How To Flower Bulbs
Our popular flowering bulbs are obtained from many lands; they are exceedingly diversified in character, and they bloom at different periods of the year. Each variety has a value of its own, and answers to some special requirement in its proper season under glass or in the open ground. In the darkest winter days we prize the glow of Tulips and Hyacinths for brightening our homes. And bleak days are not all past when Aconites and Snowdrops sparkle in beds and borders. The Anemones follow in March, and during the lengthening days of spring there are sumptuous beds of Hyacinths, Narcissi, and Tulips. When high summer begins to decline we have stately groups of Gladioli and many beautiful Lilies in the shrubbery borders.
Not least among the merits of Dutch Bulbs is the ease with which they can be forced into flower at a period of the year when bright blossoms are particularly precious, and they are equally available for the grandest conservatory or the humblest cottage window. They are attractive singly in pots or vases, or they can be arranged in splendid banks and groups for the highest decorative purposes. Another advantage is that bulbs endure treatment which would be fatal to many other flowers. They can be grown in small pots, or be almost packed together in boxes or seed-pans; and when near perfection they may be shaken out and have the roots washed for glasses, ferneries, and small aquaria; or they can be replanted close together in sand, and covered with green moss. Their hardiness, too, permits of their being grown and successfully flowered without the least aid from artificial heat. Small beds and borders may be made brilliant with these flowers, and the number of bulbs that can be planted in a very limited space is somewhat astonishing to a novice. Unlike many other subjects, bulbs may be rather crowded without injury to individual specimens.
For the decoration of windows no other flowers can compare with Dutch Bulbs in variety and brilliancy of colour. Some of them are not particularly long-lived, and this need occasion no regret, for it affords opportunity of making constant changes in the character and colour of the miniature exhibition, which may easily be extended over many weeks. And a really beautiful display is within reach of those who have not a scrap of garden in which to bring an ordinary plant to perfection. Unused attics and lead flats can, with a little skill and attention in the case of bulbs, be made to answer the purpose which pits and greenhouses serve for many of our showy plants. Some of the most attractive flowering plants cannot be successfully grown in large centres of population, but bulbs will produce handsome blossoms even in smoky towns.
We do not recommend the attempt to grow bulbs in the actual window-boxes. It is seldom entirely satisfactory. They should be treated in the manner advised under the several varieties in the following pages, and just as the colours are becoming visible, a selection can be made from pots or boxes for crowding closely in the ornamental arrangements for the window. When the first occupants show signs of fading, others can be brought forward to fill their places, and this process may be repeated until the stock is exhausted. Winter Aconites, Snowdrops, Squills, and Glory of the Snow furnish the earliest display; these to be followed by Crocuses, Tulips, Hyacinths, and the many forms of the great Narciss family, until spring is far advanced.
The secret of their accommodating nature lies in the fact that within the Hyacinth or Tulip every petal of the coming flower is already stored. During the five or six years of its progressive life the capacities of the bulb have been steadily conserved, and we have but to unfold its beauty, aiming at short stout growth and intensity of colour. Of course there is an immense difference in the quality of bulbs, and they necessarily vary according to the character of the season. The most successful growers cannot insure uniformity in any one variety year after year, because the seasons are beyond human control. But those who regularly visit the bulb farms can obtain the finest roots of the year, although it may be necessary to select from many sources.
Such bulbs as Lilies, Iris, Montbretia, Hyacinthus, and Alstroemeria suffer no deterioration after the first year's flowering. Indeed, it will be the cultivator's fault if they do not increase in number and carry finer heads of bloom in succeeding years. As outdoor subjects some of them are not yet appreciated at their full value. Magnificent as Lilium auratum and L. lancifolium must ever be in conservatories, they exhibit their imposing proportions to greater advantage, and their wealth of perfume is far more acceptable, when grown among handsome shrubs in the border. Very little attention is needed to bring them up year after year in ever-increasing loveliness.
Growing Bulbs in Moss-fibre
A most interesting method of growing bulbs is to place them in bowls and jardinières filled with prepared moss-fibre, and far better results for home decoration may be obtained in this way than by using ordinary potting soil in vases, &c. For this system of culture no drainage is necessary, and the bowls and vases which are specially made for the purpose are not pierced with the usual holes for the escape of water. The receptacles are non-porous and may be placed on tables and columns, or they can be employed in halls and corridors without the slightest risk of injury. The fibre is perfectly clean to handle, odourless, and remains sweet for an indefinite period.
Vases of any kind may be used, provided they are non-porous, but the bulbs to be planted in them should be of a suitable size. For quite small jardinières, white and purple Crocuses, Scillas, Snowdrops, and Grape Hyacinths are available, also the smaller varieties of Narcissi. Larger vases will accommodate Hyacinths, Narcissi, Tulips, &c. It is better not to mix different kinds of bulbs in one bowl unless simultaneous flowering can be insured.
The specially prepared fibre needs only to be moistened before use. Having selected suitable receptacles for the bulbs to be grown, place a few pieces of charcoal at the bottom of each bowl. Then cover the charcoal with one to three inches of moistened fibre according to the depth of the bowl, placing the bulbs in positions so that their tips reach to within half-inch of the rim.
The spaces between and around the bulbs to be filled with moistened fibre, carefully firmed in by hand. The bulbs will require practically no attention for the first few weeks and may be stood in a warm, airy position, but on no account must they be shut up in a close cupboard. If the fibre has been properly moistened there will be no need to give water until the shoots are an inch or so long, but the fibre must not be allowed to go dry, or the flower-buds become 'blind.'
The surface of the fibre should always look moist, but if too much water has been given the bowl may be held carefully on its side so that the surplus water can drain away. As the growth increases more water will be required and all the light possible must be given to insure sturdy foliage. This fibre also answers admirably instead of water for Hyacinths grown in glasses, but care should be taken to fill the glasses as lightly as possible with the compost; if crammed in tightly the root growth is liable to lift the bulbs out of position.