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.
I am often at a loss to account for the little use that is made of some of these free-growing winter-blooming Orchids. Certainly it is not that they require any extra amount of skill to grow them successfully; and I know of no winter-flowering plants that are more useful or beautiful for either cutting for glasses or mounted for bouquets, or for ordinary stove decoration. And this must be evident to the most casual observer, when it is considered that one spike, from the time it commences to bloom to the finishing up, takes from three to four months, and there are generally from 10 to 120 flowers out at a time; and if the spike is cut, it will keep good in a warm room for a month. There is not another plant that I know so useful for a constant supply, and that of a superior class of flowers; but I intend confining myself in these observations to what I grow for autumn, - I may perhaps, Mr Editor, with your permission, have something to say about the spring-blooming varieties another time. Those that I use are chiefly C. vestita rubra oculata, V. lutea oculata, and I have a few of C. Veitchii, and a splendid variety it is.
The system I pursue in the cultivation of them is most simple, and as successful as it is simple, which may be judged when I say I have No. 2 pots with from 20 to 25 spikes, and have 70 flowers to a spike, and some of the spikes are upwards of 3 feet long. Now, to commence, you must have some well-matured bulbs, and about the 1st of February I get a good clean piece of friable loam, which has been kept just sufficient time in a dry airy shed to kill vegetation; this I pull into pieces about the size of hen's eggs, and add one-third good dry cow-dung that has been kept dry sufficiently long to kill all traces of worms. I find this to be a most excellent way of keeping both dung and soil free from worms. The other third is composed of charcoal, broken small, so that it will pass through a ¼-inch sieve or riddle, silver-sand, and a handful of half-decomposed leaf-soil. This is all well mixed together, and with clean pots, thoroughly dry, you are ready for potting; and be sure and see that they are thoroughly crocked. This is too often left to a lad in the shed, who throws them in anyhow. No labour can be better spent than seeing this most carefully done; and place a good piece of moss over the crock, about ½ an inch in thickness, then press it down well.
Select the roughest part of the compost, and place over the moss; then half-fill, and give the compost a good ramming - the soil and dung you cannot make too firm; then fill up and repeat the pressing. Place your bulbs about 4 inches apart all over your pot. I put as many as from twenty to thirty into some. Let the bulb be about one-third in the soil; make them firm so that they will not get knocked about. Give water most sparingly until you see signs of roots and foliage, which will be very soon. Put them into any house in which you can command a temperature of 75° by day and 65° at night. Then give them an abundance of water, and keep them constantly well syringed and watered up to the time they commence to show signs of maturing their leaves; then gradually withhold water, and remove them into a much lower temperature - 45° to 50° at night is quite high enough - and you will be rewarded most amply by one of the most beautiful winter-blooming Orchids in a most creditable condition. When they commence to bloom, little water is required; but the soil must not be allowed to become dusty dry. Any person possessing a cucumber-house, pine pit or stove, may grow them to the greatest perfection.
[Any remarks Mr Speed can find it convenient to favour us with about the spring-blooming varieties, we are sure will be most acceptable to the readers of the 'Gardener.' His commendation of these winter varieties of Calanthe is quite within their merits. We have some very indifferent spikes before us which were cut three weeks ago, and are now quite fresh and charming. - Ed].