This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
There is no class of plants at which the great majority of our commercial men look with greater apprehension than the orchids. To grow them successfully is something they may dream of but never achieve, so they think; but, fortunately, much of this mystery regarding their culture is rapidly passing away. Special houses are no longer deemed essential for the successful cultivation of orchids. It would be rash to say that orchids are among the easiest of plants to grow, because there is a wide difference between keeping them alive only and growing them to perfection, or as near perfection as we can with our artificial conditions. Yet it is the truth to say that no plant we grow will stand as much abuse or is more difficult to kill, providing the neglect is not too prolonged. A commercial firm that, I have every reason to believe, thoroughly understands the most enlightened culture of orchids, has adopted in its practice what may be called the board system of cultivation. For those growing large quantities for the cut blooms, the plan is doubtless admirable, and does not conflict with any cultural directions that will follow.
In these introductory remarks a few-words on the popularity and probable future popularity and profitableness of orchids will not be out of place. It is true that ten years ago, through the efforts of one American firm, there were many small collections disseminated throughout the country, and many of them were not the easiest species to grow, or even good commercial kinds.
Disappointment occurred in hundreds of cases, and for several years you have heard less said of orchids, at any rate, less favorable mention. But another change is about us. Many of our enterprising commercial men realize that orchid flowers are going to be in demand, whether they grow them or not, and many of them are going into orchids in a businesslike way, and giving them a portion of their skill and ability, as they have for years given the rose, the carnation, or the violet. And to keep pace with this we now have firms, both at home and abroad, ready to supply us at moderate cost with the most desirable and valuable commercial species and varieties.
The writer cannot conceive that there can be a doubt of the ever increasing admiration and fondness for these flowers, so beautiful, both in form and color, and so long lasting. Admiration they receive now by all, but there is neither supply nor demand as yet for the orchids to amount to much in the aggregate of our flower sales for the year. I am far from wishing to see the profit, or even liberal profit, of the present few orchid growers cut down, and believe that when the price of a cattleya flower is more in sympathy with the pocket of the average flower buyer the demand will so enormously increase that the immense quantities which will in a few years be sold will be a far better business than the relatively few high-priced flowers sold today. If any people under the sun like and crave for " a change," it is our own; flowers are no exception, and what a delightful change from the morning, noon and night everlasting Bridesmaid rose is a bunch of cattleyas or many other gorgeous orchids. In Covent Garden, the great flower market of London, there are possibly as many orchids sold as rosebuds; but that is not difficult to understand; their orchids are grand in quality and moderate in price, while their rosebuds are rubbish.
The genera of which cultural directions follow embrace all the orchids that are desirable or essential for the commercial man to handle. All can be grown easily and profitably, and the different genera, species and occasionally a variety, cover the entire season, giving you every form, color and shading of this gorgeous family, which may be called the birds of paradise of Flora's Kingdom. The student or specialist in orchids wishing to learn of every known species and variety should obtain the volume on orchids written some years ago by Benj. S. Williams, London, Eng.
The "peat" so often mentioned in the following directions is not the same material which is found in many parts of Europe. That peat is the surface soil, where some of the ericas are or have been growing, and after the vegetable matter has been shaken out it is merely a lump of fibrous roots of no fertilizing benefit, but merely a mechanical medium. This quality of peat is seldom found here, but a very good substitute is found in the chopped-up fibrous roots of our strong growing native ferns, a good quality of which, is sold by several firms, and this is the peat referred to below.
I trust the would-be grower of orchids will dispel from his mind the idea that there is any secret or mystery in growing orchids. The cardinal qualities that will grow a house of roses will grow orchids - attention to the requirements of the plants, cleanliness, air, light, moisture, but above all, with orchids study the time and length of time the plants need resting. The latter is the most essential part of orchid culture.
The following cultural directions have been prepared and written by Mr. William Hewson, whom I now have the honor to employ. He began his orchid experience with the fine collection at Goodwood, the grand home of the Duke of Richmond, afterwards being constantly associated with orchid culture in several places in the vicinity of London. After arriving in this country he was the practical cultivator of the wonderful collection of Mrs. Morgan, of New York, during the last three years of its existence. Since that time and always he has been an orchid enthusiast, and they have never been absent from his charge. What he says about them is plain and to the point, and can be understood by all, and I have proof, and with the utmost confidence say, that every word of his can be confidently relied upon and followed. Wm. Scott.