The Cottage Gardener 4(94): 236-238 (July 18, 1850)
Bedding Plants
D. Beaton

FLOWER-GARDENERS who aspire to excel in their calling, have two very strong temptations to withstand from this time to the end of September. In the first place, we all of us know that certain seedling varieties of choice plants have a strong tendency to depart from those forms or colours for which we chiefly admire them, and hence are difficult to preserve from seeds true to those points for which we cultivate them. We all acknowledge this difficulty, and yet we do not, in most instances, make proper allowance to the seedsmen for it, but rather look on them as if they were endowed with some magic spell by which they ought to overcome such natural tendencies in their seed gardens. Now comes the first temptation. We have a beautiful flowerbed in full bloom, aud all from seeds which are variable in their nature—but this time the plants turn out just to the very tint desired: and if the seedsmen would but engage to supply samples so true as these for the future, who would go to the trouble of saving doubtful seeds? Seedsmen, however, may make what arrangements they think best, but they cannot always ensure many kinds of seeds to turn out quite as we, or they, want them; and, therefore, it is that we are now tempted to let a certain bed ran to seed rather than hazard the chance of a failure another season. Yet, it goes a good way against the grain to see a choice flower-garden converted into a seed nursery, even to the extent of one single bed. But what is to be done in such cases is more than I can tell. If I had a bed, or a row, or even a patch, of true blue branching Larkspur, I would certainly let it ripen the seeds before I removed the plants, because I do not believe there is a single seedsman in Europe, or elsewhere, who can supply the genuine plant Yet, this fine annual finds a place in every third garden in the country; and I recollect the time when no larkspur of this tall kind was to be seen but the deep blue variety. But since the eight or nine varieties of it, of different tints, which are now to be met with in every fashionable flower-garden have come into competition with that old sort, the real blue branching larkspur can hardly be seen at all; what generally goes by that name is a purplish blue plant. The tall larkspurs being now in full beauty, any one who has a bed of them, and sees this, can easily put me right if I am in error; and, moreover, if two or three pods of seeds from a genuine variety could be sent to me by post at the same time, it would be a good way of convincing me how far I have been wrong. There are, or were some years since, two sorts of the plant I want—one with the open part of the flower light blue all round, and the bottom a deep dark blue, and the other, which is the best, is dark blue all over; but seeds from either can hardly be depended on if a tall larkspur of a different colour is so near that the bees, or the wind, can carry the pollen dust from one to the other. Others, no doubt, have some favourite flowers difficult to keep, or to obtain true from seeds, and so the temptation to save seeds under one's own eye goes the whole way round the circle. I believe it to be a natural law that, if plants are divested of their seed-vessels as fast as the flowers begin to fade, they will keep much longer in flower than is natural to them. At any rate, there is no question about the soundness of the principle as far as the generality of flower-garden plants are in question, therefore, from this time to the end of the season, seed-vessels or pods should be looked on in the same light as weeds. When a head, or a bunch of flowers, falls off or fades at once, there is very little trouble about the matter—the stalk is cut, and there is an end to it; but in others, as, for instance, Scarlet Geraniums and Lupines, some of the flowers die away, and the seed-vessels stick out like beaks or bean-pods long before some of the flowers on the same stalk are ready to open, so that it becomes a tedious and a delicate operation to keep a bed of these scarlets free from seed vessels. Of all the scarlets that I have seen. Compactum and Shrubland Scarlet are the two most free from forming seeds; but both have another failing just as bad, for the flowers in the centre of their trusses die away, and are decayed, or mouldy, before the outside flowers are ripe enough to open; therefore, to keep a large bed of any of this tribe in first-rate order, they must be looked over every two or three days, and the dead flowers, or the seed-vessels, cut out carefully with a sharp knife or pair of garden scissors; and the best scissors for all garden work that I have seen are those sold as Turner's Garden Scissors, which are manufactured by Mr. Turner, of Neepsend, Sheffield. They cut clean, like a good knife,—not a bruised cut as by the common work-basket scissors.

We grow many Lupines here, and our rule is to cut off the whole spike of flowers as soon as one-third of its length is faded at the bottom—an extravagant way, certainly, and might be improved on by taking hold of the top of the flower-spike with one hand, and rubbing off the bottom pods with the other; indeed, any way of saving the flowers, and at the same time the seeds, is a good plan. Writing about lupines, reminds me that we had a new one last year from a friend, of which kind we have a good stock this season, but it has hardly got into seed catalogues yet. It belongs to the tall section of annuals to which Lupinus mutabilis is referred, and might be taken for mutabilis or Crookshankii before it comes into bloom; but the colour is very different, being partly cream colour with a pinkish shade; we had it for a real pink lupine, but it is not so in reality; nevertheless, it makes a good marked variety, and lasts—like its relatives—till overtaken by a smart frost. These tall lupines are not grown half so much as their merit deserves—I mean the annuals of the mutabilis section; and from this time to the middle of August is the best time in the year to sow them, for one particular purpose, which is, to flower them as single specimens out on the grass—one plant in a place, three plants in another, and so on, as one might choose; or if a bank or large bed of them were planted like dahlias in such princely places as Chatsworth or Windsor Castle, the effect would be magnificent; but to have them in a sober way for more ordinary situations, a dozen of them got up now, or soon, and half starved in little pots singly through the autumn, would take up no more room in a dry pit or greenhouse than so many verbenas in single pots; and as soon as they began to move in the spring to be potted, and so encouraged to grow on and to be repotted once or twice more before the time of planting them out in May, they would become large bushes, such as one could hardly believe who has not seen the mode tried. Where there is head-room, one or two plants of them might be grown very large, just to see what good cultivation could effect before the time of planting them out; and should they even be coming into flower as early as the first of May, there would be no danger of their ceasing to bloom down to the end of October, particularly if their seed-pods are kept down. I should not be surprised to hear of a single annual lupine reaching the height of ten feet, and full and bushy in proportion; but for so large a plant, a very sheltered spot should be chosen, as a heavy wind would have great power on such a mass of succulent shoots and thin foliage. For common ordinary use they are not sown till the end of March, like other annuals.

