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 Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are always interesting, no matter what particular season of the year we may select for a visit, but just now they are specially attractive, when every twig is set with emeralds, or bursting into vernal freshness and beauty. There has been a deal written and said about a National School of Horticulture, and here we rind the nearest approach to that desideratum at present existing in the British Islands. The young gardeners employed at Kew possess facilities for acquiring knowledge not to be found in any other establishment in Britain. It is, however, something more than a training school for youthful horticulturists, it being one of the most popular public gardens near the metropolis. Here rich and poor may ramble with equal freedom over the fresh green turf - inhale the delicate odours of the flowers - or listen to the feathered songsters that warble their sweet melodies in nearly every tree. Here may the unlettered son of toil find agreeable relaxation and repose while gazing on the rare exotics of every clime; here may we all gain more or less knowledge according to the light that is within.
Having an hour or two to spare, and being in the vicinity of the Gardens, we thought we could not do better than look over the collections, noting down the plants that most interest us for the benefit of our readers, many of whom may not have the opportunity of seeing for themselves. Entering by the Cumberland Gate we make our way to the Orchid-houses on the right. Here we find the curious little Dendrobium linguceforme in full flower. This pretty species is a native of Australia, and bears twenty or thirty of its long-petalled white flowers on a slender spike eight or nine inches long. It grows well on a block, producing its fleshy foliage at short intervals along a creeping rhizome, and healthy plants bear a profusion of delicate, fairy-like, scented blossoms. D. lituiflorum is also flowering very freely, bearing an abundance of its deep violet, purple, and white flowers. Another species of this beautiful genus, D. secundum, bears lateral spikes of bright rosy flowers rather densely arranged, and though it is very pretty, is scarcely showy enough to attract the notice of amateur collectors. The same remarks apply with equal force to the dingy, greenish-flowered D. macrostachyum.
A nice little plant of the beautiful D. Farmerii bears a solitary spike of white flowers delicately suffused with pink of the softest possible shade. Amongst the Odontoglots we find O. maculatum, 0. Pescatorei, 0. nebulosum, 0. cristatum, and O. constrictum, in flower. These plants are of the easiest possible culture, all they require being an open well-drained compost of fibrous peat, moss, and sand, a layer of living sphagnum moss on the pot-tops, and a plentiful supply of water when growing, which is pretty nearly all the year round. They will luxuriate in a cool pit all the summer months, with air on both day and night, due precautions being taken to avoid cold draughts. Epidendrum bicornutum was also in flower, and is one of the best species in this extensive genus. Its pseudo-bulbs vary from six inches to about a foot in length, and are leafy towards the apex. The flowers are borne on an erect terminal spike five or six inches high, and seven or eight large flowers are borne on strong spikes. The flowers in shape remind one of Eucharis amazonica, the sepals and petals being pure white. The dagger-shaped lip is white, with a few purple dots near its bilobed crest.
We saw this plant flowering very profusely with Mr Jas. Anderson, at Meadowbank, about this time last year, and consider it one of the finest Orchids grown. We now come upon another batch of Dendrobes, which we will describe separately. D. ja-ponicum bears its two or three flowered clusters on pale leafless bulbs about a foot high, and though not showy, is worth a place on account of its grateful perfume. This species has white flowers with a green hairy spot on the discal portion of the lip, and is very closely related to Dendrobium candidum, a plant with similar coloured flowers, but only half the size of those borne by this species, though as many as five or six are frequently borne on a short lateral spike produced near the apex of its slender pseudo-bulbs. D. tortile has showy flowers borne in a similar manner to those of the old though beautiful D. nobile. The petals are of a bright rosy lilac, slightly twisted like a cork-screw, hence its specific name, and having a pale primrose-coloured lip. D. primulinum bears a few of its deliciously-perfumed flowers on thick pendulous pseudo-bulbs. The sepals and petals are of good substance; lilac streaked with rosy purple, the lip being of a faint lemon-yellow or straw colour.
A fine specimen of the rare and interesting Australian D. Kingianum was producing its three or four flowered inflorescence of rosy purple flowers on slender terminal spikes. A great plant, of some species of Cyrtopodium, bears a long branched spike of yellow flowers heavily blotched and spotted with brown, and is remarkable from having the bractae coloured like the floral segments. We noticed the old Epidendrum cochleatuin flowering very freely. This plant is interesting as having been one of the first epiphytal Orchids introduced to this country. Several fine healthy plants of Phalaenopsis were in flower, including P. rosea, P. amabilis, P. gran-diflora, P. Luddemanniana; and near them a healthy batch of Nepenthes seemed quite at home. The slate stage beneath these plants was covered with a layer of fresh green moss, a substance admirably adapted for holding moisture, and preventing aridity, the ill effects of which almost every plant-grower knows by experience. In addition to the above there are many unattractive small-flowered Orchids - that is to say, unattractive to an ordinary observer.
Amongst these may be noticed Eria rosea, and the dull purple-blossomed Stelis muscifera, flowered and figured by the Loddiges at their renowned establishment at Hackney many years ago; also its congener S. micrantha, together with Liparis ros-trata, a curious but unattractive species allied to our common British tway-blades. Passing onwards we notice the Victoria regia, with leaves no larger than tea-saucers, already occupying its place in the Lily tank. At one end of the Lily-house is a fine plant of Vanilla in robust health. This has flowered freely, •and bears a cluster of its fragrant fruit. Some of our readers will remember that Mr E. Bennet was very successful in growing and fruiting this aromatic plant when at Osberton, Notts.