This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
There are few persons, we apprehend, but what find pleasure in the presence of plants and flowers, and would desire to cultivate them in their dwellings during the long winter months, if any method could be devised by which it could be done successfully.
We might propose the construction of an additional room to the house, but separate from it, with glass roof, and heated by the most approved method, but that is not the purpose of this article; its object is rather to suggest means of transforming the atmosphere of a room, so that plants may grow and bloom, if not as perfectly as in a separate apartment, yet sufficiently well to gratify many who have a passionate love for them, but who now experience as much sorrow as pleasure by their efforts at cultivation.
Before the introduction of gas and the modern heating appliances to private dwellings, it was the privilege of most of the residents of cities to have their stand of plants, and in many instances they grew and bloomed them quite as successfully as in a greenhouse. We remember only a few years since of having a table-of plants in a room warmed by what was then called a drum, connected with the kitchen stove below; on the drum was an evaporating pan, always supplied with-water. The plants did not have the benefit of the sun until after 2 o'clock p. m.; yet, notwithstanding this, they grew and flowered extremely well; the Hyacinths, in particular, were among the best we have ever seen. Changes, which are not all improvements, (though so called,) in the construction of dwellings and methods of heating and lighting, have rendered equal success almost impracticable, and the remedies we suggest may only be attended with partial success; nevertheless, we offer them with the hope that some at least may adopt them, and receive additional pleasure thereby.
We will not occupy your space by a disquisition on the properties of air, and the effect produced upon it by combustion, respiration, etc.,but will assume the position that the atmosphere of a room, under such circumstances, is partially deprived of its oxygen, and almost wholly destitute of moisture, and proceed from thence to notice the remedies as applicable to plants, believing, at the same time, that a condition of atmosphere congenial to them will be the best adapted to wholesome respiration, and conducive to the health of persons confined therein.
In the first place we remark, that when heat is generated within the room by a stove, or any other means, water should be placed in such position as to secure the greatest amount of evaporation. When the building is heated by hot-air furnaces, and conducted to the different apartments by metal or clay pipes, every register opening into the rooms should be famished with an evaporator of sufficient size to hold the greatest amount of water that can be infused into the atmosphere by the most approved means during 24 hours; if the evaporator becomes dry, the odor arising from the scorching of the sediment will be any thing but agreeable.
Our first experiment was made with four zinc pans inclosed in one frame to fit the opening in the floor, and each pan connected with the other by a small tube, so that by pouring water into one of them, all became equally full. The spaces between the pans were for the admission of the heated air, being large in the center and diminishing towards the ends, so that the air passing through would with more certainty be infused with the watery vapor arising from the pans. This first experiment showed that four quarts of water could be entirely evaporated within 24 hours from one register by filling it twice a day. A larger and deeper set of pans might be con-structed, so as to extend from beneath the flaps of the register to the ceiling below, containing a greater amount of water, and producing an increased amount of vapor, besides requiring less attention. To upright registers, i. e., registers in the sides of the room, an evaporating instrument can be the more successfully applied, because they may be extended any distance down the conductor; but in cases where the conductor approaches the room horizontally it will be necessary to arrange the pans one above the other, always keeping in mind that the larger the extent of surface exposed to the action of heat, the greater the quantity of moisture eliminated.
The stand or table for plants should be made as high as the window sill, long enough to occupy the window recess, and narrow or wide, according to the number of plants to be accommodated. The top of the stand should be bordered round at least two inches in height, and lined with zinc or copper, so as to make it perfectly water tight; the tops of the table thus formed to have a coating of leaf-mould, sand, and loam, and covered with rock-moss leveled up to the rim of the table, the whole to be thoroughly saturated with moisture, and always kept so.
Before placing the plants on the table, inclose each pot in one a size larger. It will not be necessary to fill the space between the pots with soil, but only top-dress them with ordinary compost. The use of beach sand as a top dressing is often practiced, but is objectionable, because it forms no union with the soil in the pot, and consequently gives no indication of its condition.
