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.
Business called me to London in the first week of the new year, and I thought I would try and glean some information that would be useful to the readers of the 'Gardener': with this object in view, I paid a visit to Messrs Veitch's Royal Exotic Nursery, Chelsea. To give a description of these extensive nurseries is not my intention; I merely made a few notes of some of the most useful plants for decorative purposes at this dull season of the year, and without any further preface I place them before your readers.
What are called "foliage plants" have been introduced in large numbers of late years, and of this class the Palm holds undoubtedly the first place. They are just as useful in winter as they are in summer, and are adapted for the smallest as well as for the largest houses, and for table decoration they are- always ready when wanted. There is a very large and select collection here; some of them can also be obtained at a cheap rate.
Of the most desirable Palms there is Areca lutescens. Plants of this can be grown 3 feet high in 5-inch pots; it has elegant pinnate leaves, and is a fine table variety. Areca Verschaffeltii is a noble and graceful Palm, the leaves beautifully arched and pendulous. Geonoma Scottiana is another fine variety well adapted for table decoration.
Of fan-leaved Palms there is Livistonia altissima and L. rotundifolia, both very beautiful. Stephensonia grandifolia and Verschaffeltii splendida are majestic-growing plants, with very large entire leaves, and are only adapted for large houses. There is here a most beautiful specimen of Cocos Weddelliana. The plant is in an 11-inch pot, is 5 feet high, and as much through the spread of the leaves. This is certainly the most graceful and elegant Palm yet introduced to English gardens; the stem is slender, leaves pinnate and beautifully arched. Messrs Veitch's plant is now throwing up three flower-spikes.
Of Palms that succeed in a greenhouse temperature, there is Chamaerops excelsa, Fortunei, and humilis; of these, Fortunei has proved to be hardy in some parts of England. There is also a variegated form of the well-known Raphis flabelliformis, introduced from Japan, where it has long been cultivated for ornamental purposes. Seaforthia elegans is a well-known and very beautiful Palm: S. robusta, or Areca Bauerii, a very noble greenhouse variety.
The Yucca is another plant which forms a distinct and striking feature in the conservatory. There is a large house, light and airy, built on the ridge-and-fur-row principle, entirely devoted to this class of plants. Conspicuous in the background is a noble specimen of Phormium tenax variegatum. This is a variegated form of the well-known New Zealand flax. The leaves are distinctly marked with broad stripes of creamy yellow. This plant is 6 feet high and 9 feet through. Phormium Colensoi is of smaller growth, with the variegation more distinct. Of Yuccas the most desirable is Y. aloifolia variegata. This forms a special feature in the conservatory in winter, and is much used by exhibitors at the London exhibitions in collections of "foliage plants." Y. quadricolor is not often seen of a large size, but it will supersede the other when it is more plentiful. It has a dull-crimson band running down the centre of the leaf. I find the colours are brighter and deeper if the plants are growing close to the glass, and air freely admitted around them. There is also a fine variegated form of Y. filamentosa, the leaves broadly edged and striped with pure white.
Y. alba-spica, with very distinct narrow filamentose leaves; Y. filifera, with broader leaves in the same way.
Of stove-plants with ornamental foliage, lately introduced, there are numerous fine examples; notable amongst them is a new Pandanad - Pandanus Veitchii. This, I am inclined to believe, will be a grand exhibition plant; it is of vigorous habit, and the leaves are handsomely striped with pure white. Croton undula-tum; the leaves of this, when full grown, are glossy purple, blotched and spotted with crimson. In a young state the ground-colour of the leaves is yellow. It is well adapted for table decoration, as the colours have a fine effect by night.
Of the new Dracaenas, D. Macleayi is a very ornamental broad-leaved sort, of a robust compact habit, dark bronzy-brown in colour, with a rich metallic gloss. D. regina, another variety with broad leaves; the colour is green, with half the leaf edged and variegated with creamy white. D. Guilfoylei is a very fine species, with narrow leaves, striped with white and bright rosy-red. This is certainly a highly ornamental variety, and succeeds in a cool house.'
