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.
There is an apparent revival in the love for this old-fashioned florist-flower; and as the requirements of the plant are by many who wish to cultivate it only very imperfectly understood, a note on its cultivation may be acceptable to many. Some of the free-growing sorts are comparatively common - as the varieties which are clove-scented, and some of the Picotees; but the kind of treatment which will suit these is simply enough to kill the finer and more tender kinds. It is therefore necessary to grow these in pots. The present is the only season that we have had anything like success with Carnations and Picotees planted out of doors. But even with the amount of success attained, we will plant none but the strongest-growing kinds out in future. Most florists do not consider Picotees and Carnations as admissible in the same stands, and I was somewhat surprised to find the two staged together at the exhibition of one of the very oldest societies. And no doubt they were in a degree right, as Picotees are as much Carnations as are Bizarres or Flakes. In addition to these old-established sections, within late years there have been some self-coloured flowers introduced which to many growers will prove very valuable, as they are extremely hardy, vigorous in growth, and free in flowering.
In fact, unless special care can be taken of them, cultivators would have more satisfaction in growing these with a selection of Picotees, and a few of the very strongest-growing of the Bizarres and Flakes, than in growing too large a collection of the finer kinds. When planted out of doors, the ground should be turned over to the depth of at least two feet the autumn previous to planting, and again in spring dug over to a good depth, in order to have the ground in a free and open condition. This is a point of considerable importance, as unless the soil is in a condition to insure quick rooting and a free and strong growth before the sun gains much in power, the plants are very liable to die off. The end of March or beginning of April is time enough to plant out. The most suitable sorts for planting out are Rev. J. Dix, Excelsior, Princess of Wales, and Brilliant - Selfs; Lord Valentia, Regularity, Countess of Wilton, William Summers, Lady Elcho, Mary, Picco, Beauty of Plumstead, and Bertha - Picotees; Garibaldi, Mars, Queen Victoria, Warrior, and Purity - Bizarres; Ajax, Squire Meynell, and Sportsman. These are a few kinds which have been found to succeed with above treatment.
When cultivated in pots it is a very necessary point to have the plants strong before placing them in their blooming-pots: no after-culture will make up for a lack of strength at this stage. It is consequently of importance to have the layers rooted early, and potted into small pots as early in October as possible, to secure this. Or if plants are to be purchased, no time should be lost in doing so. In cases where the plants are weakly, and make no progress in cold frames, they should be removed to a structure where they can be kept just moving, at the same time that plenty of air can be introduced in fine weather to keep the foliage strong. The kind of soil that they appear to delight in is a light loam, with the addition of a little rotted manure, such as spent mushroom-dung. It is not well to pot too early, in case of check afterwards; but the beginning of April is quite as late as this should be delayed. A 9-inch pot will grow two plants. The drainage should be made thoroughly good, the soil firmed as much as possible, and means taken that the soil does not get saturated with rain before the roots have got a good hold of the sides of the pots.
If a covering of sashes can be secured in case of necessity during the first six weeks after potting, there will be no fear of the plants afterwards. The routine work of the summer months consists in watering regularly, keeping the growing flower-stems tied to their stakes as they advance in growth. If intended for exhibition, the buds must be kept thinned - from one to three on a stem being a sufficient number to leave. The sashes may be again called into use when buds commence to open. Covered with these there will be no danger of the flowers being damaged with rain. A watchful eye must be kept on the buds as they attain to a full size, employing strips of matting or of small india-rubber rings to keep the calyx from being burst. The calyx will also require to be slit at the divisions in order to allow the flowers to develop symmetrically. Cards may also be employed to further insure the same result; but to many, such a mode of helping a flower will appear too artificial.
The shoots should be layered directly they are far enough advanced to be operated on. Many cut off the ends of the grassy foliage when layering; but this is not necessary. What is more a necessity is to cut the shoot in a manner that the thinnest portion will be that which connects the layer with the parent pant. Do not allow too many shoots to remain for layering, as it will give more satisfaction to have one really strong healthy layer than can be had from four times the number of weakly ones. When potting up the rooted plants use a good open loam merely, and stand the plants out of doors until root-action has again commenced. This is much better than shutting up in frames in order to induce the roots to form quickly. I would reiterate the necessity of keeping weakly plants growing throughout the winter, always avoiding the least approach to a stagnant atmosphere under such treatment. As all the kinds usually sold by nurserymen are worthy of cultivation, it is unnecessary to add a list of names.
To those who want a supply of flowers in autumn for filling glasses, etc, nothing can be more satisfactory than these plants - the Self varieties and Picotees being more particularly adapted for this purpose than the other classes, the treatment required being something as near that recommended for those planted out as can be provided. Duke of Wellington should be added to the list for this purpose. We have it in quantities now - the middle of October.
R. P. Brotherston.