This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Having seen several letters on the cultivation of the Ranunculus in The Florist, I am induced to give you the fruits of about twenty-seven years' amateur practice in the growth of that beautiful pet-flower; and in doing this, I have no desire to be considered as opposing the views of any one: my only object is, faithfully to detail my own experience.
I began, as a matter of course, by the purchase of all the best sorts I could meet with in my own immediate vicinity, and by opening a correspondence with distant growers, so that at the end of the first seven years I possessed a collection of all the best varieties; and here you must allow me to say, that, after seven years' ardent perseverance, I was nearly giving up their growth as a hopeless pursuit; but it so happened, just about twenty years ago, that Mr. Tyso, sen., of Wallingford, who also was a competitor with me in the growth of the Ranunculus, introduced to my notice a bed of seedlings of the most luxuriant growth and bloom, but all single, not even a semidouble, I think, amongst them, yet quite remarkable for their brilliancy of colour, and fine marking on the top side of the petal. We both entertained hopes that, with such varieties to breed from, we might, by energy and perseverance, raise a stock of superior flowers, that would soon put all our old favourites out of cultivation; and now twenty years have elapsed, and our expectations have been realised.
Instead of that degenerate race which once occupied my best attention, and almost as constantly disappointed my most cherished hopes, I have now entirely a new race, and I am annually delighted with a never-failing bloom; and, what imparts the greatest of all pleasures to the florist, a fresh addition to my former beauties every year in the shape of new seedlings.
I will now give you my system, which I believe to be that also of Mr. Tyso and others in our vicinity. From my seedling bed, I pull out all that are bad in colour and marking, and select only such as possess fine qualities, and a good number of petals, to save seed from. By this continued careful selection of seed-bearers, an annual improvement is apparent. I have a seedling bed to bloom every season, and have never had a failure during twenty years' cultivation. I am anxious that the minds of growers should be disabused of the notion, that the Ranunculus is a barren, bloomless tribe of flowers, blossoming only in favourable moist seasons, or under the regime of this or that particular cultivation. I never try any nostrum, but am content with refreshing my beds annually with a few bar-rowfuls of maiden earth mixed with pig or horse dung. Cow dung, which is so frequently recommended, I have never used.
It is my opinion, founded on long experience, that the Ranunculus degenerates by age; and even the flowers raised, as above stated, suffer in progress of time, so that some of my earliest products are small in comparison with their original size; and I believe no change of soil or climate can possibly bring them back to their former vigour. This opinion is well founded, and great pains have been taken before I arrived at this conclusion.
It will be evident from the above statement, that, if any one would wish to be a successful grower of this favourite flower, he must first begin by purchasing seed or youthful seedlings. Care must be taken to cover, after the bloom is over, those he wishes to save seed from till ripe, as wet or moisture will prevent the seed maturing. He must sow the seed after Mr. Tyso's receipt, only let the time be the beginning of March instead of autumn, as autumnal sowing is not so desirable.
If the seeds be successfully raised, and the roots matured, they will produce the second year the most luxuriant foliage, and a certain bloom, in any season, provided the roots be planted in good soil of sufficient depth.
In conclusion, I shall illustrate my position by reference to a bed of Mr. Turner's, of Chalvey, which I saw last season. One half of a long bed had been planted with old named sorts, on which there was hardly a vestige of bloom visible; the other half had been planted with seedlings, which were flowering for the first time, and they presented one mass of luxuriant foliage and blossom; so that here, in one bed, in the same soil, and receiving the same treatment, were the two classes of Ranunculus, - the old and the young; the latter in health and vigour, while the former were dwindling to decay.
Benson. Richard Costar.