Bedding Plants for the Middle of the Garden Border
25-60cm (10in – 2ft) tall
This category is the border plants, from 25 to 60cm (10in to 2ft), which will usually be situated in the middle of the border.
ha = hardy annual
hha = half hardy annual
hb = hardy biennial
hhp = half hardy perennial
One of the most widely grown and most accommodating summer bedding plants is the antirrhinum. Technically it is aperennial, but judging from the number of boxes of antirrhinums sold every year by nurseries and garden centres, many people use them as . Left to itself it will go on flowering for years: a small clump growing out of my garden wall was there when I acquired it and so far as I am concerned will still be there long after I leave. It gives me no trouble; on the contrary, it brings pleasure without any effort on my part, so I shall not disturb it.
For practical everyday purposes, then, we can regard the antirrhinum as a bedding plant. Start them early under glass, or buy them in as plants, and you can have them in flower within a few weeks of planting out. They will last until gripped by frost. Though they carry no worthwhile perfume the odd shape of the flower (bunny’s mouth is a common name) makes it easy for insects to get at the nectar, so if for no other reason than to encourageto the area of whatever trees or other plants you wish to flourish, a bed of antirrhinums nearby is a good investment.
They were once prey to a disfiguring complaint known as rust, but to a large extent this has now been eliminated by the breeders. Nevertheless, as a precaution look out for rust-resistant varieties — the ‘Monarch’ strain is good for this. Colour? Take your choice, or better still get a mixture, from white, lemon, pink, red, cerise, crimson, orange, bronze and various others within this spectrum. Height is almost the only point you need to watch if planning a bedding scheme. They vary from the ‘Pixy’ type, 20cm (8in), up to ‘Madame Butterfly’, 60-90cm (2-3ft).
Everybody’s stand-by plant for late summer: the flower-of-all-work that takes over when the brilliant high-sun performers have faded. So well known, and so universally respected, as to beggar description. Like those other members of the daisy family, the chrysanthemums and dahlias, they appear in various shapes and guises. You can have them in close-knit flower forms or what are known as ostrich-plume types, feathery and graceful. Asters will fill any part of the border, or make you a fine box display, in white, yellow, pink, scarlet and blue. You really could not ask for a more flamboyant finale to the season.
Celosia (hha) Cockscomb
If you are looking for an unusual plant to create interest, try the celosia. Its common name gives the clue to its appeal: the flowers have a peculiar crimped formation. There is a wide range of colours — white, cream, yellow, gold, crimson, pink and orange among them. They are nominally aannual but can be planted out in a sunny border, where they will do well at the front. Mostly they range up to about 30cm (1ft) but there is a giant strain reaching to about 1m (3ft). One version has quite a tall feathery plume of flower with attractive delicate tracery.
Cheiranthus (hb) Wallflower
If a biennial can ever be immortal, then the wallflower will qualify. This rather tangy-perfumed border plant has been a favourite for generations, and its hold is as great as ever. It is a true biennial in that you have to plant it out the previous autumn, but it is hardy and will withstand the winter, giving you the bonus of at least showing leaf colour when so much else in is dead. Then, with the coming of spring, it is ready to take its place in the colour parade, and what a wonderful display it gives: yellow, crimson, mahogany-red, purple — all with that inimitable scent.
You can get wallflowers in several varieties, ranging from dwarfs for the front of the border or for(there must be thousands of cottages where they are growing out of the garden walls), to plants suitable for the middle of the border which grow to about 45cm (1-½ ft). They are excellent not only on their own account; mix them with the late spring , particularly the . Forget-me-nots (myosotis) also make wonderful companions for them.
One word of warning, however. The wallflower is officially known as cheiranthus, and there is another plant with the same name, commonly known as the Siberian wallflower. This is very similar in appearance, and in fairness is an excellent plant, but it lacks the perfume of our old homely wallflower. Nevertheless, it follows on well and will do its duty as a partner for many of the early and midsummer blooms.
grown from seed, officially half-hardy , are sown early and raised as to flower the same year until the frosts. By that time they have become tubers, which should be lifted and stored carefully through the winter until Easter. Meanwhile the seedling plants in the popular types — cactus, decorative, pompon, or the so-called dwarfs — (which reach more than 60cm (2ft)) will grow to heights varying from 30 to 120cm (1-4ft). The taller ones should be staked for comfort, for the flowers are heavy and the stems comparatively frail.
As explained, they require a certain amount of care in winter (a good way is to keep the tubers bedded in a box of sand) if you wish them to flower for a second year and onwards, but it is worth remembering that a packet of seed, producing several plants, will cost at worst only the same price you would have to pay for a single tuber a year later.
