"Nature does require Her time of preservation."
An enthusiastic Pansy grower used to say that the same laws held good in the plant world as in the animal world, and there is far more in the old gentleman's remark than appears on the surface. If healthy, robust children, or healthy, robust chickens are desired, it is well to be careful about the parentage. Exactly so with Pansies and Violas. It gives the grower an enormous advantage if he can start with healthy, young plants. If he is quite a beginner he may either have to purchase his plants from a nurseryman, or obtain cuttings from a friend and strike (the gardening term for "root") them himself. Let us, in the first place, assume that the latter method is adopted.
During the early summer months he probably visited his friend's garden, jotted down the varieties he liked best, and doubtless bespoke some cuttings at the proper time. What is the proper time? Any time from July onwards. If the plants are wanted for autumn planting and early blooming, the earlier the cuttings are put in the better. In the south of England, where the atmosphere is dry and the sun often scorching in July, more care must be exercised to obtain successful "strikes" than in the cooler atmosphere of the north. It is well, in the south, to select a position facing west, north-west, or north-east for the frame. Do not let any one be frightened by the mention of a frame; it is merely advocated for ensuring safety and security. The simplest way to make one is to procure some boards, 9 or 10 inches broad, and nail them strongly together at the corners so as to make a box, without top or bottom, of course, exactly the width of the sash, and 2 inches shorter. The sash may be any size that is most convenient. The orthodox frame is 6 feet by 4 feet, but a smaller size is handier for the amateur. The frame should have guides nailed on the sides, so that the sash can be moved up and down with safety. The frame must be placed on the soil so that it slopes gently from back to front. This can easily be done by sinking the front of the frame 3 inches into the soil. Much depends on the nature of the soil what preparation is required to be made for the cuttings. If it is free and well drained it will only require a little sharp sand well incorporated with it to make an ideal bed. If, however, it is strong clay, it must be removed to the depth of 9 inches and the bottom dug with a fork to give drainage, and the space thereafter filled up with some free soil or compost - old potting soil or anything of that nature passed through an inch sieve will do well. This soil should be made up to within 6 inches of the glass, and it should be given the same slope as the glass. We will suppose everything is in readiness for a start as follows: If the frame is a big one, a piece of broad board to stand or kneel on; a straightedge to make the lines; a dibber; and some freshly painted 6-inch labels. The beginner has perhaps to step over to his friend's garden for the cuttings. He takes the labels with him and gets twelve, twenty, or more cuttings of a variety of a Viola for bedding, or perhaps only one or two, if it happens to be a new and choice variety. In the case of Show and Fancy Pansies, which are treated exactly as we are describing, some half-dozen cuttings of each variety is usually considered ample. The cuttings themselves ought to be taken from the most vigorous plants, and they ought to be root cuttings, which are short growths pulled from the centre of the plant. Only if they are too long should they be cut obliquely across, close under a joint, with a sharp knife. If the shorter ones come away with a portion of the white underground growth, they require no cutting except to remove anything ragged at the base. Many of the growths so pulled out will have little rootlets attached, and in olden days these used to be called "Highlandman's cuttings."
In taking cuttings, always write the label or tally first, and as soon as the cuttings are taken off, tie them and the label securely, but not too firmly, together. Take them to the frame in which they are to be inserted as soon as possible, and put them in the shade. If the operator is a real gardener he will take off his coat and put the little bundles of cuttings carefully under it. Open one bundle and insert the label at the bottom left-hand corner of the frame, and put in the cuttings in a row behind it, working up the frame at about 3 inches from the edge and about 3 inches between each cutting, which should be inserted with the dibber about an inch and a half deep, and made very firm at the base - so firm that it can hardly be pulled out. This is one of the great secrets of success in striking all sorts of cuttings. When a variety is finished, leave a space of 6 inches, then insert another label, and go on as before, dibbling in the cuttings behind the label. When the first row is finished, mark another row with the straight-edge by pressing it into the soil 3 or 4 inches away from the first row. Come right to the bottom of the frame again and work up as before. After all have been inserted, give a thorough drenching with water from a watering-pot with a fine rose. Shut up the frame quite close, and if it is in a position to get direct sunshine the simplest way to obviate danger of the cuttings getting shrivelled is to give the inside of the glass a coat of thin whitewash.
For about ten days, unless the weather is very hot and sunny, the sash may be kept almost continuously closed, giving slight dewy waterings if the surface soil gets dry. After the first eight or ten days it will be advisable to begin to give air by raising the sash 1 or 2 inches at the back for the first week, and increasing it to 3 or 4 inches the second week. As soon as the cuttings show evidence of having made roots, the whitewash must be washed off the glass, and more air given until the sashes are removed altogether, not to be replaced again if the plants are for autumn-planting; but if for spring-planting they will require the protection of the sashes in severe weather in winter, especially if the cuttings are from fine varieties of Pansies.
One of the most noted and successful cultivators, Mr. J. F. McLeod, gardener to J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq., of Dover House, Roehampton, propagates all his Violas out-of-doors; and such was largely the practice of the late talented superintendent of Regent's and Hyde Parks, Mr. Charles Jordan. For this purpose a border facing west or north-west is chosen, and it is prepared much the same way as recommended in the foregoing pages for the frame. Cuttings are inserted in a similar way, and a very large proportion are found to strike. This plan has much to recommend it when large quantities, hundreds, even thousands, of one variety are required, and with the hardy popular Bedding Violas 90 to 95 per cent, will root and make good plants; but choice varieties of Violas, and especially Pansies, cannot be rooted in this way with any degree of certainty. We advised the frame for safety at the beginning, and we repeat the advice, because the small cultivator, who has only a few dozen, or at the most a few hundred, plants cannot take the risks from cats and other vermin that frequent suburban gardens. We only bracket cats and other vermin together from a gardener's point of view.
This method is very often adopted for the purpose of obtaining large plants for autumn planting. It was largely practised by the late Mr. Jordan in Regent's Park. He related that he had some 25,000 plants to propagate each year, and he obtained them with the greatest facility. It was the practice in Mr. Jordan's time to fill the huge beds in Regent's Park with bulbs and Violas; as the bulbs passed out of bloom the Violas came into flower, and an effective display was obtained during April, May, and June. At the end of June, or early in July, the beds were cleared both of bulbs and Violas and filled with summer-blooming plants just coming into flower. When the Viola plants were lifted the old growths were trimmed away, and the clumps pulled into three or four pieces, which were planted in nursery beds in the open. It will be easily understood how, provided these nursery beds were shaded and attended to with water, fine strong clumps of Violas would be obtained for planting again with the bulbs in October. In a future chapter will be found a list of the varieties which, being more tufted and perennial in habit, lend themselves best to division.