This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
It must be evident to any person that takes an interest in the large-flowering and fancy sections of the Pelargonium, and can remember fifteen or sixteen years ago, that these plants are not so highly appreciated by the majority of gardeners at present as they were at that time. In confirmation of this, it is only necessary to notice in how few places they are to be met with nowadays in a condition creditable to the cultivators, and also how seldom they are alluded to in the horticultural journals of the day; whilst scarcely a month passes without a paper appearing in praise of some variety or section in the scarlet division of the Pelargonium. The great improvement that hybridisers have of late years effected in the latter division, furnishes one reason why the large-flowering and fancy sections are less esteemed at present than they formerly were. The advent of Mrs Pollock and Sunset so surprised the horticultural world that gardeners were suddenly taken with a tricolour mania, which, on the appearance of Beauties of Calderdale and Pdbbesdale, assumed the Golden Bronze type, and, with intermittent attacks of a decided zonate form, has continued up to the present time.
My readers must not infer that I am no lover of the scarlet division. On the contrary, I appreciate the beauty presented in the foliage and flowers of its several sections, and admit their usefulness and adaptability to the embellishment of the greenhouse or flower-garden; but I cannot agree with those whose enthusiasm in their culture leads to the total exclusion of the large-flowering and fancy varieties from a share in the adornment of either department. In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that the neglect with which the latter sections have of late been treated is a mistake on the part of professional gardeners and amateurs; and I would fain hope that the time is not far distant when they will again receive the attention which their decorative qualities deserve.
As a means of bringing them into more favourable notice with the public in general, I beg to suggest the propriety of Horticultural Societies offering better prizes for collections of them at the summer shows than have been offered in recent years.
If we except the Azalea, no class of plants make a more striking display on the exhibition-table than a well-bloomed collection of large-flowered Pelargoniums. Then the unassuming chasteness and refined delicacy of colouring as presented in the flowers of the fancies, combined with dwarf symmetrical growth, profuse and continuously flowering habit, entitle them to a high place in the favour of all lovers of flowers.
Yet, notwithstanding the above recommendatory qualifications, we must admit that fancies have not been "fashionable plants "for a number of years; and, what is strange, their unfashionableness cannot be attributed to any fancy on the part of the ladies - and in most cases they take the lead in such matters - as I have never known a lady on seeing a well-grown specimen of this section, who did not admire it.
I have heard it urged as a reason for the neglect of large-flowering and fancy Pelargoniums that little improvement has taken place amongst them of late years. I admit their strides have not been so rapid as in other sections; still I venture to think that the pace Las been equal to the encouragement given to those parties who make the raising of new varieties of these plants a speciality; and although improvement is not so apparent in them as amongst the scarlets, yet substantial progress has recently taken place in the form and substance of the flowers of both sections, to which, in the case of the fancies, may be added a more robust constitution of the plants.
I have also heard put forward, as a reason for their partial neglect, that they are more difficult to manage than tricolours or zonals. Now, with the exception that they are more subject to attacks of green-fly, in no other way is their culture more difficult. If kept free from these pests, their treatment in other respects is quite as simple, and they will grow into specimen plants in a shorter time than the majority of tricolours or zonals.
I will now add a few cultural notes in reference to growing specimen plants: possibly there is some reader of 'The Gardener' to whom such may be of use. If not already in possession of a stock, the present month is a good time to procure one from the nursery. The following eighteen varieties of large-flowering Pelargoniums, if properly grown, cannot fail to please the cultivator.
The first six are of Mr Foster's raising, the remainder are Mr Hoyle's. Achievement, a distinct light variety, with fine-formed flowers. Pom-pey, a grand variety, with well-formed flowers; colour maroon and orange. Black Prince, free bloomer and good habit. Charlemagne, large flowers of fine form and quality. Empress, a good sort. Maid of Honour, a grand variety; should be in every collection. Beacon, a free bloomer, prevailing colour crimson; extra good sort. Claribel, pure white, with small spot on top petals; a very pleasing flower. Congress, a free-blooming sort, with fine-formed flowers. Example, a good grower and neat habit, free. Exhibition, good habit, large trusser. Heirloom, flowers of great substance, plant a good grower. Charles Turner, a grand flower of fine shape, prevailing colour orange-scarlet. Royal Albert, a first-class flower, and robust grower. Progress, a good old sort,' of fine form and substance. The High Admiral, a smooth flower of good form. Woman in White, a free-flowering white variety, excellent habit.
