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.
Some Orchids can only be successfully cultivated where a high temperature is maintained; and in addition to this, they require much extra care and attention. Others, however, grow luxuriantly in a moderate heat, and can be grown to perfection by any ordinary plants-man, since they require no more coddling than do Azaleas or Camellias when making their growth. In the latter class we may include the beautiful and free-flowering species to which this paper is devoted. If this plant has a fault, it is in being cheap and too easily grown; but many will rather consider these points a decided advantage, and to them more particularly I would address the following notes on its culture. Good, strong imported plants may be bought by the dozen at a few shillings each - cheaper, in fact, than the better or rarer kinds of stove plants and ferns; while established plants may be obtained for a slight additional outlay. In the case of imported plants there is always the possibility of obtaining fine varieties, this being perhaps the most variable of all Orchids, if we except Cattleya Mossiae and G. Trianiae. The flowers of this species are thick and wax-like, lasting five or six weeks in bloom, often longer, and their delicate perfume is an additional attraction.
The colours of this species, as shown by its innumerable forms, vary from the purest of whites to the deepest crimson imaginable; and in some cases nearly all the intermediate shades and tints may be found in a single flower. This plant has frequently been recommended as a "drawing-room " Orchid; and it certainly is a charming embellishment to the most superb apartment when in full flower; and the pleasure of having it in such positions may be enjoyed without any apprehension of the plant itself sustaining material injury, supposing that ordinary precautions be taken to exclude frost in sharp weather. I saw a fine little specimen the other day on a drawing-room table bearing twelve flowers, and its owner assured me that it had been in the room a month, and that he expected his gardener would allow it to remain another fortnight at least. This plant was protected from the aridity of the atmosphere and the effects of the gas by being covered with a glass shade; and the pot top being covered with fresh green Sphagnum and Selaginella, the whole arrangement had a very pretty effect. There are many more Orchids that may be used in a similar way, though few last so long as this in flower. Lycastes, like most other Orchids, should be grown in small pots.
Over-potting is always a mistake; more especially is this the case when Orchids are concerned, and it should be avoided as much as possible. The pots must be well drained by being at least half full of clean crocks or lumps of fresh charcoal; and a layer of moss being placed above these, the compost may be added. This should consist of fibrous peat in small lumps, and living Sphagnum, to which a few broken crocks and a little white sand may be added. Keep the bulbs well up above the rim of the pot, and finish up with a layer of fresh Sphagnum moss, the latter when growing adding considerably to the economy as well as the appearance of the plant. When making their growth, Lycastes must have an abundant supply of tepid water • and occasional syringings will be found beneficial in assisting their growth and in keeping insect pests in check. They should never be thoroughly dry at the root, nor should their pseudo-bulbs be allowed to shrivel, since a shrivelled bulb will never produce such fine flowers or strong growths as will those that are fresh and plump. When well grown, Lycastes are very valuable for conservatory decoration, and help to give variety to the supply of cut-flowers. Specimens of Lycaste Skinnerii have occasionally borne from thirty to fifty flowers.
I recently saw upwards of a dozen nicely-bloomed plants in the collection of 0. 0. Wrigley, Esq. of Bury, Lancashire. These had been grown by Mr Thos. Hubberstey; and the following table speaks well of the results obtained by his system of treatment, which does not differ materially from that advocated above: -
No. 1 bore 7 flowers.
2 7 "
,, 3 ,, 14 ,,
" 4 " 9 "
No. 1 bore 14 flowers. „ 2 ,, 20 „
" 3 " 14 "
" 4 „ 18 ,,
" 5 " 19 "
This gives a total of 122 flowers from 9 plants, which collectively have only 14 leads (i. e., flowering bulbs). Some of these flowers were models in form, size, and colour; while next year there is every reason to suppose that the numbers here given will be nearly doubled. This plant and the valuable Dendrobium nobile will amply repay any one who cultivates them for their winter's crop of flowers. The Dendrobium is perhaps the most useful, as its flowers being smaller are better adapted for gentlemen's " button-holes " or ladies' bouquets. The Lycastes, however, come in handy for vases and dinner-table decorations, having a very distinct and handsome appearance when grouped with graceful Eerns and Lycopods. Some of the lighter coloured varieties with small flowers form artistic adornments for ladies' hair. For this latter purpose take a small flower and a bud, arranging a frond of Davallia or Adiantum behind them, and they will look very pretty, and are not so common as Camellias.
In its native country (Guatemala) this beautiful Orchid is largely used in the decoration of the altars and in religious rites. It is an old inhabitant of our gardens, having been introduced thirty years ago from Central America, but its cultivation has not been general until the last few years.
Robert Warner, Esq. of Broomfield, who successfully cultivated many beautiful Orchids under the partial shade of his Grape vines, found this species to luxuriate in such a position; and a recent writer in a contemporary hopes the day is not far distant when this plant and some of the Odontoglots shall be grown in cottage-windows side by side with Fuchsias and Pelargoniums. F. W. B.