'Flowers are the brightest things which Earth On her broad bosom loves to cherish.'
WE have just been thinking of how well the Begonia will fill a bed on a lawn; we know, too, that Begonias are very much prized for mingling with other plants for bedding-out; so brilliant, so long-blooming are they, so attractive are their leaves, that they may be said to combine all the 'points' . that should distinguish a plant for summer and autumn adornment of the pleasure-grounds.
Yet, as I have suggested earlier, the finest Tuberous Begonias ought to be given glass-house culture, and merely Double or Single Bedding Begonias, in separate colours or mixture, be bought for outdoor purposes. They are quite simple to manage.
In Chapter XIV (Begonias, Gloxinias, Streptocarpuses, Etc) will be found instructions for starting Begonia, tubers, also for raising Begonias from seed.
The tubers that have made growth are potted off singly in small pots, and the plants kept growing until May under glass, then stood in frames, uncovered whenever it is safe, until planting-out time in June. The custom of covering the soil of Begonia beds with coco-nut-fibre refuse is an excellent one, as it preserves the leaves and flowers from being mud-splashed. One year I made the covering of equal parts of the fibre and of fertilized Hop Manure, and found the nourishment agreed splendidly with the plants.
Dwarf Bedding Begonias, mentioned in the same chapter, are capital for edgings and portions of patterns. Of course the popular Begonia semper-florens calls for warm praise, but it does not rank as a bulbous plant, having fibrous roots.
Our ancestors went decidedly mad over Tulips, and moderately crazy over Ranunculus culture. Still, it should be admitted that beds or borders of the best French and Persian Ranunculuses, perfectly grown, are enough to rouse genuine enthusiasm. Dutch and Scotch Ranunculuses, too, are most beautiful flowers.
The famous old authority, Glenny, described the properties of a prize-deserving Ranunculus.
'The flower should be of the form of two-thirds of a ball, 2 inches in diameter, the under part of it square or horizontal.
'The outline of the bloom should therefore form a perfect circle.
'The petals should be thick, smooth on the edges, and gently cupped; they should lie close, so that very little but the edges should be seen, and that little only the inside surface.
'The flower should be symmetrical to the centre, which should be close, so as to perfectly conceal the seed-vessel, even with the surface, and perfect so as to exhibit a complete finish to the surrounding petals.
'The colour should be very dense, whatever be its hue; if an edged flower, the edging should be well defined, and the marking even and uniform in every petal; but in no case should the ground colour break through the edging, but spotted flowers with one spot on each petal are allowable.
'The stem should be strong, perpendicular, and long enough to raise the flower clear 6 inches above the foliage, and no more.
'Striped flowers are not perfect, nor are flowers speckled on the edges; the colour of edged flowers, like those of edged picotees or tulips, ought not to exhibit a single break.'
The days have gone by in which the Ranunculus was a show flower, yet it is pleasant to recall them, and sensible to understand what are the greatest qualities of this blossom that we value to-day chiefly for its worth as a vase filler.
The half-hardy Ranunculuses, or Crow-foots, are best represented by the Persian, R. Asiaticus; the Scotch and French ought to be cultivated apart from them and from each other, for purposes of comparison. Turban Ranunculuses, which are the hardiest, have been dealt with in Chapter VIII (Anemones, Fritillaries, Turban Ranunculuses, Tritelias, Muscari, Etc), but may advisably be grown like these others if there is any danger of harsh winters being experienced.
Plant tubers, then, of the delicate Ranunculuses (or of the 'Turbans' in cold gardens) in rich sandy soil and sunshine, claw downwards, 2 inches deep, and 5 inches apart, in February. Continue at intervals of a few days until the end of April, if a succession of blossom-harvests is desired. Mulch with a two-inch layer of old cow-manure, letting it lie very lightly over the beds or borders so that it will not check the leaf growth at all. Another mulch may be given when the plants are well up; or leaf-soil or Hop Manure may be used instead. Water freely after growth has begun. Ranunculuses will fail altogether if allowed to become dry. When flowers are forming the plants may be given a dose of liquid manure, made of half an ounce of guano steeped twelve hours in each gallon of rain-water. Other liquid manures can be applied also, if desired, but all should be discontinued when flowers are opening.