Zephyr, a dark-coloured sort, flowers of fine form and substance.
Florists are indebted to Mr Charles Turner as the raiser of the following 12 fancy varieties. I will not occupy space with a description of each variety, but they are all beautiful and distinct sorts: Acme, Bridesmaid, Brightness, East Lynn, Ellen Beck, Excelsior, Fanny Gair, Lady D. Neville, Mrs Darling, Princess Teck, Silver Mantle, Undine.
If the plants have come from a distance, they should on arrival be placed for a few days in a rather close, moist structure, and shaded from bright sunshine. Here they will soon recover the bad effects of the close packing and long journey. Their treatment after must be similar to that described further on for plants propagated on the premises.
The most usual method of increasing the Pelargonium is by cuttings, July and August being the time generally chosen to propagate the principal stock. But if large plants in the shortest possible time be the object in view, the end of February or beginning of March is the best time to put in the cuttings. They will root with equal success in a common hotbed or in a propagating-house. The latter, however, is "a real convenience;" and every place where there is any considerable number of plants to propagate, should be provided with a suitable structure for the purpose.
Having decided upon the varieties to be increased, choose for cuttings the top 3 inches of healthy short-jointed shoots. With a sharp knife sever them from the parent-plants; trim off one or two of the lowest leaves, cut off smoothly the bottom of the cuttings just beneath the lowest bud, and they are ready for inserting into the cutting-pots. Let the pots be clean both inside and out. Each cutting must have a separate pot. The size known as 60's will answer very well. Drain elliciently with pounded potsherds or wood-charcoal. Use a compost consisting of three parts leaf-mould or peat, and one part clean river or silver sand, well mixed together. Press the compost firmly into the pots, and with a stick for the purpose make in the centre of each a hole, into which drop a pinch of sand for the base of the cuttings to rest on. Then insert the cuttings, and give sufficient water to moisten and firm the soil around them. This done, plunge them in the propagating-bed, where they must not be allowed to suffer through want of water. Care, however, must be taken not to over-water, as in the close atmosphere of a propagating structure they will require very little until roots have been formed.
Shading from bright sunshine may be necessary; but unless the cuttings are in danger of flagging, the less shade they are subjected to the better. If the bottom-heat is steady at about 70°, roots will be formed in about a fortnight. Some varieties emit roots quicker than others, but under suitable conditions all will have rooted in three weeks from the time they were put in as cuttings. As soon as it is known that all are rooted, raise the pots out of the plunging material. Have at hand a square wooden box filled with some light material, such as chopped moss, into which replunge thepots. Transferthe box and its contents to a place as near the glass as possible, and where the plants will have the benefit of as much air as it may be deemed right to admit to the propagating structure, of whatever kind it may be. With due attention to watering, let them remain here until the little pots are pretty full of roots, which will be in about five weeks from the time the cuttings were inserted. Keep a sharp look-out for greenfly; on the slightest indication of their presence, fumigate the plants.
If not desirable to fumigate the structure in which they are, remove them to a shed and cover with a handglass, into which introduce a few puffs of tobacco-smoke, which will soon destroy the enemy.
Prepare the following composts, and get them under cover in a warm corner if possible, so that they may be in readiness when repotting time comes. For the large-flowered kinds three parts fibry loam and one part old cow-manure, with a dash of ground-bones and coarse sand. For the fancy varieties, equal parts fibry loam and leaf-mould, with sufficient sand and ground bones to keep the mass porous. These composts will suit at all future repottings. Their subsequent management will be given next month. J. Hammond.