This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
That the summer of 1881 was a delusion and a snare, everybody knows, and it would be folly to repeat it at this late day. And yet, notwithstanding its general unsatisfactoriness, its cold and wet beginning, and its hot and dry ending, there yet remains something to be said of it by way of admonition, and possibly example. And first, for the reason that it came first, but more especially because it is a confession of failure, and I want to have it over with, comes the admonition. It is a delight and gratification to record successes, but the failures - ah! the least said about them the better. We like best a dignified and becoming reticence in regard to them. And why not? It is the big squashes that go to the fair; the little ones stay at home.
But to come back to my experiment. I read in the Monthly for April, 1881, an article by Miss A. G., on "Caladiums as Bedding Plants." Immediately I was fired with a spirit of emulation. I would have a bed of Caladiums that should be the wonder of the town, and cause those Baltimore people to wish they had never been born. A hot sun seemed, by the article mentioned, to be the greatest difficulty to their successful cultivation. I congratulated myself that here in New England we did not have the fierce heat of the South to contend against, and having selected a partially shaded location, I set them out June 1st, with the thermometer at 79° in the shade. They were all finely started and made a good show at the first. I had made arrangements for sheltering them from sun and wind, and my perfect confidence in those Caladiums was something quite wonderful to contemplate. In about forty-eight hours after they were put out, a "cold wave" swooped down upon us with vengeful fury. For over a week the mercury ranged from 33° to 49° at night, with a cold easterly wind, and storm part of the time.
I covered them up, poor little "babes in the woods," with leaves, straw, inverted flower-pots, and the like, but the cold went through it all and chilled them to the very marrow. I really couldn't sleep nights, thinking of the new " slaughter of the innocents " going on, it seemed to me, at my instigation. All this time the leaves were losing their beautiful color; and though it grew warmer, a little after a time, the Caladiums only grew smaller. After three weeks trial, fearing I should lose them utterly, I took them all up into pots and set them in a sunny window. Ah ! how delightful they were! They grew like magic, and spread out their lovely leaves, each leaf growing prettier and prettier in its markings the season through.
But I have lost my confiding faith in "Caladiums as bedding plants," at least for New England. But who cares for a Caladium bed anyway? Baltimore can have them all to herself.
I flowered for the first time Hyacinthus can-dicans last summer. I think it has been much overrated. The stalk runs up spindling and the flowers look straggling, being someway apart, and never many at once, as they soon fade. They have no fragrance, and only by having a large bed of them would they make any show in the garden, and I do not think they will prove of any value for cut flowers. Perhaps, however, a more favorable season will give me a better opinion of them.
I grew, from seed, a bed of new Salvia farinacea. It began blooming about the first of August, and was the last to succumb to the frost. I was, however, a good deal disappointed in this also. I had somehow got the impression that it was after the style of S. splendens. Its small, close set flowers are not at all conspicuous in the garden. It makes no show at a little distance, but the curious woolly-looking calyx gives it a dainty look on close inspection, and the delicate shade of color is excellent for toning down reds and yellows in bouquets. It is worth growing for this purpose alone. But I hope some day florists will give us a blue Salvia of this shade, with flowers the size of L. splendens, and as closely set and as free flowering.
Through the generosity of Mrs. Wm. Barr, of Orange, N. J. (a lady who grows plants for the pure pleasure of giving them away), I received a half dozen seedling plants of the* new single Dahlias. She imported the seed from Cannell's, from which they were grown. But I hear them called "Mexican Dahlias," and the question arises, why import seed from England if they are natives of this continent?
They grew freely and came into flower about the middle of August. One grew over six feet high, and the plant and flower were no different from seedlings I had previously grown from our ordinary Dahlias. The flower was large, single, and in color a fine maroon. The other five, however, were very dwarf and bushy in growth, and the flowers were about half as large. The colors were light and dark scarlet and canary yellow, the color very pure and vivid. They are charming for bouquets, as well as exceedingly brilliant and showy in the garden. If they could only be made to flower earlier they would be of great value for garden work. I have seen lovely shades of pink, purple, and a rich, velvety claret, as well as pure white. If they can be kept dwarf I think they will become exceedingly popular. A plant in full flower - and they are very floriferous - looks as if set with glowing stars, as they stand erect on their long, graceful-looking stems.
I also received from Mrs. Barr a basket of the new Coleus, something over twenty varieties. With a few exceptions they grew and colored finely, notwithstanding the exceptional character of the weather. Of the dark sorts Super-bissima was best, Marvellous and Kentish Eire next. The light varieties doing best in open ground were Illuminator, Sunfish, Speciosa and Retta Kirkpatrick, the last two green and white. Of the spotted varieties Spotted Gem is the most reliable. All the striped and spotted sorts are, however, very much alike. For indoors, Starlight is the prettiest thing I ever saw. It is a beautiful yellow veined with vivid crimson. All of them are, however, fine for the house, if you keep them close enough to the glass. And yet, after all, for a rich mass of color on a lawn, Verschaffelti is still king.
The prettiest thing in the way of a foliage plant I ever grew, and which I have never seen mentioned, though it may not be new, was Nico-tiana variegata. I had the seed from E. Wyman, Rockford, I11., and have seen it advertised by no one else. It seems to be a variegated form of the ordinary Nicotiana. It is, however, less robust in growth, mine growing from three to four feet high. The leaf-marking is exquisitely beautiful. The color and style of variegation is almost identical with that of Alocasia macro-rhiza variegata, the well-known hothouse plant. The stems are marbled, green and white ; some of the leaves are all white, some striped and mottled, with a beautiful shade of "pea" green. The white has a creamy tinge. As it approaches flowering the stock is all white, as well as the pedicels and calyx. The flowers are a purplish pink, and in large clusters, and contrast charmingly with the foliage. I have never seen anything so pretty for a group of foliage by itself of green and white, as this. Only about ten per cent of the seedlings are said to be variegated.
But as the second, or at most third, pair of leaves show the variegation, it is an easy matter to pull up the plain ones, which should at once be done, or they will stifle the others.
In closing, I desire to recommend once again, for bedding plants, the tuberous Begonias. I find them the easiest of culture, and the most continuous bloomers of anything with which I am acquainted. At first I gave them shade and a good deal of extra care, but I find they will stand rain, or sunshine, or heat better than Zonale geraniums, particularly rain, as that ruins, for the time, a geranium bed. There is but one obstacle to their becoming as popular as the latter, that being the comparatively high price at which they are held. They are showy in the garden, and for cut blooms nothing is prettier, or lasts longer after cutting. Have a bed of them - everybody.