It is doubtful if there is any plant so universally known or better liked than the mignonette.
The florist sows it in his garden as soon as the ground is dry, and makes another sowing later, in shallow drills in deep, rich soil. If continuous cutting is expected the plants should be thinned out to a few inches apart and watered in dry weather.
Bench of Mignonette.
As a cut flower in winter it is a staple article and for that purpose is grown, good, bad and indifferent. To obtain fine spikes that sell by the dozen or hundred it must have a suitable place and room to grow.
A solid bed in a light house would without doubt be the best place, but it can be grown very well on a bench in five or six inches of soil. The soil should be a heavy loam with a fourth of rotten cow manure. A bench where the heat of the pipes would be felt would not be good, as the roots like a cool bottom.
Sow early in August. We put a few seeds in a spot, about one foot apart, and when an inch high thin out to the strongest plant. When a few inches high they will branch from the bottom and four or five of the strongest side shoots can be selected; after that keep lateral growths off both the main spike and the side growths. If grown cool it will not want any staking, but if it should it is easily done, as one small stake would support several spikes.
This mignonette, whether grown for cutting or for pots, must have the fullest possible light and air on all permissible occasions. Light and air and a cool temperature will just make the difference between stout, heavy spikes and thin, spindling ones. You ought to get a good cutting at the holidays and another at Easter. In fact, after Christmas you can always cut good spikes. The night temperature should never be over 50 degrees, and I should prefer it when heavy firing is going on to be only 45 degrees.
There are few plants that will fill the bill more acceptably for an inexpensive Easter gift than a well-grown mignonette. A 4-inch pot will grow a nice plant, but a 5-inch is much better. For this purpose sow not later than the end of August. Sow in the same pots that they are to be sold in. I have been quite successful shifting them from a small pot, and also unsuccessful. The former is much the safer plan.
Put a crock and a piece of green moss in the bottom of the pot and fill up solidly with good, fresh loam with a fourth of cow manure; make the soil quite solid. Sow a number of seeds on the surface and cover lightly. When well up thin out to three strong plants equal distances apart. We pinch the leading shoot out of these plants, which will give you nine or ten nice spikes, which is better than three or four large ones. Keep them in just such a house as you do those growing for cutting, and if any preference keep in the cooler end.
If showing flower too soon stop them, but they should not be pinched for twelve weeks before you want to sell them. A neat stake would be needed for these pots, and perhaps three small stakes is better, just to hold the branches from breaking. Don't attempt to grow mignonette in a dark, ill ventilated house; you will only get weak, spindling stuff. Like many other plants, the more perfect the light and the more you can give air the less you will hurt with a higher temperature.
Mignonettes do not like transplanting; that is why they are sown on the bench where they are to grow, and in pots in which they are to flower.
Simple as this plant is to sow outside as a hardy annual, we always sell a good many plants with other summer flowering plants. For this purpose we sow a number of seeds in 3-inch pots on some light bench in early March. Later we thin out to three or four of the strongest and in April plunge them in a mild hotbed, where by the middle of May they are strong, thrifty plants.
When the mignonette plants are quite small you must watch out for slugs and wood-lice, both of which relish them as fine salad. If you see the small yellow butterfly in your mignonette house in August or September get your double-barreled, hammerless Parker shotgun, or your hat, and annihilate him, or rather her. She flits over the plants depositing a small green egg, which quickly evolves into the green worm, the cabbage worm, which will, if unmolested, soon chew up your young mignonette.
This green worm, the larva of the sulphur butterfly, is so identically the color of the mignonette foliage that it is really difficult to discover it, and it will do great damage to the small plants that are intended for your winter crop. A dusting of the plants with hellebore or a teaspoonful of Paris green in a common pail of water, sprayed over the plants will quickly destroy the worms, so there is little excuse to let them thrive.
I have never noticed that tobacco smoke did any harm to the mignonette, nor does it need it much. If it gets over the slugs, wood-lice and worms there is no trouble ahead.
You ought to select the finest spikes and save your own seed. The strain we grow was obtained from Mr. John N. May some years ago, and by selection it is better than when first obtained. But mignonette is very like asparagus; it is the growing and rich, heavy soil that make the giant or colossal qualities; any of the strains are good when well grown. Besides new advertised strains, some standard ones are: Bird's Mammoth, Miles' Hybrid Spiral, Machet, Golden Queen and Machet's Perfection.