This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
We shall suppose it is now November and the offsets look well, while they are comfortably staged in the winter quarters, everything having been done promotive of their general welfare as regards cleanliness, in washing both wood and glass. The condition of the soil in their pots may indicate a want of water (were it summer instead of November), but do not give them any. So long as the foliage shows no signs of flimsiness or languor for the want of moisture at the root, little should be given throughout the succeeding winter months. Still, when necessity demands that some of the plants be watered, choose a breezy fresh morning, and give enough to moisten the entire ball by one or more applications.
The subsequent wants of these young plants are indeed few: while at comparative rest a daily inspection to detect and remove withered leaves, a sharp look-out for the appearance of gangrene in a course of dull damp weather, and, as has already been said, a continuous admission of fresh air by keeping the side ventilators down until fresh signs of growth appear in March; then water must be supplied more copiously and uniformly, seeing, after the first good watering, that no defect exists in the drainage. And should any of the plants throw up flower-stems, let them be removed at once, as their production is calculated to retard the growth of the plants. At this period the plants will be wonderfully benefited by occasional gentle showers of rain on mild days.
Thus managed until the general flowering season arrives, we shall now leave the offsets and bestow our attention on the old "stools," retracing our steps back to the month of August, and resuming our directions where we left off. We had so far advanced in our procedure as to have the old stools dressed and in readiness for potting. The next thing to be considered is the soil and mode of potting. For old plants, a rather rich compost of firm consistency is requisite - viz., two parts firm well-reduced turfy loam, one part equal proportions river-sand and leaf-mould, one part cow-droppings that have been heaped up for a year under cover, with a liberal sprinkling of oyster-shells finely pounded before being mingled with the other ingredients. Potting Auriculas is rather a particular business, requiring some care in its performance. First to be considered are the pots. They ought to be either 5 or 6 inches in diameter, and they, as well as the crocks used for drainage, should be scrupulously clean.
Crock the pots by first placing a large piece over the hole at bottom, over which a layer of lesser-sized crocks; then cover these with oyster-shells, next a thin layer of fibry turf, over which heap the compost in a mound to within an inch of the rim of the pots; assort the fibres of the plant regularly over this mound, and rest the centre of the plant in the middle; shake a handful of silver-sand among the roots, and proceed to fill the pot with the compost, completing the operation by a few strokes on the bench and smoothing the surface. Moreover, be satisfied that the plant is not sunk so that its neck is below the rim, thereby subjecting the leaves to getting water lodged amongst them when watering. Carefully water the plants, giving enough to penetrate the entire body, and have them staged for the present in their old quarters, shading with some light covering on sunny days, until it is ascertained that the roots have taken to the soil; but never exclude a free circulation of air at any time. I need scarcely remark here that we suppose the frame the plants are about to occupy is situated in an airy northern aspect, where the sun's rays seldom reach.
This is absolutely necessary to the Auricula as summer quarters; and furthermore, that the frames are furnished with a stage at least 1 foot above the ground-level, on which the plants are placed.
"What further remains to be said appertaining to old stools, in a cultural sense, may be comprehended in few words. Be careful not to over-water, especially before the plants have re-established their roots in the fresh soil; guard against heavy showers of rain by having the glasses or other protection above them, but on no consideration allow the frames to be closed day or night. Be watchful of the common destroyer, black-rot, invading their ranks, in, as is often the case, a quiet, imperceptible way, that takes the cultivation by surprise; prevent any chance of this by overhauling the plants now and then with a sharp eye, to detect it before it does much damage. Continue thus to attend them till the month of October, when they ought to be placed in the winter-house, there to be tended in the same manner as the offsets in every respect till early in March, the time to top-dress.
Top-dressing is most essential to all those plants which are intended to flower; and the mode of performing this is to remove about an inch of the surface-soil, loosening it with great care to the roots. This soil is replaced by an equal quantity of fresh compost, consisting of two parts old cow-droppings.
It is necessary to wash any pots that require it after the process of top-dressing, while all withered leaves must also be removed; then replace the plants in the frame, and supply each with sufficient water to effectually wet their balls; but should any of the plants show signs of being sufficiently damp, allow those to become dry before giving them any.
Active growth is commenced by some sooner than others; those should be encouraged by getting plenty of water, abundance of air, and a few gentle showers of pure soft water through a very fine rose. Indeed it is quite in their favour to have the sashes removed altogether if the weather is not frosty, and otherwise favourable, up to the time when the flower-stems make their appearance, when they must no longer be exposed, in case of frost affecting the young flowers. This is the most critical stage, and much depends on protecting the hidden blossoms for the success that will follow. Be watchful not to wet the leaves in the evenings when watering; at the same time handle the foliage as little as possible, to preserve the beautiful powder with which many of the leaves are furnished, which powder just supplies the part of the bloom found on the leaves of almost every other plant.
