Summer Gardens should be all things bright and beautiful !
After all were not the hanging gardens of Babylon a wonder of the world? A little closer to home and some centuries later the pleasure gardens of Victorian seaside resorts and spas were places to enjoy the sights and scents of complex planting schemes and of course socialise and perhaps flirt a little in a demure and modest way.
Bedding plants gained their name from these rather formal bedding systems of the Nineteenth Century. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries a huge number of plants were introduced to Britain from abroad. They were soon being propagated on a grand scale in greenhouses on large estates and “bedded out” when they were about to flower. Complex patterns and shapes were created in formal beds designed to inspire admiration in all who saw them. They were also a mark of the status of the landowner. In her wonderful book “Plants in Garden History” Penelope Hobhouse explains how the head gardener to Alfred de Rothschild “once heard it said that rich people used to show their wealth by the size of their bedding plant list: 10,000 for a Squire, 20,000 for a Baronet, 30,000 for an Earl and 40,000 for A Duke”. Rothschild topped the list with 41,000.
The bedding plant movement was taken up in a big way by local authorities and parks. It is a wonderful tradition and our parks departments should be valued for the tremendous contribution they make to the enrichment of urban life through plants and flowers.
For most of us a formal bedding system is too rigid and much more fun can be had in creating a delightful hanging basket or planted patio containers. Colour combinations can be wildly bold or romantically muted. There are some areas in my garden where a riot of colour is called for such as a regal combination of purple-blue and gold. In other areas only the daintiest pinks, mauves and white will do.
We are so fortunate with the vast range of bedding plants available to us. Many of these plants, such as Geraniums, Fuchsias and Petunias are old favourites but there are always new and exciting varieties of them to try, as well as Verbenas, Nemesia, Cosmos and the delightful daisy-like Osteospurmum.
Really, bedding plants are to be enjoyed for what they are – a bit of fun and a splash of colour from May to September.