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.
Our illustration is drawn from this place - so long associated with the successful cultivation of florists' flowers - for the sake of indicating what Mr Wiggins, the gardener at Worton Cottage, is doing with the Cyclamen. Not that we wish it to be supposed Mr "Wiggins is the sole successful cultivator of the Cyclamen in the London district, but because he may be said to have been the father of the improved system of culture that has made the Cyclamen, during the past few years, such a striking feature at the early metropolitan exhibitions. Such illustrations of Cyclamen culture as Mr Wiggins and others present are almost entirely confined to the neighbourhood of London; elsewhere we have seen but poorly developed examples, that could only serve to impress others with the conviction that the Cyclamen is a flower difficult of cultivation, instead of being one of the easiest in the whole catalogue of florists' flowers.
On page 183 of the ' Gardener' for 1869, H. E. I. C. S. treated the readers of the 'Gardener' to an excellent paper on the culture of the Cyclamen, himself a very successful cultivator. The practice advised by this correspondent and that followed by Mr Wiggins differs but very slightly, and then only in matters of minor detail.
At Worton Cottage could have been seen, a short time ago, a small lean-to house, wholly filled with Cyclamens, every available part of the house accommodating altogether some 300 finely-bloomed plants. A large number of these were in large 48-sized pots, some in 32-pots, and a few extra-sized specimens in 24-pots. It was a delightful little show in itself, and there was so much of variation in the flowers that there were representatives of a great many shades of colour, from the purest white to rich self-coloured rosy-crimson flowers. In point of quality there could be perceived an occasional example of the narrow-petalled flower, somewhat curiously twisted, and large bold flowers, with broad stout florets, and of the finest quality. By far the largest number of these plants had from 20 to 60 expanded flowers; some of the larger plants had fully 100 flowers. The first feeling of surprise was that of something akin to wonder at such a splendid development, not only of flower, but also of foliage; the second, that such results are brought about by a very simple course of cultivation, it shall be the object of this paper to sketch.
A leading feature in the mode of treatment adopted by Mr Wiggins and others is, that the resting process - the period of rest, that stage of the Cyclamen's career when it became so debilitated by semi-starvation as to be almost incapable of again reaching a healthy development - is altogether abolished, and that with the happiest results. A more generous course of treatment is rewarded by consequences so startling as to effectually demonstrate the rationale of the cultivable process. What can be so well done about London is surely possible elsewhere, and with the same pleasing results.
Each year Mr Wiggins raises a batch of plants from seed, and we would advise all cultivators to follow his example. The seed is sown as soon as ripe, or at any rate by September and October, and a soil used is made up of good loam, sand, and rotten manure pulverised when in a thoroughly dry state. The seed-pans are placed in a propagating-house or hotbed, and in four or five weeks the seed-leaves put in appearance. The temperature maintained by Mr Wiggins for the purpose of raising seed is from 60° to 80°. As soon as the plants can be handled, they are pricked off in small groups in large 60 or 48 pots, and placed on shelves close to the glass in a warm house, and encouraged to make growth during the winter. As soon as the month of March is reached, the largest of the plants are shifted into 60-pots and placed in a warm frame having a slight bottom heat, and kept close till established; and when the weather is fine and genial, air is admitted. A later shift is made into 48-pots about May or June, and the plants are still retained in the frame. During hot weather they are frequently sprinkled overhead, besides being freely watered at the roots.
Generally, the sprinklings are given early enough in the day to admit of the leaves drying before the frame is closed for the night, if necessary to close it. Here growth is made, flower-buds formed, and the plants are taken into the house about September, and from this time on to April a plentiful supply of bloom is secured.
When the plants have done blooming, they are stood out of doors in a shady place, and not allowed to become by any means roasted, as is too commonly the case, but kept moist, though allowed to ripen their foliage. The soil is then shaken in good part from the roots, and they are repotted somewhat lightly in good soil, placed in a cold frame, and kept close for some time, and then treated as in the case of the seedling plants.
Such is a mere outline of Mr Wiggins's treatment of the Cyclamen, and our readers who have an opportunity afforded them of visiting Isleworth can see for themselves what can be done under such a process. Our correspondent H. E. I. C. S., who has this season been as successful as usual with the Cyclamen, wrote to us recently, and stated, " If you intend saying anything about the Cyclamen, I hope you will most strongly advocate my opinion, that it is not a flower for April, but for November, December, January, and February, being at all other times almost out of season." Our correspondent's aim was to impress upon cultivators that this flower can be had in bloom at the dead season of the year, when there is little else to make the greenhouse and conservatory look gay.
In addition to the Cyclamen, splendid strains of the Chinese Primrose, and of the Polyanthus, are grown at Worton Cottage: probably the quality of the last named can scarcely be excelled in the present day. As of old, the Pelargonium still plays an important part, and a commodious square show-house full of these will soon be a fine floral spectacle. At no period of the year can the sacred precincts of Worton Cottage - sacred in a floricultural sense - be trodden by the visitor without seeing something of interest, and learning some lesson worthy of being treasured up in the memory. At all times the houses and grounds are models of cleanliness and order, and Mr Wiggins is never slow in freely imparting any information asked at his hands by the inquiring visitor.