Still the daisies come! Gaillardia has its own niche, however, as there is a still different flower colour formation to distinguish it from the two previous entries. Again, it is a perennial raised and used as an annual. Again, too, it is mainly in shades of red and yellow, but here there is a fading of a contrasting colour, strong at the centre and merging more with the main colour as it nears the edge of the petals. There is also a variety that is just tipped with a second colour. Given plenty of sunshine, gaillardias thrive in almost any soil, and make a striking cut flower.
This is also related to the previous plants, and is not unlike the gaillardia. The main difference is that the various colourings, instead of being in bands, are more precisely defined and produce a star effect, radiating outwards towards the point of each petal. It can be used as a pot plant.
The flowers look delicate, but the godetia is one of the sturdiest and most versatile of our border plants. It prefers a sunny position, and a few packets of the different varieties will provide a fine display for several months. The flowers are rather cone-shaped and in a good range of colours: red, lavender, pink and orange. One strain is known — significantly — as azalea-flowered. Blooms are single or double, and plants are ‘dwarf’ — about 37cm (15in) — or tall, about double that height.
Helichrysum (hha) Straw flower
I remember being told that the latest, international award-winning variety was called ‘Hot Bikini’. That may well have set the newcomer wondering what on earth this plant was. The ‘Hot Bikini’ referred to the fiery red colour of this particular variety. Others range in colour from white through different shades of yellow and red. The flowers have an unusual texture that makes them ideal for drying; cut before they are fully open, they will become superb ‘everlasting’ flowers. There is a perennial version with silver, woolly leaves.
The common name indicates this plant’s deepish-purple colour. Tightly packed clusters ofmake this one of the most attractive plants in the border. A further bonus is that it mixes well: imagine it in partnership with the marigolds — their bright orange and yellow flowers a vivid contrast.
Lunaria (hb) Honesty
This plant is also sometimes named the moonflower because of the silvery-moon character of the seed pods. The flowers are purple and quite attractive, without being particularly sensational, but the pods make excellent winter decorations and are particularly valuable at Christmas. No trouble to grow, and well worth the space allotted to them.
Lupinus (ha) Lupin
You need a number of these together to get the best effect, but undoubtedly they are one of the most striking border plants. The ‘Pixie’ strain, a definite hardy annual, reaches only 30cm (1ft); most of the others, including the famous Russell lupins, range from 60 to 120cm (2 to 4ft). One type, the tree lupin, is scented and can be used as a hedge.
Matthiola (ha) Stock
There are so many plants with a beautiful evening perfume that it is tempting to plan an all-scented bed or border, but I suggest this would defeat its object. Far better to space them out at intervals along the border, or — better still — to station them all round the garden so that there is something different to catch your attention every few yards. Certain it is that you will pause to absorb the delicate fragrance of M. bicornis, the night-scented stock. This hardy annual really thrives at the end of a hot summer’s day, its beautiful perfume lasting well into the night.
There are other, equally delightful, forms of stock. The ten-week stocks, as you might infer from the name, are best grown as half-hardy annuals, started in heat and planted out where they are to bloom. The other two main types, ‘Brompton’ and ‘East Lothian’, are really. Sow these late one summer to bloom early the next, and between them your stocks will provide wonderful perfume for several months. Very satisfying, for apart from the rewards they give they ask very little in the way of preliminary care. They don’t need a rich soil and appear to thrive on chalk.
With some ten-week stocks (Hansens seed), discard the dark green specimens at an early stage, as these will probably be the less-wanted single flowers. The double-flowered plants, which will give the best results, are invariably lighter green in their early foliage.
It is surprising what effects an uninspiring flower can have in its proper element. Here is one of the surprises that delighted our grandfathers, for mignonette has been a favourite for generations. The flowers are not very large, and are usually found in combinations of yellow and white or green and red. But when evening comes, what a transformation! A very distinctive sweet scent pervades the atmosphere. This one can also be grown indoors as a pot plant.
Nicotiana (hha) Tobacco plant
The tobacco plant is another wonderful companion that opens and bestows its perfume in the evening. When at rest, its long narrow trumpet-like flower gives no indication of the delights it can offer. There are now some strains that open during the day, the best-known of these being an All-Britain and Fleuroselect trials winner named ‘Crimson Rock’ (self-descriptive!).
Nicotiana is a rather peculiar plant in that it is a half-hardy annual that can be used as a perennial, particularly in the greenhouse. Even there, it is supposed to die down around the end of October, as autumn gives place to winter, yet as I write in early. January there is a display of white and purple nicotiana blooms 60cm (2ft) high to greet me as I go into my cold greenhouse: presumably the dull daylight and `protected’ temperature make synthetic summer evenings! Alas, the perfume has fled with the summer sun, but I know it will return with the warmer days. This is their second winter of blooming since the seed tray in which they were started was accidentally knocked off the staging, and they flowered where they fell in the border. Half-hardy annuals indeed! To me, they are a constant joy.
