The Cottage Gardener 4: 68-69 (May 2, 1850)
Bedding Plants
Donald Beaton

I have said that purple and pink plants ought not to be planted near to each other; and I the chief reason for that advice is the difficulty of meeting with many plants that are of the true colour, so that we are obliged to take the nearest shades to those we desire to represent them; and if the beds of purple and pink are neighbours, these shades will often neutralise each other, or come so near to the same colour as to confound the two, so that one can hardly tell where the purple ends or the pink begins—but both of them should always be represented in a good flower-garden where colours are arranged; as, notwithstanding the number of plants we possess, we can only make out five distinct colours after white in a good summer flower-garden, which is required to keep in bloom till the appearance of frost—pink, blue, scarlet, yellow, and purple—and if we confound the first and last of these, we are reduced to four colours. We have a dozen or more of shades (of which I shall write), but it is most difficult to get them into their proper places, owing to the manner in which the great bulk of our best flower-gardens are laid out; and then when you find a place for the right shade, the plants may be either too high or too low for those next to them; and without arranging the heights as well as the colours of plants, it is much better not to attempt this kind of arrangement at all. But let me not have all the say to myself, rather let me have the assistance of all our readers who have had some practice in planting according to heights and colours; and the simplest mode of testing our proficiency will be, perhaps, to suppose that we have a border to plant alongside of a walk; no matter how long this border may be, but let us say that it is ten or twelve feet wide, with a box edging between it and the walk, and that it is nearly level, or at any rate not more than six inches higher at the back. Now, let us say that we have six distinct colours in flowers, thus including the white, and even let us say lilac, if suitable plants can be found to produce it, when we shall have seven colours. I want to plant this border according to heights and colours with summer flower-garden plants, which will last in bloom from the turn of midsummer till the end of September, or, if the frost holds off, till the middle of October. My present arrangement does not include spring flowers, or those which only bloom from five to six weeks. The lowest plant must be planted alongside the walk, and one kind of plant is allowable for the whole row; the second row must not rise more than a few inches higher than the first, and its colour must harmonise with that of the first and third row; the third row may rise ten inches higher than the second row; and the fourth, fifth, and sixth rows may rise in like proportions, or a little more; but no one row is to be more than twelve inches higher than that in front of it. but every successive row must rise a little above the one before it; so that when the whole are in bloom we may have a sloping bank of flowers in a harmonious whole, every row being of one kind of plant, and, consequently, showing but one of the distinct colours. All I want is the name of the plant for each row, and the space of ground necessary to allow it to come to full perfection; the border being just twelve feet wide; and, to simplify the problem, I left out the violet colour, because I know we have no plant of that colour to suit this style of planting; so that out of the hundreds of plants yearly used in our flower-gardens I only want six kinds, and each to be of a distinct colour. 1 shall expect to receive these lists before the end of May; and I strongly advise the exercise to young gardeners; but I shall be much deceived unless the best of them come from ladies in the country who have had some practice of ordering the arrangement of their own gardens. No one need sign his or her name to these "returns" unless they choose; and the whole must be first sent to the editor. I shall then comment on the suitableness or otherwise of each list, and surely we must all of us learn something from them. I am aware the thing is much more difficult than those who never tried the plan may suppose; but when done properly, here is no other way of planting a border so effectual to show the beauty of harmonising flowers; and it also involves the principle of planting any number of beds collected together into any regular figure, according to the highest style of flower-gardening. In short, it is the rudiment of the art.

Any one having but one flower-bed may represent this style of planting in it, provided the bed is a circle, and s large enough to contain six circular rows of plants in it, by placing the plant in our back row in the centre of the bed, and working down our other rows in circles to the edge of the bed. Again, the colours in the rows may be represented in different beds congregated together in a regular figure; and here is where the value of the different heights will be most apparent; for if one plants a bed of a tall blue plant, as Lupinus Hartwegii, and plants the next bed to it with Sanvitalia procumbens, a yellow of the lowest growth, although he may admire; each bed by itself, the disproportionate size of the plants; in the two beds will more than mar the effect; the two side by side would look ridiculous. The only way where a very low plant will associate with a tall one is, when a rich edging of one colour is placed outside a large mass of tall plants; and even here some kind of proportion ought to be preserved, by giving the edging plant a proportionate breadth according to the height of the tall mass; for to make all edgings of the same width, without reference to the size of those plants within the edging, would be a palpable blemish, if not absurdity.

One more request, and I have done with this border. I shall require from young gardeners, if they use plants generally raised from seeds for any of the rows, at what time would they sow the seeds so as that the plants would be in bloom—say by the first of July? and if they use trailing plants, as petunias, how do they propose to confine them to a single row without scrambling amongst the rows on each side of them? Of course, where one row of the desired height and colour would be too thin, owing to the upright habit of the plant, I shall allow two or even three contiguous rows of the same plant to be put in to make up a sufficient breadth of that colour; but you must state in inches the breadth you propose for each colour out of the twelve feet. I anticipate at least more than a hundred of such lists; and if 1 get sir different ones out of that number, which will be in every respect suitable for the display 1 want, I shall be satisfied.

Yellow Flowering Plants.I have said so much about these last autumn, that I need hardly add more than the names of most of them, and that on the score that a good tale is not the worse for being twice told. Tagetes tenuifolia, is the best habited plant for a bed of all we make use of, after the pink Saponaria calabrica and the yellow Sanvitalia procumbens; from eighteen to two feet, according to the soil, is the height of it, and it may be sown at once in the open ground; but, as it will transplant easily until it comes into bloom, the best way is to sow it in the reserve garden, and plant it out early in June when the May or spring annuals are over. The Sanvitalia, ten inches high, will also come in theopen ground, and will transplant Then come the yellow Calceolarias, and there are six good sorts of these, at least: Integrifolia, Rugosa, Rayii, Viscosissima, Corymbosa, and Amplexicaule; there are two good kinds of reddish yellow shrubby Calceolarias that would mix with Corymbosa and Viscosissima (say every fifth plant to be of these reddish brown ones), and I think they add to the richness of the bed without interfering with the colour of the mass—but that may be a matter of taste. The Kentish Hero will not come in, as a colour or as a shade; it is too brown, but it makes a splendid bed nevertheless. The Orange African Marigold makes a fine mass in a large garden, but is not suitable for small opes. The double clear Yellow French Marigold is very rich for a bed, and when kept over the winter from August struck cuttings, and planted in a soil not too rich, it has nothing of that coarseness about it which characterises seedlings. The same treatment as that given to verbenas will suit it during the winter, and it requires about the same attention as the American groundsel, for it is ticklish about damp. I believe I said that another gardener and I kept it in succession for eleven years by cuttings, and at first we had many mishaps with it, and always in the spring. The fact is, we used to begin it too early in the spring. The first of April is quite time enough to put it into heat to get a growth for cuttings, which strike like a weed. Coreopsis lanceolata divided in April like the little Campanulas, and once trained down to the ground in June, makes a fine mass for a large garden. The rest of the yellows will be noticed under "spring beds."

Beaton Bibliography