This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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.
This establishment has become a most important adjunct of the extensive business of Messrs James Carter, Dunnett, & Beale, of High Holborn, London. A few years ago, when this enterprising firm branched out into seed-growers and nurserymen, the then small Crystal Palace Nursery at Perry Hill was taken by them, and since that time it has grown into one of the first bedding-plant nurseries of the da)'. Not that bedding-plants are the sole feature of this nursery, for a general nursery stock is largely cultivated, but bedding-plants are a special feature, and consequently largely cultivated. At no season of the year could a more interesting visit be paid to this nursery than during the end of April or early part of May, just before the heavy bedding trade commences. Like an immense floricultural army gathered together to be reviewed may the extensive array of bedding-plants seen here at this season be likened, as all the intermediate and cool houses and pits present the appearance of a succession of regiments wearing divers-coloured uniforms when the plants are arranged in groups of each kind from which to select orders, as it is computed there are one million bedding-plants ready for sending out, besides those advancing onward to this stage of readiness from the propagating house - which can be seen in almost countless thousands.
In this nursery there are six span-roofed houses, each 150 feet in length and 20 in width, and in each of which it is stated 100,000 bedding-plants can be arranged in different stages of growth. In addition to the ordinary stages in each house, extra-ordinary ones are extemporised in the form of broad commodious shelves, used for the purpose of economising space. Even with so much room, a deep narrow large thumb-pot is used for the first shift of the plants, thirty-six of which will stand on a square foot of shelf. On the south side of each of these long houses (they all run from east to west) there are ranges of pits of great width, and in some instances on the north side as well, while the more advanced and hardier stuff occupy shallow brick pits, which can be covered with mats nailed to wooden frames should the weather turn cold or excessively wet. The general character of the bedding-stuff was of a short, stocky, yet vigorous character, apparently well adapted for exposed situations.
The centre stage of one of these houses contained Vines in 8-inch pots, six pots in width, with an alley between. The spaces between the pots are stuffed with spent hops, and a good heat was being maintained. These Vines remain here till the end of August, when, the growth being matured, they are hardened off elsewhere. It was said there were upwards of 2000 Vines in pots in this nursery, independent of a great number growing from eyes in smaller pots. The shelves and one of the side stages were filled with the tenderer kinds of bed-ding-stufF, being encouraged to make growth. On the south side was a row of twenty-one varieties of frame Cucumbers, trained to the roof, and grown simply for trial. Nearly all were in bearing, and doing remarkably well. Some were especially good - as, for instance, Newton Hero, a fine white-spined variety, with a short heel; Coleshill Black Spine, very good; and Carter's Champion, a nearly smooth variety, having a slight black spine. Arranged between the Cucumbers were pot-roots of Dahlias and Vines from eyes.
A similar house was devoted entirely to bedding-stuff, but parted into three divisions, one being a propagating house, having the left hand devoted to striking cuttings, on the right hand being quite an array of all the new Coleuses, for which a great demand is expected. The next division of the house was almost entirely filled with Coleuses: on one side were specimen plants of each kind, two of a sort, the most striking being Her Majesty, Prince of Wales, and Batemanni; while there were an additional six specimens in extra large pots of the new golden-leaved kinds, Her Majesty being very fine. The other division was mainly filled with Coleuses. Another house contained bedding-plants in 60-sized pots. Coleuses were here also, and a great number of Petunias; also the variegated Perilla Nankinensis, having the dark leaves varied with scarlet, and blotched with claret and white; also Lantanas, Cannas in great numbers, Lobelias, Heliotropes, Tropseo-lums, etc. In another house were Alternantheras in such numbers as to lead one to suppose they must be in great demand for bedding purposes, though occasionally condemned. A. paronychioides and A. spathulata are the most useful, and in the largest demand. A. (Teilanthera) amcena is also much used, though not so hardy as the foregoing.
It was computed there were 12,000 Alternantheras in this and other houses. Here were also Coleuses again - a great lot in thumb-pots.
