Odontoglossum Rossii major is a charming little Orchid to hang up in a shallow pan in a greenhouse when in flower. I am getting to like Orchids more and more now that, instead of thinking of them in their hot glass palaces, the easy-growing ones are treated here like other greenhouse plants. They give me great pleasure; the flowers are beautiful and interesting to look into and examine. I must learn more about them. In all things concerning Nature it is only ignorance that makes us take likes and dislikes.
This is the first spring morning. How one appreciates the slightest rise in the temperature! I quite pity those who have rushed South, and who cannot watch the slow development of our English spring, with all its many disappointments.
The bright yellow flowers of the improved Tussilago Coltsfoot, sold by Cannel, are now just coming out, and the gravelly corner where they grow is a bright mass of buds. These flowers that come before their leaves, like the autumn crccus, are attractive, though the size of their leaves when they do come puts one sometimes out of conceit with them, especially if crowded for room; though it is astonishing how corners can be found in even small gardens for all sorts of things, if one gives the matter constant attention. Having everything under one's eye, one never forgets to notice how they get on; the greatest danger for the beds and shrubberies is the forking-over in autumn. It is far better left alone, if it cannot be done with care and knowledge.
My little plant of the Daphne blagayana is now in flower, but none of the Daphnes do well here for long; even the mezereum goes off after a year or two, and D. cneorum wants constant attention. D. blagayana has to be grown like D. eneorum, pegged down in peat and with some low-growing plant to shade it. All Daphnes are well worth the care they need, but it is a hard struggle. I think the spring air is too dry for them.
The best gardeners tell me we ought to be able to get Irises during eight or nine months of the year, and that this is done by keeping back Japanese Irises with their toes in the water till October. I confess I have never seen any Kæmpferi in bloom after the end of July in this part of the world.
I have lately been given this most useful list for the blooming-time of Irises: February and March, Iris stylosa (blue and white varieties), I. reticulata, I. unguicularis alba, I. persica, I. histrioides; March and April, I. pumila atropurpurea, I. pumila cærulea, I. backeriana, I. tuberosa, I. orchioides, I. assyriaca; May, florentina; May and June, German and Spanish and 1. sibirica; July and August, English and Japanese. I have had the ground prepared, and to-day I am sowing the Shirley and other Poppies and Sweet-peas.
Early sowing of early summer annuals is most essential here. I see Miss Jekyll holds much to autumn sowing. I have tried it and failed in some cases, but that is because I have done it too late in the autumn. Early sowing is the only plan of spring sowing that is at all successful here. This particular first week in March 1899 is perfection for all gardening work. I never saw the ground in such a good state - pulverised by night frosts, without being too dry and dusty. The gardening papers say there has not been such a sunny February for thirty years.
The paper of instructions sent out by the secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society with the seed of the Shirley Poppy is so excellent and such a help for many annuals that I cannot do better than copy it. One of the reasons people fail with hardy annuals is, as I said before, from not sowing them early enough:
'1. On as early a day as possible in February choose a plot of ground sixteen to eighteen feet square or thereabouts, give it a liberal dressing of rich dung and dig it in well, and leave it to settle.
'2. For sowing, choose the first fine open day in March, free from actual frost, when the ground works easily, and rake the surface over.
'3. Mix the seed with five or six times its own bulk of dry sand, so as to make it easier to sow it thinly.
'4. Scatter the mixture thinly, broadcast, over the raked surface and rake it again lightly.
'5. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, if there should be any bare patches in the bed, move with the tip of a trowel a few tiny clumps from where they stand thickest.
'6. As soon as the bed shows regularly green, stretch two lines across it parallel to each other, at eight inches apart and, with a Dutch hoe, hoe up all between the lines, sparing those plants only that are close to each line.
Move the lines and so hoe all the bed, which will then consist of a number of thin lines of seedlings eight inches apart, and the hoed-up ones lying between.
'7. About a week later stretch the lines again eight inches apart at right angles to the previous lines, and hoe again. This when finished will leave a number of tiny square patches of seedlings eight inches apart each way.
'8. A week later thin out the little patches by hand, leaving only one plant in each. Now every plant will have eight inches square to grow in.
'9. Directly the plant shows the first sign of running up to blossom, put a thin line of two-feet-high pea-sticks between every two or at most every three lines of the plants to strengthen them to resist the wind and rain. They will soon grow above and hide the sticks.
'10. In dry weather thoroughly soak the bed once a week. A little sprinkle overhead is no use.
'N.B. - Be sure the operation described in No. 6 is done early enough, otherwise the plants will have become "leggy" before your thinning is complete, and when once Poppies become "leggy" they are practically ruined.'