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.
Those popular floral receptacles of modern times, called "Hanging baskets," are at once so unique and beautiful, and have become so universally used, that any suggestions tending to impart new ideas regarding them are very generally appreciated. This must plead my ex cuse for offering the following hints, intended more especially to aid those amateur florists not blessed with extensive means to purchase the costly receptacles offered in our floral stores.
Some years since, among a lot of treasures sent me by that generous patron of amateur florists, Mr. P. Henderson, were the first Fit-tonias and Gymostachyums I had ever had the good fortune to possess, and charmed with the rare beauty of the foliage, felt anxious to cultivate them in the manner best, calculated to display it. This, after many experiments carried on through successive months, which largely increased my stock, I found to be so made by means of pendant receptacles and epergenes, as to form one entire mass of wonderfully beautiful foliage, displayed on every side, and which have proved so satisfactory that I feel no hesitation in recommending the mode to others.
The baskets used for this purpose are of several varieties - the ordinary wire baskets of graceful form ; as a matter of economy, muzzles, such as farmers use for oxen and horses, the globular form of some of which produce specially fine results; cocoanut shells perforated with half-inch holes; the common flowerpot treated in the same manner, making holes larger or smaller, according to size of pot; this is easily done by first soaking and cutting out with a jack-knife and fret-saw blade. The baskets when planted, and in fine growing condition, appear enveloped with the rich foliage, to produce which it is necessary to insert cuttings or small established plants head downwards through the holes in the bottom and sides of the vessels before filling in the soil. The central plant should be first inserted, the others disposed around it in regular order, using fresh green moss to pack firmly between them, so as to keep the soil in proper place. I prefer the soft, cushion-like variety found on the trunks of trees for this purpose, not only because of the close felt-like appearance as it continues its growth, thus presenting a bright, fresh groundwork of perpetual green, but also because it is better adapted to keeping the soil in place than the loose, coarse varieties, which, though stronger, soon present a brown unsightly appearance.
After surrounding each cutting with the moss, and thus covering the bottom and sides of the basket, the whole cavity must be filled with loose, friable soil, for which nothing compares with "cocoanut refuse," mixed with good loam and clean sand; the upper surface filled with a number of rooted cuttings, placed two inches apart, using a dibble for making the holes. This finishes the operation, and the basket copiously watered with a fine rose, is then hung in a warm, shaded spot, keeping constantly and uniformly moist with tepid water. This is best effected by plunging the basket in a large vessel of water.
During the growing season these baskets appear like one mass of living beauty, the brilliant foliage of Fittonia gigantea, with its network of rosy crimson, and F. argyroneura, entirely overlaid with a ground work of rich green, form solid masses of luxuriance, the unique beauty of which can only be realized and appreciated by ocular demonstration. Where a round wire basket is used a massive globular specimen is produced, which suspended in proper position is wonderfully imposing. Gymnostachyum Pearcel will perhaps be still more admired thus treated, its elegant metallic green foliage covered closely with a network of intense rosy carmine, presenting a charming appearance when trained carefully to the wire-work of the basket.
Before closing, I cannot forbear speaking of this class of plants as ornaments for the table a feature of festive occasions, everyday becoming more popular and meeting with the attention it justly demands. It is not the wealthy alone who may enjoy the rare delight of looking upon beautiful flowers and foliage as they partake of their repasts. It would be far wiser were people with limited means to cultivate a few permanent plants for this purpose that would be always available, than to resort each time they have visitors to the garden or conservatory, or perhaps apply money required for other purposes to the purchase of cut flowers from the florists I use for the purpose shallow pans of various sizes, according to the table and occasion, and the long sprays, thickly covered with rich foliage, soon completely hide the sides, and droop from the upper tiers in long festoons. A charming stand for the centre of a table is thus made: Four pans, ranging in size from fourteen inches diameter and four inches deep, to a small one six inches diameter and three inches deep. These must be placed one within the other in progressive manner, each one elevated two to four inches above the one below it.
A few pieces of broken crockery are strewn over the bottom of each; the remaining space is filled with fibrous soil and silver sand, into which rooted cuttings or established plants are thickly set round the edges, the stand placed in a warm corner and kept uniformly moist.
For these purposes I have found Fittonia ar-gyroneura, F. gigantea, Gymostachyum Pearcel, G. Verschaffelti, and the curious saxifrage, S. Sarmentosa, are rarely beautiful for the upper pans, and especially for the hanging baskets.