Among the large commercial houses of this country the packing of plants of every kind and at all seasons is reduced to a science and most admirably done; and still better, the purchaser has nothing to pay for their expeditious work and material. The Belgians are excellent packers, but we have to pay for their old boxes. The English are clumsy, old-fashioned and antediluvian packers, but one part of their packing is not obsolete and that is the charge for boxes, hampers and mats, which are always charged at full price. Strange that a people so great in horticulture are so old-fashioned in packing a few plants. Possibly it's because the English houses do not export so much as the continental.
System of "Slatted" Packing, First Layer.
To this day when two dozen geraniums or calceolarias or a few bedding plants (if it was epacris or heath there would be more reason for it) are sent thirty miles to the Rev. Archdeacon Slowpay, D. D., The Frogs, Froging-bam, Slopshire, they are sent in a large, round hamper that would hold five bushels of corn in the ear. Then there are from eight to fifteen stout hazel stakes rammed in around the edge and brought to a point at the top, the whole enveloped by a Russian mat or mats which with a large sail needle are carefully sewed to the basket and stakes to prevent a cyclone from removing them. The whole when completed would make a most comfortable dog house or council chamber for a Lilliputian king and his cabinet. We must make one exception to these rather sweeping remarks. The English firms who send out orchids know how to pack them to perfection.
Good as our shipping firms are at packing, the general florist is not called upon to pack often enough to keep an expert for that branch of the business and sometimes the wrapping and boxing of plants is crudely done.
Small plants, such as small ferns or palms or asparagus, or the general run of bedding plants that are not wanted for immediate effect, are very easily handled. One plant, or in case they are from 2-inch pots, three or four plants, are wrapped lightly in paper (a tough but light and priable quality of brown paper is best), a plant or bundle of plants is laid flat in the box with the roots against the end of the box. The next row is reversed so that the papers that protect the tops overlap each other and so you proceed till you have the bottom of the box covered. If you think the plants are heavy put in an inch or so of marsh hay or excelsior before you begin another layer, but if there is not much top to the plants, as in young carnations, then a sheet or two of brown paper is enough between the tiers of plants. Always fill the box, if not with plants, then with dry moss or papers, so that the plants cannot move. This way of packing small or medium plants where the bloom is not considered is entirely satisfactory with the lid of the box tightly nailed down.
In summer the sides and top of the box can have spaces left between boards, and in winter the box must not only be tightly made but well lined with several sheets of paper. This plan is quick, safe and inexpensive when the plants are going by express or freight and will be sure to arrive at their destination in a week or less, but it would never do to send plants this way in the hold of a vessel across the Atlantic, for they would rot.
Small plants that are wanted for immediate use in the spring, such as geraniums, coleuses or cannas, should be stood up straight in a box, the ball and plant always wrapped, and you can generally squeeze in another plant on the ball of the lower plants, thus almost doubling your capacity, and doing no harm to the plants. These boxes, however mild the weather, should be covered lightly but strongly a few inches above the tops of the flowers or leaves, or the express charge on them will be just double, and the freight house will refuse them altogether if unprotected. When the express people see that they are growing plants they won't dare not to handle them properly.
A lighter and better thing for sending these plants out in spring is a crate, which is much handier than a box. Make two frames, say 18x24 inches, of 1x2 pine, strongly nailed; these are the ends and to the bottom and sides of these nail 6-inch boards, any length, and when packing is done two or three of them on top. Except for the bottom, to carry the weight of the plants, 1/2-inch stuff is plenty strong enough for sides and top.
Flowering plants, such as azaleas, can be sent away the same way, providing the weather is not cold. If it is, close packing is necessary, and then the ball or pot must be secured by strips so that if the box should get a turn on its side, which all closed boxes are liable to, the plants will still remain in position.
Palms and dracaenas of all kinds are easy to pack and very seldom can we make a complaint that any leaves are bruised or broken. If the weather is warm these plants can be safely sent by a fast freight line, which saves the high charges of the express company, but whatever time of year it is the leaves should be Drought up close to a stake, if stake is needed, and each leaf carefully tied in. Then they can be stood upright in boxes, with or without pots, and a framework built around them. In cold weather, or at least when there is danger of a hard frost, these plants should always go by express. The price of one palm may pay for the charge on the lot.
