Author of'"the Farmers' Friend" "The Family Gardener," etc.
Planning - Biennials
The merest glance at a floral farm in the height of summer sets in motion a train of glorious thought, filling the mind with a myriad ideas regarding such a holding. Each glimpse of the serried rows of massed colour adds to the charm of the ambition, and unless a woman is very practical and level-headed, she is apt to rush into the business of supplying the market with flowers without giving sufficient careful thought to the project.
As a matter of fact, the delightful colouring and the alluring" scents are both temptations. Flower culture for profit is too often disappointing, too frequently a gamble, and only the keen business woman should embark on its stormy waters. Metaphorically, the culture of flowers is for the poetically inclined, but in hard reality the romantic becomes the prosaic indeed.
In many Middlesex gardens the flowers are picked by women. Their hours are from five in the morning till six in the evening, and frequently, with overtime, work does not cease till eight o'clock. On Sundays the hours are from five till ten in the morning, the flowers picked on the Sabbath going away for the Monday morning market with those gathered on Saturday. Five-and-twenty shillings is about the highest possible weekly wage obtainable.
Strictly speaking, success largely depends upon the flowers being picked at the precise moment. They must be just unfolding into blossom when plucked, and without delay must be taken to a shaded packing-shed, and stood in fresh rain-water for some hours before being actually packed. Certainly no more sunlight should fall upon the cut flowers than is unavoidable, and by being plunged into water so that the stems are well covered the blooms will keep fresh much longer.
The actual packing naturally depends upon the class of flower being dealt with. Daffodils and similar long-stemmed blooms are bunched, and then laid in wooden boxes, so that there are as many bunches facing one way as there are the other. Tissue paper, butcher-blue in colour, is usually used, and the bunches are tied with bast. Roses and other blooms that are sold by the dozen are carefully packed in wooden boxes, and kept free from dirt and damage by the tissue paper. Baskets are very seldom used for cut flowers, the wickerwork admitting dust to soil the blooms, and air to dry and wither them.
As for the boxes, they represent a goodly outlay, but for the woman who is working with a commission agent the empties will be usually supplied by the agent. In cases where women have to find the boxes, they can obtain supplies from the wholesale firms who advertise. The cost varies according to the quality selected. The writer, however, advises a sound, well-made box as being the more economical in the long run. Tissue paper is obtainable by the ream; the bast is purchased by the pound, and the wider strips can be split into narrower strands during odd times in the winter.
The bunching of the flowers must be performed by an experienced hand, one who is conversant with the needs of the particular market. The bunches must certainly be consistent, of full market size, and as uniform as possible. Before commencing operations actual experience of the work should be obtained, preferably from a person well qualified to give instruction.
There is always a steady demand for roses in our flower markets, but the supply so closely meets the demand that it is doubtful if this is as profitable a flower to cultivate as the more homely subjects. In the first place, the rose-bush occupies the land all the year round; then it requires a very great deal of attention. In the winter, for instance, the bushes must be mulched with well-decayed manure; in April they must be pruned; once or twice they will need spraying to subdue insect pests. And in face of this the period of blooming is no longer than that of many popular annuals.
However, in land that is particularly adapted for roses, such as a stiffish loam or clay soil, they can be made profitable. The variety usually-selected by the market gardener is the hybrid perpetual. Generally speaking, the newer varieties fetch the best prices, but there are a few warm old favourites that will always command attention. Without a doubt, the best plan is to buy a stock from a first-rate nurseryman, and to propagate from it, so that one has always new bushes coming on from year to year.
As for planting, there could be no better time than October, and the bushes should be set out in rows from three to five feet apart, according to the habit of the variety, the ground having first been well dug and manured. As soon as the bushes are settled in place, a mulch of rather strawy manure should be spread over the roots, and, except for the inevitable weeding, nothing should be done till the spring, when the manure may be lightly forked in.
Hybrid perpetuals are pruned the last week in March or early in April, and when growing for profit the bushes should be well cut back. A pair of leather gloves should be worn during the operation, and though the majority of gardeners prefer a sharp pruning knife, it would be quite permissible for the woman flower farmer to use secateurs. A pair of small electro-plated secateurs cost about half a crown.