The Cottage Gardener 6: 303-305 (Aug 14, 1851)
Raising Geraniums
Donald Beaton

After all that has been suggested and done to curtail the over-luxuriance of plants in the flower-garden during the autumn months, the usual complaint of too many leaves, and too few flowers is as rife as ever, and this season we are more likely than not to have cause for louder complaints. After a smart drought in June, July set in more like a damp hot-bed than anything else in the ideas of a gardener, and I never recollect to have seen a more rapid growth, and filling up of the beds, than we experienced last month, and were it not that the summer-roses and a few other flowers suffered a good deal from the rain, I never saw a finer prospect for a splendid bloom about the beginning of August. But now, even we, on this dry soil, high situation, and fine open country all around, are obliged to curtail the luxuriance in some of the beds—quite a new practice to us; and now I am quite confident that much may be done in this way in places where it is natural to them to go too much to leaf, and the simplest way is to pick off a good number of the largest top leaves. When we cut oft the greater part of the leaves of the common Indian Cress, or Narsturtiums, as they call them in this country, to show off their rich blossoms when we use them for edging plants, the sudden check caused by this cutting stops their growth just as quickly and effectually as you would lock a door by turning the key. In exactly the same proportion as the leaves of any of our Geraniums are curtailed, will the growth of the plants be affected. But let us just go to the nearest bed and show the practice of what we preach. It happens to be a bed of the Fuchsia Carolina; this, the very finest of all the Fuchsias, is a most notorious leafer in a bed, and unless we strip off at least one-half of them, the bed will not be worth looking at all the season. From the main stems of this Carolina, smaller branches come forth, right and left at every joint, except a few joints at the bottom, and at every joint there are two leaves, and sometimes three. Now, as soon as the small side branches grow two joints from the main stems, these pairs or triple leaves should be picked off; after the end of June, all the bottom leaves below where the secondary branches grow should be removed, and, by following the rule of talking off the leaves at all the joints where branchlets have issued from, the bed has an airy, graceful look from the growth of the plants, and the richness of the flowers are seen to full advantage. The Salmon Geranium bed; no, but the next one to it, Cherry Cheek, is the one which needs our first attention after the Coral Fuchsia. In light, rich soil, like ours, this Cherry Cheek is a lazy child of mine, and I would cast it on the world, were it not that the ladies are so fond of it. On stiff, heavy land, and on very poor soil, whether stiff or otherwise, Cherry Cheek comes out a very chip of the old block himself, and there is no cause to grumble with it, or pluck off one-third of its largest and last-made leaves; but here I must always give it a good check as soon as it is well established, before I can get a decent truss from it, and for the rest of the season it goes on fair enough. Punch is never at home so much as at Shrubland; and I never cut off a leaf of Punch till this last July, and that only from one row in a large box on the new terrace. This box was made late in the season to fit a recess, one of Mr. Barry's good hits. It is nine feet long, eighteen inches wide, and eighteen inches deep; this was filled and planted in a hurry, with the best and richest compost one could make, and the best pot plants we could cull out of all our frames, and before one could think of it, Punch was so leafy that the finger and thumb had to be applied to it in earnest, and so also with a row of the Salmon, which runs behind it. Next to Punch himself, this Salmon is "the best geranium that ever was invented," as one of our lady visitors remarked this morning. Here it might be remarked, " why do you make so violent a contrast as to plant a row of Punch, and another of the Salmon in the same box?" If I wanted to evade the question, I might easily get off by saying, that I had no better plants on hand on the spur of the moment—that the thing was got up at the eleventh hour, or, indeed, a hundred excuses which might seem reasonable enough. But I wish rather to explain;— all the terrace and parts of the house facing it, are of the best Caen stone, almost as white as marble, so that none but the brightest or highest coloured flowers can have any chance of standing so much glare, without being, as it were, drowned. One has only to place a box of scarlet geraniums against a red brick house, or a box of Queen Victoria geraniums against a white brick wall, to understand how one colour drowns another, in the language of flower-gardeners. Mixing colours which could not well be drowned, therefore, was the first reason for putting the two in this box; the next reason is one to which I wish to call particular attention. When we put a box of flowers, say of geraniums, in a window-sill, the flowers all grow out to the light, with their backs to the window, so that those living inside cannot see the face of the bloom without going round to the outside. The long box with the Punch and Salmon geraniums was in a predicament of this sort, which I wanted to correct by the style of planting; it stands in a recess in the south wall of the conservatory terrace, and the top of it stands nearly on a level with the top of the terrace-wall;— all the flowers would turn towards the sun, as those in a window-sill, and people on the terrace could only see the back of them. There is another terrace running parallel with the conservatory terrace, but on a lower level, and people walking on this lower terrace would see the face or front view of the plants in the long box, while those on the upper terrace could only see the wrong side of them. Now the planting of the box was intended to get over this awkward siding of the flowers, and the same plan will cause plants in a window-sill, or, indeed, anywhere else, to look two ways, so that we can now make the half, at least, of the flowers outside a window-sill look into the room, which is a great help indeed, where this style of furnishing, as with us, is carried out to a great extent. We generally plant as many flowers that way, namely, in boxes, vases, and all kinds of portable things as would make a tidy flower-garden to some of our neighbours; and this season, on account of the new arrangements about the mansion, we have doubled the number.

