This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Mr. Leach is decidedly in error when he recommends "little shade." The best possible situation for Heaths, when they are turned out in the summer after flowering, is on the shady side of a high hedge, where they can enjoy the air in all directions without exposure to the mid-day sun: alternate rain and sunshine tell a sad tale, - death or disease is almost sure to follow; for, by the first, the mouths of the newly-formed roots, which have found their way to the sides of the pot, are destroyed by reason of the powerful heat on their sides; and the hitter is engendered by the rapid succession of heat and moisture OH the foliage. Plunging the pots to the rim, in the absence of a shady situation, is the safest and best plan, resting them on two bricks placed edgeways, to ensure good drainage and to exclude worms. To grow heaths safely and well, Mr. Leach proposes too large a shift, it were better to give them two slight removes in a summer than the liberal one he proposes. I am quite sure under such management the plant would make a larger growth, and be more likely to keep in good health; a vacuum of one inch between the ball and pot is quite ample for a plant six or seven years old; half that space for small ones is enough; and it is in potting such, the assistance of a flat stick, which Mr. Leach condemns, is indispensable; for when a space of only half an inch exists between the ball and pot, the fingers cannot be inserted; so that, without the aid of some such appliance, it is impossible to fix the soil compactly throughout the surface of the ball; in this mode of operation the roots, with ordinary care, will not be disturbed.
His recommendation of "West-Kent pots with movable bottoms" is quite superfluous; for, during a fourteen years' experience, I never met with any difficulty in dislodging the ball in my annual shift. It is true, that sometimes in potting a plant fresh from the nursery, which had been starving nobody knows how long, the roots have adhered to the sides; but this is of such rare occurrence as not to render necessary the additional expense of buying pots with "movable bottoms".
In the next division of Mr. Leach's paper he says, speaking of mildew: "The sulphur may remain one, two, or three days; it may then be blown or brushed off." I say, do not be satisfied with a mere puff of wind or a flick with a brush, but take a syringe and souse the plant well, or lasting disfigurement will be the consequence.
And now I come to a recommendation which I must say I am surprised at. But I must give it in Mr. Leach's own words: When large specimens have done blooming, I take a pair of shears and clip them all over." I must be allowed to condemn so severe an operation on the charming Erica. May I never see it practised on any coming under my notice; and let me recommend all interested to use their shears for their hedges or box-edgings rather than on their Heaths.
Mr. Leach next directs attention to the watering, and says: "To give much water to such varieties as Aristata, Hartnelli, Massoni, etc, would be sudden death to them; but, on the other hand, Per-spicua nana, Westphalingea, the Ventricosas, etc. etc, require it often, always giving enough at each watering to soak the whole mass of soil." I cannot by any means agree to the distinction here drawn; the latter class of plants does not require more water than the former; nor will either or any of the genus, at this season of the year, bear with impunity more water than is barely sufficient to keep the mass of soil damp - I don't mean wet: more than that is highly injurious; for as there is but little or no loss of moisture at this season from evaporation, any superabundance of water will sodden the soil, exclude air from the roots, and hasten decay. I feel that I cannot too strongly impress upon all cultivators the paramount necessity of attending to this suggestion, and warning them against the adoption of Mr. Leach's theory. I may add, that the natural humidity of our atmosphere during the winter months is all but sufficient for the entire sustenance of this genus.
Speaking of the amount of cold the Heath is able to bear without injury, Mr. Leach says: "I have frequently had Heaths frozen so hard, that a knife would not penetrate the soil [I am glad they were not mine], and they have not received the least injury therefrom;" further on he adds, "By following the above rules, I am satisfied that Heaths may be grown from cuttings, large enough for any exhibition, in less than three years." I willingly admit, that seven or eight degrees, or even more, of frost will not destroy the plant; but less than half that amount will most unquestionably kill the next year's flowers, as I have reason to know from more than one past occasion: however perfectly the preceding year's growth may have ripened its wood to all visible appearance, yet it is not sufficiently matured with the embryo bloom on its summit to enable it to withstand safely any frost. As regards the time a Heath requires to grow from a cutting to a specimen, I need scarcely say Mr. Leach is again surely in error, and has not had sufficient experience.
