This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
The raising of Tulips from seed has been on the increase for these last few years, and it may not be uninteresting to know by what means the best success is to be attained. I have, on many occasions, given information to the public on this point; and yet I find, after twelve years' practice, that every new year yields me some fresh piece of information. It is only after years of indefatigable and careful attention that success can be expected. I, like many others, sowed seed, no matter from what, or how bad the shape and bottom of the Tulip from which it was obtained; and the consequences were, I had a great many useless seedlings. In my fourth year of taking seed I selected Catafalque breeder (commonly called, by way of distinction, Old Dutch) and Duchess of Newcastle breeder, without any crossing; and from these I had a few very choice breeders, some of which have not yet broken into colour. The next year I crossed Duchess of Newcastle breeder with Catalani, and with improved results. Next season the same was repeated; and in the following year I crossed Polyphemus breeder with San Joe and Min' d'Or, self yellow, keeping each crossing separate. This I have followed up to the present time; and the results have proved the utility of the cross.
Sixteen of the Polyphemus seedlings were planted out in the blooming bed in the autumn of 1847; ten of these bloomed in 1848, and not one of them turned out bad. These were named instead of being numbered, the former being the surer way of obviating mistakes in nomenclature. It is remarkable that one-half the seedlings took after one parent, and the other half after the other, both in bud and foliage, but very distinct in the ground-colour from either parent. All seedling breeders take after the parents more or less, and it is absolutely necessary to select one for fertilising possessing good form and pure base. By strict observance of this point success is certain; many think it unnecessary to be so careful, but I would remind such, that seedlings of all kinds have a tendency to degenerate, and that therefore the best parents should be chosen.
This, from my not having a knowledge of botany, has been all chance work up to the year 1847, when I discovered the stigma at the top of the pericarpium, presenting a small hole in the centre, which, for size, would scarcely admit the point of a pin. This generally opens as soon as the flower expands, and the flower will fertilise itself with its own pollen if not done artificially. To prevent this self-fertilisation, you must have previously fixed on your flowers to be crossed; and having done this, with a small camel-hair pencil remove the pollen from the one, and place it on the pistil of the other; tie up your bloom with matting, or some substitute, if you have no bags to put over it, to prevent bees and flies from undoing what you have done. My plan is, to have a few bags made of the fine Nottingham net, such as ladies' caps are made of; I tie these over the bloom, which they permit to enjoy the benefit of air and sun. I have never yet removed the anthers, as some do; but I believe it to be necessary. One thing I discovered last year, and that is, that every Tulip does not possess an ovarium. Out of about forty Polyphemus breeders, I could only find four that possessed an ovarium. It is interesting to watch the swelling of the pericarpium.
When the petals have fallen, I get a stick, into about every inch of which I insert with a saw a number of nicks, so that I can move the covering as the stem increases in height. I then get a piece of glass about five inches square, and insert it in the stick, so as not to touch the pericarpium by an inch, and then fasten the stem of the Tulip with metallic wire in two places, which keeps it from moving to and fro. I find the glass to prevent the pericarpium from rotting at the top, by protecting it from rain, which is apt to lodge upon it, and cause it to decay; at the same time it permits sufficient air to get to it, which is not the case if it is covered with a small hand-glass.
It may be asked, why select breeders for seeding? I answer, because they are more vigorous than broken flowers, and produce much finer seed; and I have proved by experience that it is only an idle tale that seed taken from breeders will never break into colour. One year I had five bloomed broken the first time, and the last season I had several very fine ones. I have never yet seeded but one broken flower (Lillard Violet) during twelve years, and I have now upwards of thirty fine varieties broken in my best bed to bloom next season, and some thousands of seedlings from my best seed yet to bloom, being only four years old and under.
I would recommend the amateur to sow seed every year, and after the fourth year he may expect a continuation of new seedling breeders.
During the first three years I sowed the seed in October, and did not raise a single bulb; I then tried the first week in January, and met with a little better success; I then tried the first week in February, and from these sowings being so productive, I have every year sown at this season. I once tried an experiment with some seed sowed from Turner's Lord Hill, which I did not like to sow and raise seedlings from. I sowed it in April, and a fine brood 1 had; and, strange to say, some of the roots weighed four grains, whilst the heaviest of those sown in February weighed only two grains.
Get a Carnation pot, and put plenty of draining crocks into it; obtain some grassy turf, and half fill the pot, then put in the following compost: - one half maiden soil, one fourth well-rotted manure, as fine as the soil, and one fourth good leaf-mould, well mixed together; then get something fiat, and press the soil level, and if you have only a few seeds to sow, then plant them edgeway, the narrow end, at which is situated the germ, being downwards; cover with about half an inch of soil, then place the pot in a cold frame, water when wanted, and if the soil gets caked or hardened at the top, get a skewer and carefully loosen it; in about six weeks the young plants will make their appearance. The young plant makes little progress for some weeks, excepting upwards, and then it throws out a small fibre, in the same manner, and something similar, to the potato, which increases in size until it is fully ripe, which will be in July. The seedling Tulip makes not the smallest fibre the first year, but wholly derives all nourishment and support from the foliage.
The second year, as they make fibres the same as offsets, I plant them in the offset bed, and destroy the increase which they make every year until they are four years old, when, on account of their being planted farther apart, the increase can be carefully kept with the parent bulb.
Having thus minutely described the manner of raising seedling Tulips, I propose, in a future Number, to give directions respecting the selection of such as are worth retaining.