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.
A meeting of the members of this Association was held in the Templar Hall, Reform Street, on Friday evening, the 1st ult. - the President, Mr David Doig, Rossie Priory Gardens, in the chair. There was the usual full attendance. Mr Robert Wilkie, Duncarse Gardens, read a paper on "The Cultivation of the Peach under Glass." In opening his subject, Mr Wilkie explained that the Peach was supposed to be a native of Persia. It was known to, and cultivated successfully by, the Egyptians about two thousand years ago, but appears only to have found its way into this country some time in the sixteenth century. The Peach, notwithstanding its three hundred years' sojourn in our climate, had not materially changed its character; it still retained its habit of early flowering, and this habit, combined with the early spring frosts - unfortunately too familiar to most of us - has rendered the cultivation of this excellent fruit a subject of considerable difficulty and anxiety. Mr Wilkie then treated of the various devices used for protecting the early bloom. These in earlier times were many and various; but since the reduction in the price of glass, almost all had been superseded by the erection of " Peach-houses " of more or less pretensions.
The most approved style of Peach-houses, and the mode of preparing the border, heating, etc, were then explained; after which Mr Wilkie, in an able, interesting, and remarkably lucid manner, treated in detail the whole system of Peach-culture. On some points he differed considerably from many Peach-growers. At no time did he approve of letting the temperature of the Peach-house fall below the freezing-point. During frosty weather he applied fire-heat just sufficient to keep out the frost, and in dull cold days he found it better to heat the pipes and open the ventilators, rather than to have the house shut close to keep up the temperature. Fumigating with tobacco required some care; too dense a cloud would sometimes cause the tree to cast both fruit and leaves. It was much better to fumigate slightly two or three nights in succession; or by taking advantage of a dull day, to keep the house in a smoky condition for six or eight hours. A smoke which can be dimly seen through, if maintained for that time, will destroy every living aphis in the house, and do no injury to the most tender flowers or foliage.
He never practised evening syringing on Peaches, or on plants of any kind whose foliage is exposed to the full blaze of the sun through undimmed glass, being of opinion that the leaves were thereby made tender and less able to bear the heat of the following day. In dry sunny weather he usually syringed copiously in the early morning, and with such treatment he succeeded in retaining fine healthy foliage, free from insect-pests of all sorts. A considerable discussion followed the reading of this paper - some points being closely criticised. Mr Wilkie showed, however, by a splendid specimen of the fruit grown under his care, that his treatment, however different from other successful growers, could well afford to stand upon its own merits.
Mr William Alison, Seaview Gardens, Monilieth, then read a paper on "Exotic Ferns." "These plants," he said, "might be considered as remnants of the vegetation of a past era in the history of the earth, - geology having shown that they existed in great numbers and variety at a date long prior to the present era. But a very few years ago, Ferns found only scant favour amongst cultivated exotic plants. In this, however, as in many other matters, public taste had improved much: and now it was not enough that our gardens were gay with masses of colour - grace also was appreciably demanded. When this improved taste began to displace the taste for mere gaudiness which too long held sway among the refined, as it did amongst the unrefined still, Ferns were sought for, cultivated, and used as decorative plants. It was no wonder that this was so. In no other class of plants did they find the same inimitable grace or exquisite lacing in form, enough of themselves to charm and to cheer any one with a true love for the beautiful in plants. Ferns enhanced an hundred-fold the beauty of the choicest gems of cut-flowers, when judiciously arranged with them.
So much were they now appreciated, that no plant-house or dwelling-house, from the drawing or dining room to the lady's boudoir, was considered complete without them, either as plants or cut fronds. To lovers of the beautiful in nature, no other plant could rival the Fern in cheering the homes of those who were confined to the smoky city".
Mr Alison then spoke at some length on the cultivation of Ferns in the fernery or greenhouse. The great points in the successful cultivation of Ferns, was to see that they never suffered for want of water, and that they had a suitable moist atmosphere, with light, heat, and air, according to their various constitutions. He did not approve of syringing the plants overhead, unless in exceptional cases; and such varieties as Todeas, Hymenophyllums, etc, Gymnogrammas, Nothoclamas, etc, were sure to suffer both in health and appearance by having their fronds syringed or wetted in any way. Except for the purely peat-loving varieties of Ferns, he did not approve of using peat, preferring instead a good rich loam, well mixed with sharp sand, horsedroppings, and charcoal; with the addition of a little flaky leaf-mould, if the loam was of a tenacious nature. The dung should be thoroughly dried, and broken into small pieces before being used. In this mixture he found such sorts as Adiantums, Gymnogrammas, Lygodiums, Aspleniums, Pterises, Lomarias, and the different species of Tree-Ferns, etc, thrive remarkably well, making a fine strong growth of firm texture.
Bone-dust and cow-urine he found very beneficial in stimulating growth; but the latter should be used only in the case of pot-bound plants, and much diluted with pure water. In potting Ferns he used a much larger proportion of crocks than for any other class of plants, Orchids excepted. When insect-pests make an appearance, the plants should be sponged or syringed with a solution of soft-soap and warm water, using clear water to finish with. This he considered the best and cheapest insecticide extant, prepared in a proportion of about 2 to 3 oz. of soap to a gallon of water. Syringing such plants as Crotons, Dracaenas, Gardenias, Azaleas, and Pelargoniums, etc., once a fortnight with this mixture, gives the foliage of the plants a fine healthy tone, and keeps insects in check. In speaking of the various means of propagating Ferns, Mr Alison said he had been very successful in raising young plants of many different species in a small propagating-case in the plant-stove. There, over a heated chamber, the spores were sown on a bed of cocoa-nut fibre about 4 inches in depth. Germination quickly took place, and the young plants grew rapidly, seeming to luxuriate in the additional warmth at their roots.
Several exhibits in the way of cut-flowers were also before the meeting - notable among which was a splendid flowering stem of Lilium giganteum, from Flossie Priory Gardens. After the usual votes of thanks the meeting separated.