N.A.P.S Northern Section

                                             Selections from-On the Eve of Bloom.-Rev.F.D.Horner

(first printed in the Florist and Pomologist 1877)

Are there not circumstances, times, and seasons in which, though hopes and anticipations are not quite fulfilled, yet they are so in such a large part as to make us feel well content? In the near grasp of the whole, we are able to bear, nay luxuriate in that very delay which is short enough and near enough to the pleasure to belong to it, and make it seem all the greater.

Is it not thus with the schoolboy when he has started for the holidays, and the next station is Home?..... And is it not thus with the florist also, as his green buds flush with colour and the bloom breaks  gradually over the breadth  of his plants, like the summer sunrise that catches the first peaks upon the hills.....

With the Auricula, we enter upon the blooming season that will stretch into the far summer with the Carnation and the Picotee and into the late autumn with the Dahlia and the Gladiolus. There will be gayer floral scenes for us than the coming one, but nothing will overlay the fair memories of April with the Auricula, not even the witcheries of the ever changing Rose.

As I have only one emerald edged pip of grand old Champion (Page’s) in flower as I write this, I am unable to describe the bloom from sight, though I might do so, after a manner, by drawing on the past, as stored in memory or notes, or by anticipating  the promise in the future as folded in the buds, fast rising now upon their stems. I am like the schoolboy near home. The bloom is all but in sight! Let us go slow.

With a good deal of snow, and frost enough to skate by, March has not been more like a lion than a polar bear. The plants however have been growing finely through it, for I thought it well to take the chill off those few nights here with their 12 to 18˚ of frost, so kept a quiet fire on, which I only use for Auriculas as an auxiliary for the outside shading, when that is not protection enough in sharp spring frosts.

The work with these plants in April is indeed welcome work, guiding them through their bloom in constant recollection that, although the plant itself is hardy enough, yet the bloom is tender and easily injured. Every grower, whether of a dozen or a thousand plants, and whether he means to exhibit or not, should be determined to take as much pains as if he did. Nothing less will make a bloom satisfactory to him. It is the poorest mistake, and the most pitiable of excuses, to say “I do not grow them for exhibition, so they will do well enough for me.” No one is fit to be trusted with a plant , any more than with a dog, if he means to ill treat it. Like a dog, it is a good thing thrown away on him and the sight is grievous.

The plants must be kept pretty freely supplied with water during April. Let it be at least as warm as the air surrounding them. They will soon be throwing out very strong new roots from the higher parts of the stem, and these are to assist the bloom. Care must be taken to assist these roots every advantage. See that they are not washed bear, or suffered to die back from want of earth at starting. In the Polyanthus the whole well being of the plant depends upon the encouragement given these neck roots, and in the Auricula also, they are of great moment. The supply of air must be the freest possible, and then the quick growing foliage, and the rapidly rising stems will harden as they grow, and the plant will keep its natural self-supporting habit. If in doubt about the wind, whether too rough, or cold or not, it is better to be on the safe side and protect the plants......

Another most important step in securing a fine bloom is the timely and judicious thinning of the pips. Nearly every auricula, large or small, will give more pips than it can properly, i.e. completely and uniformly, expand. It is as unwise to leave a large truss of auricula un-thinned as to leave every berry on a bunch of grapes. There is no even gain upon the whole in size, but much confusion and inequality. From five to eleven flat, distinct, and equal pips are a better show in every way than a crushed up ball, where hardly a blossom stands out conspicuously as it should do, in all its outlines. Thinning out must be a daily amusement, a gradual operation among the plants, and gradual too, as regards each plant. There is some responsibility  in choosing what pips will stand, and the best cannot with certainty be picked out when the operation first becomes beneficial, which is as soon as the pips can easily be separated and worked among with a pair of narrow scissors. The small central pips, and such a s may be lead underneath the larger ones, will be the weakest both in size and properties.