But out of all this array, the two boxes of Judy, on the conservatory terrace, which I have often mentioned, are by far the best and the most admired by all the visitors to the place, and they are many. It will be recollected that these boxes of Judy are managed on Harry Moore's plan of not turning them out of the mould for years; nor have they had the least pruning these four or five years, and there they are at this moment as good, if not better, specimens of that style of decoration than have yet been produced by any other means. Judy is, without any doubt whatever, the very best geranium for box culture, that is, the best that can be had for money—Tom Thumb cannot approach it; I have had them both side by side, in boxes, for years, and although I can do very little good with Tom in the beds (not better than a third or fourth-rate, as compared with Punch), I can get him up to the mark in pots and boxes as well as most people; but it would be a libel on flower-gardening even to think of comparing it to pretty little Judy, and yet Judy is only second favourite here. A seedling from her by the pollen of Cherry-cheek has produced a far superior variety, as much so, indeed, as Judy herself is above others in the same section. But I am running away without explaining how to get two faces, not under one hat, but in a flower-box in a window—one face to look in towards the room, the other from it; or, according to the situation, looking to two opposite points of the compass, for this long box has a Salmon face inclined to the south terrace, and at the same time a Punch face looking as intently in the opposite direction, the north or conservatory terrace, so the box must stand east and west. The row of Salmon geraniums was planted first with three-years'-old strong plants fifteen inches high; the Salmon being the strongest of those that will do well to be kept low for box culture, and a row of Punch on the north side of it, with one-year-old plants, and only ten to twelve inches high, and in something near to these proportions the two sorts will grow, or will be made to do so, for the whole season. Salmon being the highest, looks south, and Punch being too low to look over the shoulders of the other, turns his back completely to the Salmon, and looks as I have said. Now, this can very easily be managed by one kind only, if that is preferred. Suppose a window-box is to be planted next April with, say—Tom Thumb or Judy;—put in the outside row of stout old plants, and the front row, or that next the glass, with young plants struck six weeks previously, and if the box holds three rows, let the middle one be of medium-sized plants. At the first planting, the leaves all slope in towards the glass, but as soon as the flowers come, the tallest or farthest from the glass will point outwards, and put the front ones so much in the shade, that as many of them will point to the window, as will offer to turn the other way. Now, if a box holds only two rows, and that is quite enough for any window-sill, let the outside row be of Tom Thumb, which makes long footstalks to the trusses, and is thus enabled to hold out its flowers far from the leaves; then Judy, for the side next the glass, her habit of flowering being the very reverse of that of Tom—short arms and flowers lying almost on the leaves; Judy will produce five trusses for every one Tom shows, but one truss by Tom contains as many flowers as five trusses of Judy; the shade of Judy is the first remove from the scarlets. This is the best arrangement that can be made at present, but I know of a better by and by. It is not quite true, however, that Judy is the first shade out of the scarlets, for Compactum is in reality of that shade, but Compactum is of a different breed of scarlets, and will not associate in its way of growth and flowering, in such small numbers with the breed of Tom Thumb and Judy, which are true descendants of the royal blood of the Frogmores.

We have often had inquiries about such and such ways for reducing this tendency of too many leaves, and a scarcity of flowers in the autumn, and among the rest, that of planting out geraniums with their pots. At first, and, indeed, for some time, the writers in THE COTTAGE GARDENER took it for granted that they were addressing only a class of new amateur readers, and for such they well knew the danger of advising them to plant their beds with plants in pots, and the system was rather discouraged than not, at least, that is the part I acted; but now that Mr. Paxton and Mr. Fleming, with their efforts, and such men as the Messrs. Macintosh, of Dalkeith and Drumlaurick, and others like them, at the very head of horticulture, not only read THE COTTAGE GARDENER, but quote it from memory, our task of writing is not half so difficult as we at first found it, because now, although some of our readers might not comprehend our instructions, or follow them out to the letter, we are confident that the great bulk of them do so, and not only that, but by their kindness in recommending THE COTTAGE GARDENER in their different localities, they feel themselves, as it were, bound to assist us by explaining more fully the substance of our advice, and thus a sound practical knowledge in our line is being silently and steadily infused among the great bulk of our fellow-countrymen. This is but one view of the subject, which an old friend of mine and I discussed the other night. Mr. James Macintosh, brother to the great author of that name, who is at the head of the first flower-garden in Scotland, (Drumlaurick, one of the seats of the Duke of Buccleugh), or in England either, paid me a visit the other day, and it would mellow the heart of a florist to hear how we discussed the merits of shades and colours. By the by, is it not singular that one never meets with a lady florist? All the ladies are on the same side as the flower-gardeners, and all of us put colour as the prime or first requisite in a flower, which is the last consideration in a florists' flower. That, however, is not the question; but how are we to get most flowers in the autumn? And here I must eat my own words, for I find, from Mr. Macintosh, and I have his great authority for saying so, that planting out whole beds of Geraniums in their pots is a most capital plan, which answers perfectly. He has planted thousands of them that way, but how he does, and all about them, must stand over to another week.

Beaton Bibliography