If the numbers in which any particular plant was being propagated may be taken as evidencing its value for bedding purposes, then Fuchsia Cloth-of-Gold, one of the golden-leaved kinds, must be in large demand. There were about 6000 plants of this about the nursery. Mrs Tread well Tropa3olum, also, is being largely propagated, and ranks high as a bedding-plant. It has a sub-trailing habit, dark bronzy foliage, and superb crimson flowers. In different parts of the establishment were 20,000 Mrs Pollock, this well-known variegated zonal Pelargonium being naturally enough in large demand, as it is as yet unsurpassed for bedding purposes in its section. Then of the ordinary bedding Pelargoniums, there is a great run upon Excellent, rich scarlet; Stella, nosegay; Crystal Palace, scarlet, a dwarf-growing variety; Christine, pink; Madame Vaucher, white; Crystal Palace Gem, one of the Cloth-of-Gold section, and a most useful bedder, etc.
Still another house, and here was a wonderful collection of double Pelargoniums, some 3000 in number, including very fine specimens of each of the double varieties. Of these, Madame Lemoine was very fine, having superb rose-coloured flowers fully 2 inches across; Tom Thumb, fiery red, flowers rather loose, and apt to burn in the summer; and Wilhelm Pfitzer, orange-scarlet, habit dwarf and close, a fine new variety. Messrs Carter & Co. are now cultivating 24 assumed varieties of double Pelargoniums. In this same house were variegated zonale, silver variegated, and gold and bronze zonale Pelargoniums in great abundance, fine young stuff, bushy and compact in growth. Some specimen ivy-leaved Pelargoniums, trained on wire shapes, were especially noticeable for their fine cultivation, especially examples of the two new kinds, Duke of Edinburgh and l'Elegante. In this house also was a splendid plant of Clianthus Dampieri, finely bloomed.
In other houses were Azaleas, show and fancy Pelargoniums, tender Eerns, some plants of the new American Cherry Tomato, produced in bunches like Currants, the berries being nearly transparent, stove and greenhouse plants, succulents, etc, in great abundance.
Perhaps most striking of all was a long pit of considerable breadth, filled with a great number of specimen plants of variegated zonal Pelargoniums in the best possible condition, the leaves finely coloured and the plants in the finest health. Particularly noticeable for the rich beauty of the leaves were Prince of Wales, Mrs Tom Hood, Sultana Valide, and Sir Robert Napier. In the silver-edged section, Mabel Morris was very fine, having a striking carmine zone slightly shaded with dark; and in the gold and bronze section, Southern Belle, a fine variety, with a broad dark zone in a golden-leaf ground, was most engaging in appearance. Every good and striking variety appeared to be here; probably such a collection of plants could not be seen in any other nursery round London.
Out of doors the pits of bedding stuff were something remarkable, as they contained the plants ready for planting out at once, and which had been hardening off for some days past. There were thirty-four of these pits, each 33 feet long by 6 feet wide, completely filled with plants in 60-pots, each square foot containing twelve plants. A striking mass of yellow colouring was presented by a large batch of a variety of Tagetes patula, a capital selection from the double dwarf orange Erench Marigold, a plant used largely at the Crystal Palace for bedding purposes. During the summer months these shallow pits are used for the purpose of growing Gourds, Indian Corn, Tomatoes, etc.
In the herbaceous ground a very large collection of herbaceous plants could be seen. It was computed that there were many thousands in pots, and they were clean and admirably arranged. Adjacent lands had as occupants forest and fruit trees, etc, and ground is continually being added for the growth of stock.
Close by the nursery is a sample-seed ground on an extensive scale, for the purpose of proving the growth, as well as the quality, of vegetable seeds. Nearly at all periods of the year this sample-ground would amply repay a visit, as there can always be found something to interest and instruct. One most interesting feature was the presence of large patches of all the various grasses and clovers; and advantage was being taken of a neighbouring sewer, for the sewage was being diverted to the sample-ground in order to furnish the means for experiments in growing crops by the application of sewage.
It may be added that all building-work, painting, and glazing, basket-making, etc, is done by Messrs Carter & Co.'s employes, there being nearly one hundred persons employed on the grounds at Perry Hill. B. D.