In the edged flowers, pips thus placed will often be too heavy in body colour, and correspondingly deficient in edge. There is also a tendency among the green edges to throw meal on the edges of the innermost pips- a fault against one of their highest properties: purity. Innermost pips may therefore, as a rule, be cut out. Be very certain that you have only one little neck within the clip of the scissors, or to your blank dismay, two heads will fall instead of one; a small inaccuracy may bring about this catastrophe. Pulling pips out is not always safe; if the direction of the pull is not perpendicular to the set of the pip, several buds may be torn off whose footstalks lie close by. There may be a violently disproportionate leading pip, or one with an oval turn and an inclination to corpulence, evidently more or less a double pip. Such should be removed, for the relief of the regular ones.

Even pips of every promise in the folded bud may yet prove faulty inside. There may be a hare-lipped tube, or some serious flaw in the paste. For instance, in Pizarro, richest of brown selfs and such a round, serene flower, there are often yellow round spots in the paste quite bare of the meal. In Page’s Champion, a most delicious flower, emerald green edge, there will occur rents in the paste, where the petal segments cut into the quick. In Prince of Greens, a splendid pip or a whole head will come with a “blanket eye” i.e., hardly meal enough in the paste to cover the ground, which has thus a baldness of its own (as much as we have!) In choosing pips, therefore, all these and other contingencies are to be allowed for, in the face of which, one rude, rough thinning out would be very poor and rueful practice.

No Auricula, however strong, should be allowed to carry more than one truss. The second would be a terrible pull upon the plant, which would have to heart past it, and would feel the effort acutely. Such pips would also be of very inferior quality, and they would be removed by rubbing or cutting off when they stand on an inch or two of stem. If the whole second head were cut short off, it would die by soft green rot into the heart and probably cause the death of the plant.

When the bloom is opening, there is one very unwelcome visitor, and that is the bee, especially the humble, or “bumble” upon a white edged auricula is a horror. Scratched by his horny legs, blurred by his humming wings, the fair flower is an irreparable ruin. I dare leave no aperture unprotected by perforated zinc slides or shading material against the busy bee.

In this connection I will utter a warning cry against another possible intruder- the baleful cat. Who amongst us does not know him in the garden for an evil beast? He is a very valid reason, beyond that of un-trusty April weather , for keeping the Auricula house safely closed at night. He will otherwise regard it as a benevolent institution, erected, on the principle, of a “cabman’s” shelter, for the accommodation of himself and his vilely un-tuneful brotherhood on uncomfortable nights......

Unlike the midnight cat, the florist is most welcome among his plants at night. He is not the man to subside too easily into the warm retirement of dressing gown and slippers in the evening, nor to sleep heavily into broad, sunny, summer mornings. Early morning hours are golden opportunities in the garden and so is an hour after dark. My “garden lamp” trimmed at sundown , is an institution  of the household, and I hardly miss a night  the year round in looking the plants over if I am at home. There is as little tax and trouble in it as the mother finds in quietly slipping upstairs now and then to see that the little one is asleep and safe from nightly harm.

The florist, indeed, should be the glow-worm, the veritable “Jack-o-Lantern” of his garden; and then, instead of moaning in the morning over the mischief of the night, he is often in time to stop it. Great is his reward , as the light falls on some glistening snail nearly arrived  at an Auricula bloom. Why, the gleam from that cold slug is as rich in its way as the sparkle from a diamond, for that “vagrant” is “wanted” perhaps, on several charges  of mischief, and watchfulness has secured him at last.

The amount of sun the plants may have until in full bloom, when they should be shaded from all, may be regulated by the amount the foliage will bear. Any intensity of sunshine that begins to take the gloss off the leaves is more than enough, but that in the early morning and late afternoon is safe.

Every effort will be made to prolong the bloom, and yet some very awkward weather for this purpose is sure to occur. Days when the sun is bright and the wind is cold may perplex the beginner. If he opens the house the wind is too much for him, and if he shuts it, the sun is masterful. I compromise the matter by pulling down the shading and ventilating the house under it.

Article collated & submitted by Bob Taylor.

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