"Are not Pansies emblems meet for thoughts?
The pure, the chequer'd-gay and deep by turns:
A line for every mood, the bright things wear
In their soft velvet coat."
The cultivation of the choicest flowers is an entirely different matter from ordinary border-culture. To obtain such flowers as are frequently seen at the flower-shows, measuring 3 inches to 3 1/2 inches in diameter, of splendid colours and beautiful form, requires very skilful culture. In the chapter on the rooting or striking of cuttings, everything that is necessary to know about raising the plants is related in full. In this chapter will be described the preparation of the beds to receive the young plants, and the treatment to be given them afterwards. In the large nurseries where Pansies and Violas are grown for exhibition purposes, it is usual to have long beds about 6 feet wide, so that the plants can easily be protected by being "sashed" - that is, by sashes or lights being placed over the beds, to protect them from storms - a week or so before the flowers are required. The sashes are usually shaded with whitewash to prevent the blooms being scorched by the sun. The small grower will find it advisable to grow his plants in much narrower beds, it being more convenient to protect individual flowers rather than entire beds of them. To begin at the beginning, the site of the Pansy or Viola bed should be decided upon in the autumn, and it should then be deeply cultivated and manured liberally with good cow, or horse manure. The edges should be nicely trimmed, but the surface ought to be left rough to the winter weather. The situation of the bed should not be one that is exposed directly to the full rays of the noonday sun, especially in gardens in the southern counties.
In dry weather in January or February the beds should be given a good dusting of soot and bone meal. Don't lay it on half an inch thick, but sprinkle it so that the ground is just thinly powdered. If there is some leaf-mould about, or thoroughly decomposed manure, it might be passed through an inch sieve and also scattered over the top of the bed. The beds should, after these things are applied, be turned over to the depth of 9 or 10 inches with a digging fork, so that the ingredients will be thoroughly incorporated with the soil. The bed or beds should again be trimmed up, as this is the last attention they will require before planting is done in the latter half of March or very early in April. If the grower has the plants beside him in a frame, he can choose his own time better than if he is obtaining them from a nursery. The bed should be marked off in lines 12 to 15 inches apart, the plants being placed in these lines about 9 inches apart from each other. If the beds are narrow, it is well to arrange to have one or two lines of each variety, which brings all the labels along the front of the bed; a broad board should be placed across the bed, on which the planter should stand when planting. With an ordinary garden trowel a hole must be scooped out about 4 inches in depth, the plant laid carefully in, and made firm by the aid of the fingers. All blooms and buds which may be on the plant at planting time should be removed, and if there is the slightest trace of green or brown fly on the plants, each plant should be dipped in a solution of soft soap and water - 2 oz. of soap to one gallon of water - before being planted. The plant ought, of course, to be turned upside down and the foliage only immersed, not the roots. Watering after planting will depend entirely on the weather conditions which prevail. If showers are plentiful no artificial watering may be required, but otherwise the plants must be watered frequently. No definite instructions can be given regarding this, but the grower's own judgment must be his guide. The chief object to be kept in view is to get the plants to start away quickly into strong and vigorous growth. Vigorous plants are seldom attacked by insects. People used to say that aphides came with the east wind in spring, but it is now well known they make their appearance when the plant has its growth checked by adverse influences. The best and safest cure is the solution of soft soap referred to above, to which has been added some quassia made by boiling quassia chips in water. This preparation can either be applied with a syringe, or, if only a few plants are to be dealt with, the liquid can be dropped from a sponge into the centre of the plants, where the fly mostly lodges. If the leaves are seen to curl, the plants ought to be examined at once, as more than likely the flies are doing the mischief and must be got rid of without delay.
