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Victorian Plants
for Summer Grouping

From the 'Handy Book of the Flower-Garden' (1868) by David Thomson

The number of beautiful plants which have been furnished to the flower-gardener of the present day, and the well-matured experience in making judicious selections for various soils and climates, give us considerable advantage over those who were the pioneers of the grouping system. Nevertheless, we must not consider that anything more has been attained than a favourable stand-point, from which a still improved order of things can be descried. And if it be true, as doubtless it is, that so extensive a use of comparatively tender plants has led to the neglect of many an interesting hardy border-plant, all has not been loss. That wonderful law of compensation which pervades the universe has not been absent here. In proof of this, we have only to review the many beautiful half-hardy plants which have been added to our lists, and have disputed so successfully the position of popular favourites. And should the current of popular taste ever flow more than it does at present in the direction of mixed flower-beds and borders of hardy plants, there must be a compromise. Selection from both the hardy and half-hardy orders of plants is creeping on just as fast as it is being discovered that some desirable feature or effect is gained; and thus, by a sort of mutual concession, the flower-garden will be furnished with judicious selections, and not with an omnium gatherum of all sorts.

In taking a retrospective glance at some of the plants which are now so extensively used, it cannot fail to be abundantly apparent to those who are conversant with the plants which formed, as it were, the dawn of the grouping system, that the improvement in some cases has been wonderful, and in nearly all very considerable indeed. Thirty years ago, the very headquarters of flower-gardening were all but entirely destitute of anything in the way of Pelargoniums that would now be tolerated, unless as a curiosity. The old Horse-shoe among Zonales, and old Frogmore among plain-leaved scarlets, were the gems of those days. In variegated Pelargoniums the poverty was even deeper still; and as for the tricolor-leaved sort, they were never dreamed of nor hoped for. General Tom Thumb, the history of which is more like romance than reality (in being saved from a dust-bin, where, after the tender mercies of a nursery of children, it was cast to die the death of an unproved seedling), led the way in improvement; and, in company with new Frogmore, the plucky little General has marched through many a gaudy garden, and probably they have held their ground for a greater length of time than any others. Globe Compactum and Shrubland Superb led the way among sorts with zoned or horse-shoe leaves; and, when properly managed, both varieties are very effective, although dark-zoned leaves are not now so highly prized in a bed of scarlet-flowered Geraniums. About 1850, Flower of The Day commenced the era, and a new race of silver-edged varieties. And what have we now ? It would indeed be difficult to say how numerous these varieties are, and more difficult to describe their beauty and adaptability for one purpose or another. From pure white up through the various shades of pink, peach, rose, cherry, salmon, scarlet, to crimson of various shades, with foliage of all shades of green, to say nothing of the shimmering beauty of the creamy, silver, golden-edged, and bronze varieties, we have them, thanks to the skill and energy of hybridizers and sport savers ; and all culminate in the gorgeous tricolor-leaved varieties, which almost combine, in one leaf, the colours of the rainbow, and vie, in beauty of marking, with the tenants of our stoves.

Looking at Verbenas, I cannot help recording my conviction, that the present principle of arranging plants in masses owes them very much, perhaps more than any other genus of plants. The introduction of the Verbena had a very considerable share in the advent of the grouping style, and helped to establish it. Verbenas made dense and dwarf masses of long-continued and. brilliant colours possible, and were found of easy culture. For bedding purposes, perhaps, the improvement has not been quite so striking as in Pelargoniums. The desirability of growing only such varieties as will stand rains the best, combining distinctness of colour with a compact stiff habit of growth, good foliage, great substance of petal, and a prolonged profusion of bloom, has very much contracted the choice of Verbenas. Still, making such points as these the standard of merit, we have very fine sorts which could not be well spared, and which, for producing a long-continued mass of colour, cannot be excelled. It is singular that in the way of foliage no very striking improvement has been accomplished. Could we possess a purple or blue variety, with silvery leaves, it would be a great acquisition. As a distinct species, now more generally pressed into service, what can excel Verbena venosa? It stands unrivalled by any other for producing a mass of purplish violet that withstands all weathers; but in cold, late localities it does not succeed. A pure white Verbena, with the habit and profusion of the Purple and Crimson Kings, would be one of the greatest acquisitions to the parterre. Some have been recommended as coming up to the bedding standard, but we have not found them to do so.

The work of improvement in that style of Calceolarias which are suitable for planting outdoors, and that keep up a long succession of bloom, has not been so striking as in the Pelargonium. Nevertheless, since the days when C. rugosa and C. angustifolia were the best, nuch has been gained. It is only necessary to point to the gorgeous masses and lines of yellow and orange-yellow produced by such varieties as canariensis, aurea floribunda, aurantia multiflora, Kayii, and to the intermediate bronzy colours, up to the magnificent crimsons of our Havelocks, and more especially Ambassadors. These few give heights and habits of sufficient variety to make them suitable for the smallest and largest beds, while all of them are very suitable for lines.

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