The Cottage Gardener pp. 4-5 (April 4, 1850)
Bedding Plants
Donald Beaton

Bedding Plants.—I said last week, that the Sweet Alyssum was the best white edging plant; hut I forgot to say that the variegated form of it is the kind to which I give the preference. The Variegated Sweet Alyssum is, indeed, the richest edging to a scarlet, or blue, or yellow bed, of all the plants we possess; but some tastes might prefer Mangles' variegated Geranium before it; but as I keep strictly to white colours at present, that geranium cannot be admitted, on account of its pinkish flowers. The only drawback to the variegated alyssum is that it is not everybody's plant, like the original, as it must be preserved from year to year, by cuttings made in August, and secured from frost, like the verbenas. On the other hand, it is devoid of that powerful honeyed perfume for which the Sweet alyssum is discarded by those who dislike that kind of scent. Either of them is useful for second planting in July, after some other annual is done for the season; or, say a good successor to a bed of Navel-wort, or of the Great Cape Marigold, Calendula hybrida, alias, C. pluvialis: but the latter is a different plant, being the Small Cape Marigold. These two white flowering annuals are well worth growing, as they require only to be sown at once in the open bed; and the alyssum, being of the same height—a foot to 18 inches—would follow them, in an arrangement where height and colour were to be maintained. We gardeners 1 do not encourage this style of planting, when we can I put in a plant which will last through the whole season. We prefer it to a double crop in the same bed, but that is no reason why those who are fond of a variety should follow our example here. The Calendula hybrida is a particularly showy white plant for a bed as long as it lasts, and is only a foot high in the richest soil. It is one, also, that will easily transplant; and five or seven good plants of it thinned out of a bed would make a handsome patch in a mixed border. White Clarkia makes a delightful bed, but can never be used in a proper 1 arrangement of heights and colours, because, when it is over, there is not another white of the same height to take its place; at least, not without waiting some time. A White Petunia or Verbena might pass for it; but, after all, that would only be a poor make-shift. This Clarkia must, therefore, be used without reference to this style of gardening, and when it is over a plant of some other colour must take its place. I shall once more remind you of making one bed, at least, of mixed Clarkia: introducing equal quantities of white and purple. A good-sized bed of them, thus mixed, any one may have for sixpenny-worth of seed; and I engage to forfeit the good opinions of all our readers, if a single individual amongst them will not admire this bed.

Petunias.—There are several good white petunias for bedding, but, with the exception of the old tall one called nyctaginiflora, I do not know one that could be got in the trade, as their names are so ephemeral. I must, therefore, pass them over, with one remark on that old one. It is the only one of them that can be i relied on to come true from seeds; and the seedlings answer best on poor dry soils; but where the soil is rich and deep they grow too rank, and will not bloom so well as plants raised from spring-struck cuttings. A very dwarf white petunia is still a desideratum.

Verbenas.—" I wholly dread" the verbenas, as we say in Suffolk, and so I left them out as long I could; but, fortunately for this week's article, they are rich in white bedders. The Bride and White Perfection being the best two which I have yet seen, and I have tried a hundred too many of them. Miss Harcourt, Monarch, and Mont Blanc, are the next host. Princess Royal kept her ground for three or four years, but is now discarded as only a fourth or fifth-rate variety. Then, there is the old teucrioides for those who delight in sweet perfume; and there is another old one equally sweet but not so white: it is called fragrans, and teucrioides carnea, and I know not how many more names beside. Carnea is better than teucrioides for furnishing bouquets, as it is flat-headed, and comes in for a circular row in those huge bundles of flowers which are fashionable, but certainly not tasteful bouquets.

Where verbena beds are liable to mildew, the plants ought to be dusted once a fortnight, from the turn of Midsummer to the middle of August, with equal quantities of soot and flowers of sulphur. The sulphur is the real agent to arrest the progress of the mildew, but it looks ill for a while; whereas its own bulk of soot will give it somewhat of the same tint as the leaves of many kinds of plants. The way to apply the dusting is to make a little mop, with soft matting, about six inches round; tie it on the end of a stick 18 inches long; mix the soot and sulphur in a flower-pot saucer, dip your new mop in the mixture, and press it down that it may get a good pinch; then hold the mop in your left hand, and push it down among the plants until it is nearly touching the soil of the bed; then, with your right hand, strike gently against the handle of the mop, and the dust will fly in all directions, and reach the underside of the leaves, where it will be safe for some time from the effects of dew or rain; but the work should only be done on dry days. If this dose is applied twice before any symptoms of the mildew are seen, the chances are that it will not appear for that season; but the process is so simple, that to make sure of the remedy it would be better to continue applying it as late as August.

