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.
With much pleasure and satisfaction many will have read our Editor's leading article in the December issue of ' The Gardener,' headed " Camellias for Autumn Flowering." In a measure to corroborate or strengthen his remarks, I beg to instance two cases in my own experience of flowering Camellias early. The first that occurred was in the summer of 1871. How this was accomplished I shall now endeavour to describe. In the autumn of 1870, I had two large Double Whites in the collection under my charge. These plants dropped their buds - a cause of disappointment to my employer and annoyance to myself, as we depended principally on them to supply white blooms at New Year time. These plants, along with some others, were partially shaken free of the soil in their pots, and were put into pots containing pure light but rich fibry loam, with an unusual quantity of broken pots put into each pot; the soil was pressed extra firm with the hands without other aid. The plants were potted on one of the latter days of December, and at once plunged in bottom-heat in a stove where the average heat was 80° in the bed, and 60° in the air. The roots were deluged with tepid water twice a-week, and their branches syringed twice daily.
Very soon both roots and branches began to push strongly, which growth was encouraged by stimulants of very weak guano waterings. At intervals water was supplied copiously when they required it. By the end of February flower-buds had formed, and they were shifted from the stove to an early vinery, where they remained for the two succeeding months, the mean temperature of which was a few degrees below that of the stove, but was ultimately raised as the season advanced, and as the requirements of the vines demanded. From the vinery we moved them in the first week of May into a Peach-house for a month, then quartered them out of doors. Throughout all these stages I cannot say that I discerned any great cessation take place in the swelling of the buds, although their progress before the final swelling was certainly not so visible outside; and inside they continued to swell and demand more water, which was copiously supplied as soon as the surface of the soil indicated dryness.
The thinning of the buds was performed on three separate occasions, two buds being left on the strongest, and one on the weakest growths; and by the end of June, one of the plants showed symptoms of opening its most advanced buds, when I had it placed in a greenhouse: so I had a beautiful flower on the 1st of July, which was used for the centre of a bridal bouquet. The most advanced flowers continued to meet the wants up to the 8th of September, when the two plants, fully 4 feet through, loaded with model blossoms, were selected for exhibition - one to figure among fifteen stove and greenhouse plants, and the other in a group of greenhouse plants. First prizes were awarded to both groups, Mr Wm. Thomson of Clovenfords Vineyards, and other eminent judges, officiating as judges on the occasion. Those plants, after standing under canvas for three days and five nights, were brought home, and unceasingly flowered on to the latter end of November.
The other instance we propose referring to is that of an exceedingly large Double White - to say the least, absolutely bending beneath the weight of its hundreds of buds and flowers. This plant furnished its first flower on the 14th of September, and we have cut daily from it ever since, sometimes as many as a dozen at a time or in one day; and I have no fear but we shall have its daily offerings of grand flowers for the next two months to follow.
What remains to be said is in reference to the quality and duration of such early flowers. I think, with our Editor, that they are improved in every respect; more perfect flowers could not be desired than the majority of the flowers produced within the past six weeks by the plant now referred to. As to their lasting qualities, this property is so much enhanced, that they will cling to the plant for a month after the flower has opened, and latterly require to be removed by the hand when far advanced in decay. A. Kerr.