Among flowers which have been introduced into our gardens, few have been more conspicuously improved from the wild type, or more largely multiplied as regards varieties, than the carnation.
The border carnation can be grown in any good garden soil, but where this is heavy or wet, it is advisable to raise the beds six inches, and such soil should be improved when the beds are dug over by working in burnt earth, road grit, or other material, to render it lighter and more open, and consequently better drained.
Propagation by Layers
The most usual method of increasing stock where plants are already in the border consists in layering the latter, which is done as follows: When the plants are at the height of flowering, which will be towards the end of July, strong tufts of foliage will be produced, known technically as grass. The soil
A beautiful mass of prize carnations. Few flowers have been so improved from the original type as carnations, the original name of which was "coronations" should now be loosened round the plants, and some fine sandy soil put on the top.
In carrying out the work, choose rather short stems, and clear away the leaves below the joint to be cut. A special layering-knife with a very thin two-edged blade can be used, but an ordinary propagating knife will serve very well. The joint chosen will be about the second below the tuft of "grass," and the knife must be thrust immediately through it, so that the stem is split open. Fix the split portion firmly open, and fasten down with a layering-peg. Amateur gardeners use hairpins, which serve the purpose very well. Care must be taken that the split joint rests properly on the soil, and it is important that the latter should be kept moist until the layers are rooted.
As soon as the growth of the shoots shows that rooting has taken place, the new plants should be severed from the parent, and afterwards potted up or planted out separately. From the middle of September to the middie of November this work will be possible, choosing mild and moist weather to do it. Where carnations are a special feature of the garden, the beds for their cultivation must be made up with special care. They must be well raised above the ordinary level, especially if the ground is inclined to dampness. More important still, they should be in a sunny and open position, as nothing affects carnations so badly as the lack of sun. In" dark and shady situations they become weak and spindly, and of little use.
The staple of the soil should be a turfy loam, stacked some time previously, and well decayed. Loam is, unfortunately, liable to be infested with wireworm, and this pest is most difficult to exterminate, as every gardener knows. A strong application of gas-lime will get rid of wireworm, but this must not be applied within six months of planting, or it may kill the plants as well as the wireworm. In such a case, one of the patent powders sold for the purpose should be dug in, as this may be done up to the time of planting.
It will be found best to separate the layers from the parent plants a week before lifting them, in order to minimise the check involved in.moving. The soil of the carnation-bed should be in a nice crumbly state. Put the plants in quite firmly, up to their lowest leaves, but avoid all chance of burying the latter, or decay will be encouraged. They should stand at least twelve inches apart in the bed. Water the plants thoroughly at planting-time, and continue to do so each day at first, if the weather is hot and dry.
Little more attention should be needed beyond letting the ground be weeded and stirred, keeping slugs at bay by the use of soot and other remedies.
Sharp frost may affect a certain proportion of the plants, and to guard against this danger in cold districts, a thin layer of straw may be placed among them. After severe frost, always remember to press firmly into the ground any plants which may have become loosened.
A number of layers may be potted and kept in frames, giving them plenty of air, and these can be used to replace any specimens which have failed. Border carnations can, of course, be especially well grown in pots for outdoor display in summer, but a quicker result can be obtained by putting out the perpetual-flowering varieties in May. For the culture of perpetual-flowering carnations, see pages 569 and 686, Vol. I. of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia.
Staking, Watering, etc.
If the plants have been wintered in a nursery-bed, they should be put out in their flowering quarters in March, and thoroughly-watered at the time; but it is better, if possible, to plant them at once where they are intended to flower. It may be needful to stretch cotton on sticks across the young plants to hinder the birds, who like to peck out the succulent shoots.
About the middle of May staking must begin. This will be done either with special wire stakes, or else with bamboo tips,1 stained green, tying being done with green raffia. A careful watch must be kept for aphides, and the plants syringed with emulsion if the pest appears.
In June and July the plants will; need further staking. Disbudding to three buds on the stem may be done in the former month if specially fine blooms are wished for, but, generally speaking, the plants will yield a beautiful show without the practice.
Carnations from Seed
To raise border carnations and picotees from seed, sow the seeds in boxes with a slight bottom heat provided either by a small hot-bed made up beneath a frame or else in a propagator heated by pipes. The atmosphere should not be too warm-about 550 will be . quite hot enough. About seven days after sowing the seedlings will appear, and these can then be pricked off three inches apart in boxes, and the plants in due course planted out, fifteen inches or so apart, in beds prepared for them as described above.
Marguerite carnations, and the Chabaud varieties, a recent introduction, can be had very easily for flowering the same year by sowing early in gentle heat and growing the plants on. They are charming flowers for table decoration.
Harvesting and sowing seed from homegrown plants, cross-fertilised in the greenhouse, is full of interest to the amateur gardener, who may have, like the professional, the excitement of producing a new variety.
Flowers with a short calyx and un-crowded petals should be chosen, as otherwise the flowers are likely to split. When the pistils of the flowers become slightly curved and downy in appearance, these are ready for fertilisation. The pollen will be found on the petals, and can be transferred easily when in a powdery state to the pistils of other varieties, by means of a camel-hair brush, repeating the process for three successive days.
When the flowers are seen to fade, they must be removed. If fertilisation has been carried out in July, the seed-pods will become brown about the middle of September, when they may be gathered and spread in the sun to dry, and the seed harvested for sowing the following spring.