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.
WHEN I first exhibited Roses, the boxes selected for the Queen of Flowers were not what royal boxes ought to be. They were ordinary and heterogeneous; they were high and low, wide and narrow, painted and plain. Disorder prevailed, as at the Floralia of old; and Bacchus again appeared upon the scene in the cases which had contained his wines, and which, reduced in altitude and filled with dingy moss, now held the glowing Roses. These were kept alive, auspice aesculapio, in old physic-bottles filled with water, and plunged to the neck in the moss aforesaid; but sometimes the succulent Potato was used to preserve vitality, and I remember well a large hamper, with its lid gracefully recumbent, in which six small Roses uprose from huge specimens of "Farmers' Profit" - the Pommes de terre being inserted, but not concealed, in a stratum of ancient hay. Sometimes the flowers were crowded together, sometimes they were lonely, neighbourless, like the snipes, in "wisps," and solitary; sometimes they appeared without foliage (at one of our provincial shows it was strictly prohibited, and I asked the committee what they meant by coming on the ground with whiskers); and sometimes they peeped out of leafy bowers - "plenty of covert, but very little game," as a witty Lincolnshire lord remarked to the clergyman, who asked him, one Christmas morning, what he thought of the decorations of a church in which the evergreens were many and the worshippers few.
At our first National Rose-Show we commenced a reform of these incongruities, and soon afterward disannulled them by an act of uniformity as to size and shape. The amateur must therefore order his boxes, which any carpenter can make for him from inch deal, to be of the following dimensions: -
For 24 Roses, 4 feet.
1 foot 6 inches.
Back of box 6 inches, front 4.
,, 18 ,, 3 ,,
„ 12 „ 2 feet 2 in.
,, 6 ,, 1 foot 6 in.
The covers, being 7 1/2 inches in depth at the back, and 5 inches in front, 4 feet 1 inch in length, 1 foot 7 inches in breadth, and having a narrow beading within the four sides, half an inch from the bottom of the lid, overlap the boxes, leaving ample room for the Roses, and are secured for travelling by stout leather straps. Within the boxes some exhibitors have holes pierced at equal distances on a uniform surface of wood; but as Roses differ in size, it is more convenient to have the facility of Placing them where we please, and for this purpose it is desirable to have strong laths (3-4ths of an inch in depth, and 1 inch 7-8ths in width) extending the length of the box. These laths should be six in number, and should be nailed on two strong pieces of wood, crossing the box one at each end, 2 inches below the surface. The upper and lower laths should be fixed l-8th of an inch within the box, and the four remaining so arranged that there will be five interstices 1 1/4 inch in width - three for the Roses, and two merely to reduce the weight. There will be a space of 1 1/4 inch between the laths and the upper edge of the box, to be filled as follows: Cover the laths with sheets of brown paper, two deep, and cut to fit the box, and upon these place the best Moss you can obtain.
I get mine from trunks of trees in a neighbouring wood; have it carefully picked over and well watered the day before a show; and then, using the coarser portion for a substratum, make my upper surface as clean and green and level as I can.
It would, I think, repay the Rosarian to grow Moss specially for this purpose, such as would thrive- - S. denticulata, for example - in rough boxes and waste places, under stages, or in vineries. Some years ago I placed a lining of zinc, 2 inches deep, at the top of one of my Rose-boxes, filled it with earth, and soon obtained from it a charming surface of S. apoda. The effect of twelve beautiful Roses resting upon this bright-green moss was lovely; but oh the weight when we bore them to the show! no mother in all the world would care to carry such a bulky babe.
A wee story about Moss, and we leave it. I remember an exhibitor, of whom it was said that he was never known to pay a compliment, or to praise anything which did not belong to himself, except upon one occasion. Having won the first prize for Roses, he went in the joy of his heart to his chief rival, and, surveying his collection, deliberately and frankly said, "Well, John, I must acknowledge you certainly beat us - in Moss." As well might some victorious jockey compliment the rider of a distanced horse upon the plaiting of that horse's mane. It was a panygeric as glorious as that which Artemus Ward paid to his company, composed exclusively of commanders-in-chief, "What we particly excel in is resting muskits - we can rest muskits with anybody".
The Roses are placed in tubes of zinc 4 1/2 inches in length, 2 inches wide at the top, gradually tapering until they become 1 inch in width at the centre; the tops being moveable, as shown herewith. This top is taken off, and the stalk of the flower being brought through until the Rose is held securely, it is replaced upon the tubes, previously filled with pure rain-water. These tubes not only facilitate the arrangement of the flower, but they retain the water when rough railway porters forget their gradients. They may be had from the brazier and tinman every where, and they cost l 1/2d. apiece.
The carelessness of porters reminds me to add, that exhibitors who cannot accompany their Roses - a terrible separation to the true lover, and one which I have never known - will do well to have painted in white letters upon the dark-green lids of their boxes, "Flowers in water - keep level".
The amateur must now have the cards in readiness, on which he has written with his best pen the names of his show-Roses. These are cut from the ordinary cardboard, and must be of the regulation size - 3 inches in length by 1 in width. They should be kept in a box, divided into compartments and lettered, so that they may be quickly found when wanted. They are placed sometimes on the moss in front of the Rose, but they have a more neat and uniform appearance if inserted on sticks about 5 inches long (I use osier-twigs painted green), cleft at the top to receive them, and pointed at the bottom to penetrate the Moss more easily.