I know not what sized plants Mr. Leach considers "large enough" for such a purpose; but if perchance he fixes his standard at such specimens as we are in the habit of looking upon at the two great metropolitan exhibitions, I fearlessly tell him that, with his best skill, he could not grow even Cavendishii, the easiest of all Heaths to manage, in much less than three times three years; neither is there one plant in a dozen we see at Chiswick or Regent's Park, that is less than ten or twelve years old, and many much older. To illustrate this assertion, I will present a hasty sketch of the many shiftings, and the intervals between each, every Heath seen at the metropolitan shows has undergone. First, as a cutting, three months at the very least, and often twelve, elapse before sufficient roots are developed to render the process of potting off safe, - a 2 1/4-inch pot is generally used for this purpose; in about ten or twelve months after, a shift into a 3-inch pot will be required. If the plant continue healthy, and receive no check, the succeeding annual shifts may be thus regulated, viz. from 3 to 3 3/4-inch pots, 4 3/4, 5 3/4, 7, 9, 11, and so on in similar gradations; this is calculating upon the plant having been kept growing by every available means, otherwise it will be too rapid.
Now, we all know a man may as well keep his plants at home, as attempt to exhibit successfully, till they have reached a size suitable for the last-named pot (and then they must be first-rate varieties). Thus, eight years at the very least are required, to bring the Erica to a presentable specimen from a cutting. It is quite a different thing to grow-on a Heath from the size usually sold out by a nurseryman, to what it is from a cutting, and here, I think, is where Mr. Leach has made his mistake. It is much to be regretted that the Chiswick and Regent's Park regulations do not disqualify all plants exhibited that have not been grown, in the strict sense of the word, by the exhibitor; until such, or a similar requirement be made, no fair test of the cultivator's skill can be got at; for those who can afford to pay their ten or twenty pounds for a ready-grown specimen, must of necessity leave but little chance of success to the more humble amateur.
In penning these few criticisms upon Mr. Leach's published article on the cultivation of the Erica, I have not been actuated by any other than a sincere desire to caution the inexperienced cultivator of this tribe of plants from many grievous errors, which would cause ultimate disappointment, if he adopted the practice of Mr. Leach. The suggestions that I have now, and on former occasions, thrown out, have emanated from personal practical cultivation of this plant for many years; the Erica having been a pet flower from my first indulging in floricultural pursuits. It is most true, that this class of plants, as well as all others, have been subjected, from time to time, to novel modes of treatment: some have had for their object the inducement of more rapid growth; others, again, to obtain a superabundance of flower both in and out of season: then again, experiments have been tried on the soils, by using leaf-mould, and even a portion of loam, foul river-sand, and even the scrapings of roads; all, and many other such unnatural modes of treatment has the unfortunate Heath been tortured with. I knew one of the finest collections in England almost annihilated by some such vagary only a few years back.
On visiting a very fine collection about seven or eight years ago, the gardener was just carried away with the "one-shift" system, syringing overhead the last thing at night, and shutting up close; such was his treatment at that time to his young stock, and disastrous was the result. I have tried experiments on this plant equally absurd, and met with disappointment. I am so well convinced of the intractability of the Erica to conform to any forced or artificial mode of culture, that I have long since abandoned the idea of its practicability. It is a slow-growing plant, and all the art of man cannot make it otherwise. It requires soil and treatment suited to its constitutional habits, and it will not thrive if any other be substituted; a dry atmosphere, any degree of cold short of freezing, plenty of air, and as little sun as may be. These are essential to grow Heaths, and upon them depends the health of the plant. Whitehill, Dec. 7, 1848. W. H. Story.
Note. - For the purpose of affording information on the subject, we have inspected the plants under Mr. Leach's care, which are in beautiful health; and we give the names of a few, not the largest, with some other particulars respecting them.
Splendem, 7 ft. cir., 2 ft. high; was in a 3-in. pot three years ago. ttetorta, 8 ft. cir., 1ft. 8 in. high; was in an 8-in. pot at the same time. Betorta major, 9 ft. cir., 2ft. 6 in. high; was in a 9-in. pot at the same time. Parmentieriana rosea, 9 ft. 6 in. cir., 2 ft. 6in. high; the same. Ferruginea, 7 ft. cir., 1 ft. 8 in..high; is three years old. Ampullacea major, 7 ft. 6 in. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; was in an 8-in. pot three years ago.
Elegans, 5 ft. cir., 1 ft. high; was in a 3-in. pot at the same time.
Easonii, 4 ft 8 in. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; the same.
Fastigiata lutescens, 7 ft. cir., 2 ft. 6 in. high; the same.
Macnabiana, 4 ft. 6 in. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; the same.
Macnabiana rosea, 6 ft. cir., 1 ft. 4 in. high; was in a 4-in. pot two years and a half ago. Macnabiana speciosa, 4 ft. 8 in. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; was in a 3-in. pot three years back. Tricolor, 4 ft. 6 in. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; in the same two years and a half ago. Glauca, 6 ft. cir., 1 ft. 6 in. high; in a 4-in. pot three years back. Obbata, 4 ft. cir., 1 ft. high; in a 6-in. pot two years back. Tortulijiora, 3 ft. 6 in. cir., 1 ft. high; in a 4 1/2-in. pot two years and a half ago.