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.
These beautiful free-blooming forms of the Pelargonium, termed for some reason or the other "Fancy" varieties, are worthy of high admiration, both for the charming softness and delicacy of their tints of colour, and for their remarkable free-blooming properties. "It has been called the Ladies' Pelargonium, and well it deserves the name, seeing the profusion of many-coloured flowers it produces, varied as the colours in the rainbow, added to which its sweet foliage renders it indispensable in the formation of the bouquet." So wrote an admirer of the Fancy Pelargonium nearly twenty years ago, and what was then stated applies with added fitness now, seeing how much improvement has taken place in the past ten years in the way of producing variation in colour and increased size of the flowers. When we remember the flowers of this class of Pelargoniums, as they appeared twenty years since, with their narrow petals resembling the sails of a windmill, so deficient were they in form, and compare them with the exquisite symmetry of the flowers in the present day, we shall then clearly perceive what the florist has accomplished in his work of improvement.
Time was when they were a weak and sickly race, requiring more than ordinary care in their management; but now, thanks to the enterprising exertions of the hybridiser, we have robust free-growing habits and free-blooming characters, which will bear the same treatment as the larger varieties. The Fancy Pelargonium is, in fact, a perpetual-flowering plant. If the trusses are taken off immediately the flowers have withered, and the plant be repotted, it will come into flower again in the course of a few weeks, and continue to bloom the whole of the winter, the assistance of a slight artificial heat being necessary at this season.
Our notes of the leading flowers give the following as a fine selection of eighteen Fancy Pelargoniums: - Acme (Turner), purplish maroon, with white throat and margin, and excellent grower; Belle of the Season (Turner), French-white, with distinct rosy spots on each petal, very pretty and good; Brightness (Turner), deep rosy crimson, clear white centre and edges, good habit; East Lynne (Turner), white ground, lower petals heavily marked with crimson purple, upper petals with bright crimson, very fine and distinct; Ellen Beck (Turner), delicate lilac carmine, with bright throat and edges, of dwarf robust habit, and very free blooming; Fanny Gair (Turner), rosy lake, suffused with purple, clear white throat and edges - a flower of exquisite shape and very fine; Lady Carrington (Turner), soft pale peach, top petals suffused with pale pink, white throat, very delicate and pretty; Lady Dorothy Nevill (Turner), pale rosy pink, white throat, and clear white edges, a charming variety; Leotard (Turner), extra fine in quality, bright cherry rose, with clear white throat and edges, remarkable for the great substance and smoothness of the flowers; Lord of the Isles (Turner), deep rosy purple, white throat and margin, fine free habit; Marmion (Turner), rich crimson top petals shaded with purple, clear white throat, and narrow edge of same, large and extra fine; Mrs Alfred Wigan (Turner), pink, with clear white centre and edges, pretty and very free; Mrs Dorling (Turner), lilac, mottled with rose, very soft and delicate, white throat and edges, form fine and habit free; Mrs Mendel (Turner), white, with delicate spots of rosy lilac, a charming light variety; Pink of Perfection (Turner), a charming shade of bright soft pink, pale throat, very free and fine habit; Princess Teck (Turner), one of the most exquisite varieties in cultivation, white, with carmine spots, very smooth, and a most profuse bloomer; Sarah (Turner), deep crimson, suffused with purple, white throat; and Vivandiere (Turner), rich crimson, novel and distinct, and very free and striking.
It will be observed that all the foregoing were seedlings raised by Mr Turner of Slough. A dozen older but very useful varieties would give Bridesmaid (Turner), Cloth of Silver (Henderson), Delicatum (Ambrose), Edgar (Turner), Evening Star (Henderson), Madame Sainton Dolby (Turner), Miss-in-her-Teens (Turner), Modestum (Turner), Roi des Fantaisies, Silver Mantle (Turner), Sylph (Turner), and Victor Hugo (Turner).
The Fancy Pelargonium has this advantage over the large flowering kinds, that it will stand almost any amount of heat, and open its flowers freely, if the plants are properly ripened for the process. But few cultivators, however, will require to do this. If a collection of plants be obtained from the nursery, and they had been packed in a basket to keep them from injury, it is advisable to place them in a warm house or close pit for a day or two previous to potting them, to induce a reaction of the roots, and restore the partly-bleached leaves to their proper condition. If a collection of varieties is to be worked up from cuttings, strong and healthy ones should be selected, which, when cut into lengths from 2 to 3 inches long, should be inserted round the edges of well-drained pots filled with a light compost, having at least one-third silver-sand mixed with it. As soon as the cuttings are rooted, pot them off into small pots, using a compost made up of sweet fibrous loam, with an admixture of rotten manure and sand, using plenty of drainage in the pots. As soon as the growth has reached 3 inches in length, pinch out the centre of each shoot, when they will be found to break right from the bottom of the plants, which should be kept rather dry during this process.
As soon as the strength of the plants admits of it, tie out the side shoots, and shift them into larger pots as soon as they reach the outside of those in which they are growing. Pots from 6 to 8 inches in diameter are large enough for the final potting, but the size employed must be in accordance with the purpose for which the plants may be required.
Some special instructions are requisite in the case of plants intended for exhibition purposes. Actually, Fancy Pelargoniums may be grown to almost any size, by keeping the house in which they are making their growth moist and warm. Fancy Pelargoniums undoubtedly like warmth, but plenty of air should be given during the day, even supposing some fire-heat is being employed, and the specimen plants should have plenty of room. The outside branches should be kept tied out in order that the centre shoots may have all the light and air possible. With every attention to tying out, however, the plants, from their peculiar close habit of growth, are very apt to become crowded in the branches; then it is a good plan to thin out a few of the under leaves from the centre of the plants, which will lessen the tendency to become drawn.
The experience of the most successful cultivators points to such a compost as that formed of the following ingredients as the most suitable for specimen plants of Fancy Pelargoniums: - Equal parts turfy loam, peat, and well-decomposed cow and horse dung, adding silver-sand freely. The pots should be well drained with charcoal and broken oyster - shells. Some cultivators mingle a little rough peat with their soil, and add also oyster-shells broken into small pieces. In potting, the Fancy kinds should be kept higher in the pot than the large flowering Pelargoniums; what is termed the "collar" of the plant should be level with the surface of the soil in which it is planted.
Great attention should be paid to watering. Better to have the plants too dry than too wet; the first can soon be remedied, the last scarcely at all. The roots of the Fancies, being of a much finer and more delicate character than those of the stronger-growing class, are seriously and speedily affected by an excess of moisture. In their culture, one very important point is often neglected - namely, cleanliness. There must not be either damp, mildew, or aphides suffered to accumulate. Either or all of these can be kept under by the use of timely precautions. Damp will bring mildew, and want of cleanliness will engender green-fly. There is no mystery whatever in producing the splendid specimens of Fancy Pelargoniums seen at the London exhibitions; attention to a few easily accomplished rules is all that is required, with a little watchful intelligence presiding over and directing their application.