This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Dear Sir, - I must plead guilty to the charge of never having seen, or indeed heard of, The Florist, till you called my attention to it; but I like the number you were so kind as to send me so well, that I have ordered my bookseller to supply me with it henceforth.
You ask me the particulars of my "window-greenhouse," in which, as I have been sufficiently successful not only to please myself, but to have imitators because of that success, I have great pleasure in telling you - no, not you, but your readers - how I manage matters. I had last season about 900 blossoms on 35 plants, and as I am not aware that the care of them took up time that ought to have been otherwise employed, and was a pleasure all through the year as well as in the blooming season, I really should be glad to see the system more general. I cannot promise that all shall succeed who may try it, but I think I can shew that those who do not may charge themselves with their failure.
Probably most of your readers have occasionally noticed a most nourishing tree, covered with healthy blossoms, in an old broken teapot in some cottage-window; and some may have thence inferred the uselessness of care and science in the treatment of plants. I do not draw that conclusion from the fact. For look at that sickly thing in the next window to it. How much better and healthier the flowers look in the one window than the other! And yet the houses are built on the same plan, and stand next to one another; and therefore the inference I should draw is, that there is a right way and a wrong of growing flowers; and, further, that a person who uses the right will succeed under great apparent disadvantages. And as a closer inspection always shews the difference to be in the person and not in the place, and that such persons rarely spend much time or pains upon their pets, and yet every thing seems to succeed with them, it is plain that those who will follow their example will make their window-plants flourish as well as theirs do.
And this is so true, that if a person will not make up his mind to act upon the right system when he knows it, I cannot recommend him to keep plants in-doors, many or few, unless for the wholesome discipline of disappointment.
Now I believe, sir, you will agree with me, that the right system for plants, as for children, is the natural system; and that nostrums, and secrets, and tricks, are, for the most part, not only pernicious but silly. As a general rule, and under similar circumstances, what will grow a good cabbage will grow a good Pelargonium or Fuchsia. And that the apparent departures from this rule are only examples of it, and depend on common-sense reasons drawn from the nature or the original climate of the species of plant.
And the natural system may be comprised under two heads: 1, not to let your plants suffer by neglect; 2, nor to make them suffer by interference. If many people let them dwindle or die by forgetting to water them at proper times, or to shelter them from excess of sun or of cold, others, not less numerous, think their flowers can never be thriving unless themselves are doing something to make them thrive. And so they bring them to their end, or to pale, sickly, scraggy things on stilts, that can never repay their owner for the trouble of rearing them.
The application of this system to the culture of the Pelargonium is somewhat hazardous of the charge of presumption in such a person as myself, because I suppose you have already given directions for that in some of the numbers of The Florist I have been so unfortunate as not to see; and any thing I were to say on the subject that you have already said would be superfluous, and what might differ from your instructions, I am persuaded would be erroneous. Only I would repeat, that any person who will use common sense and common care may succeed in the culture of any of our ordinary fancy flowers.
Of these, by much the most useful for a window, and which I expect will always retain its place in this respect, is the Pelargonium; and, as I have no room to spare, I confine myself to this. You will believe I have no spare room when I tell you that I am a curate, with a family of eight grown-up persons, in latitude 53° 29' 30" on the Greenwich meridian, in an agricultural village that has no house in it larger than a cottage, and mine is no way remarkable among its fellows, of which it is far from being the largest. Yet, without any other convenience than a cottage-window, I grow, in very creditable condition, about thirty varieties (a plant of each) of the best Pelargoniums: enough to make my room a blaze of beauty during the whole blooming season.
Now, on the supposition that my thirty plants are established in their pots, and hardened afterwards in the open air, and that it is time to bring them in-doors (this year it was on or about old Michaelmas-day I housed them), I will tell you where I put them, and how I treat them when there.
I have no south or south-east window in the house: the aspect is south-west; but there is a small room in the front, of which, as it is my dressing-room, I can appropriate the whole window to my plants. And I have done it in this way, in order to make the small space hold as many pots, give them as much light, and bring them as close to the glass, as possible. The glass of the window is 3 feet 9 inches broad, and of a proportionate height. This, therefore, is the breadth of the stand I had made in the ordinary way, but as light as possible, and with six shelves, channelled along the middle for the water to run out of the pots. As the plants are of all sizes, and more of them small than large, the four lower shelves are 4, the fifth 5, and the sixth 6 inches broad; the bottom one 3, the rest 4 inches high, which, with 3 inches allowed for standing in its pan, make the entire height 2 feet 2 inches.
This frame stands in a water-tight wooden pan, 3 feet 10 inches long by 2 feet 4 inches broad, and 3 inches deep, with a hole and plug in one corner to let off the water, so that I can water my plants as freely as I like without wetting the room or making a mess. The whole stands on two three-legged tressles, and the waterpot is kept underneath, so that the water shall be always of the same temperature as the room, a point I have found to be of great importance to the well-being of the plants.