A few years since, after some nursing lectures at the Royal Hospital for children and women at the Waterloo Road, the following examination question was put to the students: "How would you ventilate a room of a smallpox patient on the night of a dense fog?" The question puzzled us all. We were told the right answer afterwards. "Open the window at the top, and hang up a blanket." This appeared to me to be a stifling arrangement; as at present advised, I would treat patients as Mr. Toope treats his plants, and give them charcoal filters instead of the blanket. The chemist Stenhouse has devised a respirator for human beings on the charcoal principle, for use in districts smitten with cholera or yellow fever.
What Plants suffer least from Fog? This is such an important question for town people that I have given it a separate heading. Here is the answer: Ferns and bulbous plants. The latter have but a short reign ere they die off, so that we must put down Ferns as the Londoners' greatest stand-by. Considering the tender and delicate nature of their foliage, this is one of the things we should deem a miracle if we were not used to it, but the frailty of the Fern is only in appearance.
Professor Oliver, in a Report to the Scientific Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society, says, "At Kew Gardens I have examined the various Fern-houses after spells of severe fog, when the collections of stove plants in adjacent houses were completely disfigured from this cause, without remarking any damage to the Ferns to speak of."
How is this? Ferns are shade-loving plants, so that darkness, such a terrible foe to most plants, is to them comparatively harmless. Other things being equal, the more greedy a plant is of sunlight, the more will it suffer when its illumination is reduced. There is another point that tells in favour of the Fern. During the sunless months of autumn and early winter the vitality of most flowering plants is lowered, which renders them unfit to bear a strain - they are "run down," and, like ourselves in the same circumstances, liable to "catch" anything, and go under. Ferns, on the other hand, meet the enemy and battle with it in good condition; no doubt their excellent constitutions are largely inherited from early forefathers who lived in an age that was far too rough for flowers; they were giants in those days.
Bulbous plants stand fog well for a different reason. They rely on the stores collected, each one for himself, in his own compact small body. No squirrel nor dormouse is more thrifty, nor better understands the art of making hay while the sun shines. This is how it is that Londoners are so successful in growing bulbs. Look at the parks in the spring-time, with their sheets of Crocuses, Snowdrops, and Tulips. Allium, too, and Narcissus and Hyacinth, are just as happy close to, and even in the midst of towns, showing very little injury after being exposed to fog. Flowers and flower-buds are the first parts of any plant to evince suffering; six or seven hours of a bad fog will suffice to leave a scar, but the flower that shows the blemish is pretty sure to be growing on a plant that has no useful bulb set at its base.
London fog is often the signal for much burning of gas. The usual hardiness of the Fern deserts it here; no plants have a greater dislike to fumes of gas; they resent them as much as any other of God's creatures who were meant to live and breathe in the sweet air which is heaven's best gift.
What precautions can be used in foggy weather? Experience shows that a low temperature and a moist atmosphere are most conducive to the well-being of plants indoors. It is not very easy to secure these conditions; glass roofs are a source of dryness in cold weather. The temperature of a roof is lowered by the external air, in consequence of which, the moisture of the hot-house air is precipitated upon the inside of the glass, whence it runs down in the form of "drip." Drip and dryness, what plants can put up with these? We must guard against them.
The more one reads about and learns the ways of fogs, the more one longs to scotch the snake itself, instead of endeavouring to cure its bites. Why does not the Coal-smoke Abatement Society wake up and try a little harder to do something?
At a meeting of this society at Grosvenor House, presided over by Sir W. B. Richmond, there was a good deal of talk that was well worth listening to. Principal Lodge moved that, "The injury and waste caused by the escape of coal-smoke in cities demand the strict enforcement of the laws existing for its elimination, and the adoption of such further remedies as it is within the present power of science to devise." Very good, all that, but he went on to say that he thought the continuance of the evil was largely due to the apathy of the public. This resolution was seconded, and carried unanimously. The Apathy of the Public - that means you and me, reader. What can we do to express our feelings?
Sir W. B. Richmond moved another resolution, which was also agreed to. He said the clause of the Public Health Act, 1891, which related to the smoke nuisance, was practically set aside by many authorities entrusted with its execution. "Three strong obstructions to the purity and cleanliness of London air were - apathy, vested interests, and insufficient fines for breaking the law." An account of this meeting was published in The Garden of December 14th, 1901, where I read it with mingled feelings of anger and amusement, but my conscience did not accuse me of apathy.
Lilies In Lord Ilchester's Japanese Garden At Holland House, Kensington