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.
This is a plant of which we hear little; indeed, we do not remember to have seen a word on its culture for some years (if our memory does not betray us). Whether, like the Fuchsia and some more of its soft-wooded allies, it has lost its popularity amongst our great plant-growers, we cannot say. Of late years, Orchids, Ferns, and the hardwooded greenhouse tribe, have thrown most of our old favourites into the shade. A specimen Fuchsia or Balsam is lightly looked at nowadays by the young enthusiast plant-grower. There is doubtless a deal of labour for a short period of bloom - this we consider the greatest objection to specimen Balsarn-growing; but what lover of flowers can wish for a more pleasing sight to feast the eyes upon than a well-arranged greenhouse, here and there dotted with a well-grown Balsam? As before suggested, time is of great importance; and we are well aware it is no easy matter to spare much time for Balsam-growing in the months of April and May, the very time they are most impatient of attention. Where perhaps a foreman and one or two lads have thirty thousand bedding-plants to raise, and the other ordinary duties of a general forcing and plant establishment to look after, it requires all the energy a young man can command.
The head and hands must be busy at all times to meet the exigencies of the case; and we advise the youth so situated to throw aside his paper-collars, and have nothing to do with riflemen. A great many young men complain of the overtime movement connected with indoor work. This we consider (in most cases) to be a necessary evil; the persevering youth must blot such notions out of his vocabulary altogether. Compensation must never be looked at - many a hardworking foreman must feel satisfied with a shake of the hand, and a certificate consisting of half-a-dozen lines, for two or three years' such service. [All overtime should be paid for. - Ed].
We had almost wandered from what we intended to be our subject, but shall now recur to it, and begin with sowing the seed. As it is necessary to make two or three sowings for sake of succession, we think it useless to fix any date: the seeds may be sown in almost any soil (if it be of a light nature), and plunged in a mild hotbed. In a few days the young seedlings will appear. Great care must be taken to have them near the glass. As soon as they are fit to be handled, select a number of deep thumb-pots, and a quantity of soil consisting of leaf-mould and loam - the same temperature as that from which they were taken. They should be potted as deep as possible, not to cover the leaves. Now is the most critical period of their growth. The best plan will be to have a small hotbed prepared for them: there is then no difficulty in treating them as they should be. Little shading is necessary - the less the better, as they are so inclined to run upwards. As before remarked, they cannot be too near the glass, if they do not come in actual contact with it. A little air is necessary on all occasions, as it tends to stubby and substantial growth.
By the next shift the grower will see if he is to have nice plants: as soon as the bottom-shoots are got hold of, there is no difficulty in growing fair plants. When long enough, they must be pegged down, and every after-shoot must be kept down by means of pegs, or ties of Japan flax. The Balsam is even more brittle than the young shoots of Vines, and the trainer must exercise considerable caution in tying or pegging. Some people feel satisfied with an 8-inch pot for their largest plant, and we believe this to be the most economical and most useful system. Very nice plants, loaded with bloom, can be grown in 8-inch pots with very little trouble; but to grow specimens is a very different consideration - an 11 or 12 inch pot will grow a specimen 3½ feet in diameter, and this we consider a fair specimen. If plunged in a spent hotbed, with the sashes tilted to admit as much air as possible, and every bloom picked off as it appears, they will grow like Willows; and when the roots have thoroughly searched through the soil and exhausted it, they will stand any reasonable amount of feeding. The best Balsams we ever saw grown were at Cullen House by Mr Milne in 1868; and being one of Mr Milne's assistants, we had the advantage of seeing their treatment.
The plants alluded to were trained as we generally see show Pelargoniums. A trellis was formed of green-painted sticks and dark cord, so that every shoot could be pulled down by means of soft flax ties, at the same time hidden from the eye. By the month of August the plants were all that could be desired; certainly their appearance in the show-room at Cullen could not but satisfy Mr Milne for all his trouble as regards the training. Will you, Mr Editor, or any of your correspondents, be good enough to state which is the proper mode of training? We saw Balsams at different shows in Lancashire last summer trained as Chrysanthemums are in Scotland, and we think the system highly objectionable, as they look unsightly unless they are shouldered up by a Geranium or two to hide their bare legs. Wm. Hinds.
Childwall Lodge, Liverpool.