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.
Having been a reader of the ' Gardener' since its commencement, I naturally take a little interest in reading and supporting it - by recommending it amongst the gardening community. I was pleased to see, in a late issue, " Notes on Pleiones," by F. W. B.; and I trust a little of your space will be devoted to Orchids and stove-plants.
Pleiones deserve to be more known and grown. Perhaps they would be if they were rather cheaper. I had one pot of P. lagenaria - an 8-inch common flower-pot - with 13 bulbs, each bulb carrying 2 spikes, making 26 spikes. It was very much admired. Some of the bulbs measure 2 inches across. They were grown in a mixed collection of Orchids; but I never allowed them to go thoroughly dry. I consider it weakens the bulbs, and likewise the bloom, to dry them much. They remain in bloom nearly 4 weeks in a cool stove. I have now several in peat, sphaguum, a little loam, and rotten manure, giving them a slight bottom-heat to start them. Could any of your readers let me know where P. humilis can be.obtained - good bulbs. Notts.
The Pleiones are not so extensively grown as their merits deserve, either for decorative purposes or for cut bloom, seeing that they bloom at a season when flowers are so scarce, and the flowers themselves are not to be excelled by any winter-blooming plants we know. The fact that they are Orchids need not prevent any one from growing them, as they require no special accommodation. Comparatively few Orchids are grown for cut blooms in private establishments, being generally considered more difficult to cultivate than most stove-plants; but we have found them quite as easily managed as any other family of plants that we have had to do with. Every one knows that without care and attention no class of plants can be grown satisfactorily; and Pleiones, when properly managed, will give quite as satisfactory returns as any other plants that are grown for winter decoration.
The varieties we find most suitable are P. Wallichiana, P. lagenaria, and P. maculata, especially the last named, with its pure white sepals and petals, and most beautiful lips. To grow them well they should be potted every year directly the blooms fade. Although terrestrial Orchids, we give them much the same compost as Epiphytes, which consists of three parts living sphagnum, one part peat and turfy loam, with some small crocks and charcoal - the peat and the loam to have all the smaller particles shaken out - mixing the whole thoroughly. If put in pots, they should have a small inverted pot over the hole in the bottom, and filled at least three parts full of crocks a little rounded on the top. A good layer of clean sphagnum should be placed on the top of the crocks. Fill up with the compost, pressing it rather firmly together to as near as possible a half-circle from the inner rim of the pot. Pull the decayed blooms out of the young bulbs, shaking them out of the pots to separate them individually, and fix them over the pot with a piece of copper wire in the shape of a staple to keep them in their places. They should be at least 2 1/2 inches clear of each other.
In placing them, care should be taken that the young growths are as near as possible that distance apart: it does not matter so much for the parent bulb, as it will almost disappear by the time the young ones are matured. Put a little more of the compost over the roots, and finish off with a layer of clean sphagnum, so that when finished the whole is as near as possible to a half-circle with the outer rim of the pot. Give a good watering, and with a sharp-pointed stick dibble in the sphagnum amongst the bulbs. As Pleiones are shallow rooters, the growing sphagnum helps to cover the roots that come to the surface. After the first watering they will want very little until they begin to make roots. Sprinkle them overhead occasionally through a fine rose until they have got a good start, then, if properly drained, they can scarcely be over-watered, especially in their growing season. Red-spider is their worst enemy, but they will stand the syringe as well as any plant I know, so that pest can be guarded against. A shelf near the glass in an ordinary plant-stove suits them very well; in fact, they can be grown in any place where there is plenty of heat and moisture, and shade from the direct rays of the sun.
After they have finished their bulbs and the leaves are turning yellow, withhold water gradually; place them in a cool vinery or greenhouse, where they will get as much light as possible. After they have shed their leaves just give them as much water as will keep the bulbs from shrivelling. When they begin to show flower take them into heat, dip each pot for a minute or two in water to thoroughly moisten the compost: in fact, they should be dipped very of ten in their growing season, as the small roots interlace the compost so much that if they happen to get dry the water will not go into the pot unless they are dipped. This applies to a great many Orchids, especially those that have been at rest for some time. When a lot are grown singly in 4-inch pots, they look very nice standing round a collection of Orchids or stove-plants, or for furnishing purposes. When taken into heat, if a few pieces of Selaginella are dibbled into the sphagnum it makes up for the absence of their foliage. They can be taken into heat in batches to prolong the flowering season. Most people grow them in pans : as they root near the surface this plan suits them very well; if in pots, they want more drainage.
W. S. P.
[This paper came to hand just after F. W. B.'s paper in last month was sent to the printers].