Slugs or small snails frequently cause serious loss among newly planted Pansies and Violas by eating them partly through just at the surface of the soil. If there is any reason for thinking the ground is infested with slugs, it should be dusted with powdered, newly slaked lime once or twice before planting, on an evening after dark, when the weather is mild. After the beds are planted the only safe cure is hunting for the depredators with a lantern after dark, removing them and killing them. As has been already recommended, flowers and buds should be removed when planting, and no flowers should be left to develop until the plants are getting well established. Not more than four growths ought to be allowed to develop on each plant. These growths, as they get long, must either be pegged down or tied to short stakes inserted in the ground for the purpose. Discontinue removing the flower buds three or four weeks before the flowers are wanted for the show, and the result will be a crop of large, richly coloured blossoms. Pansy blooms are often disfigured by dirt which is splashed upon them by heavy rains. It must be remembered that they are lowly flowers growing very near to the ground, which is one of the reasons why they require to be covered by any contrivance which will prevent them getting bespattered. Many quaint and curious plans are adopted for this purpose, but a penny earthenware bowl supported in a cleft in an inch-square stick is as effectual as any. The writer has seen many hundreds of beautiful blooms taken from beneath such covers, to be shown with pride and satisfaction by their cultivators.
It is necessary to caution growers that slugs and snails are just as fond of the blooms as they are of the green plants, for nothing is more disappointing than the disfigurement of an otherwise perfect bloom by a half-circle eaten out of its side by a slug. Plants must never be dosed with soft soap or any other soluble insecticide just previous to a show, as such would ruin all the buds by bleaching them. If fly appears, the centre of the plants can be lightly dusted with the best tobacco powder, or the soap solution can be dropped into them with the greatest care from a small sponge.
To procure fine flowers of Violas and Pansies in quantity for other than competitive purposes, the grower could not do better than follow the instructions given in this chapter, but he need not thin and disbud quite so severely. He will no doubt be satisfied with flowers 2 1/2 inches in diameter if these are produced in abundance, whereas the competitor, on the contrary, wants only a few dozen blooms, but each specimen must be 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter, and of great substance, if they are to win prizes. All through the spring and early summer, the surface of the beds must be kept clean and friable by being frequently hoed or moved with a small hand-fork. In June, a top-dressing should be applied, in order to get the plants to flower well throughout the summer. Before applying the top-dressing the surface soil should be loosened and all weeds removed; then a sprinkling of a good artificial manure should be dusted between the rows, and on the top of that the top-dressing should be spread one inch deep, or rather more. This top-dressing is usually a compost consisting of thoroughly decayed manure mixed with a small proportion of soil and passed through a sieve with one-inch mesh. This treatment serves to keep the roots cool, and it encourages the plants to continue growing through the summer. The dressing is also most useful to the support of the young growths, which will come up in the centre of the plants later, and make the best cuttings to propagate the stock for another year.
Liquid Manure. - This is used by many good growers, and when applied judiciously it has a wonderful effect in heightening the brilliancy of the colours. Many different plans are adopted to make it. Dissolving artificial manures in the proportions recommended by the various makers is one way, but the old-fashioned method is hard to beat if it can be carried out. Gather a peck of sheep's dung and place it in a canvas bag; then put the bag in a 30-gallon cask of water; another small bag filled with soot should also be placed in the cask. The goodness from the dung and soot will soon get into the water. When this liquid has been used, fill up the cask again with water (the dung and soot will last for weeks before requiring renewing), and stir the liquid with a pole. A good watering once a week with this manure-water will be most beneficial to the plants.
We have assumed that the grower is dealing with plants which he has propagated himself, and therefore has beside him in a frame, so that planting out can be done at the most opportune moment, and the plants can be lifted with fine balls of soil attached to the roots. With young plants received from a nursery rather more care must be exercised. These plants should be planted in the evening, and on the following day an inverted flower-pot should be placed over each, removing it at night unless frost is likely to occur, when it should be allowed to remain. This treatment for two or three days is usually sufficient to get the plants established in their new home. With such plants it is, however, even more necessary than with others to keep the flower-buds pinched, so that all the plant's strength may go towards increasing the root-action.
This chapter has been written solely with one object in view, that of giving instructions how to grow the choicest varieties of Violas and Pansies in such a way as to obtain with certainty the finest flowers; for this reason spring-planting only has been recommended. In days long past Pansies for exhibition were nearly all grown in pots in frames, after the manner of Auriculas. They were potted up in the autumn, and attended to through the winter in the frames with great solicitation and care. In May, the plant produced perfect blooms of the old English Show Pansy, and similar treatment would be followed by excellent results at the present day; but the practice has fallen out of favour, and the cultivation in beds, as here recommended, has superseded it.