We must remember to distinguish two uses of flowers,--their part in a landscape design or picture, and their part in a bed or separate garden for bloom. We now consider the flower-bed proper; and we include in the flower-bed such "foliage" plants as coleus, celosia, croton, and canna, although the main object of the flower-bed is to produce an abundance of flowers.
In making a flower-bed, see that the ground is well drained; that the subsoil is deep; that the land is in a mellow and friable condition, and that it is fertile. Each fall it may have a mulch of rotted manure or of leafmold, which may be spaded under deeply in the spring; or the land may be spaded and left rough in the fall, which is a good practice when the soil has much clay. Make the flower-beds as broad as possible, so that the roots of the grass running in from either side will not meet beneath the flowers and rob the beds of food and moisture. It is well to add a little commercial fertilizer each fall or spring.
Although it is well to emphasize making the ground fertile, it must be remembered (as indicated at the close of Chap. IV) that it can easily be made too rich for such plants as we desire to keep within certain stature and for those from which we wish an abundance of bloom in a short season. In over-rich ground, nasturtiums and some other plants not only "run to vine," but the bloom lacks brilliancy. When it is the leaf and vegetation that is wanted, there is little danger of making the ground too rich, although it is possible to make the plant so succulent and sappy that it becomes sprawly or breaks down; and other plants may be crippled and crowded out.
There are various styles of flower-planting. The mixed border, planted with various hardy plants, and extending along either side of the garden-walk, was popular years ago; and, with modifications in position, form, and extent, has been a popular attachment to home grounds during the past few years. To produce the best effects the plants should be set close enough to cover the ground; and the selection should be such as to afford a continuity of bloom.
The mixed flower-bed may contain only tender summer-blooming plants, in which case the bed, made up mostly of annuals, does not purport to express the entire season.
In distinction from the mixed or non-homogeneous flowerbed are the various forms of "bedding," in which plants are massed for the purpose of making a connected and homogeneous bold display of form or color. The bedding may be for the purpose of producing a strong effect of white, of blue, or of red; or of ribbon-like lines and edgings; or of luxurious and tropical expression; or to display boldly the features of a particular plant, as the tulip, the hyacinth, the chrysanthemum.
In ribbon-bedding, flowering or foliage plants are arranged in ribbon-like lines of harmoniously contrasting colors, commonly accompanying walks or drives, but also suitable for marking limits, or for the side borders. In such beds, as well as the others, the tallest plants will be placed at the back, if the bed is to be seen from one side only, and the lowest at the front. If it is to be seen from both sides, then the tallest will stand in the center.
A modification of the ribbon-line, bringing the contrasting colors together into masses forming circles or other patterns, is known as "massing," or "massing in color," and sometimes is spoken of as "carpet-bedding."
Carpet-bedding, however, belongs more properly to a style of bedding in which plants of dense, low, spreading habit--chiefly foliage plants, with leaves of different forms and colors--are planted in patterns not unlike carpets or rugs. It is often necessary to keep the plants sheared into limits. Carpet-bedding is such a specialized form of plant-growing that we shall treat of it separately.
Beds containing the large foliage plants, for producing tropical effects, are composed, in the main, of subjects that are allowed to develop naturally. In the lower and more orderly massing, the plants are arranged not only in circles and patterns according to habit and height, but the selection is such that some or all may be kept within proper limits by pinching or trimming. Circles or masses composed of flowering plants usually cannot be cut back at the top, so that the habit of the plants must be known before planting; and the plants must be placed in parts of the bed where trimming will not be necessary. They may be clipped at the sides, however, in case the branches or leaves of one mass or line in the pattern grow beyond their proper bounds.
The numbers of good annuals and perennials that may be used in flower-beds are now very large, and one may have a wide choice. Various lists from which one may choose are given at the end of this chapter; but special comment may be made on those most suitable for bedding, and in its modification in ribbon-work and sub-tropical massing.
Bedding is ordinarily a temporary species of planting; that is, the bed is filled anew each year. However, the term may be used to designate a permanent plantation in which the plants are heavily massed so as to give one continuous or emphatic display of form or color. Some of the best permanent bedding masses are made of the various hardy ornamental grasses, as eulalias, arundo, and the like. The color effects in bedding may be secured with flowers or with foliage.
Summer bedding is often made by perennial plants that are carried over from the preceding year, or better, that are propagated for that particular purpose in February and March. Such plants as geranium, coleus, alyssum, scarlet salvia, ageratum, and heliotrope may be used for these beds. It is a common practice to use geranium plants which are in bloom during the winter for bedding out during the summer, but such plants are tall and ungainly in form and have expended the greater part of their energies. It is better to propagate new plants by taking cuttings or slips late in the winter and setting out young fresh vigorous subjects. (Page 30.)
Some bedding is very temporary in its effect. Especially is this true of spring bedding, in which the subjects are tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, or other early-flowering bulbous plants. In this case, the ground is usually occupied later in the season by other plants. These later plants are commonly annuals, the seeds of which are sown amongst the bulbs as soon as the season is far enough advanced; or the annuals may be started in boxes and the plants transplanted amongst the bulbs as soon as the weather is fit.
Many of the low-growing and compact continuous-flowering annuals are excellent for summer bedding effects. There is a list of some useful material for this purpose on page 249.
Plants for subtropical effects (Plates IV and V).
The number of plants suitable to produce a semitropical mass or for the center or back of a group, which may be readily grown from seed, is limited. Some of the best kinds, are included below.
It will often be worth while to supplement these with others, to be had at the florists, such as caladiums, screw pines, _Ficus elastica,_ araucarias, _Musa Ensete,_ palms, dracenas, crotons, and others. Dahlias and tuberous begonias are also useful. About a pond the papyrus and lotus may be used.
Practically all the plants used for this style of gardening are liable to injury from winds, and therefore the beds should be placed in a protected situation. The palms and some other greenhouse stuff do better if partially shaded.
In the use of such plants, there are opportunities for the exercise of the nicest taste. A gross feeder, as the ricinus, in the midst of a bed of delicate annuals, is quite out of place; and a stately, royal-looking plant among humbler kinds often makes the latter look common, when if headed with a chief of their own rank all would appear to the best advantage.
Some of the plants much used for subtropical bedding, and often started for that purpose in a greenhouse or coldframe, are:--
Aralia Sieboldii (properly Fatsia Japonica).
Caladium and colocasia.
Coxcomb, particularly the new "foliage" kinds.
Grasses, as eulalias, pampas-grass, pennisetums.
Maize, the striped form.
Ricinus or castor bean.