...and so to bed

by James Alexander-Sinclair

There is a tendency among some gardeners to look down their noses at bedding. I admit that I used to share their prejudices.

Bedding schemeThere is a tendency among some gardeners to look down their noses at bedding. They sneer at the humble petunia, cock a reproachful eyebrow at a tumbling lobelia and positively guffaw at any sign of a begonia. I admit that I used to share their prejudices: I, too, dismissed all hanging baskets and garishly coloured window boxes as tasteless and vulgar.

But a couple of years ago, brothers and sisters, I saw the light. No matter how much I disliked the colour combinations I could not deny the fact that most schemes are grown with great care and are purely designed to make people happy. That is a principle you cannot knock: who are we to dictate taste to people in their own homes? To misquote and plagiarise Voltaire: I dislike your bizzie-lizzies but will always defend your right to grow them.

Parks, however, are a different matter and everybody is allowed an opinion. I was pondering this subject while I was loafing around Paris last week in perfect weather and wandered into the Jardins de Luxembourg. This is a public park that surrounds a fine palace originally built for Marie de Medici, mother of Louis XIII - it is now home of the French senate (hence the presence of various bored policemen in the grounds: I thought initially that they were there to stop people walking on the grass but even the French are not that fierce). The most impressive thing was the standard of bedding. Rather than strict lines or groups the plants were arranged much more informally. Great swathes of orange dahlias, salvias and marigolds. Specklings of petunia and verbena. Whooshes of Ricinis communis (Castor Oil Plant) and even occasional ticklings of chard. All this as well as huge phoenix palms and pomegranates in great steel tubs. Very exciting, very impressive and miles better than a bunch of pelargoniums in a hanging basket.

Much bedding in British parks is admirable and is a result of the work of skilled and dedicated gardeners but it is very staid, rather blobby and clinging on to a Victorian ideal (although, interestingly, bedding was originally invented by the Aztecs in Mexico). Schemes like this in a park in Moffat are all very well - although pretty hideous, if I am honest - but it would be good to see something a bit more innovative. Even Hyde Park is not really up to snuff and Buckingham Palace is pretty unspeakable.

Surely we can do things as well as the French? Maybe we do: I wonder where?

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Gardeners' World Web User 27/09/2007 at 12:34

I share your hate of Bizzie Lizzies, but everyone to their taste.

Agree with bedding plants in swathes, as opposed to regimental lines. Enjoy mixing my bedding plants to give added colour, and variety.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/09/2007 at 23:15

Taste? What a cheek! Stop dissing those lovely flowers dude!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2007 at 10:33

have you visited the botanical gardens in edinburgh lately? wow!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2007 at 13:23

I have hanging baskets and planters because I can't get "down and dirty" any more due to arthritis. At least I can get down, but getting up again is a totally different matter. The borders now do their own thing. The orange double daylilies, once occupying a corner of one bed, have multiplied and taken over half the bed. The daffodils come up in spring, and once finished the daylilies start to re-emerge. I weed that part then forget about it for the rest of the year until they die back. Weeds don't stand a chance against those flowerbed thugs. A quick hoeing over the top when they die down, and I can forget about it. This end has forsythias underplanted with cyclamens and miniature bulbs. They've been there for 40 years, and one has died, so I am going to cut them down, and fill the border up with other weed suppressing stuff. The border the other side is filled with flowering shrubs which have intermingled making a dense hedge. The birds love it, and weeding is minimal. The top corner has a huge Lavatera. It fell over last year under the weight of the flowers. I asked my grandson to stand it up and stake it again, but he forgot. I thought it would die, but it filled the corner up with purple blooms over 8 feet high, and with a spread of about 7 feet. There is no way it can fall down any lower so I am leaving it there. The tubs and planters mean I can have flowers and weed them with ease. My vegetables are in raised beds too, so I can still grow my own. I haven't the strength to dig the garden. 40+ years of digging in compost, straw,manure etc. has made no difference. It still goes from baked brick to a swamp in a matter of hours. Dig down 2 feet and you hit yellow clay. Ugh!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2007 at 14:31

I've had a lovely display of summer bedding plants this year but does anyone know if I can compost them. Will the seeds they've produced just rot down, or will they germinate once the compost is used in my garden?

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