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.
This is a month in which this structure should be at its best, and give more enjoyment than at any season of the year. The cold wintry weather we usually expect at this season, preventing ladies and invalids from spending much time in the open air, will give more leisure to attend to those numerous details which add so much to the attractions of a collection of plants, either large or small, and without attention to those details much of the charm of gardening is lost.
A few opening notes on these details will be of service to our amateur readers, and after being once attended to, will be seldom neglected in future. One of the first points to be noted is perfect cleanliness in both pots and plants; of course, educated gardeners do not require reminding; but often, at times, do neglect details for want of time, gardening being one of those businesses from which the largest amount of work is expected from the smallest number of hands. This country is not alone in this requirement; it is much the same in Europe, where labor is much cheaper than in this country. This is a very mistaken idea, and cannot be carried out satisfactorily to any one concerned; it is far better and will give more satisfaction to the owner to have one small greenhouse, or even a Wardian case with plants and connections, in the best order, than to have a Crystal Palace with unhealthy plants in a slovenly condition.
In the first place, pot plants in a green house should invariably have at least half inch clean sand to stand on, both for appearance and also for the welfare of the plants; even fine coal ashes is preferable to plain wood or stone stages; either material gives off a constant moisture, which in a measure counteracts the parching of the night's fires, and the dry winds and bright sun by day which we usually have at this season, although the present winter, so far, has more resembled the winters we used to have in England than the bright, cheerful weather of the average United States winter.
In the second place, no plant should be seen in a greenhouse with dirty pots, and the surface of the soil covered with a green confervoid growth; it is an eyesore to cultivated taste and unfavorable to the well-being of the plants. In the winter months, at least, there should be spare time to attend to this, without in any way interfering with the usual routine of work, and in summer there is often a stormy day which can be spared for these operations, which, when attended to as a part of the system, is not looked at as additional work.
Thirdly, never allow insects to obtain a footing, or they will soon spoil the beauty of the best grown plants, and lay the foundation for continual attention and no end of time in cleaning, with only temporary success.
I am led to preface these notes with the above remarks, from various mental notes taken in my rambles. In some instances I have seen what should be very nice houses, with many choice and valuable plants, entirely spoiled, as to enjoyment, from the neglect of these little finishing touches, and the thought was suggested how a nicely furnished drawing room would look in which the chickens had roosted for a few weeks, and in which the broom and duster had not been seen for that time. At this season, flowers should be abundant in quantity and variety; perpetual Carnations should be in full beauty and variety, also Bouvardias, both red and white; although Jasminoides is not so good for cutting as Davidsonii, it should be grown for the perfume which, in the evening, is very pleasant; this variety does best treated as a shrub, and planted out to remain in the greenhouse border for two or three years; it flowers all the year, and can be replaced by a young plant if it gets too large or dirty, which it is certain to do if kept under glass entirely. I saw some plants in a florist's place at Washington, from which he said he could cut bushels of flowers at once, and I could quite believe him.
The Chinese Primrose is another indispensable winter greenhouse plant, which is in full beauty at this season; in fact, these plants will continue flowering from October until April; there are many varieties of these - single, semi-double and double white and purple; the single varieties are very extensively grown in England for furnishing greenhouses and rooms, and among them are many very beautiful varieties; these, of course, do not last so long as the double varieties, and are of no use for cut flowers; the double white is admired by all, and is a capital flower for bouquets and wreath-making. I have had 600 flowers on a single plant of this variety at once.
The Primula Japonica is another very beautiful primrose for the greenhouse in February, and this variety, being nearly hardy, can be kept dry in a cool frame until wanted for the flowers; this species is single flowering and of various shades of purple and crimson color.
We must not overlook the charms of the Camellia, or, as our lady friends usually term these plants, Japonicas. With ordinary greenhouse treatment, these plants will be in full beauty in March, and although it can be cultivated to great perfection in pots, its full beauty can be only reached when planted out in the greenhouse border. The size and substance of both flower and foliage I have never seen surpassed by houses of Camellias so treated at Messrs. Princes' Exeter Nursery, at Lady Rolle's at Bicton, and the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth in England; and it is easy to bring them to the same state of perfection in this country, by giving the plants the same liberal treatment. I have seen a plant of the double white variety with more than 500 expanded flowers at once. Of course the white varieties, of which Fimbri-ata is the most lovely, will always be the most popular; but many of the red and striped varieties are very handsome, make a nice variety, and are also useful for cutting to mix in large vases of cut flowers; the old Reticulata variety, which is so seldom grown, is a wonderful showy variety, with scarlet single flowers about one foot in diameter, but as the plant is not handsome as a pot specimen, it is neglected; but where it can be allowed plenty of room to grow in the border of a lofty greenhouse, it is gorgeous in the extreme.