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.
For years past this firm has been famous for the beauty of their strain of Primula Sinensis fimbriata. It is a fact that from Southampton have come forth types of this beautiful spring flowering-plant, showing an extent of variation quite inconceivable by those who are unaware of the marked progress being made in its improvement. During the last week in February we had the opportunity of looking over Messrs Windebank & Kingsbury's collection of flowers, and we are compelled to admit that nothing we have looked upon in the way of Primulas this season can compare with what may now be seen at their nurseries. Both at their Bevois Valley, as well as at their Bevois Mount Nurseries, they had large groups of Primulas arranged for inspection, and of these we will now endeavour to record our impressions.
We may here state the Bevois Mount Nursery is an outgrowth of the one established at Bevois Valley some years ago. At the latter place there is but room for glass; at the former there is space for a general nursery stock, besides a good quantity of glass. In a long, low, span-roofed house were the Primulas, and a single glance was sufficient to show the extent of variation now to be seen among them. Some years ago, and a red leaf-stalked Primula would be certain to produce rosy purple-coloured flowers, and plants with a white leaf-stalk, white flowers. The work of improvement has changed this, and now a plant with red leaf-stalks will be found to produce flowers of the purest white, though high-coloured flowers have not as yet appeared on plants bearing white leaf-stalks. Also, all striped flowers - and of these there are now some very beautiful things - are borne by plants having leaf-stalks of the darkest colour. Let us note a few distinct types of variation: one plant with white leaf-stalks bore flowers tinted with rose, the edges slightly deeper; there were also two very pleasant carmine rose-coloured flowers, one deeper than the other, and these appear to invert the usual rule of high-coloured Primulas - for, instead of opening of a bright tint, which becomes pale as the flowers age, these open pale-coloured, which intensifies as the flowers become older.
One of these also had very handsome fern-leaved foliage. Then there were flowers of very deep crimson-purple hues, and some white as the driven snow. There was a grand strain of white flowers, the habit of the plant unusually dwarf and compact, with noble trusses of flowers shown well above the foliage. Then there were white flowers, having the usual lemon-coloured eye, but unusually large; and round this was a dark-brown ring, not unlike the cup of a pheasant-eyed Narciss; flowers of varying tints also had the dark ring. Blush flowers - really blush flowers, not merely become so from age - were very fine indeed, of large size, fine substance, stout, and splendidly fringed; and there were also varying shades of these - some only delicately tinted, others much more deeply.
In addition to Primulas, there were in this house a lot of standard plants of Unique Pelargoniums, on stems from 18 to 30 inches in length, some as much as three years old, and in bloom all the year round. They are found invaluable for table-decoration. There was to be noticed much variation of colour among them, from rich blood-crimsoned hues to tints of bright lilac. Mr Windebank informed us that many of these were sports, and that the Unique Pelargoniums were found to be singularly sportive in character; and what is more singular, they also sport into different types of foliage. One plant had on one side of the large head deep crimson flowers, on the other pale violet. This class of Pelargoniums are always of great use for furnishing cut flowers.
In a lean-to Peach-house were a capital lot of Aucubas, covered with berries, and a fine lot of Lilium auratum starting into growth. We were informed that they are kept all the year round in pots, and only shaken out when repotted. As raisers of variegated Pelargoniums, Messrs Windebank and Kingsbury are well known, they having originated since very fine kinds, which have been distributed by others. One of their gold-and-bronze varieties - The Rev. W. F. Radclyffe - bears an excellent character as an effective bedder; but this they have recently improved upon in a variety named Russell Gurney, which we saw, and very promising indeed it looked. This was in a long, low span-roofed house used for propagating purposes, and in which there were great quantities of young bedding plants of various kind.
Leaving the Bevois Mount Nurseries - the locality being noted in the 'Chronicles of Southampton' as the scene of the doings of the once-famed Sir Bevis, and the giant Ascupart, and whose full-length portraits can be seen in the old Bargate of Southampton - we proceeded to the Bevois Valley Nursery, immediately contiguous to the river Itchen, and liable, from its low situation, to be occasionally inundated by the overflow of the sea. Here we found a span-roofed house entirely filled on the one side with Primulas, on the other with variegated Pelargoniums. Here, too, the Primulas were very fine and distinct. Some, with fern-leaved foliage, had very rich shades of dark carmine. There was also a very pretty and pleasing shade of dove-colour to be seen, quite charming in its way. Among these very pretty striped flowers could be seen a marked improvement in the points of size and quality, and some had broad flakes of bright carmine. Newer types were represented by dark carmine flowers, dashed with violet; pink, flaked with rose, and having a large lemon eye, with a pale ring round it; pale fleshy carmine, very handsome; a purple-ground flower, prettily striped and splashed with white, borne on a fern-leaved plant with red leaf-stalks, perhaps one of the greatest novelties yet raised; a good puce-coloured flower on a plant having green leaf-stalks tinged with red; and two others having the flower suffused with lavender, and margined with white, and a white ring round the eye.
To any one interested in the Primula, a visit to these nurseries just now would indeed be a treat. The Bevois Valley Nursery is about half an acre in extent; that at Bevois Mount from 3 to 4 acres.