useful plant for the smallest bed. The best contrast to it in another shade of purple is Lobelia unidentata, also a very low plant for little beds. Lantana Sellowii is a reddish purple plant, extremely rich in a bed; and the same plants may be taken up on the approach of frost, and used for four or five years in succession. It seeds freely, can be got by cuttings as easily as a verbena, and delights in the richest soil if it is light. There should be a bed or two of this Lantana in every good flower-garden. Phlox Drummondi—There are two or three good shades of purple to be had from this beautiful annual, which is as good as any perennial for the flower-garden, as it blooms on from the end of June until cut by the frost. Where great stress is laid on having the best shades of colour, a few of the desired tints of this phlox ought to be preserved in pots, and propagated in the spring from cuttings. Indeed, this is the best way to deal with all the best varieties of it; and some of them are extremely pretty. But, in general, a packet of seeds will furnish a good bed. I sow this about the first week in April, in a little heat, for the seedlings do not rise so freely in strong heat. The old Verbena venosa is a good purple, but, like some of the purple petunias, the plant itself is coarse. If it is not quite hardy, it is the next thing to it, and that is a great recommendation. The best way to manage it for the flower-garden, is to fork out the roots every spring when the beds are being dressed; to cut them into six-inch lengths; and, after trenching the bed, to plant these pieces rather thickly.

COMBINATION OF COLOURS.—This verbena exemplifies, in a high degree, what I said about the necessity of taking the tint of the leaves into account iu arranging colours in a flower-garden. Few would believe that a bright scarlet and a good purple would answer well together in the same bed, because the scarlet would be so apt to neutralise the purple. Thus, if you plant an equal quantity of the best scarlet verbena with Emma or Heloise, the best purple ones of the same creeping habit, you will find that two good colours are completely spoiled, or, at any rate, that the scarlet will carry the palm. If it were possible to mix a white verbena along with these, so that there would be one-third more white flowers than of scarlet and purple ones, an extremely pretty bed would be the result; but such arrangements can only be managed with cut flowers, and that is the easiest way to learn how to harmonise or contrast colours for beds. It is ten times easier and more safe than studying the colours from printed arrangements; and the way to do it is as follows:—Take the lid of an old box (the larger it is the better) and lay an inch of earth all over it of a darkish colour. I have used sand for this purpose, but it is treacherous; as the white or yellow sand gives the effect of its shade to the composition —dark brown loam is the best. Then, on a fine sunny day in summer, lay the board or lid on a plot of grass, or on a gravel walk, according as the flower-beds may be on the grass or surrounded by gravel. Take the flowers of two or more plants you wish to mix together, and some of the leaves of each plant; then make a flower-bed by sticking the flowers in the mould on the board, and a few leaves along with each flower or bunch of flowers. Now, about mid-day, step back three yards from your model bed, with the sun behind you, and if you see no fault in your composition, walk round to the opposite point, and look at it against the sun; if you are still satisfied, leave it till four, or half-past four, in the afternoon, and then look at it from the same points as before. The sun will then be striking sideways against the colours, and if there is any defect in the arrangement, it is sure to come out now. Yet be in no hurry to give it up—look at it next day from the same points between ten and eleven o'clock in the forenoon; and this should be repeated on a cloudy day before a final judgment is passed. It is unnecessary to observe that the colours may be arranged in any way one pleases on this board; but, in all cases, the leaves of the plants which produce the colours must be used, and why, I shall give an example next week.

Beaton Bibliography