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.
Having a deep interest in herbaceous and Alpine plants, we embraced the opportunity afforded by a short midsummer visit to London of gratifying a long-cherished desire to spend a few hours in Mr Thomas S. Ware's extensive and now celebrated establishment. It will, of course, be easily imagined that it would take as many days as we had hours at our disposal to do anything like justice to a collection which requires nearly 30 acres for its accommodation. Thanks, however, to the courtesy of Mr Perry, the intelligent manager, and to Mr Gifford, one of his able assistants, we were enabled to make the very best use of our limited time, and to take a few notes which, we trust, will prove interesting to our fellow-readers of ' The Gardener.'
We were first conducted over the florist-flower department, where enormous quantities of the leading varieties of plants usually classed under this head are grown; and some idea may be formed of the importance of this branch of the business when we say that they occupy about 6 acres of ground, and that to meet the demand it is necessary to propagate annually something like 30,000 Carnations and Picotees 40,000 Pinks, 4000 Phloxes, 2000 Pyrethrums, 3000 Auriculas, and many thousands of Dahlias, Pentstemons, Delphiniums, Antirrhinums, etc., etc. What are known as Herbaceous and Alpine plants, however, form the chief feature of the nursery, and these cover an area of nearly 20 acres. Fully an acre of this section is devoted to the cultivation of Herbaceous Paeonias, a class of plants which, considering their easy culture and highly ornamental character, is far too little known. All the really good and distinct sorts are here grown, not only for the supply of nursery orders, but for their showy, variously-coloured, and in many cases sweetly-scented flowers, which, in most seasons, are produced in great profusion, and command a ready sale at good prices.
Among the other genera are to be found not only all the old favourites worthy of cultivation, but most of those of recent introduction, the more popular being grown in large numbers. These are cultivated in beds, borders, rockeries, and pits, according to their several requirements; while many thousands of the leading sorts are kept in pots, so that they may be sent to customers with perfect safety, even in the growing and flowering seasons. Among the more interesting and showy of these we observed great numbers of Meconopsis nepalense, the rare and beautiful Himalayan Poppy, with pale sulphur flowers and large deeply-lobed leaves; Veronica longifolia, var. sub-sessilis, a deciduous species recently introduced from Japan, with rich blue flowers borne on spikes nearly 1 foot high and from 4 to 5 inches round; Geum coccineum plenum, though by no means new, not yet very common, and one of the best of hardy border-plants, its double scarlet blooms lasting a long time, and being available for the choicest bouquets; Lychnis vespertina plena, white and red flowered sorts, showy, and much valued in summer and autumn; Sparaxis pulcherrimum, with flowers varying from light rose to crimson and every shade of purple, and its variety atro-purpurea, purplish crimson, both graceful, free-flowered plants; Senecio pulcher, a new and strikingly effective species, producing its large purplish-crimson flowers, with a bright golden disc in autumn; a great variety of Asters, or Michaelmas Daisies, including Townsendii, Sericeus, pyrenaica, and bessarabicus; Primulas, too, such as rosea, cashmeriana, denticulata, and cortusoides amoena.
The latter, in some twenty varieties, are grown by the thousand, while all the choicer Alpine species are largely represented. Hosts of other plants, which we cannot here enumerate, were seen in more or less abundance all over the grounds.
The collection is rich in hardy Orchids, nearly one hundred distinct species and varieties being cultivated in the beds specially set apart for them. Such things as Cypripediums spectabilis, pubescens. acaule, and macranthum; various sorts of Habenarias, Betia hyacinthina, Disa grandiflora, Epipactis, in several species, with their varieties, most of the Ophrys, Orchis, and many others, are grown in large numbers. Though too late in the season to see these fine plants in flower, the decayed flower - stalks, still standing, bore ample testimony to the magnificence of the display during the past spring and summer. "We also, unfortunately, missed the Trilliums, a genus of beautiful North American plants, with white, purple, red, and greenish - coloured flowers, which appear in April and May. Large clumps of more than a dozen species of these were luxuriating in moist beds of peat soil.
The rockeries - constructed more with the view of supplying the varied wants of the plants than for artistic effect, though that is by no means awanting - contain a wealth, not only of the tiny Alpine gems, but of the stronger-growing shrubs and perennials which prefer such situations. Here are to be seen specimens of the dwarf Rhododendron chamaecistus, Rosa pyrenaica, pimpinelifolia, and rugosa, the latter with large glossy pinnate foliage, and clusters of rosy-crimson and white flowers, nearly three inches across, which are produced during most of the summer, and are succeeded by an abundance of scarlet berries as large as crab-apples. Scattered about in endless profusion are to be seen patches and groups of such plants as Linnaea borealis, interesting not only for its beauty, but as the plant selected by the great father of Botany to bear his name; Gentianas alpina verna and angustifolia, with many of their congeners; Opuntias - including Ra-finesquiana, the hardiest species of this the only known hardy genus of the Cactus family; various species of Linaria, including alpina and pilosa; Campanulas pulla and pumila, with its white-flowered variety; Dianthus alpinus, the prettiest and dwarfest of its race, with many other species of the same genus; the showy and distinct Dryas octo-petala, a British Alpine, associated with its Tyrolese variety lanata, distinguished by its hoary leaves and larger flowers.
The collection of Helianthemums, or Rock Roses, of which the species vulgare, an inhabitant of our rocky hillsides, is the type, is very complete. Sedums, Saxifrages, Sempervivums, of every sort in cultivation, with a multitude of other no less interesting things, which the limited time at our disposal precluded us from noting. In and around the rockeries are a number of little dells, in which are planted out collections of the rarer Ferns, Sarracenias, sorts, Darlingtonia californica, Dionaeas, Parnassias - of which we noticed a group of four distinct sorts - Droseras, Pin-guiculas, Swertias, etc., &C, all in vigorous health.
The bulb department, which contains nearly, if not all, the hardy genera and species in cultivation, will form the subject of a brief future notice. Hugh Fraser.