This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
The Carnation lover who looks back on the garden Carnation of twenty years ago - on Purple Emperor, W. P. Milner, and others of that order of merit - and then surveys a representative selection of modern varieties, may well rub his eyes in wonder. Except, perhaps, in the advance in Cactus Dahlias, we have nothing quite comparable to it in the whole range of garden flowers.
The Carnation was a great garden flower twenty years ago; it is a greater one still to-day. The complaint has been made that there are not so many fragrant varieties as there were; the real fact is that there are a great many more. The correct way of putting it is to say that the number of scentless varieties has increased with - and perhaps a little out of proportion to - the others. This is due to the favour in which yellow grounds are held by exhibitors. "The more yellow the less perfume" may be taken as an axiom in connection with Carnations. But the garden lover is not compelled to grow yellow varieties, and he will find fragrance among most of the others.
There are few more beautiful bedding plants than the Carnation. Its silver tinted leaves are a perpetual defence against bareness. In its flowering period it is unsurpassed, for the delicate tracery of stem and leafage forms a perfect foil to the glorious flowers. Borders of hardy plants ought to contain clumps of Carnations, which will impart an air of refinement hardly to be got from any other flower. But whole beds may be filled with them if there are plants enough. There will be individual interest in them, as well as collective beauty, if some of the best varieties are grown.
If the Carnation were looked upon exclusively as a garden flower - which it is not - there would be less doubt expressed as to its hardiness than is the case now. Being cultivated as an exhibition flower, it is grown for a considerable part of the year under glass. This applies to the Selfs as much as to the Bizarres and Flakes - a condition of affairs which did not exist in years gone by, when Selfs were not shown much. Any plant that is partly cultivated out of doors and partly in, is likely to come under the suspicion of want of hardiness. The florists' Chrysanthemum is a case in point. It is reckoned as non-hardy, nevertheless thousands of plants live out of doors year after year.
The Carnation is hardy enough for any weather we are likely to get in the British Isles, and need never know glass; but if the grower is not satisfied with the quality of the flowers which he gets in the open air he must cultivate it in pots.
A much more serious enemy than cold is the maggot, which does a good deal of harm if established in a collection, and attacks outdoor as well as indoor plants. As it burrows within the stem or leaf it often does irreparable harm before its presence is suspected, the centre or heart of the plant being attacked, with the result that it may drop right out. Watchfulness on the part of the grower would prevent this, as the pale, sickly appearance which the plants assume when the maggot is at work would be observed, and its operations brought to a sudden end by carefully slicing the shoot with a knife, and destroying the maggot with a needle. If a blister, with a greyish track leading from it, is noticed on any portion of the foliage, let the knife and needle be brought out again, for in all probability there is a maggot at work.
So far as the dreadful diseases black spot and rust are concerned, the outdoor grower has a great advantage over the indoor man, for they rarely give trouble out of doors; if they do it is because the soil is too wet.
Even frame cultivation does not keep these destructive pests at bay, although the condition of the soil can be controlled by the cultivator. The author has lost a dozen plants in frames to one in the open air. He found that the best plan was to pick off every affected leaf and burn it directly the attack was noticed. In some cases there was not much left of a plant when spring came, but if it had a healthy crown it was soon in active growth.
Those who grow Carnations in the open air should provide a well-drained, fertile, gritty soil, so that superfluous damp cannot collect about the plants. A warm, sandy loam is the best, but clay can be made to grow them if it is drained, well broken up, and opened with mortar rubbish, wood ashes, and leaf mould. Fibrous loam from turf is excellent, but particular care must be taken to exclude wireworms and leather jacket grubs, which love the fleshy roots of Carnations. If any are noticed impale some cut pieces of Potato on stakes, sink them in the soil near the plants, and examine them at frequent intervals.
In first starting with Carnations March is a good month to plant, and they should be put 15 inches apart to permit of the free growth of side shoots ("grass"), which, if layered in August, will give good stock for another year. The flower stem begins to spindle up well in advance of blooming, and will need support, but it must not be tied tightly to a flower stick; it should be looped with Porter's, Sydenham's, or West's special supports. Small mounds consisting principally of leaf mould and sand should be placed under each shoot when layering time comes, and these, spread over the bed after the rooted layers are removed, will make a good mulch for the winter.
There are now beautiful varieties procurable in many different colours at low prices, but novelties are dear. The following are inexpensive, nevertheless they are garden varieties of the highest merit: Agnes Sorrel, dark crimson; Hildegarde and Trojan, whites; Lady Carrington, pink; Capuchin, heliotrope; Barras, scarlet; Henry Falkland, yellow ground; Bomba, salmon pink; Asphodel, rose; Gil Polo, crimson; Daffodil, yellow; Sir R. Waldie Griffith, apricot; and Lady Nina Balfour, peach. If a terracotta is wanted, Francis Samuelson may be chosen, and it will make up fourteen lovely sorts.