The Cottage Gardener 4(81): 32-34 (April 18, 1859)
Bedding Plants, Shot Silk Beds
D. Beaton

Verbena venosa.—With this plant I finished my notes last week, and before I dismiss this old and much neglected bedder, I shall recommend a way of using it in a mixed flower-garden, which, if I mistake not, will insure its being retained as a permanent plant, and not only that, but make the most interesting bed by the help of it that any one can use. I have had it the same way here for the last seven years, and I do not remember any one who has seen it that was not much struck with the beauty and novelty of that style of planting—I mean the mixed style of planting single beds, without reference to other beds in the neighbourhood—like the two Clarkias, which I have so often alluded to. I have another reason for bringing it forward to-day, to which I made some allusion last week, and that is, to shew how necessary it is to pay attention to the shade of green in the leaves of such plants as are recommended to be planted near each other, either for the harmony or for the contrast of their flowers. A want of this consideration is as apparent in all the arrangements that I have read of, as the disparity of the heights of many of the plants that are said to associate and assist each other in producing striking effects; and the reason I have in view in making these remarks, is "to shew cause" why I have declined to recommend to some of our readers how to plant certain arrangements of beds of which they sent sketches. When my own limited practice enables me to see glaring faults in the arrangements of those great masters, to whom I usually look up for instruction and advice, I cannot take any other view of the subject than that it is a most difficult one—even if I could not attest the fact from experience. Besides, I know several flower-gardens of note that no one can plant in such a manner as to produce a good whole, owing to the disposition of the beds with reference to the principal walks, and, also, for the want of some determined plan as to the different sizes of the beds themselves. It is thought by architects and landscape gardeners an easy matter to form a plan of a combination of flower-beds to suit a given locality; and one would think that a good draughtsman, with an artist's eye, could find little difficulty in laying down such a plan; and ho might believe the same thing, and make his plan accordingly; yet the chances are, that when his beds are planted in the most judicious manner, or in the best possible order, the colours and sizes of the plants will admit of, the whole composition may not come up to the rank of a third-rate attempt. The truth is, unless one has such a thorough knowledge of all the plants that are suitable to form a good composition when combined together in various ways, as that he can tell you in the dead of winter their real colours, the tint of their leaves, their heights in rich and in poor soil, the time they usually come into and go out of bloom in a wet and in a dry season, no matter how proficient he may be in the art of drawing plans, he is not in a condition to lay down ten beds together without risking the danger of palpable mistakes. But I have said enough to warrant me in excusing myself from advising how to plant flower-beds which I never saw; and now we shall plant a bed with Verbena venosa, having deep purple flowers in upright spikes, and with dark green leaves. The plants, or rather the underground runners, we shall place at about a foot apart every way, and next May all the spaces between the verbena plants will be planted with a bright scarlet flowering plant; and, as a matter of course, these scarlet flowers will neutralise the effect of the purple ones; and so undoubtedly would be the case, provided the leaves of the scarlet flowering plant were of nearly the same tint as those of the verbena; but the leaves of my second plant are more than one-half pure white: it is the Old Scarlet Variegated Geranium; and the effect of these two plants thus managed I shall describe in the words of a gentleman whom I found one day admiring it a few years back: "By the bye, I have just written to her Grace the Duchess of —— to say that you have a flower-bed here which looks exactly like shot silk; I never saw such a charming bed!" Now, I hope all the old shrubbery borders in the country will be hunted out at once for this Verbena venosa, for it has been turned out of the flowerbeds years since; and let all the nurserymen in the country be laid siege to for variegated scarlet geraniums, to make "shot silk" beds with this next summer; for if we do not strike while the iron is hot, the half of us may forget the thing altogether before another season comes round. This bed should not be placed near the windows, nor where you come close to it before it can be observed; not but that it will bear close inspection, for the nearer you come to it the richer it looks; but when friends come to see the garden, and observe it at a distance, it will puzzle them to make out what plants you have got in it. "What, in the name of goodness, have you got yonder?" is a common expression with strangers on viewing this bed at a distance; and away they run across the grass, wet or no wet; and the next observation you hear is, "Dear me, who would have thought that such common plants should produce this striking effect!" This bed, or one on the same principle—that is, having a rich display but not one decided colour—is by far the most suitable for a bed forming a common centre to a set of beds, as No. 1 in the annexed group; a very general way of forming clusters of beds, or small flower-gardens; not in circles or of the same size, however, as I have shewn them for the sake of simplicity; none of such beds need necessarily be a circle. In nine cases out of ten you see the centre bed in these groups planted with scarlet geraniums or scarlet verbenas, and their glaring brilliancy kills the effect of most of the colours in the other beds, unless, indeed, the other distinct colours in bedding plants, as blue, purple, yellow, and pink, are excluded, and white, light lilac, and gray, be used instead round the scarlet; but that could only be done in a very large garden, to exemplify one distinct kind of group, where many other ways of arranging flower-beds were adopted. In small gardens I like to see all the best and gayest colours brought together, and therefore the effect of the whole should not be lessened or even marred by placing the most glaring colour in the middle. I have been thus led to break in on the plan I proposed, of going on with the distinct colours before I said anything of mixed and shaded beds, by a correspondent (H.W.), who is answered at page 14. He sent a plan of his garden, which shewed the beds arranged from a central one; and he proposed to follow the common herd, and plant his master bed with scarlet geraniums. I shall, therefore, keep to these mixed beds a little longer.

