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 was with, feelings of surprise I read Mr Hind's article on the Chrysanthemum in the ' Gardener' for March. Seemingly he has entirely misconstrued the purpose for which the article on the same subject in the January part was written. Sensational growing never entered my mind whilst penning that article, Mr Hignett having three years since gone into "sensational" Chrysanthemum-growing in the most exhaustive manner. The brief remarks offered to the readers of the 'Gardener' by me were intended to produce a desire in the young men who have charge of the plants, etc, in the Scotch gardens, to give more of their attention to the Chrysanthemum than is, in most cases, given at present. In visiting several gardens in Scotland last autumn, I saw the Chrysanthemum subjected to neglect and abuse in every garden where I saw it grown except one, where some nice plants were to be seen.
If the remarks I offered on its cultivation be carried out in practice (as a matter of course, allowances will and must be made to suit certain cases), the result will be plants and flowers worth looking at twice, without being disgusted with their bare stems, twisted about in all sorts of ways, displaying, if nothing else, a good deal of ingenuity in that line on the part of the cultivator (?). Let the hundred scrubby plants cited by Mr Hind be a warning never to grow more than can be properly cared for. If instead of a hundred, thirty or even fifty plants had been grown as they ought to have been, how different would have been the results, and that with less labour and water !
How plunged plants, even when deriving the benefit of a sunny aspect, can reap a decided advantage in maturer wood and stubbier growth, I am at a loss to conjecture. It is quite clear to me how plants with roots having full benefit of the warm, healthy air, whether they be soft-wooded, like Chrysanthemums, or hard-wooded, like Heaths, do and must of necessity "reap a decided advantage" over those with the least possible chance of either sun or air, because, comparing the roots of plunged with those of unplunged plants, the more wiry and hardy character of the roots of the latter over those of the former does, as a matter of fact - and facts are very stubborn things - give shoots stubby, with little pith, and therefore easily ripened, and leaves stronger and less liable to attacks of insects and mildew, the result of the whole being flowers of the best quality. It is altogether impossible that giving plants (treated as thus recommended) manure-water should induce over-luxuriance. Speaking from experience, they ought to be watered thus, as soon as the roots have filled the "blooming" pots, for if withheld, they will become, to use a Scotticism, "set on." If a plant from 3 to 4 feet high, clothed with beautiful healthy leaves from the base of the stem upwards, and surmounted with nine "blooms" from 3 to 5½ inches in diameter, be not worth looking at, tell me what is! With but little extra work, two plants can be grown in a 10-inch pot, thus giving eighteen blooms.
In the case of the Japanese varieties, I would not advise this number to be exceeded; but in the large-flowering (incurved) section, free-blooming varieties, such as Mrs G. Rundle, Aurea multifiora, Rotundiflora, etc., a greater quantity may be left on without deterioration of flower-quality.
It were mere folly to advise the training of plants for general purposes as if for exhibition - the time would be wanting in the great majority of cases for such work; however, it takes but little time to go over them at regular intervals, training them in the shape most suitable, which will be that which is the most natural. I may inform Mr Hind that, according to Mr Castle (see 'Journal of Horticulture' for January 1871), the time of potting has little to do with the time of flowering in this genus, but the time of pinching has everything to do with it. Well-grown shapely plants and beautiful flowers can be grown with a minimum amount of trouble and labour. Allow me to advise those who require small plants to try the plan advised by M. T. - strike or layer shoots or branches from June till August (the Pompon section is meant); be very kind to them, and they will repay the extra attention paid to them. Teetotaller.
On page 514 of the last issue of the ' Gardener,' Mr Muir's article on this subject will not meet with the approval of all growers of this fine autumn flower. Why should a cultivator, because he has some peculiar fancy for one system of growing these plants, write of the training requisite to obtain fine large flowers as useless % There are those who do not admire Chrysanthemums unless the blooms are large and symmetrical, and display the real character of the variety. Many kinds, especially amongst the Japanese, cannot be grown to display that peculiarity of form so characteristic of this section, when grown as Mr Muir recommends. Certainly some varieties, as Elaine, James Salter, and others, can be usefully grown for cutting and decoration, and will, when allowed to develop on a semi-natural system, produce a more gorgeous display. While I grow hundreds of useful kinds without subjecting them to much training or disbudding, I also grow many others on the system of which Mr Muir writes disapprovingly.
What can be more beautiful than flowers of Elaine 8 inches over, and 2, 4, or 6, from one pot - or more, if desirable? Well-developed blooms are not to be despised; in fact, they quickly arrest the attention of those who do not admire Chrysanthemums. A new Japanese variety named Parosal, is useless if grown on Mr Muir's system; but when developed under the conditions necessary for the production of exhibition blooms it is a great beauty, and could not fail, I feel sure, to please Mr Muir, if he saw a good bloom. Many others might be enumerated, but this is sufficient for an example, to show that the beauty of many of these varieties cannot be brought out to perfection, when grown as low natural-spreading bushes, without being at the trouble of disbudding them. Some kinds do attain a large height when propagated early, but this is not the case when rooted later; and large well-developed blooms can be produced in comparatively small pots, the stems varying in height from 18 inches to 3 feet. These are valuable, and the flowers can be looked down upon, and can be arranged to rise out of low dwarf-growing flowering-plants, and give to the whole a beautiful appearance.
Circumstances frequently alter cases, and Mr Muir's plants would be useless for our side stages; therefore I do not think it wise to urge any one particular system as right, and condemn all others. The height to which the plants attain, is not sufficient reason for a cultivator to condemn a system. I have, at the time of writing, over 100 plants of Elaine and James Salter, and the majority of them are between 6 and 7 feet high. These are specially grown for the position they have to occupy, and Mr Muir's low plants would be of no service. The plants referred to have at least 3 feet of clear stem, and some of them are carrying nearly 100 flowers : they look natural in spite of their height - and would be even more beautiful if, at least, 2 feet taller. What can be more conspicuous than a plant of Elaine, or any other good variety, rising from among Palms, Ferns, Camellias, and other large permanent conservatory specimens 1.
Mr Muir evidently has not paid much attention to the growing of large blooms, or he would have discovered that the plants are not grown to the height he mentions without being stopped. They are stopped, otherwise they would stop themselves - at least twice during the season - and valuable time would be lost. Mr Muir must consider there are many growers of Chrysanthemums who, if they produced only poor flowers on low natural-spreading bushes, would quickly be discharged.