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.
Ferns and Mosses are among the most useful things for the decoration of the table, and even such a common thing as the Male Fern (Lastrea Ftlix-mas), which may be found in the hedgerows in almost every parish, is of great value for forming a fringe to the dish of a stand or centre piece. Equally valuable is the native Welsh Polypody (Polypodium vulgare cambricum), which makes a nice change with the Male Fern, the handsome fimbriated edging to the fronds adding to its worth. It is by no means so common as the Male Fern. That charming greenhouse Moss, Selaginella denticulata, is another useful thing for the purpose. I use plants taken out of small pots to fill the base of a stand, and fill up between the balls with silver sand, using about four plants for the purpose; and with the sand I mingle some powdered charcoal to neutralize the effect of any offensive smell that will sometimes arise after the plants have been placed in the sand several days. After a sprinkling has been given to settle the sand about the roots of the Moss, the branches should be pegged down neatly with small hair-pins. If watered about once a week, the Selaginella will grow very nicely, and keep beautifully green for two or three months together.
Scarlet Pelargoniums and other flowers can be stuck in the sand by their stalks to give a finish to it. That popular form of the Maiden-hair Fern, Adianlum cuneatum - perhaps one of the most lovely of the Ferns, notwithstanding that it is common, and always a great favorite with the ladies - is also of great value, and makes a beautiful fringe for the top dish of a design, it being so light and graceful. Some five or six years ago Mr. Charles Turner, of Slough, was a competitor at one of the Crystal Palace exhibitions with a vase of Roses, and by way of giving a finish to his vase he used fronds of the Maiden-hair Fern among his Roses, which was a great improvement on the formality of a bunch of this favorite flower, but the vase was disqualified by the judges in consequence. Now, it is the custom for the schedule of prizes to state Ferns can be used, and no disqualification follows as a consequence; and the same thing also holds good at South Kensington as well as Brighton.
There are certain plants that are very useful for twisting round the upright stem of a stand used for the decoration of the dinner-table; and branches of these should be stuck in the sand, and then be neatly and elegantly twisted round the stem; and a few ties should be placed up the stem at intervals to keep it in its place - fine thread or wire can be used. The Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera aureo-reticulata, is one of the best for the purpose; so is Dioscorea batatas. The common Ivies I find to be too heavy. Tradescantia zebrina is a nice thing to hang over the top dish, especially if some cuttings are placed in a 32-sized pot in some light sandy soil, and allowed to hang over the sides of the.pots till rooted, and then shaken from the soil and laid round the dish, with a little silver sand about the roots. The heads of the plants should hang over the sides, and they will grow freely, and last for six months if required. Of pendulous growth, and variegated foliage, the effect is charming and effective. The silvery-leaved Centaureas candidissima and argentea vera make a nice change, and the leaves can be used to make a layer inside the Ferns in the bottom dish.
Besides the scarlet-flowering Pelargoniums, the white-flowering ones, like Madame Vaucher, as well as the sweet scented kinds for the perfume the leaves yield, are also very desirable. The flowers of the scarlet and yellow Nasturtiums last a long time in the wet sand. Verbenas make a nice change in their season, and especially Roses; the flowers of these should be cut young in the morning when the dew is on them.
Such stands as these are never complete without light-green foliage of some sort or other, such as the different kinds of ornamental grasses in their season, and the tops of some of the meadow grasses in the autumn. In the same way sprigs of Asparagus from the kitchen garden are very useful; so is the foliage of Tamarix gallica, a hardy deciduous shrub; also Humea elegans, and suchlike. Variegated plants work in well; the I resine, with its handsome mottled red leaves, keeps well in the sand; so do Coleuses and variegated Pelargoniums; of the latter, such as Mrs. Pollock, and the white Ivy-leaved kind, L'Elegante. Then there are blooms of Gladioli, Asters, Chrysanthemums, and many others, with stiff stalks to support them. In a general way, many of the flowers will last only one day, and I change the whole of them three or four times a week, but make a rule of looking the stands over every other morning. The sand should not be so saturated that the flower stems will not stand erect in it, or they are apt to fall out when the stands are removed from the tabic. - The Gardener.