This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Few plants are better calculated to delight a certain class of amateur growers than this simple and somewhat rare Figwort. It is true that many admirers of gaudy flowers might only give it a contemptuous glance in passing, never for a moment imagining that a plant so unassuming in appearance could possess any property or peculiarity by which to recommend itself to individuals of cultivated taste. The best way of settling this point with such persons is to take a walk with them to the greenhouse when the shades of evening begin to gather over us, and when such plants as emit their fragrance and display their beauty in the daytime are incapable of imparting pleasure: if Erinus Lychnidea is in flower, it will speak for itself; and instead of having to explain your motives for allowing such a simple-looking and apparently uninteresting plant to occupy a place in your collection, you will probably be asked for a small plant or cutting. It may be considered the type of that class of plants which have been kindly supplied to us for our gratification and delight at the period when the mantle of night has rendered the great mass of cultivated exotics uninteresting.
This Erinus seems to have an inherent dread of the sun; for the approach of his morning rays causes it to wrap up its fragrance and beauty in closely-folded petals; and while Sol remains above the horizon, it continues to hide its face and hold back its perfume. It remains in this condition until some time after the sun has descended below the horizon; then it gradually unfolds its petals, and emits its sweetness, until the atmosphere of the house becomes redolent with its peculiar and, to me, delicious fragrance. During the chilly and sunless period which we frequently experience in November, it hardly cares to fold its petals, and will remain open for days together; but under such conditions its fragrance is not near so powerful as during the summer evenings.
I by no means affirm that this is a showy plant; its colour is little better than a dingy white, and, save the peculiar cup like form of its petals, there is nothing in the shape of its flower to attract particular notice. If it is to be appreciated as its merits deserve, it must be visited between sunset and sunrise, and I recommend it simply on account of the peculiarity noticed above. I manage to obtain well-grown plants of it in the following manner.
I winter my young stock in 4 1/2-inch pots in the greenhouse, close to the glass, sparingly supplying it with water, but abundantly with air. This I find to be necessary, for it dislikes damp during the dull months. About the beginning of March, I select a few of the best plants, and place them close to the glass in a pit, which is kept a little closer and warmer than the ordinary greenhouse. If they are healthy and well-rooted, they are shifted into 7-inch pots, otherwise this is deferred until they shew symptoms of activity. If the temperature averages 60° by day and 45° by night, they will soon start into vigorous growth; but this degree of warmth must not be maintained by excluding fresh air, or by much artificial help; for if it is, your plants will become weakly and drawn, and disease will take place. Have patience until nature assists you, and allow a sufficiency of fresh air, to prevent damp and etiolation. I generally find my plants ready for a second and final shift towards the latter end of April or early in May. I use 10-inch pots for this shift, and replace the plants in the situation they occupied before shifting. I carefully supply them with water according to their wants, and after bright days I slightly sprinkle them overhead.
They will now require to be pinched and pegged down, so as to cause them to form dwarf, bushy, well-shaped plants; and when satisfied as to size, they ought to be afforded the support of stakes, otherwise the weight of the flowers will destroy their form. As soon as the plants shew signs of vigorous health, I give them weak guano-water, - the same as I give to most greenhouse plants. As regards the strength of the solution, the amateur must manage that point for himself. A little careful observation, and the death of a few favourites, will afford a better lesson than any instructions which I can give.
When the plants commence flowering, they should be removed to an airy place, near the glass, either in the conservatory or greenhouse; here they will continue to produce an abundant supply of blossoms from June to December. The only care which they will require will be the removal of decayed flowers, etc. and red spider; they are not liable to be injured by the latter, but it will sometimes attack them, particularly if they are allowed to get rather dry at the roots, and not abundantly supplied with air. When I find a plant infested with this pest, I remove it to a convenient place where I can freely use the syringe, and shorten it back. After I am satisfied that every insect is removed, I place it in the pit formerly mentioned, where it soon produces a fresh supply of flowers. The soil which I find to answer best is a mixture of about equal portions of peat and loam, rendered sufficiently porous by adding silver sand.
It is readily propagated by cuttings, made of moderately well-ripened wood, placed in a cool situation under a bell glass, and shaded; but they must not be placed in heat, or they will damp off. They should be rooted and potted off in time to get established in their pots before winter; the end of June or beginning of July will be found a proper time for inserting the cuttings. The old plants may, if desired, be kept over winter, but I prefer young plants, - the latter occupy less space. I have said nothing about its fitness for window decoration, because I am not partial to it in that situation, and it is a pity to expose it to the clouds of dust which it would experience there; and when shut up in a room with it, its fragrance is too powerful to be agreeable. S. A.