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Victorian Carpet Bedding Plans

Learn how to design your own Victorian-style bed, or try our colorful two-season plan.

- Kristin Beane Sullivan From Garden Gate Issue 20, April 1998

Designing a Victorian-style carpet bed of your own isn't difficult. Simply draw out a pattern you like on paper and plan for maximum color contrast. Try planting blue and yellow next to each other. Or lay out purple next to orange or red next to green. The brighter, the better.

In general, simple designs are easier to pull off. Once you've decided on a pattern, the trick is to recreate it on the ground. Victorians sometimes had templates they used in the garden. You could make your own by cutting out shapes of cardboard. You'll probably also need to use a tape measure and the garden hose. Once a bed's tilled, lay out the lines with the hose or the template and then use flour or spray paint to outline the pattern in the bed. Mark the entire bed first so you can stand back, visualize and make adjustments before you plant.

The first season is spring. In typical carpet beds, all the bloom times coincided. We've modified the concept in our plan: The crocuses will bloom first, followed by the hyacinths and daffodils together. As they're finishing, the tulips will start to peak. This way, the bed maintains some color throughout the spring. After the bulbs are finished, it's time to plant for summer-long show. You can plant most of the annuals right over the top of the bulbs. The one exception is the cannas. Canna rhizomes grow large over the course of the summer and can crowd tulip bulbs. So either plan to replant new tulips each fall. Or allow the tulip foliage to ripen, then dig the bulbs to store until fall, when you can replant them and dig and store the tender canna rhizomes.

Victorians often put borders around carpet beds. Low-growing lobelia makes a compact edging plant, but you could also substitute sweet alyssum. If you're having trouble finding chartreuse coleus, golden feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum') would be a good alternative. You can direct-sow its seeds in the garden.

It's easy to see why old-fashioned cockscomb's wrinkled, bright-red flower heads appealed to Victorians' sense of the unusual. Other Victorian-era possibilities include red salvia and geraniums.

Taking care of a carpet bed is no more difficult than maintaining the rest of your garden. Once a bed is planted, keep it watered and weeded. Other than that, check the garden weekly for branches crossing color lines or lanky plants that need to be cut back. Don't be timid about snipping those that overstretch their boundaries.

Spring Bed: Plant List

Code Plant Name No. to Buy
A Tulip Tulipa 'Coleur Cardinal' 24
B Daffodil Narcissus 'Rip van Winkle' 40
C Crocus Crocus chrysanthus 'Elegance' 65
D Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis 'Bismarck' 52


Summer Bed: Plant List

Code Plant Name No. to Buy
A Canna Canna 'Florence Vaughn' 6
B Coleus Solenostemon scutellarioides 'The Line' 28
C Trailing lobelia Lobelia erinus 'Sapphire' 47
D Cockscomb Celosia argentea 'Olympia' 12
E Cockscomb Celosia argentea 'Fire Chief' 12