Sarah's Snippets

Summer Gardens

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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.

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Bedding Plants

My office overlooks the car park at our Badshot Lea garden centre.  I am always intrigued to see what people have bought as they load up their cars.  Looking out of the window today it seems that nearly every customer is taking away containers, compost and what we traditionally called bedding plants.

Bedding plants are Geraniums, Petunias, Busy Lizzies and the like that used to form the backbone of formal parks planting schemes.  They were called bedding plants because they were grown in nurseries and then ‘bedded out’ in to their flowering position.   These days, as a result of the container revolution, these plants are increasingly referred to as patio plants.  Formal bedding schemes are out and informal mixed borders and, above all, planted containers are in.

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I am always nervous early in the season as I see trays of these tender plants going out.  No matter how many signs we put around the place saying ‘protect from frost’ I fear that some will be casualties. However, the danger from frost should be well and truly over now.  This is a truly liberating feeling. Time to go wild and have some fun with colour.  These days there are so many bedding plants available.  Ever more interesting varieties of old favourites such as Fuchsias and Geraniums vie with Osteospermum, Nemesia and Verbena in a vast array of colours.  Shocking pink, pillar-box red, vivid orange and vibrant yellow or purple contrast with cool white, pastel pink and subtle shades of blue.

The great thing about gardening in containers is that a huge garden is not required.   A patio or balcony will do.  Also you can move pots about and change their contents according to the season.  You can also use pots to express style by careful choice of container and plants.  Pale flowers look good against a dark background.  Yellow Petunias will draw the eye away from a brown fence.  If you are planting a specimen single tree such as an Acer or exotic species such as an Aloe or even a Hosta in a pot designed to last a long time you probably only want one to achieve the desired architectural effect. However when using bedding plants it really is a case of the more the merrier.  It is better to plant two good full containers than four straggly ones.  Instant impact and a summer full of colour is what it is all about.

 

There is no doubt that bedding plants are hungry.  Multi purpose compost is fine for planting up bedding plants in containers or hanging baskets.  However there are also some specialist tub and basket composts which contain more nutrients so the need to feed is delayed.  An easy way to feed if you use multi purpose compost is to combine a slow release or controlled release fertiliser in the compost at the time of planting.  There are also liquid and soluble feeds that can be used regularly during the growing season.

Water is obviously vital.  Using a water retentive gel in the containers at the time of planting helps.  The aim is never to let the compost totally dry out or it can be difficult to re wet.  This does require a degree of vigilance and helpful neighbours while you are on holiday.  At the opposite end of the spectrum always ensure that the container has drainage holes in the bottom so that water logging is not a problem.

I am not a violent person but I do have to admit to arming myself regularly with a pair of secateurs and taking out the frustrations of the day on the bedding plants in the evening.  The job in hand is to cut off the old dead heads and faded flowers to encourage further flowering.  By removing the old flowers the plant cannot set seed so, in an attempt to reproduce, has to form more flowers.  It really does work.image

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