Summer bedding plants

by Kate Bradbury

I admit to not being a huge fan of annual bedding plants, but I can see their attraction. For the gardener, they provide instant results...

Bedding plant Pericallis Senetti MagentaI've been quite frustrated with my garden lately. I'm getting impatient waiting for plants to become established; there are too many gaps in the borders and the recent cold spell has prevented the quick germination of seeds I sowed on bare soil. All this frustration got me thinking about bedding.

I admit to not being a huge fan of annual bedding plants, but I can see their attraction. For the gardener, they provide instant results - quick-fix solutions to gaps in borders, a tired corner, a dreary patio. They are easy, cheap, and fast growing, but they're also short-lived and therefore disposable. I'd rather wait for my perennial plants to grow into the borders and sow a few cosmos seeds in the gaps, than get into the cycle of buying - and replacing - annual bedding every year.

It's not the plants themselves I object to (although some DIY-store favourites are downright horrible and wouldn't be seen dead in my garden thank-you-very-much). Many bedding plants are mass-produced, grown in peat, potted in polystyrene or plastic packaging, fed with artificial fertiliser and sprayed with artificial pesticides. They're rarely selected for their usefulness to wildlife, and they require as much watering and feeding as home-grown veg. I can't see how they're worth it.

I recently discovered what happens to spent municipal plantings in my area. Tucked behind an advertising billboard, I found an enormous pile of discarded daffodils bulbs left by parks gardeners, it was taller than me. The bulbs had been dumped there - probably used once and dug up to be replaced by summer bedding - and left to die in a big heap. Daffodils deserve more than that.

Of course, there are alternatives, but they're not as easy and instant as the less eco-friendly options. Some councils have moved towards more sustainable options in their municipal displays, growing shrubs and perennials to provide a long season of interest, and merely filling gaps with bedding rather than planting short-term annual bedding displays. A good example is Tetbury Council, which plants up long term perennial borders, and Royal Parks, which has eliminated use of polystyrene packaging and increased the use of biodegradable pots.

We can't plant shrubs in our tubs and hanging baskets, though. But we can grow some herbaceous perennials, and seed-sown annuals. Perennial displays can be created from lifting and dividing established plants from borders (no such luck for me, at the moment), while bedding staples, such as French and pot marigolds, salvia, bidens, lobelia and pansies can be easily raised from seed. I should have thought about that a little earlier.

So I can't work out what to do with the gaps. There are too many perennials in the garden anyway - any more and it would be swamped. Will someone establish a plant library, so I can have some instant results from flowering perennials and return them to be used by someone else next year? Perhaps I'll buy some gnomes.

What's your view on bedding? Do you replace your displays every year, or use a mixture of annual and perennial plants to add variety to your border displays?

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Talkback: Summer bedding plants
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Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2011 at 18:13

my mums got the hump as shes spent loads of money at the garden centre this week and she put them out the front in the chimmey pots and the birds keep sitting ontop of the flowers and they have broke the stems of the flowers.the birds are woodpeckers and there is a family of them they have babies and we dont know why they keep sitting in the pots.they havent done it mum says she gonna kick there backside if they keep doing it....if i say that i get told of. bye.x

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2011 at 18:13

I'm very with you Kate, detest bedding with a passion....mainly for the reason's you stated. I prefer to grow perennials from seed and watch them grown into strong mature plants over the years. I tend to fill up with cosmos and california poppies where possible, but inevitably the cat sits on the bare earth patches and nothign grows!

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2011 at 18:43

I think if you plant generously with shrubs and perennials then you'll only really have those pesky 'gaps' in the first year. I used shop-bought bedding (nicotiana) last was gorgeous and I'm quite sad that there's no room for any this year! I love growing from seed as much as you do, but with busy lives and lack of space, it's not always possible is it. I also love nothing more than the glory of a mass of day-glo petunias (or whatever) in a hanging basket...It's the sort of thing that encourages millions of people to have a go at gardening....and long-term, more people gardening means more people learning about how our environment works. Swings and roundabouts!

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2011 at 19:01

Kate, you are a writer so I will tell you about the ten plaques of recycled wood that have arrived, thanks to the Resident Artist, at the Bristol Botanic Garden. They have haiku about the plant nearest them engraved on them. Gardens can be embellished by many more artifacts than gnomes. The Australian Garden at the National Bot. Garden of Wales has Aboriginal Art dotted about among the plants. Did you see the Literary garden at Chelsea? I wish you lived nearer. I would give you lots of lovely plants to fill the gaps. Your perennials will soon plump up. Does your local corporation not sell off its surplus plants at the end of June?

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2011 at 20:11

The roundabout in Cemaes bay angelsey, has been planted with beautiful perennials, grasses etc and are stunning. I reckon they show what a little imagination can do and make a wonderful change from the usual standard of rows of clashing bedding plants

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