Continuted from page 2727, Part 22 .
By A. C. Marshall, F.rh.s,
Author of "Small Holdings for Women," " The Farmers' Friend" etc.
For and Against Specialising - Potting Composts and How to Make Them - The Method of
Cenerally speaking, the beginner at flower culture for profit is too eager to specialise. The success of the large growers who excel with some particular variety is contagious, and one is apt to overlook the unusual chain of circumstances that have led up to the state of perfection such specialising indicates.
What usually occurs is that a grower commences with the ordinary mixed produce of a floral garden, and then finds, after perhaps years of experience, that one especial variety of flower thrives in his aspect and soil. Encouraged by this, he perseveres season after season, until eventually he becomes a leading grower of that flower. It is a question of attaining success by stages - stages that are often the reverse of easy.
At the same time, even at the beginning a certain amount of attention may be paid to specialising, careful note being taken of striking results. Violets, for example, will thrive in one position, and fail in another, and chrysanthemums will yield large profits to one grower, and almost beggar his neighbour. In this respect, flower culture for profit is rather a gamble - a delightful, fascinating gamble, it is true, yet a serious game of chance - and when one considers that the ever-popular Crimson Rambler rose, when first introduced from Japan, was declined by several large growers, one realises that sound judgment and business acumen are required.
To the beginner, therefore, the writer would say : Preserve constantly a hope that you may become a specialist, and set that as a criterion - a goal to be striven for. Make up your mind to be classed eventually as a leading grower of some favourite flower, for it is the specialist with the large reputation who can in the evening of working days rest upon his laurels assured of a competency. The principal point should be to select a flower that is coming into fashion, and then to foster and cherish it, putting forth improvements and popularising it by sheer force of merit. At least half a dozen rear-rank growers have pushed to the fore in recent years with chrysanthemums, and there are several ladies who are shining lights with their violets, whilst the cases of Miss Hemus and Mrs Fraser and her sweet-peas are historical.
To such earnest gardeners as my readers must be it is hardly necessary to mention the importance of good potting composts. Seedlings are delicate, tender morsels that must be pampered and petted, and their brittle, frail roots can make no progress in soil that cakes and binds. The staple in which plantlings are nursed must contain a goodly proportion of leaf-mould, a little top-spit loam, plenty of silver sand to ensure even drainage, and a very small proportion of well-decayed manure thoroughly broken. In some cases the addition of a little peat that has been teased out between the fingers is beneficial. The term "top-spit loam " indicates that upper crust of earth that comes beneath old pasture, and where it is not obtainable the scrapings from the bed of a dry ditch are an excellent substitute.
All potting composts should be kept in a dry state, and mixed whilst in this condition. When gardening on a large scale, a potting-shed is a necessity, and it should have a long, strong bench upon which the work may be performed. The composts can be kept under it. Flower-pots must be thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before being put to use; should this precaution be neglected, they would be non-porous, and, consequently, almost useless. Good and free drainage in the pots should be assured by filling the bottom with broken "crocks," as odds and ends of flower-pots are called, and the soil should not be packed too tightly in the pots so that there is no room left for efficient watering. The plan of allowing a pot to stand continuously in a saucer of water should only be followed in very exceptional cases, and, as a rule, it is bad gardening. In certain instances, when dealing with delicate subjects that are troublesome to root, it is a good plan to insert the flower-pot inside a much larger one, filling the intervening space with cocoanut fibre, which may be kept moist with water, as required.
There is a good deal of misunderstanding as to the right method of tying plants to stakes. A very common but quite incorrect plan is literally to bind the stem of the plant to the stake. The proper way is to first make the bast secure to the stake, and then to attach the ends to the plant. Bast, by the way, is the best tying material known, and it sells at from ninepence to a shilling a pound. As for stakes, there is nothing quite so durable or effective as bamboos, and when they are purchased in large quantities at wholesale prices the cost is not so great as one might imagine.
When bedding-out plants are taken from pots, they should be removed from the pot by inserting the little finger of the right hand in the drainage hole of the pot, so that the roots and earth are forced outward in a mass. The roots and earth are then held in the left hand, with the stem of the plant passing between the fingers, and the trowel picked up with the right hand. With the trowel, a wide, deep excavation is made into which the plant is set, the earth being afterwards made firm by pressure with the fingers. The majority of beginners do not press down the soil sufficiently firmly about their plants, thus admitting any possible drought, and lessening the chance of ready rooting.