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.
When man is left to do his own talking and writing, Mr. Editor, it is generally the free, spontaneous evolutions of the mind, and that, too, which lies nearest the heart; so with gardeners. The plants or fruits they love best, they are sure to talk about. We have "pets," sir, in our greenhouses and fruit-gardens that we prize, love, and cherish as dearly as does the banker his auriferous coffers. The Azalea is a pet of ours, Mr. Editor, and we would like to tax your patience a little while we try to talk about it.
It so happened, in the course of our life, that we lived among a very large family of these plants, and the constant paternal care of the head of this family over the "rising generation," was the means of fully developing the peculiar characters, qualifications, and properties of each individual, and we should also say the power of each; for plants have power as well as men. Now, it is about this "power" or capacity to grow, which we are just now going to call the attention of plant amateurs to. The Azalea, as it is most generally met with in the plant collections of the day, is a hard-wooded, scrubby bush - little and old. Its age may be traced for years gone by, by the succession of "jump ups" it has taken every year from the base of its flower-buds. My neighbor, when he happens to flower a plant whose head somewhat resembles the "flat-headed" bouquets they sell in New York, thinks he has got a beautiful specimen. He tells you so; says it's a hard-wooded plant, and takes some years to grow into a large specimen; says all the wood it will make comes from and around the flower-buds; and when there are no flower-buds, it comes from the point of the shoots, near the place where the flower ought to have been. But still it is beautiful; yes, beautiful and wonderful.
Wonderful, because our comprehension can not conceive the possibility of the plant making or producing even this small amount of wood under the circumstances in which it is placed. What circumstances have you reference to? I mean the Chinese dwarfing, stumping, scrubbing system. The system that ascertains how long it is possible for a plant to exist in a three- or four-inch flower-pot without a shift, and live. The system that proves to us how long it is possible for a plant to live and eke out a miserable existence without supplying to the root the constituent elements of its nature. That system which makes, or tries to make, "air-plants" of all terrestrial vegetation. You tell me you are "growing" Azaleas, sir? Nonsense I You are jesting with me; you are deliberately watching them die; and your heart must be as hard as that black-baked, hard flower-pot in which your poor Azalea is now dying. Its life to save! Too late I Its constitution, if it ever had any, is lost, broken, starved to death.
Think you, Mr. Amateur, you ever allowed that plant to develop its power? that you ever beheld the exquisite form of its flowers, the purity of its colors, or that the petals ever developed their proper substance? - the spotting or striping, its vividness, or the beautiful foliage, its adequate texture 7 Never, sir. The sight of one well and good grown plant in bloom, would make that hard heart of yours leap with joy, and you would never forget the sight. We have seen them grown as pyramids six feet high, and nearly as much in diameter at the base, from a cutting in three years' time. We will tell you the secret, and how to do it, if you will only promise not to tell any one else. You go to a nurseryman and make your selection of sorts. Well, you have the sorts, and that's all you can expect from that quarter. They don't spend their time in training plants; so they are not shaped right to begin with - for we form them pyramidal. We stump these plants in pretty closely, for the reason that we require young soft wood for cuttings.
These cuttings we take off when about an inch or so long - (we never let them get hard); we then place them in a cutting pot. (Description given by Mr. Saunders, for preparing the pots, is the "modus operandi") The pots are plunged in a good strong bottom heat (dung-bed); and in about two or three weeks they arc finely rooted. They are potted into small pots, and replaced in bottom heat; very shortly you will see them starting to grow; and when the young plants are about six inches long, nip out the point. This makes it break three or four shoots. As soon as the young shoots appear, re-pot into a five-inch, training up, at the same time, the most eligible shoot as the main stem of the plant. You must now keep your eye narrowly on your plant, and watch it. You will perceive these young shoots swelling - getting thicker. This indicates that the roots are getting hold of the compost in the second potting. This is the time to nip out the points again; and do not forget the form the plant is destined to be when full grown. This must be made as you go along. You must also watch the roots: so soon as you see the young white threads getting round the pot, into another at once; and so continue.
Now, remember, as long as you continue to practise the "stopping" so long will the plant continue to growy and as soon as you stop, the plant will endeavor to ripen the wood; and if it achieves the latter, there is an end to the specimen. They must be treated as stove plants, and grown in heat; treated with the syringe as you would vines. The latter process keeps them free from all insects. They then live in a high moist temperature.
The stopping process is the means by which the branches are produced and symmetry given to the plant; and this is not all. It also forces a multiplicity of roots; increases the capacity in the roots to doubly collect! strength and energy from the soil, and manifest itself by its renewed vigor in the young branches. The first season the cutting is grown to a large size - often four feet by three - but without a flower-bud on it. How is this? Because the stopping process never allows the wood to ripen. In this way we continue until the size is attained that may be required; and, when this is perfected, discontinue the stopping: the wood becomes ripe, and the flower-buds are formed at the terminals. Our next attention is required when they are coming into flower. You will perceive around the flowers these young shoots coming into growth that were spoke of in the commencement of these observations. These shoots must be all pinched out, or plucked out; for if they are allowed to remain, they deteriorate the size and brilliancy of the flowers.
There should be no wood growth allowed so long as the plant continues in flower; but as soon as it is out of flower, take a hedge-shears and clip it evenly all over; put it into a good moist heat, and let it remain there till the wood is ripe, and the flowers set and plumply developed. Then they can be placed in any cool situation till they are required for blooming. We must say a few words about the compost; and the rest we must leave in the hands and heads of the intelligent amateur.
We should like to see some of our amateur plantsmen turn their attention to a few varieties, such as Exquisita, Variegata, Beauty of Europe, I very-ana, Duke of Devonshire, Fielder's White, etc and place a few such specimens as above alluded to on the tables of some of our floral exhibitions. The financial department of these societies would then very soon feel its influence; for they would soon be enabled to double their premiums, and the "almighty dollar" would soon work wonders on the feelings and brains of men that can not see beauty in plant-growing, unless every individual plant is similar to the wonderful AnAectochilus setaceus, filled with channels of gold, running through every pore and tissue, dazzling their eyes, and maddening their senses.
[Here our amateurs and plant-growers have the best article on growing the Azalea which we have yet seen. We commend it to the attention of members of Horticultural Societies generally. Let them grow such specimens, and place them on their exhibition tables, and the results predicted above will in the end follow, for no man or woman with a soul can long resist such a sight. - Ed].