Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, 5: 575-576 (Dec 21, 1882)


IN a recent issue of the Journal Mr. W. Bardney commented on the usefulness of Abutilons as winter-flowering plants, giving some valuable directions concerning their culture; and the attention he accords them they well deserve, for their utility is beyond all question, few plants continuing in flower over so long a period of the year, and requiring comparatively such little trouble to ensure their success. A few years ago the present race of hybrid Abutilons was quite unknown, and the past ten years have witnessed the production of nearly all the varieties now so highly appreciated in many gardens. Such species as A. striatum, A venosum, and A. insigne have been long known, and these, with the distinct A. vexillarium or A. megapotamicum —a later introduction than the three former—had become well-established favourites before any attempt had been made to raise a dwarf compact-habited race of plants. Cultivators upon the Continent took the lead in this direction, and amongst the forms which made their appearance at the beginning of the past decade Boule de Neige, which is still the best while variety, stands preeminent, possessing all the qualities of a really useful plant, compact yet vigorous in habit, very floriferous, the flowers well formed and pure white. The parentage of this I have been unable to ascertain, but together with A. Darwini it has proved the source of the present race of Abutilons. The last-mentioned species, it may be observed, is a native of Brazil, whence the late Mr. C. Darwin obtained seeds which produced the first plants grown in this country. The flowers are of good size, orange colour with darker veins, and sharply three-lobed leaves; one remarkable peculiarity of the plant being that the earliest flowers are sterile with their own pollen, but readily fertilised with pollen from another plant. By crossing Boule de Neige and A. Darwini the hybrid A. rosaeflorum was produced about 1874 at Holloway, and this was a most important and curious advance, the flowers being rosy crimson, very even in form, and abundant.

About the same time or shortly after Mr. George, gardener to the Misses Nicholson, Ripon House, Putney Heath, who has contributed more to the improvement of Abutilons than any other English horticulturist, had raised some seedlings which were considered as the result of an accidental cross between A. Boule de Neige and A. Darwini, as these were the only two grown together at the time, but it is now uncertain which was the seed-bearing parent. From the first batch thus secured four were selected and sent out by Messrs. Osborn k Sons of Fulham, representing rose, yellow, and orange shades. The best, however, was Lady of the Lake, with rose-coloured flowers veined with a darker tint, and this was honoured with a certificate by the Royal Botanic Society, Regent's Park, in 1878. Such satisfactory results from chance fertilisation induced Mr. George to try several careful crosses, from which were obtained other distinct and beautiful forms, several being distinguished by the high colours of the flowers. One of the most notable of these is known as Swanley Red, and Mr. George attributes the rich colour of this and some others to a cross he believes he obtained between one of the Abutilons and Hibiscus Rosa-sinensis, the former being the seed-bearing parent. These plants are sufficiently nearly allied to render this probable, especially as in some of the forms so obtained the foliage is very distinct from the other Abutilons, exhibiting some distant resemblance to the Hibiscus, and the habit is also suggestive of that plant, though the supposed hybrid does not follow it in the fugaciousness of the flowers. Another cross has been similarly tried—namely, between the variegated A. Sellowianum marmoratum and a variety of the hybrid type, the result in this case being that plants have been raised which produce their flowers in clusters at the end of a common peduncle, and are thus quite clear of the foliage—a character of great importance. The flowers at present, however, are susceptible of improvement both in form and colour, though the cross must be regarded as a step in the right direction, and will no doubt lead to another type of Abutilons. Several other experiments have been tried, but they will be referred to on another occasion. At present only a few of the best of the varieties can be mentioned.

The flowers of all the varieties noted below are distinguished by the rounded petals, the margin slightly incurved, giving a globular appearance to the flower. The habit is compact and strong, the flowers being produced in great numbers throughout the winter months. Sir Garnet Wolseley, deep scarlet, with darker veins inside; Mrs. Garfield, pale pink, dark centre, large open bloom; Splendent, dark scarlet, very handsome; purpurea, purplish crimson or magenta, very distinct; Goldfinch, light yellow with orange veins, open flower; Emperor, deep purple; The Premier, very large flower, rich rose; Crimson Gem, scarlet crimson: King of Roses, bright rose; Cloth of Gold, golden yellow, smooth even petals, very free; The Bride, pale pink, delicate, free, and good; Enchantress, rose with deeper veins, small neat flowers, extremely free; Silver Bell, white with rosy veins, flowering in small clusters; Orange Gem, orange scarlet, open flower; and King of Crimsons, one of the best, of a fine crimson hue. Brilliant is very distinct from the above, being more bushy in habit, but not so dwarf as those mentioned below. The flowers are deep scarlet, not so well formed as the preceding, but produced so freely that the variety is unrivalled in a decorative point of view.

In addition to these Mr. George has a race of very dwarf Abutilons very close in habit, and scarcely exceeding a foot in height after two years' growth, and are, therefore, invaluable for decorative purposes. The best of these are Vivid, rich scarlet; Pink Gem, small flower, clear rosy-pink; and Scarlet Gem, very bright.

The method of cultivation adopted by Mr. George corresponds to a great extent with that advocated by Mr. Bardney, except that at Putney a lighter compost is employed—namely, a mixture of loam, peat, and leaf soil in equal proportions, with a little sand, and the condition of the plants indicates that this suits them admirably. One important point in their culture is keeping them near the glass, as this not only insures a greater compactness of growth, but increased floriferousness with brighter-coloured flowers. It is a mistake to have Abutilons in too low a temperature, about 55° to 65° being the most suitable during the winter months. Good plants can be grown from cuttings in from six to nine months, and plants so raised in the spring will flower freely the following winter, one or two pinchings improving the habit of the plants.

Hibiscus biblio