'Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too. Unconscious of a less propitious clime There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug.'
Undoubtedly Freesias can be grown wholly in rooms, but they belong to the glass-house, cool or heated, and they take high rank among the flowers that can be had in blossom at Christmas without much dost or trouble.
The recipes for achieving this to perfection are numerous, indeed it is difficult to find two amateur cultivators who are in agreement on the subject. The rules to which I pin my faith are the following.
Mix a compost of one part fresh fibrous loam and half parts of well-rotted, dry, mixed, farmyard manure, baked leaf-mould, and roadside sand; scatter bone-meal lightly over the heap while preparing it, and add several nuggets of charcoal when covering the drainage holes with broken crocks.
Pot the bulbs in August for gaining December bloom, September for January flowers, and so on each month until the end of December. Place them 2 inches below the surface, eight or nine in a six-inch pot. Stand the August-potted batches on pavement out of doors in sunshine, but put an awning above them and take care they do not dry up. When growth begins accustom them to sun-heat, and water them adequately. At the end of October, or earlier if frosts threaten, take the batch to a sunny greenhouse, frame, or window, where the plants can have plenty of air without strong wind. There must be no attempt to force on Freesias until the buds are forming, and then the temperature should be quite moderate.
Some growers bring the plants into some warmth before buds have begun to form, but in my experience this causes many to 'go blind,' in other words, fail to bloom, while the flowers that do come, on the other plants, are papery and do not last well. Modern Freesias are immensely superior in texture, stability, size and colour to those of olden days, but require to be healthily cultivated.
By the end of August it is best to put newly potted Freesias into cold frames so that the lights can be put on, raised upon bricks, when there are sharp winds or persistent rains. Autumn sun-heat may not be sufficiently strong to draw out the excess moisture rapidly enough to prevent bulbs from rotting, or the compost from going sour.
Or the pots can stand on the floor of unheated glass-houses or in rooms, not in sunshine until growth has well begun.
Freesias are such slender plants that it is necessary to support them, which is usually done by setting slim green sticks round the edges of the pots and passing circular bands of green raffia round these, slip-knotted from one to another. Two or three bands are needed, at different heights, and the foliage will soon lean against them. However, the cultivator who prefers to place a slim tall stick to each plant, tying the latter by a bit of green wool to the former, will secure a more natural result.
It is possible to grow Freesias without sticks, indeed they look very pretty hanging over the sides of suspended baskets or pots, above a layer of moss.
When flower-spikes are rising the plants need much moisture, so the pots may well be stood in saucers of water. Weak liquid manure, given once in seven days, will improve the blossoms.
After plants have flowered, gradually discontinue water, and let the bulbs be dry in the compost until the following potting season, when the best method is to repot without breaking up the balls of soil. However, Freesia bulbs are cheap enough for a fresh stock to be obtained each year for potting, and the old plants, after blooming, can be turned into any hot sheltered border, to remain out. The first Freesia that came into general culture met with cordial appreciation for its elegance, delicate blend of cream and gold, long duration, and sweet scent, but now we have various coloured named varieties, and also unnamed Hybrids that offer innumerable shades.
Creamy white and gold.
Cream, with orange blotch.
Yellow, flushed with gold, and with orange blotch.
Lilac, with white throat.
Cream, touched with orange. Extra fragrant.
White, with deep tomato-orange blotch on lower petals.
Primrose and gold.
Lavender, paling to lemon-white.
Known as the White Freesia.
Ixias are even more graceful than Freesias, for they bear their starry flowers in loose clusters on delicate stems often more than 20 inches long. Some people consider they have a resemblance to the early hardy Gladiolus Byzantinus of the garden, but in reality they are far daintier. They should be put five or six bulbs in a five-inch pot, 3 inches deep, the first batch in October, others at intervals until January. The best compost to use is one of two parts loam, half parts of decayed cow-manure, leaf-mould, and silver sand. Plunge the pots in a bed of cinder-ashes out of doors, against a warm wall, in a frame, or on the ground of a cold greenhouse. It will be a week or more before there is any need to water gently to keep the soil from drying up. When growth begins care must be taken not to check the plants by allowing the roots to get dry, yet over-watering will rot the bulbs. All the air that is safe should be given Ixias. Remove into safety from outside, of course, when frosts threaten, and introduce to a temperature of about 500 when plants are ready to bloom.
For the outdoor culture of Ixias see Chapter XVI.