The writer's first experience in gardening, or that for which there was any pay, was in an old-fashioned conservatory in the curious roof of which there was enough lead to make "sinkers" for all the fishermen of the great lakes. It was very dark at all times, and more than one winter can I remember that the old heating flues which ran beneath the white and spotless paths were never lighted. Such is, or was, the climate of the south coast of England. The frost never entered this house, for a venerable heliotrope grew against the south wall, a beautiful plant of Acacia pubescens flourished at the east end, a Phormium tenax grew strong and bushy in the northeast corner, close by a veteran Fuchsia fulgens; opposite them were two bushes of the tea tree, and not far off a beautiful tree of the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria excelsa) that had to be sunk in the border to keep its top from the roof, and there woe huge camellia trees that bore thousands of blossoms, the single red a more beautiful tree than any of them.
Otaheite Orange, in Gilt Basket, Tied with Ribbon.
But the chief feature of this old house, that was torn down about forty years ago, was the large orange trees which were planted out in the borders.
There were flowers or oranges in some degree of ripeness all the year around, and there were several varieties. Perhaps it was the cool, dark house that was accountable for the flavor and texture of these oranges, for I must say that inferior as most tropical fruit is when picked green and sent to us, that the oranges we bought in the shops were much superior to those that ripened on those old trees. Quantity there was by the bushel, but the quality was not tempting, and the writer was at that age when anything good to eat was tempting. An accidental (?) shake of a tree would always bring a few of the big yellow fellows to the ground, but they suffered less from the omnivorous appetite of a fifteen-year-old than the peaches and nectarines in the same garden. Yet we hear travelers and residents of our orange-growing states declare that the ripe fruit, freshly picked, is far superior to that picked prematurely and sent to our northern markets. This little diversion on oranges is not what we are after, and we must cease.
Small dwarf oranges in pots have been grown for several years past, and are now seen in all the florists' stores at Christmas. A plant in an 8-inch pot and two feet high, well covered with fruit, is very attractive, and many people want one. We have not found them to hold their foliage as could be wished in a parlor or sitting-room, but the golden fruit hangs on. It is surprising to how many people the orange tree is yet a stranger. The majority of our people don't know whether they grow like a muskmelon or a chestnut.
The varieties of the orange are said to be almost as numerous as those of the apple, and the large, fine flavored kinds, such as the navel, would not be precocious and free fruiting enough to make very small specimens in pots bearing two or three dozen fruits. The variety or species grown for this purpose is, I believe, the Otaheite, which flowers and fruits very young. As might be expected, the fruit is small, but none the less ornamental on that account.
You had much better leave the growing of the plant to a specialist, who will or can supply you with small plants in pots and with fruit about ready to color or colored, from one foot to thirty inches high, and perhaps larger. I shall merely attempt to tell you how to produce another crop of fruit for the following winter on any that you may happen to have left over.
You can keep them anywhere in a cool house till the first of March, then cut them back a few inches and put into more heat. Keep them syringed and in the full light. They will soon make a good growth and in May will flower. Give air without a cold draft, and be careful not to let their handsome leaves burn. The fruit will soon set. and from that on they want a light, airy house, plenty of water and only shade enough to keep the leaves from burning. Many growers, as soon as they have flowered and the young fruit is set, plunge the plants in frames out of doors and leave them there till the middle of September. This is doubtless better than keeping them under glass. We noticed large quantities in frames in August last in the city of Philadelphia, robust and healthy in foliage and covered with their then green fruit. In September or October the fruit will begin to color, and from that on they can be kept in a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees.
The greatest enemy to oranges is the white scale, and when plants are badly infested with it, especially little plants, it is as well to destroy them, scale and all. If a larger plant in a tub that you value, cut it back in the spring and give the bark two or three spongings with kerosene emulsion.
Large oranges in tubs are used largely in some parts of Europe for ornamental gardening. We have not yet reached that, and I trust never will, for a large orange tree in a tub is a kind of white elephant to all concerned.