Change the aspect of the frame from a southern to a northern one as soon as the pips begin to open, and keep up an airy interior, which both invigorates the plants generally, and enhances size and colour in the pips. Thin out any very small or deformed flowers as soon as practicable, with the object of obtaining uniform crowns of flowers; protect the blooms from direct cold currents by airing from below and by the side ventilators.
Finally, when the blooming season is passed, the plants should be removed to their summer quarters - into a situation, as has already been described, looking north, protected from winds by the shelter of a wall or hedge; and the only other protection required is a covering to ward off heavy rains. Attend to watering and stirring the surface of the soil when it gets mossed over or crusty, removing dead leaves, dead flowers, stems, &c; and this, with a constant lookout for rot, sums up their wants until potting-time again.
Admiral Napier (Campbell's), Apollo (Hudson's), General Have-lock (Traill's), John Bright (Smith's), LadyBlucher (Clegg's), Star of Bethlehem (Lightbody's), Lycurgus (Smith's), May Morning (Simpson's), Lord Palmerston (Campbell's).
Earl Grosvenor (Lee), Lady Sale (Smith), Robert Burns (Campbell), Model (Gairns), White Rival (Traill's).
Apollo (Dickson's), Blackbird (Spalding), Cheerfulness (Turner), Eliza (Sim's), Lord Clyde (Lightbody's), Formosa (Smith's), Vulcan (Sim's).
The following are a selection taken from the collection grown by Mr Douglas, St Bride's, Edinburgh, a most enthusiastic Pansy-grower. I shall just give the names as they occur in my note-book, without classing; all may be relied upon as the first of quality: Fair Maid (Lightbody), a white edge; Prince of Wales (Ashton), green-edged; True Briton (Hepworth); Maria (Chapman's), white-edged; Lady Jane Grey (Dixon's), white-edged; Duke of Wellington (Dick's), green-edged; Maggie Lauder (Lowes), white-edged; Britannia (Smith's), grey-edged; Ne plus ultra (Fletcher), grey-edged; Lancashire Hero (Chatham), General Bolinar (Smith), grey-edged; Richard Headly (Lightbody), grey-edged.
These of late years have made a great advance in the quality of their flowers, and are now favourably received, and allotted a corner in most gardens. Many of them are very beautiful indeed, equal to dispute the field with stage varieties. Their wants are simple in every way, neither craving the best situation of the garden for a bed - that is, a south border at the bottom of a wall - nor that of a cold, damp, soured place behind a wall. Perhaps the best situation in the garden is facing the east, where they have the sun in the morning and the earlier portion of the day. The ground ought to be well drained, the soil rather heavy than light. Moreover, to have large clusters of full-sized pips, allow a fair proportion of properly-reduced cow-manure to be well wrought amongst the soil.
January is perhaps the best month for sowing the seed, as the seedlings usually make their appearance at a time when the days begin to lengthen, consequently there is less danger of the plants damping off, which is not the case when the seed is sown early in the autumn of the year.
When about to sow the seed, first half fill a shallow pan with crocks, then cover with rotten fibre, next fill with the compost, which ought to be a mixture of three parts finely-sifted loam and one part sand and leaf-mould. Smooth the surface, sow, and only cover the seed with a little silver-sand; stand the pan in a comfortable corner in a greenhouse, and keep the soil moderately moist until the seedlings appear, being careful not to disturb the soil while in the act of watering, and especially careful not to wet the leaves of the seedlings while in the early stage of their growth, else they will soon disappear. Plant out into boxes 2 inches apart as soon as the plants are in fit condition to handle, giving them the benefit of a cold frame; and ultimately, when again prepared for the final shift, plant them into the bed, prepared in lines 8 inches apart, which will be enough space until the inferior varieties are removed.
In the following autumn the bed may be entirely remodelled, and planted anew with the finest varieties of the batch, allowing the space of 12 inches both between plants and between rows.
Another and not a bad method to follow I saw put in practice this spring in the nurseries of Mr Gordon, Edinburgh; and it was a sight worth seeing. The bed of immense size was planted so thick as to hide the ground, without being lined, presenting to the eye one blazing mass of mingled colours of every shade natural to Alpine Auriculas, and many of them really excellent sorts. A. Kerr.