Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Wave Hill’s Paisley Bed is an example of seasonal bedding—that is, a decorative planting scheme intended to last only a few months. It is a form of gardening which was very popular during the Victorian era and plantings of this type would have been seen in municipal parks, private estates and even modest private gardens.
Over the years, Wave Hill’s interpretation of this style of gardening has demonstrated many whimsical and amusing themes. “Wave Hillton” (2011) featured a plant-surrounded patio, complete with outdoor furniture, “upholstered” with hundreds of tiny succulents. “Front Yard/Backyard” (2014) showed off a vivid selection of colorful annual flowers in the front with an orderly garden of vegetables in the back, the two separated by a picket fence.
This year features a return to Victorian formality with compact knots of plants in an exuberant pattern. Colorful cultivars of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides UNDER THE SEA® series), the first photo below, are arranged in miniature paisley shapes—mimicking the form of the entire bed—with coppery-golden blooms of marigold (Tagetes ‘Strawberry Blonde’) and pink puffs of globe amaranth (Amaranthus globosa cvs.) providing decorative infill between them. Larger, exotic specimens, such as the cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) and the fearsome-looking prickly umbrella plant (Wercklea ferox), the second photo below, add structure and drama and are very much in keeping with the style.
The paisley name comes from the town of Paisley in Scotland, which was a center of textile production in the 19th century, a time when this pattern was all the rage in Europe and North America. The teardrop motif originated in ancient Persia and is thought to represent a spray of flowers, combined with a cypress tree. The design is common across Central and South Asia and was introduced to the West via the silk trade.