This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
This stand, painted, cost 155. And as I began collecting gradually, bought but few, and exchanged with friends, I had a very good collection before I had spent £2 upon my hobby. Since then 1 have been more expensive, as I will not keep any but first-rate varieties, and unhesitatingly condemn a flower that displeases me, whatever its price in the market. Yet I believe I may challenge any other hobby, far less useful or ornamental than this, on the subject of cost. Careful as I am bound to be of my expenses, I should expect an acquittal from the charge of extravagance even from those who do not partake of the taste for these things. And I am sure that the pleasure and the profit have amply repaid my little outlay; for profitable it is. Any thing that decorates home, and concentrates a man's amusements and attractions round his own hearth, and unites the rest of his family with him in them, is an avoidance of expense to him, and is worthy of encouragement as a benefit to society. And among these things, gardening, within legitimate bounds, has always deservedly held a high place.
And in this I am sure "window-gardening" may fairly claim its little modicum of praise, as being least liable to abuse; unless, indeed, the bedroom be made, as I have sometimes seen it, the depository of plants, for then they are really injurious to health.
When my plants are on the stand, I do not find they require looking to every day, though even if they did, their wants are so few, and so easily supplied, that it would be hut little trouble.
1. Light is their greatest and invariable requisite; and this is the chief difficulty to give them in a sash-window when there is more than one row of them. A short and simple rule will, however, lessen much of the difficulty; for they require light in proportion to the rapidity of their growth. Consequently the back rows, as having least light, should be kept driest, in order that they may grow slowest; and when they shew a tendency to throw out too long leaf-stalks they should be stinted in water and placed nearer the window. Also, when they bend forwards, it is a proof they are having too much water in proportion to their distance from the glass.
2. They want air, and therefore I generally open the window once a day, even in the winter's frost; but I do not think it so necessary as is by many supposed. It seems to be of more service in keeping the temperature of the room equable than for the admission of fresh air. When the wind is in the east it almost always hurts them; and a thorough draught, of which many persons are far too careless, is especially to be eschewed. But I have seen a plant in the window of a farmhouse, and of a very ordinary kind (Lord Mayor), which, for growth, number and perfection of blooms, and striking general appearance, would have deservedly attracted attention on a field-day at Chiswick. Yet this plant had never had a breath of fresh air for six months.
3. My impression about water is, that professional florists are too much afraid of it. If a plant is close to the window, the rapid growth caused by superabundant water is not always a loss, nor does it always deteriorate the soil in the pot so much as is supposed. In cottage-windows plants often thrive, grow stout, bloom profusely, and with blooms in truest shape and colour, though standing, and having stood, in saucers of water for weeks or months. My cuttings, if well rooted, I always set in pans of water, even in the autumn, till they are as large as I wish them to be before the winter, taking care to place them in the window itself while they are so treated. Even the green moss on the mould and round the pot, unsightly as it is, and betokening slovenliness (and therefore I never suffer it myself), I fear is slandered when said to kill the plant. At least, I have seen a plant perform very well for years, though covered with it. Don't be talked out of your saucer of water, Mrs. Wilkins, when they tell you you will drown your Geranium, and that the air cannot circulate about the roots if you keep it so.
There is air in the water; and you do not wash away the goodness from the mould half so much as by watering it from the top, and letting the superfluous water run off and carry the strength of the soil with it. Only remember, you are "tendering" your plant, and that it is more likely to be touched with the frost or to grow "leggy." I believe I have gained by giving my plants more water than my neighbours do. One winter (it was a very mild one, and the plants were growing slowly all through it) I watered them freely with a rose over the leaves, and never had them stronger or healthier. From seeing its evil effects elsewhere, I do not think I shall do so again, but I am glad, for the experiment's sake, I did it then, though I did it merely in ignorance that it is dangerous, and not for the purpose of experiment.
4. Respecting artificial heat, I have never yet needed a fire for them. It is true, the room is between two others, and so has no outside wall but the window-front. If the frost is only moderate, I draw a green baize curtain between them and the window; if severe, I draw two; if a "Murphy's" frost occurs, I shall burn a lamp.
Even one small lamp in a small room makes a considerable difference in the temperature.
5. If any need larger pots before they flower, I am careful not to break the ball of earth, nor do I ever disturb the roots except at the September repotting, when I give them plenty of drainage and a compost of black heath-sand, rotted turf, and completely decayed stable-manure, in equal parts.
In all this there is very little expenditure of time, trouble, or money; and the elegance and harmlessness of the pleasure obtained is an ample recompense for what is incurred. Besides, I have the satisfaction of replacing the rubbish often nurtured in the cottage-windows of my neighbourhood with similar objects of a kind more worthy of the attention bestowed upon them. And I confess I am one who take as much delight in seeing a fine flower in a neighbour's window as in my own. - I am, dear sir, yours, etc.