The first concern of the grower who is going in for exhibition is to procure good true seed of the best exhibition varieties in September. A list of the best sorts will be found in another chapter. It is never advisable to grow a large number of sorts. By that I mean, if a man will never require more than twelve varieties for exhibition at once, I strongly advise growing not more than eighteen, and selecting these with the greatest care. Surely it is the best policy to have twenty-four plants of one variety rather than six plants of four varieties occupying the same space of ground. I guarantee it will be found so the day before the show. If space is very limited, twelve standard varieties and two or three novelties will generally fit a man to go into a class for twelve bunches, distinct varieties. On no account should any one depend upon the bare dozen.
The seed having been procured, sowing must be done in the last week of September or the first one in October. The seed should be sown in boxes or pots. If they can be allowed to stand in a greenhouse until the seeds germinate so much the better. Many people have difficulties with germination. These arise either from keeping the soil in the boxes too wet or too dry. It is quite a good plan to thoroughly soak the soil in the pots or boxes before sowing; then lay the seeds on top and cover with half an inch or three-quarters of fine soil or sand. The pots or boxes can be shaded till germination takes place by putting sheets of brown paper over them. Seeds of cream, white, and lavender varieties should on no account be put deeper than stated, as they are more delicate and overwatering in their case causes rotting at once. Very hard skinned seeds - varieties like Elsie Herbert, Sunproof Crimson, and Mrs. Cuthbertson - will germinate quicker if a tiny little piece is chipped off the side of each seed with a pen knife before planting. If this is not done, and it is found that some varieties do not appear above ground by the time the others have germinated, the seeds can be lifted and chipped and replanted, after which they will germinate quickly. What to strive after is to give seeds under glass conditions similar to what they would find in the ground in genial March and April weather.
After the plants are an inch or so in height, the boxes or pots containing them should be placed in a cold frame - keeping the sash on when weather is very wet, snowy or frosty. For two or three days after the plants are removed from the greenhouse, the sash had better be kept close over the plants till they get used to the new conditions. Watering will not often be required unless there is a period of bright sunshine. See that there are no slugs or snails about the frame, and if birds are plentiful, a piece of netting will require to be stretched over the frame to keep them from picking the leaves when the sashes are opened. The plants should remain in the frame till the beginning of the new year, when they should be carefully taken out of the boxes or pots and put into boxes of fresh sweet soil mixed with some leaf mould or old spent hops, or potted up singly into three-inch pots filled with a similar compost. If they can be kept in a cool greenhouse for a month after this change, so much the better, and then put into the frames, but, if a greenhouse is not available, they must be returned to the frame and the sash kept on for a month or so continuously, giving plenty of air during the day, especially in sunny weather. After growth has begun, the centre of the main shoot should be pinched off to cause side growths to break at the base of the plants. These side growths usually come away stronger than the main stem itself. When the growths become five or six inches tall, small twigs should be inserted round the edges of the pots, and even a few among the plants in boxes will be helpful. When the plants are transplanted into the boxes in January, they should be placed about three inches apart so that they can be lifted with plenty of soil adhering to the roots at planting out time in April. Then they should be planted out in lines, the strong growing varieties twelve to eighteen inches apart, so that two or three growths can be taken up, the weaker-growing ones six to twelve inches apart, as it is advisable to train only one or two growths from them. The accompanying illustration clearly shows how the work should be done.
The best growers use thin bamboo canes as shown in engraving. These are inserted six inches apart and tied firmly to wires stretched on posts, or to thin wooden rails securely nailed to posts placed about six feet apart. From the very start one growth is led up each cane and tied as required.
All side growths are rubbed out, only the flower stems which will appear when the plants are about two feet high being left to develop, in addition to the main shoot which is kept going all the time. This process is well illustrated in the accompanying illustration.
Nearly all the keenest growers remove the tendrils, and this cut illustrates how that should be done. When the plants are trained on the "cordon" system and tied regularly, tendrils are not required, and if left to develop usually twine themselves round the flower stems and cause them to be bent.