The second great temptation is about making cuttings from choice geraniums. This is just the best time of the year to make cuttings of the whole race of flower-garden geraniums; but now that they are only in fine bloom after a struggle for existence, it seems hard to take off any cuttings yet. To have a fine stock of healthy plants, however, long before the winter sets in, we must begin to propagate early. Here we use as many geraniums as most people, and more kinds of them than any other place in the country. My catalogue of this class of geraniums contains 87 names, and I shall add half a dozen more to them this season. We also keep a propagating book, in which every plant we bed is entered, and the number of cuttings that are required is put after each name. These numbers are altered every season—except a few of what we call stock-plants—to suit the arrangement of the planting next season. Our first stock-plant of geraniums is our own scarlet seedling called Punch, and of it we annually root five thousand cuttings. This is the greatest number we strike of any one sort, and it is very seldom we put cuttings of these kinds of geraniums in pots, unless it is a very delicate or a rare sort which we can ensure better that way. The whole are rooted in the open ground, and full in the sun, and the hottest day in the year will not hinder our propagation when we once begin, and we never shade a geranium cutting. The vine and peach borders are generally the propagating beds, and it is a good old plan to put a slight coat of some light rich compost over these borders in July, when most of the liberal waterings are over for the season. The borders being first stirred with a fork to the depth of two or three inches, and then a couple of inches of the mulching compost is added. The whole is then raked, and the usual alley is marked out near the wall, and the place is ready for the cuttings. You begin at one end of the border, and plant the cuttings in rows across it, two inches between every cutting, and six inches between the rows. When two or three rows of cuttings are thus planted, and you see from the propagation book how many cuttings of that sort are to be struck this season, you can calculate what length of border will hold the whole of them; then measure off that length of the border, and then begin with the next kind, and so on for the whole collection, and by the time the propagation is finished, every sort will be found by itself. Besides the look of the thing, this is by far the best plan to ensure a systematic course of management. When a gardener first begins to propagate, the chances are that he cannot get more than a tenth of the number he requires, and not even that of many varieties, therefore, if he were to plant the first crop of cuttings in close succession on the border without leaving intervening spaces as above, he might certainly root all his stock, but they would be so huddled and mixed together as would render their management difficult. Strong and fast growing sorts would overrun the weaker ones, and some would require water much oftener than others, but if they are in close contact, how is he to proceed? and, moreover, if the propagator should forget to mark down in his book the numbers of cuttings he made at any one sitting, the whole must be counted over again; all this would look like hap-hazard.

For those who know very little of these things, I may now give the details. The border or open space of ground in a sunny aspect we shall suppose is ready, and I put most stress on having the place full in the sun, because half the world lie under a mistake on this head, and suppose that a north aspect is the best, which is, indeed, a very wrong notion. Then look over the bed or plants from which the cuttings are to be taken, and select carefully those shoots near the centre of the plant, or where they are most crowded; and in this early searching for cuttings you are to study "the look" of the plants rather than the number of cuttings, for if we "take the market on the day," we have plenty of opportunities yet for an abundant supply of them. Then, at this early period, be content with a few, and that few, if judiciously chosen, will rather improve the look of the plants, and enable them the sooner to extend sideways. The cuttings of strong growing scarlet geraniums may be six or seven inches long, as an average; three of their bottom leaves to be cut off, and the bottom of the cutting to be a clean cut just under a joint, or under the bottom leaf. Some people say that these cuttings should lay by a while to dry, so as that the fresh soil should not "damp them off,” but this is hardly necessary; the soil is dry enough to suck off any moisture that may be on the cut part, and a cutting in the open ground is not at all so likely to rot as one placed in a pot. Mark off the border with a line, or string tied to two sticks, or you may leave the line stretched across the bed or border, and plant the cuttings by the side of it, and then move it on for the next row, and so on. The surface of the border ought to be even, and the planter should stand or kneel on a piece of board rather than disturb the bed by his foot. About an inch deep will be the right depth to plant the cuttings, but less than that will do if the surface of the bed is a little firm. When the whole are planted, give them a slight watering to damp the leaves and settle the surface of the soil about the cuttings, but by no means give so much water as to reach to the bottom of the cuttings so early; indeed, we have planted thousand of these cuttings in hot weather without giving any water at all.

D. BEATON

Beaton Bibliography