PURPLE.—For the want of a real good purple among the verbenas I have tried many of them mixed, to see if I could make a better purple out of two or three shades of them, like the way of improving the scarlet ones, but I cannot boast much of these attempts. My standard plant for a real good purple is the lighter variety of the two purple Senecios, or American Groundsel. The very dark purple Senecio can only be matched by the dark purple verbenas; and with the exception of a few purple Petunias, I know so few plants that will match in colour with the light variety of Senecio, that I shall make a present of this volume of THE COTTAGE GARDENER  to any one who will point out to me two leading plants exactly of the same purple, not to exceed twenty inches in height, nor be much lower than ten inches, and to flower from the middle or end of June to the end of September; Petunias to be excepted. Verbena Charwoodii is one of the best purple bedders, after Emma and Heloise; but there is a shade of red in it which is against it for a good purple. I have tried many of the dark crimson verbenas with it in equal proportions, but still I did not obtain a good purple bed; verbenas Louis Phillip and Barkerii were the only two which seemed to answer best with Charwoodii. It is not possible to make out how any verbenas would mix in a bed by putting cut flowers of them together for trial: they must be seen growing together to judge of the eflect properly, as the habit and strength of verbenas are so different from each other.

One more mixed bed and I have done with them to-day. Of all the neutral plants to be used in beds where a striking colour would not answer, the Heliotrope, or "Cherry-pie," is the best, for many reasons. Every one likes the perfume of it. It is one of the easiest plants to keep in winter; and comes from cuttings in the spring as easily as a verbena or fuchsia; and it lasts in flower till the frost cuts it; and it does not require rich soil. The only fault of it is, that it produces too many leaves, so that the bed looks too green. I had overcome this difficulty last season for the first time, and the plan was much praised. I tried four kinds of those verbenas whose flowers are of the same grayish colour as those of the heliotrope, and one called Duchesse d'Aumaule is the best of them. No one who plants a bed of Heliotrope should omit planting an equal number of plants of this verbena along with it. The verbena flowers will stand as four to one of the heliotrope, and a stranger could hardly detect the mixture at a yard's distance, and if he did there could be no harm. Those who object to the Heliotrope for a bed, might try this plan. The heliotrope will overrun the verbena in such a way that its shoots and leaves can hardly be seen, but the verbena's flower-stalks will push up regularly all over the bed.

Beaton Bibliography