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.
Resuming my running selection of these beautiful gems of the flora of spring, I must draw attention to one or two which have been omitted in the connection in which they would naturally have occurred in last month's paper on the subject. The first of these, and one of the very choicest and most charming, is:
Nothing can exceed the brilliant and distinct effect of this neat dwarf shrub when in flower. It literally clothes itself in its globular, heath-like, rosy-purple flowers in April and May, which in the mass have a luminous effect. It grows about 9 inches high, and is very compact and dense in habit. It should be accommodated with a compost of sandy peat, and is well worth any ordinary care and trouble to insure success.
Hutchinsia Alpina is one of the neatest and most profuse bloomers f the Cruciferse. The whole plant when in bloom does not exceed 4 inches. The flowers are small, white, and densely profuse. It is usually grown in pots amongst collections of the choicer alpine-plants, but it is quite capable of being cultivated successfully in the front lines of mixed borders, and looks especially well on rock-work.
This is an immense improvement on the old cream-coloured, and I suppose normal, form of this now not very common border-plant. The flowers are larger, the wings expanding considerably more than in the old variety: they are deep rosy-crimson, and in fine contrast with the bright-yellow, green-tipped keel.
This, in its several varieties, is one of the most elegant and pleasing of choice spring flowers. It is now rarely met with - a regrettable circumstance in connection with a plant so beautiful, and one which, if fairly treated, is most easy to be cultivated. A deep, moist, yet not water-logged loam suits the requirements of the plant best; and it is benefited by partial shade. D. in-tegrifolium is a very handsome species, with deeper crimson flowers than any of the varieties of D. Meadias. Both flower in April and May, but in the colder districts they are more likely in average seasons to unfold their flowers in June than earlier.
The best of this genus for our present purpose are the early blooming hardy varieties of the Primrose, purple-white, and crimson and yellow. These are beautiful and very profuse-flowering plants, requiring but very ordinary conditions of culture to succeed well. There are also the Polyanthus in great variety, and hybrid forms bearing a resemblance in colouring to those, while in habit and size of the flowers they resemble the Primrose. These latter are beautiful things, which may be raised by the hundred from seed, and are most easy to maintain and increase afterwards by division when especially fine forms make their appearance, and render it desirable to perpetuate them.
The "Auricula" in all its splendid variety, too, is well worth growing more extensively than it is. Good strains of this is to be had from seed, which, like all other Primulaceas, should if possible be sown as soon as it is ripe. There are not a few of the more distinct and beautiful species of Primula which succeed well in some places, both in the north and in the south, but not generally so well in the open ground as to recommend them to be included in a selection like this, which is merely intended to include such plants as will succeed well in any part of the country as simple border or bedding plants; so that many of the choicer alpine species of Primula must be passed over for the present.
All the species and varieties of this hardy and very beautiful genus are fit for the purpose for which these papers are written. Their gay colours, abundant floriferousness, and their simple cultural requirements, render them most desirable plants for spring decoration. C. Imperati is one of the earliest to flower, with lilac and purple-coloured flowers. In mild winters it not unfrequently opens its flowers in January. C. biflorus, with white flowers, striped externally with purple, appears in February or March, according to the position and nature of the soil and the season of the year. C. lacteus flowers about the same time as the last-named, the flowers being cream or milky white, - a very pretty but not very generally grown sort. C. reticulatus, with golden-yellow flowers heavily marked with deep-brown lines at the base of the corolla externally, is the sort which is almost universally to be found in gardens of all classes. C. vernus, from which has sprung nearly all the common varieties, with purple, blue, white, and variegated flowers, is simply indispensable in the spring flower-garden. C. versicolor: this is another of the parents of the numerous race of common spring-flowering Crocus, the offspring not being always easy to distinguish from the varieties of the vernal crocus; but as swelling the bulk and numbers of beautiful spring flowers, they are very important.
This is one of the most lovely of spring flowers. The deep brilliant violet-purple flowers, elegantly netted with orange, render it one of the most desirable of spring flowers. Unfortunately the plant is not hardy in all localities; and it is only its great beauty and exceptional attractiveness that induces me to notice it in this selection, so that those so favourably situated as regards soil and locality as to be able to grow it should include it among their pets. If the soil and bottom is dry and warm, it will suffer comparatively little from the severest cold it is likely to experience in any part of this country. It prefers a peaty compost, but will thrive well in a light sandy loam on a warm open bottom.
Sisyrinchium Grandiflorum is one of the hardiest of its genus, but should be accommodated with a sheltered dry spot, so that it may be protected from the weather while in flower. The flowers are reddish purple, larger than most other species, and rather freely produced when the plant is suitably accommodated. There is a capital white-flowered variety, named S. grandiflorum album, which forms an excellent companion to the purple.
Of this little need be said, except that G. nivalis is so universally cultivated that no necessity remains for urging its more extended cultivation. G. plicatus, the Crimean Snowdrop, is sufficiently distinct in habit and in the greater size of the flowers to merit more extended culture. Notwithstanding it has been many years in this country, it is not plentiful: it does not increase so freely as the older species. The G. Imperati, more recently introduced to cultivation, is yet very scarce. I fail to see any feature in this to justify the laudations bestowed on it when introduced. As a form of Snowdrop, it is in no way superior to G. nivalis, except in the somewhat more pure white flowers; while in point of size of flower and sturdy compactness of habit, it is decidedly inferior to G. plicatus.
A very beautiful Snowdrop-like subject in all its parts, but larger than any Snowdrop at present known. The flowers are pure white, tipped with green: they open in March. The plant is easily grown in almost any soil if the drainage is good.
Craigleith Nursery, Edinburgh.