If only a few they can be laid in a box, well wrapped in paper, and any moving prevented by plenty of packing, material, but when a considerable number they are better packed in the same way that we receive our azaleas, acacias, etc., so excellently packed, from Belgium, with this difference, that while the imported plants have their roots wrapped around with moss and their tops entirely open and free, the palms should have their leaves well wrapped in paper, and paper will do for the roots, no need of any moss. The first plant is laid against the end of the box and when the row of plants is laid across the end, another row is laid at the other end with the tops overlapping. Then a stout strip of wood an inch square is nailed across the inside of the box and firmly against the ball of earth near the stem. Then some more packing material, paper, excelsior or dry moss, and another layer of plants, and another cross strip, till the box is full. No plant can move from its position if this is properly carried out and there is not the slightest crowding of the leaves. The azaleas, which sometimes are twenty days from time of packing till they are potted with us, usually reach us in fine order, and so do palms, rhododendrons and other plants from Belgium. They wrap well in moss, which is tied on securely on the ball, but the heads of the hard-wooded plants are left uncovered, and doubtless for the long journey it is right. Air they want, and for that reason in a large box of plants crossing the Atlantic several holes a few inches square are cut in the sides and top of the box to let in a circulation of air; without it the plants would lose their leaves. It is very important that these holes be covered with a piece of wire netting to keep out the ship rats. On one occasion this was not done with a box of azaleas we received and a ship rodent had made a stateroom of our box, and from the twigs and mincemeat he had made of many of the plants he doubtless considered himself a first-class saloon passenger. With our boxes of plants going by express a thousand miles there is no need of any air holes, in fact weather would not permit.
Finished for Closing Up.
System of Upright Packing, Ready for "Closing In."
Whenever plants are going away, summer or winter, they should be watered, not a few minutes, but an hour or two before they are packed, and when wrapped in either paper or moss they will remain several days quite moist. The material used for wrapping or packing should always be dry; the ball of the plant only should be wet.
Firms like Veitch, and Low, of London, take great pains in packing orchids. With cattleyas they put several small stakes around the edge of the pot and a stout one in the center, and every leaf and bulb is securely tied with cotton-batting and raffia; a plant from J. Veitch & Son of Vanda Lowii ten feet high arriving in New York with scarcely the moss on the basket disturbed is pretty good evidence of the great care and pains that are used in packing these valuable plants.
Although our firms do not charge for boxes or packing, in some cases it would be quite proper were they to do so. The representative of a north of England orchid firm was assailed with the charge that the English firms charged too much for packing and we charged nothing. This was in Toronto in the Queens Hotel in 1891. He very naturally replied, not in coarse, horse-trading Yorkshire, but in genteel English: "Yes, I know, but your folks put the charge on to the plants, don't you know?" Now this is the natural and reasonable supposition, but yet largely it is erroneous, and in the great majority of cases nothing is tacked on for compensation. Packing cases and boxes that answer the purpose cost us very little, far less than the same box would in England or on the Continent, but our labor, even if it is most expeditiously done, is higher than on the other side.
If you buy a good bill of palms or large ferns or any of those decorative plants that are easily packed, there is no need of any charge for packing, and if a man buys 100 geraniums of us in the spring, we are pleased enough to put them in a box and put a few slats over them. We get the 4-inch pots and that will about pay for packing. We would have to cart them off somewhere anyway.
But when you sell lilies or azaleas in full bloom, particularly the former, you ought to get more for them, for they take a lot of trouble and time to pack properly. Perhaps we will never make a specific charge for our packing, but there should be an understanding that to the man who sends his wagon and carts them away a lily is worth say 10 cents per bud and flower, and when packed to travel forty miles by rail it should be 12 1/2 cents per bud and flower. That is what we do every spring and it about pays for the extra labor of packing, and other plants in proportion where much tying and labor are needed.
This question will of course always be one to be decided by ourselves, and without any agreement must be left, like prices, to the discretion of the seller. The man who today advertised "cases and packing charged at cost," would get a severe black eye, figuratively speaking.