This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Few plants are more interesting than Achimenes, and few better reward the cultivator for his care and skill. We first had A. cocci-nea, which still keeps a firm hold of our affections; and, indeed, how can it be otherwise, - for who could look on a specimen of it, four feet in diameter, quite round, and covered with little scarlet flowers, and not admire it?
Then came A. longiflora, an equally valuable species; and, if my memory serves me rightly, this was succeeded by A. grandiflora, rosea, some recently introduced species, and hybrids, altogether forming one of the most handsome tribes of plants with which we have to deal.
My mode of cultivating the different species is as follows. As soon as they have done flowering, they are placed under cover in some convenient corner, and watered two or three times, with a view to aid the swelling of the tubers; for they grow for some time after they have done blossoming. They are then allowed to become quite dry, previously to being cut down; the pots are laid on their sides, and piled up one above the other in any snug corner below a stage; but they should not be exposed to a lower temperature than 35°; 40° minimum would be safer. They winter better in the pots they were flowered in, than if taken out and placed in drawers, as under such circumstances they are apt to rot.
With a view to keep up the best series of successions, the first batch of tubers should be started in the beginning of February, the second in the beginning of April, and the third in the latter end of May, or at any time between these periods, according to circumstances; but if excited later than this, they would do little service to the amateur who has not the assistance of a stove.
The tubers (before starting them) should be shaken out of the pots in which they have flowered, placed in small shallow pans, with a little fine earth about them, and transferred to a cucumber or melon frame, in which a temperature of between 70° and 80° is kept up. But if a heat of this kind cannot be obtained, then 60°, with rather an abundance of atmospheric moisture, will suit them equally well. Move the plants from the pans in which they were excited when they are an inch or two in height, and put them into their flowering pots at once. In doing this, the requisite number of tubers is placed at equal distances over the pot, - five is the number we employ for a wide-mouthed 6-inch pot; we prefer this pot to the more upright kind, for it contains a greater surface, and the roots of Achimenes run rather shallow. For growing fine specimens, pans should be used a foot over, and six inches deep, ten plants being employed to fill the pan.
The soil I use is a mixture of turfy loam and peat, with a little well-decomposed cow-dung and silver-sand, all in rather a rough state, with a good proportion of drainage. In filling the pots, I place the rougher soil at the bottom, and till up with the finer. The plants are then inserted, with their tubers an inch below the surface. They are watered with a little chilled water (using a fine-rosed pot), to settle the soil about their roots. Thus potted, they are again placed in heat (about 60°), with rather a moist atmosphere, and plunged in a gentle bottom-heat.
Tubers excited in April, and after that, will not require this heat; and even those first started would do without plunging, but I find them to succeed better with it. Where a stove and plunging materials cannot be had, a dung-bed frame, with a gentle bottom heat, would effect the same purpose; with this precaution, that a little air must be given at night, increasing the supply by day; and in bright weather the plants will require shading, or the action of the sun on their leaves, when covered with the vapour from the bed, will blotch them, which would spoil their beauty. Indeed, however well you treat them afterwards, all of them like a little shade, by which the leaves are kept more healthy, and the flowers brighter, and the latter hang longer. A late vinery, or a greenhouse with creepers up the rafters, suits them very well.
The plants should be stopped back when they have grown four or five inches in height; this causes them to break freely, and makes them handsome. I allow grandiflora to grow about nine inches high before I stop it; this prevents it from making shoots, but it has the tendency of producing a greater abundance of flowers, and,, when a pan of it is well tied out, it is a handsome object. I stop-back pedunculata twice, leaving four eyes each time to break from; and I shift them out of the 6-inch pots when the latter become pretty full of roots into a 9-inch size, as I find this is not too large for this variety. In this way I have grown pedunculata with fine effect; its flowers being, in my opinion, little inferior to those of picta. This last-named species seems to be better adapted for winter culture; and when grown in a moist stove, the foliage puts on that beautiful marbling which makes it appear very interesting.
Several of the varieties of Achimenes are subject to mildew. As soon as you see it, attack it with sulphur vivum, which prevents its spreading. On a watchful eye after this, and a few slight fumigations, depends greatly the success of the cultivator.
I may add, by way of conclusion, that where a supply of flowers is required for decorating the drawing-room, conservatory, or greenhouse, during the summer months, the Achimenes are most useful plants; and if persons will attend to the directions I have just given, I have no doubt that the result of their labour will prove satisfactory.