If you have spare space in your greenhouse, leave some for a few nicotianas. And if you can, have a bed of them below your window and leave the window open on a summer’s night.
Nigella (ha) Love-in-a-mist
Love-in-a-mist is so called because of the feathery foliage that envelops its rather pale blue flowers. Again, one that mixes well with the yellows, but there is a good mixture of colours under the name of ‘Persian Jewels’, including white, pink, red, and mauve.
No bedding scheme is complete without a petunia patch. The delicate petals, some of them quite large, have an irresistible appeal, and the pastel shades match the delicacy of the fabric of the flower. Most of them grow to about 25cm ( 10in), but there is a strain only a third of this height. Natural colours come in all the shades of the rainbow, and in addition there is an extremely attractive red and white striped version.
Petunias make a splendid show on a summer’s day, but they do not like cold, wet weather. Heavy rain makes them shrivel and mars their beauty, for afterwards you will often find the petals are spotted. Some newer strains, particularly the F1 varieties, have been bred to counter the effects of inclement weather, and there are strong hopes that eventually the traditional gamble with the weather when sowing or planting petunias will be nothing but a memory.
This is all things to all men: black-eyed Susan, cone flower, or gloriosa daisy. It is also an annual, a biennial, or a perennial. Strictly, it is a biennial that makes a fine annual if sown early enough. As one of its colloquial names suggests, it has a dark eye — brown, in fact — with yellow petals. Yellow is an understatement: it comes in golden, bronze, and what one seed firm calls mahogany. It is a really magnificent plant; each flower can be 10cm (4in) or more in diameter. Award-winning Rustic Dwarfs (a comparative term!) grow to about 60cm (2 ft). Some are a little smaller, most are up to 90cm (3ft). Rudbeckias make long-lasting cut flowers, and very imposing ones.
Beautifully-veined velvety flowers, trumpet-shaped and opening out to reveal the full beauty of their myriad shades. The throat is often gold or orange, the rest of the petals veined in pinks, blues or crimson, even dark red. At about 60cm (2ft) they bring grandeur to the border from July to September.
Salvia (hha) Sage
There are so many unsuspected relationships in the plant world that nothing should really surprise us. Nevertheless, I still find it a little hard to reconcile the famous sage of thewith the fiery salvia that makes late summer and early autumn so colourful. There is no reason why the sage-and-onion partnership of the kitchen should not be continued in the flower garden, for the globe-headed flowers of the allium are a branch of the onion family and would make an excellent foil for the salvias. Salvias, best treated as half-hardy annuals, generally grow to between 25 and 45cm (10 and 18in). The reds are the eye-catchers, but there are some excellent blues, notably a new award-winning Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’, which flowers from July to October and offers spikes 25cm (10in) long — marvellous for cutting.
Tagetes (ha and hha) Marigold
I have included under one heading, all three types — the French marigolds, dwarf types normally about 20cm (8in); the African marigolds, somewhat taller; and the calendulas, or pot marigolds, which likewise grow to about 60cm (2ft).
A garden cannot lack colour if it has a few marigolds. Their tight petals, invariably in shades of yellow or orange, draw attention from a long way off. So strident are they that they might be thought to be totally unacceptable in any other colour company — yet put them among any blues and you will get an immediate rapport. African and French marigolds are officially known as tagetes; the French types (shorter) usually come into flower first. The calendula (or English, Scotch or pot marigold) is a no-nonsense hardy annual, unlike the others, which prefer some starting warmth.
While it is not strictly true to say there is very little difference in the three types (except that the calendula is cheaper), it needs an experienced eye to tell at a glance which is which. Despite the comparative sameness of their colours — you don’t, for instance, get a red or a blue one — they are so universally popular that one big American seed firm has for years been trying to get the marigold adopted as the national flower of the country. The same firm has also been offering a big prize to the first person to produce a pure white marigold. Although there are reports that the elusive white has been captured, it is likely to be some time yet before this jewel is released.
Closely allied to the tagetes is the dimorphotheca (star of the veldt) a delightful little border plant growing to about 25cm (10in). It loves sunshine and comes into flower very quickly from June onwards. It is a hardy annual and comes in white, pink, gold, yellow and orange.
Closely related to the chrysanthemum and dahlia, though the flowers are a little stiffer and are usually single blooms. But there are plenty of varieties in long-lasting colour, which have the additional advantage of keeping well in water when cut. Several varieties in the ‘Ruffles’ strain, obtainable in pink, scarlet and yellow, have won awards, especially in America. They do not take kindly to disturbance, so once they have been raised to the planting-out stage it is as well to leave them where they are, only thinning if necessary. Mostly they grow to between 45 and 90cm (1-½ and 3ft), but there is a dwarf version running to about 25cm (10in).