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.
The early history of this flower is shrouded in mystery, there being really no authentic record extant whereby we may be enlightened as to when, or by whom, the improved species was first introduced into Britain. "While one recorder credits Germany, another Italy, as being its native country, it is likewise chronicled that Gerrard received it from Poland in 1597.
The species from which the present improved varieties - in cultivation - originated, is said to be indigenous to England, where it has been found an inhabitant of rocks and old walls. Whatever be its native country is of minor importance; sufficient that we know that it has been cultivated in Europe from time immemorial, and that its appreciable qualities have not degenerated, but continue yearly to improve. In early times, when the Carnation had comparatively few rivals with attractions to commend them to share the sovereignty of the garden, she was the recognised queen of summer and autumn, her insignia for this exalted rank being the brilliancy and diversity of colour, stately habit of growth, handsome symmetrical form of flower, united to refreshing sweetness of perfume. But of late years the Carnation, along with other hardy plants, has in a measure been in the shady side of popular esteem, and we now join the unanimous voice which recalls her to a place of honour in every garden.
There are several distinguishable features which separate the Carnation into groups, by which we have what is designated "Bizarres," "Flakes," "Picotees," and Selfs or "Cloves." Bi-zarres exhibit in their white petals, irregular stripes, and spots of two different shades of colour. Flakes are distinguished by being composed of two colours - the ground colour, and flakes of rose, scarlet, or purple. Picotees are determined by having a margin or lacing around the petals. Selfs or Cloves have only one colour, either white, crimson, scarlet, purple, or other intermediate shades. Each division furnishes endless variety, which are subdivided into the following: scarlet flake, pink flake, yellow flake, etc. The same rule is applied to describe Bizarres and Picotees, but applies to the lacing of the latter. In addition to the foregoing, we have the much-valued " Tree Carnation " in grand array. These are almost exclusively cultivated in pots, and will be treated of separately.
This is effected by layers and pipings when the object is to multiply approved varieties, and by seed for procuring new sorts. By Layers: The time to propagate by this means is just when the early flowers have expanded; and the method of procedure is first to have sifted through a fine sieve a mixture composed of river-sand two parts, loam one part, and leaf-mould one part. With this form a little mound around each plant to be operated upon; slope the mound down until it joins the base of the plant, so that the layers conveniently bend and lie to it without disjointing them. When completed, proceed further by taking the shoots intended to form layers, and cutting away the lower leaves. Then insert the knife about half an inch below the third joint, and make an incision into the centre of the joint, directing the knife up the centre of the stem. Cut away the extreme end of the tongue thus formed by the insertion of the knife. The layer is next bent down to the ground and fixed in position by means of a hooked peg, being careful that the incision is left open when fixed.
When all the layers on the same plant have been operated upon, finish by putting a covering of the compost over them, and water well with a pot furnished with a finely-perforated rose.
Their subsequent demands are only a watering occasionally, should the weather prove dry.
The afternoon of a hot day is perhaps the best time to perform layering, when the plants are rendered less or more flaccid by the heat of the earlier part of the day, and therefore, more pliable than would be the case in the morning when they are glutted with the sap accumulated overnight. By the end of September the layers ought to be sufficiently rooted to have them severed from the mother plant. Detach them by cutting close to the part where they are laid, retaining as much of the soil as will adhere to the roots, and allot each a pot according to the size of its roots. The soil for this purpose should be two parts, rich loam, one of sharp sand, and one of leaf-mould. Plunge the pots in a cold frame in coal-ashes, and supply water enough to saturate the soil in the pots. Keep the sashes entirely up to admit air, but shade gently for the succeeding ten days in strong sunshine.
The commencement of November is quite soon enough to afford the protection of glass, and this only in sharp frost. Continue to supply unlimited ventilation - unless in frost - day and night all through winter, remembering also that every blink of sun is acceptable, causing a quiet flow of sap in circulation, by which the health of the plants is improved. Under this winter treatment there is little to be feared from damping off, or mildew, or any other malady, if the roots have made a proper move before frost sets in.
When the Carnation is exposed to a closely-confined atmosphere/it invariably follows that they are attacked by green-fly. The first appearance of these should be the signal to effectually destroy them by a smart application of tobacco-smoke, or by syringing overhead, for a few days together, with a weak infusion of tobacco-water. There are other safe expedients - namely, puffing with Pooley's tobacco-powder, or even dry snuff. Wireworm at the roots is assuredly the most destructive enemy to which this plant is subject, therefore it should be the cultivators' careful look-out first to ascertain that none exist in the compost before using it. Sometimes it is a difficulty to get loam quite clear of wireworm, as whole districts are often infested; but where they must be contended with, an effectual cure may be obtained by spreading the soil into a body of a foot deep some weeks prior to using it. Into every few feet of surface insert a piece of carrot or turnip, and after a few days have transpired, so that the worms have been attracted to the feast, look over the traps and treat those caught to an exceedingly "warm bath." Continue daily to give the creatures your attention until the entertainment thus provided them is wholly forsaken, when it may be concluded that the last has been killed.