It is the mission of the florist to suggest the most appropriate style of bedding to his customers where advice is asked for, and poor policy to crowd in more than is discreet when it is left to his judgment. In residence streets a flower bed between the house and the street is not good taste and should not be advocated. At the side or slightly to the rear of the house is much better. Houses of a moderate size with verandas at side and front have often a row or two of the flowering cannas in the border surrounding the veranda, and very handsome they look.
A Long Bed of Geraniums.
Florists are now divided into several classes. The strictly store man has no interest in bedding plants, nor has the wholesale grower more than to dispose of them, but the great majority of the florists of the country raise bedding plants for their spring crops and depend upon their sale for a good part of their income. If well and carefully done and a fair and just charge made your customers will be very unlikely to leave you and you can depend on the order from year to year.
The profit will largely depend upon your ability to keep a good stock of flower garden plants in a comparatively small space till after Easter. From fall till after Easter our benches are wanted for successive crops, but Easter sales largely clear them except those planted with roses and carnations. Geraniums can be then given their last shift, and so can ageratum, feverfew, heliotrope and salvia. Coleus can be grown from a cutting to a fine bedding plant in eight weeks. Cannas and caladi-ums can be kept in flats till middle of April and then make fine plants by June 1. Petunias can be pricked out in pans and then in six weeks will make the best of bedding plants. Centaurea, coleus, achyranthes, verbenas, heliotropes, many of the geraniums, lobelias, aloy-sias, and all the carpet bedding plants, are far better in the hotbeds than in the greenhouses, giving you plenty of room for the spreading out of your fine zonal geraniums, cannas and calad-iums.
A great mistake made by too many florists, especially by those who have only three or four houses, is to be short of help just at the time it is most needed. For the first two weeks after Easter a man with 20,000 feet of glass occupied by a general run of plants could use twenty men with profit, though during February and March only five men were needed to keep up with the work. I am aware of the fact that you could not get the right kind of men even if you wanted them, but many times you allow a batch of plants to spoil for want of handling when a little more help would have saved them.
Bedding plants are all soft-wooded and while they rest largely, or can be just kept slowly growing during winter, they feel the suns of spring and must have attention when it is needed or it is too late. How often you hear the remark: "No, I am short on this or that. Was too busy and neglected them." This attention is not science; it is only close application and good management; and having sufficient help at the right time, and setting the men at the work most suited to them, is the very best of good management.
I don't know any business where neglect to do work at the proper time will bring about worse results. A tailor, a jeweler, a printer or a parson can lock his shop or office for weeks; his business may suffer, but his goods will not. Ours must be fed and aired and moved and shifted as they need it.
Half the success with bedding plants depends upon the planting out. We charge nothing for planting if the bed is dug and prepared and the plants to fill it amount to $10 or more. If not prepared we charge for labor, manure, etc. We always prefer to plant where there is only a coachman kept, for then it is properly done. Sufficient plants are put in to make a good appearance. If enough are sent on the wagon there is none left over to call for another day, nor three more to be delivered to fill up. Nor are four dozen stretched out over a bed where six dozen should be planted. If the bed looks skimpy you don't want it to be known that they were your plants, and you will perhaps get the blame for poor general effect, for there are plenty of unreasonable people about.
We insist on our men arranging the plants carefully, just placing them in the holes, but not filling in the soil, and then when all are in place giving each plant a good soaking and in a few minutes filling in with the dry ground. That watering is worth ten on the surface. Tell your customers that cannas and caladiums can be soaked every dry evening, but that geraniums and beds of coleus and most everything else should be left alone except in very dry times, when a thorough soaking should be given once a week, followed by a hoeing the next morning if the plants are not touching each other.
Various Styles of Bedding.
In charging for the bedding plants, whether contract or not, you should put down in your day-book just how many plants of each variety it took to fill the different beds. Then, if Mrs. Goodpay orders her large circular bed filled with geraniums again this year you will refer to her charge of last year and find that it took seventy-five Mt. of Snow for a double row on the outside and the center required 140 Ernest Lauth. These figures are at random. But whether you plant the same or vary it you will know exactly how many are needed. Again you are asked a hundred times this question: "I have a flower bed eight feet across. How many geraniums will it take to fill it? Or how many coleus will it take?" We reckon ten inches apart for our 4-inch geraniums, about nine inches for coleus, fifteen inches for eannas and caladiums, and some specified distance for all the plants we commonly use. You can have a card with the sizes of the beds and quantities needed all made out so that you can give an answer in a few moments, whereas, if you had not the thing figured out you would have to begin a sum in mathematics while somebody else is waiting for an interview.
The bedding plant business is not going to die out and you should cater to it. There is a good profit in it, and it does not conflict with other branches of your business. With a clear head you can do it all.