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.
There are now no less than seven hybrid Orchids in bloom in the Orchid-houses at the Royal Exotic Nursery, Chelsea, and they alone are a sight every lover of Orchids would travel miles to see. Every one, however, will not be able to do this, so in this paper I will describe them, adding a few details of their history which may not be uninteresting. They have been raised for the most part by the indefatigable Mr Dominy, who has devoted many years to the study of hybridisation as applied to this interesting class of plants. The result of his labours has been amply rewarded by the production of several of the finest Orchids in cultivation, amongst which we may here allude to Cattleya Exoniensis, perhaps the finest in the entire group, with many free-flowering qualities inherited from its parents, Cattleya mossia3 and Loelia purpurata. As an illustrative example of what it is capable of doing as a decorative or exhibition plant, I may be allowed to mention the noble specimen grown by Mr J. Anderson at Meadow Bank, near Glasgow, and which has borne forty-four flowers at the same time ! Imagine forty-four great rosy purple flowers nearly 5 inches across, each furnished with a gorgeous crimson velvet lip, the throat suffused with golden-yellow, and you have some idea of this magnificent hybrid.
The latest novelty in the way of Orchids is another new hybrid Cattleya scarcely inferior to the last, but partly belonging to a different division of the genus. This has just been named C. fausta, and is a gorgeous beauty raised from C. Loddigesii and C. Exoniensis itself, a sure proof of the constitutional vigour possessed by the last-named hybrid. The sepals and petals of this new-comer - and most welcome addition to the list of hybrid Orchids - closely resemble those of C. Loddigesii, but in addition to being larger, they possess more of the rich rosy-purple tint peculiar to Cattleya mossioe and C. Exoniensis. The lip is peculiar; its lateral lobes are pale, and shaped like those of C. Loddigesii, while the central lobe comes nearer to that of C. Exoniensis both in size, colour, and markings, being of a velvety-purple most beautifully marked, and golden-yellow in the throat. The flowers are now very fine, but doubtless as the. plant develops itself it will astonish even its raisers in size and beauty of colouring.
Another interesting hybrid Cattleya raised some years ago is also flowering, C. Brabantia3, a cross between C. Acklandiae and C. Loddigesii. This is a very interesting hybrid, the sepals and petals being shaped like those of C. Acklandiae and most beautifully marked with dark-purple blotches, the margins of which shade off into a lovely translucent amethyst tint, similar to that seen in a good variety of Phalaenopsis Luddemanniana. The lip reminds one of the old C. Eorbesii, being small and of a yellowish white colour.
We come now to a pleasing group of Lady Slippers (Cypripediums), the first to hand being C. vexillarium, an hybrid exactly intermediate in every particular between C. Fairreanum and the well-known C. barbatum or Bearded Lady's Slipper. Its petals are pendulous and curved exactly like those of the first named, while the standard or top sepal is green at the base tipped with pure white, and striped with purple and green lines like C. barbatum. In habit, the plant throws out its leaves horizontally like C. Fairreanum, and has them variegated, although not so decidedly as its other parent the Bearded Lady's Slipper. Another, C. Harrisianum, is a hybrid between the last named (C. barbatum) and C. viliosum. It is a strong grower, stronger in fact than either of its parents, having fine fresh green foliage marbled with darker green. Its flowers are as large or even larger than those of C. viliosum, and are darker coloured, although the bright varnished appearance of the latter is preserved. This is a remarkably free bloomer and keeps on growing and flowering all the year.
It should be introduced into every collection as one of the best and freest of all Cypripedes. C. sedeni, described before in these pages, is still flowering, as also is C. Ashburtoniae, a seedling raised by Mr Cross, gardener to Lady Ashburton, after whom it is named. It is the result of a cross between C. barbatum and the old free-flowering C. insigne. Its flowers are very ornamental, and the plant inherits the constitutional vigour of its parents. In addition to those already named as having been flowered in the Royal Exotic Nursery at Chelsea, we may mention the following: - Calanthe Veitchii, C. dominiana, Cattleya hybrida, C. quinquecolor, C. Sidneiana, Phajus irroratus, Ancectochilus Dominii, aerides hybridum, Cypripedium Dominianum, Cattleya Pilcheri, C. devoniensis, C. Dominiana, and C. manglesii.
These results are satisfactory from a floricultural point of view, but they have served a higher purpose. Hybridisation and grafting are two of the great powers that the botanists of the future will rely on for determining the natural affinities supposed to exist between genera and species. The result obtained by poring over dead plants, crushed out of all the similitudes of life, health, and beauty, by drying, is mere guess work when compared with the demonstrative processes to which we have here alluded. In saying this much it is of course understood that systematic botany, or classification, is as yet in its infancy, and plants are placed in proximity and order according to the size, form, number, and arrangement of their parts only; but we hope to see the time when there shall be a closer bond of union between the gardener and the botanist, when the theory of the one shall be demonstrated either as correct or otherwise by the practical experiments and observations of the other, and then we may expect real good to follow for horticulture.
I say this because the gardener has better opportunities of studying the life, health, and functions of a plant than the generality of botanists so called; and the physiology of a plant deserves due consideration before it is placed in a system along with plants which merely agree with it, as above stated, in number, form, and disposition of their component parts.
F. W. Burbridge.