The Nepenthes is largely grown at Chelsea, and no stove-plant house, where a temperature of from 60° to 65° can be maintained during winter, should be without a few of them. Cultivated in baskets, they are very novel and effective. A span-roof house, 30 feet by 16, is filled with them. Nepenthes Raffles-iana is a general favourite; it has large beautifully - coloured pitchers, which will hold a pint of water when full grown. N. Hookeri; even in small plants, the pitchers are highly coloured. N. hybrida maculata, a cross between N.. distillatoria and a small Bornean species, forms pitchers more freely than any of the others. N. Sedenii, a very pretty hybrid to be sent out in the spring. In all, there are about a dozen species and varieties cultivated. Nearly all the Nepenthes require a high temperature. N. phyllamphora is an exception; it is a very free-growing species.
There are not many stove-plants in flower. I noticed a very, pretty Begonia named insignis; this is the best of the winter-flowering sorts. Aphelandra aur-antiaca Roezlii: of this there are some nice plants in 5-inch pots from 8 to 12 inches high, with from three to four heads of beautiful bright orange-scarlet flowers. Urceolina aurea is also in flower all the winter; its umbels of pretty drooping flowers, golden-tipped with white and green, have a charming appearance. Anthurium Scherzerianum, with its singular inflorescence of the most brilliant scarlet colour, is a special feature in our stoves during winter. I have had flowers which lasted in beauty for three months: there is said to be a white variety; it is a rara avis, if such a plant is in existence in this country: at all events, there are two varieties of the scarlet form of A. Scherzerianum; one is superior to the other.
The paucity of flower in the plant-stoves is quite made up for by the beauty of some of the winter-flowering Orchids. Foremost amongst them was a fine spike of Saccolabium giganteum introduced by the Messrs Veitch from Rangoon. I well remember the delight of Mr Bateman when it was exhibited at one of the Royal Horticultural Society's meetings in December. This is the only wintei-flowering Saccolabium; it is also deliciously scented. The beautiful little Sophro-nitis grandiflora is now in full beauty, as also is Odontoglossom pulchellum; this has white flowers, and is held in high estimation by the ladies. Barkeria Skinnerii is nearly over. Laelia albida, L. acuminata, L. anceps, and L. Dawsonii, are now in flower. There was also a fine spike of Odontoglossum Alexandrae. This is perhaps one of the most useful Orchids in cultivation: it is easily cultivated, and may be had in flower every month in the year. Dendrobium nobile is a well-known useful species; and coming into flower were plants of Dendrobium crassinoda, a very remarkable Dendrobe, with singularly-formed and naked stems on which are borne upwards of two dozen most distinct and beautiful flowers. These are 2½ inches in diameter, white, tipped with purple, with a dark orange lip tipped with rosy purple.
There are also some immensely large plants of Coelogyne cristata; this is a grand Orchid in flower between now and March. Lycaste Skinnerii, and its variety alba, are fine cool-house winter-flowering Orchids. A fine plant of Angraecum sesquipedale was coming into bloom, with its bold, singular-looking, waxy-white flowers; it requires a large amount of heat and moisture.
Flowering in a greenhouse temperature are some fine specimens of Lapageria rosea and L. alba: of the last named there are fine specimens trained to umbrella trellises; the pendulous white flowers hanging from the outer edge of the trellis are very effective. Linum trigynum is in flower all the winter in a temperature of 50°; the flowers are a deep orange yellow. In the same house with the Linum I observed a small plant of Rhododendron Princess Royal, and Mr Dominy informed me that from a large plant a truss of flowers could be cut nearly all the year round. In one of the cold span-roof pits are a number of small plants of the sin-gularCalifornian pitcher-plant, Darlingtonia Californica. It can be wintered in a cold frame. The plants were throwing up suckers very freely, and they were in small pots, growing in a mixture of peat, sphagnum, and silver sand, with a few broken crocks to keep the material open. The pots should also stand on a cool damp bottom. J. D.