THE subject of filling beds, boxes, tubs, urns, etc., so that they look well all winter and contain plants or bulbs that will blossom in spring, is not a popular one, as a rule, with the town gardener, who generally has the pessimistic idea that everything is bound to die. Great quantities of plants do die between October and April, but this is often because no gardening is done meanwhile. It is absolutely essential to keep ground hoed over, and soil in receptacles pricked over, that there may be ventilation in the earth that is nourishing plants. Unless the hoe or, preferably, the spud, is used at least once a fortnight, plants cannot be expected to live.
Of course there may be long spells of hard frost, when the ground is too hard to penetrate, but these are rare, and directly frost breaks the surface soil should be loosened. There is no occasion to hoe deeply, indeed it would be sure to injure roots and bulbs ; pricking over to a depth of an inch or two, according to what is in the ground, is best.
By the by, wallflowers must not be loosened in the soil, or they will die off ; so, if the hoeing has been careless these plants should be trodden round and made very firm.
The hoeing can be done lightly through any winter mulch there may be of old manure or coco-nut fibre refuse, for the soil will not be turned.
Florists will provide suitable dwarf evergreen shrubs for beds ; these can safely be turned out of their pots in October, but many gardeners prefer to sink them in the pots, covering every vestige of the latter by soil.
A bed, or box, six feet square will take one shrub in the centre, a smaller shrub at each corner, and there will be room for a ring of dwarf wallflowers, then one of London pride, then variegated arabis tufts at six-inch intervals, with three early scarlet dwarf tulips in each interval, and a final edging of mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides). The result will be a very pretty ' evergreen ' foliage show all winter.
By a little reflection the gardener will be able to invent other combinations, bearing in mind the great merits of ' perpetual foliage ' subjects, large and small, from shrubs down to common pinks.
1 I can't grow pinks in my garden,' I fancy I hear from a critic. Well, there is absolutely no reason, except neglect, starvation, or injury by animals, why pinks should not flourish in even city gardens, for they do not mind soot or smoky atmosphere. The beautiful new Allwoodii pinks, perpetual blooming, are just as suitable, though more costly.
Pansies should always be tried. If mulched round well they will probably live and will yield large blooms in spring ; whereas plants bought then, with giant blossoms developing, soon deteriorate.
Forget-me-nots are very ' chancy.' They succeed in some of the worst towm gardens and disappear out of many better ones. Double red and white daisies (Bellis perennis) are fairly safe.
More use should be made of German irises, whose grey sword leaves are so elegant. They ought to be represented by robust single specimens set at nine-inch distances, say with mossy saxifrage or variegated arabis all between ; instead of which we mostly see them in overcrowded masses, unable to flower properly.
Suburban beds, borders and urns may well be edged by common thrift, for its pretty green effect, but London pride is satisfactory anywhere. Crocus edgings are always charming, but crocuses want to be let alone for three or four years, not moved about.
I have seen window-boxes, with brilliant orange tiled fronts, in the heart of the city, looking beautiful all winter through, being planted only with some gold-variegated euonymus shrubs and the tiny-leaved, deep green, erect-growing ivy (Hedera helix conglo-merata). Hedera helix Cavendishi variegata is another miniature kind, only cream variegated, that should thrive.
Directly March comes in beds can be made fair for spring, of course, by the introduction of wallflowers, forget-me-nots, lungworts, violas, double daisies, polyanthuses, plain and coloured primroses, pansies, and many other attractive things that are described in other chapters.
It is a good plan to plant forget-me-nots, especially myosotis dissitiflora, close against crocuses that are going out of flower soon ; then masses of pale blue florescence will hide the decaying crocus foliage that must be allowed to die naturally, not cut off.
Double and single parmies should be planted permanently as a help in the spring beds, because their red shoots of foliage are as beautiful as blossoms directly they commence growing. Some lime should be strewn round them each March- to keep slugs away.