The White Salvia patens closes my list of white bedders.

Scarlet Colours.—I shall follow with this brilliant colour, because, of all the combinations of the colours of flowers, scarlet and white are, generally, the most pleasing. Here, again, if we begin with the lowest plants, we must recur to theso puzzling verbenas; but they also are rich in scarlets, of many tints from orange to crimson-scarlet; and of all sizes, from Boul de Feu— which is so dwarf as to require to be grown in the very richest compost to get it to spread over the soil at all—to Robinson's Defiance, which is strong enough for field culture.

Boul de Feu (The Fire-ball) is still the best of the very low scarlet verbenas for a narrow bed, but requires to be planted in the richest soil. The first nine inches of the bed should be one-half very rotten leaf-mould or old dung. The colour is an orange-scarlet. The next best is Inglefield scarlet, or fulgens, which is a brilliant dark scarlet or crimson. By planting these two together in one bed, and alternately, the effect produced is much better than either of them alone; and this arrangement holds good with all the scarlet and pink verbenas, and with some of the purple ones. Indeed, three shades of these colours answer better; the only difficulty being to find plants exactly of the same height and strength; for unless they are so, the mixture cannot have a good effect. The whole bed should appear to a stranger to be made up with one plant only, and that one producing three shades of the given colour. The only other verbena that I could ever mix with Boul de feu and Inglefield scarlet is the old Melindres latifolia, which is more red than either of the other. These three may be mixed safely together; and, when the soil is rich and suitable for them, there is nothing in the whole range of flowers which will at all come near to them in brilliancy of colour.

Satellite and Emperor of Scarlets are two beautiful bedders, and both of them will associate in one bed, and produce a better scarlet bed than either of them by itself; and, for a large bed, the Wonder of Scarlets would come in for the outside row, as it is not so strong a grower. Gladiator, Captivation, and Tweediana grandiflora are three fine ones of an orange scarlet, with good habit, but their effect is not improved by being planted together. These are the best scarlets for ordinary beds of all that I have seen. Robinson's Defiance has the largest head of flowers of all the scarlets, but it is such a strong grower that ordinary people can hardly find beds large enough to do it justice, and it is not suitable for a small bed. 1 shall try it this season for a small bed, by way of experiment, under a different treatment from any that has been recorded for flower-beds; and I shall be much disappointed if the plan does not answer; and I should like to hear that others have made tho same experiment, as it would be a great loss to let down such a splendid plant. I purpose putting it into a circular bed about a yard across, and to plant it in inches from plant to plant. As soon as the plants get a good hold of the soil, and begin to spread freely, I shall give tho bed a good watering, pat down the soil rather firm, and then concrete the whole surface; this concrete I shall make with one spadeful of fresh slaked lime, four spadesful of rough sand, or fine gravel, and as much soot as will give it a dark colour like the ordinary soil, with mortar sufficient to form a thick mixture, which will be spread over the bed about a quarter of an inch in depth. If the colour does not please me, I shall sprinkle a little dry earth over the concrete while it is yet soft; and, by the time it is dry, it will "set" as hard as Roman cement, and no rain will get through it, but the bed will be moist enough for the roots all the season. My object in this experiment is to keep the plants from rooting at the joints, and thus compel them to feed from the original roots only. If the fore part of the summer should be wet, as is not at all unlikely after so much dry weather this spring, this plan will prevent this Defiance (a most vulgar name, by the way.) from getting tho benefit of it.

Geraniums.—Scarlet geraniums are as plentiful as blackberries; and Tom Thumb is the best of them for small beds, but, like many more of them, it does not answer on some soils. I can make nothing of it, nor of the Improved Frogmore, which is the next best dwarf. Our calcareous light soil is inimical to the whole race of the Frogmore breed, to which Tom Thumb belongs.

Beaton Bibliography