After having thus prepared the plants, place them on a stand with a saucer under each suited to the size of the pot. The plants can be arranged to suit the taste of the parties; a good method, however, is to dispose of the larger plants so as to show well from all sides, the smaller plants to be placed under and between the larger ones, presenting the appearance of woods and undergrowth, as it exists in nature. Ferns, Lycopodiums, and other plants requiring much moisture, may be planted in the soil on the table among the moss.
The double pot is recommended, because, while many of the roots of plants seek the interior to draw nourishment from the soil in solution, others equally important seek the inner surface of the pot to draw nutriment from the atmosphere; if the pot should become sufficiently dry through the heat of the room to wither and close the fibres or capillary tubes within the pot, the nourishment derived from this source would be excluded, and the plants must suffer in consequence. By the use of the double pot the air between, or passing through them, would be better adapted to nourish the plant. A saucer to each pot is proposed, not that it should receive the drainage from excessive watering and hold it for future absorption, but to protect the roots of the plants contained in the inner pot from too much moisture, which might occur if the plant was set down and became imbedded in the wet moss and water on the stand; it would do no harm, however, if a little water did stand in each saucer, as the inner pot containing the roots would be elevated by the outer pot to beyond the reach of injury by excess of moisture, and the water in the saucer would be absorbed by the outer pot and distributed to the atmosphere.
The same principle of the double pot may be applied to the treatment of plants during the summer months, and for a similar purpose. The direct rays of the sun on the outer surface of a flower pot causes much the same injury to the roots of a plant as the dry atmosphere of a room would occasion, and the same injurious results would follow; hence it is that florists, after repotting their green-house plants in the spring, plunge the pots up to the rim in soil or coal ashes. Coal ashes is preferred for this purpose, because it will not harbor worms, which enter from the ordinary soil into the opening in the bottom of the pot, and change the whole character of the earth.
We may safely conclude that every appliance that can be employed that will successfully infuse the atmosphere with moisture can not do otherwise than benefit the air to the advantage of plants, as well as furnish healthy respiration to the human lungs, and this condition of air it should be our study to create in every dwelling.
Considerable discrimination should be exercised in the watering of plants; every plant should be supplied with enough water at one time to last it for a day at least Some plants will absorb a much larger quantity of moisture than others; a quantity of water that would sustain one plant a week, may be absorbed by another plant in a single day. The quantity that each will require may easily be ascertained by observation.
All plants kept in rooms and exposed to a dry atmosphere would be benefited by syringing or watering overhead once every day. A convenient and simple appliance may be constructed with little expense, to protect the carpet and curtains of the room from injury by sprinkling, and that is, to have a frame made to extend a foot or more above the tops of the plants and the length of the stand, two other frames of the tame height and the width of the stand, and hinged together so as to fit within the border around the top, the three frames, after being hinged, to be covered with muslin, and well coated with a mixture of raw and boiled linseed oil; this screen may also be used to protect the plants from the draught of the window during cold nights, and thus avoid the necessity of shifting the stand into the middle of the room. In ventilating care should be taken not to expose the plants to a strong current of air, even though the temperature should be moderately warm; it would be better to allow the air to waft gently upon them. If the weather be cold, air should be admitted by lowering the upper sash, which should be kept open as long as the safety of the plants will permit; on the approach of night all means of ventilation should be closed.
The average temperature to be maintained should not be over sixty during the day, or lower than forty during the night; a few degrees higher or lower could do no injury, provided the two extreme temperatures of day and night did not vary more than twenty degrees.
[Mr. Bridgeman's article will be found worthy of a careful perusal by all who grow plants in rooms, or who propose doing so. Too much stress can not be laid on the point of furnishing moisture to the atmosphere. The evaporating pans suggested by Mr. Bridgeman will be found an important means of effecting this purpose. If, in using saucers under the pots, water is found to accumulate in them, (which is not likely to be the case with double pots,) the purpose for which they are used will be fully accomplished by inverting them. - Ed].