WITH COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON: CHAPMAN AND HALL, LTD. 1893
[All rights reserved]
LONDON: PRINTED BY GILBERT AND RIVINGTON, LIMITED, ST. JOHN'S HOUSE, CLERKENWELL, E.C.
I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK TO MY GUIDE, COMFORTER AND FRIEND, JOSEPH GODSEFF.
PAGE MY GARDENING 1
AN ORCHID SALE 24
COOL ORCHIDS 60
WARM ORCHIDS 103
HOT ORCHIDS 138
THE LOST ORCHID 173
AN ORCHID FARM 183
ORCHIDS AND HYBRIDIZING 210
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
PAGE VANDA SANDERIANA Frontispiece
ODONTOGLOSSUM CRISPUM ALEXANDRAE 67
ONCIDIUM MACRANTHUM 88
DENDROBIUM BRYMERIANUM 127
COELOGENE PANDURATA 160
CATTLEYA LABIATA 173
LOELIA ANCEPS SCHROEDERIANA 197
CYPRIPEDIUM (HYBRIDUM) POLLETTIANUM 210
The purport of this book is shown in the letter following which I addressed to the editor of the Daily News some months ago:—
"I thank you for reminding your readers, by reference to my humble work, that the delight of growing orchids can be enjoyed by persons of very modest fortune. To spread that knowledge is my contribution to philanthropy, and I make bold to say that it ranks as high as some which are commended from pulpits and platforms. For your leader-writer is inexact, though complimentary, in assuming that any 'special genius' enables me to cultivate orchids without more expense than other greenhouse plants entail, or even without a gardener. I am happy to know that scores of worthy gentlemen—ladies too—not more gifted than their neighbours in any sense, find no greater difficulty. If the pleasure of one of these be due to any writings of mine, I have wrought some good in my generation."
With the same hope I have collected those writings, dispersed and buried more or less in periodicals. The articles in this volume are collected—with permission which I gratefully acknowledge—from The Standard, Saturday Review, St. James's Gazette, National Review, and Longman's Magazine. With some pride I discover, on reading them again, that hardly a statement needs correction, for they contain many statements, and some were published years ago. But in this, as in other lore, a student still gathers facts. The essays have been brought up to date by additions—in especial that upon "Hybridizing," a theme which has not interested the great public hitherto, simply because the great public knows nothing about it. There is not, in fact, so far as I am aware, any general record of the amazing and delightful achievements which have been made therein of late years. It does not fall within my province to frame such a record. But at least any person who reads this unscientific account, not daunted by the title, will understand the fascination of the study.
These essays profess to be no more than chat of a literary man about orchids. They contain a multitude of facts, told in some detail where such attention seems necessary, which can only be found elsewhere in baldest outline if found at all. Everything that relates to orchids has a charm for me, and I have learned to hold it as an article of faith that pursuits which interest one member of the cultured public will interest all, if displayed clearly and pleasantly, in a form to catch attention at the outset. Savants and professionals have kept the delights of orchidology to themselves as yet. They smother them in scientific treatises, or commit them to dry earth burial in gardening books. Very few outsiders suspect that any amusement could be found therein. Orchids are environed by mystery, pierced now and again by a brief announcement that something with an incredible name has been sold for a fabulous number of guineas; which passing glimpse into an unknown world makes it more legendary than before. It is high time such noxious superstitions were dispersed. Surely, I think, this volume will do the good work—if the public will read it.
The illustrations are reduced from those delightful drawings by Mr. Moon admired throughout the world in the pages of "Reichenbachia." The licence to use them is one of many favours for which I am indebted to the proprietors of that stately work.
I do not give detailed instructions for culture. No one could be more firmly convinced that a treatise on that subject is needed, for no one assuredly has learned, by more varied and disastrous experience, to see the omissions of the text-books. They are written for the initiated, though designed for the amateur. Naturally it is so. A man who has been brought up to business can hardly resume the utter ignorance of the neophyte. Unconsciously he will take a certain degree of knowledge for granted, and he will neglect to enforce those elementary principles which are most important of all. Nor is the writer of a gardening book accustomed, as a rule, to marshal his facts in due order, to keep proportion, to assure himself that his directions will be exactly understood by those who know nothing.
The brief hints in "Reichenbachia" are admirable, but one does not cheerfully refer to an authority in folio. Messrs. Veitch's "Manual of Orchidaceous Plants" is a model of lucidity and a mine of information. Repeated editions of Messrs. B.S. Williams' "Orchid Growers' Manual" have proved its merit, and, upon the whole, I have no hesitation in declaring that this is the most useful work which has come under my notice. But they are all adapted for those who have passed the elementary stage.
Thus, if I have introduced few remarks on culture, it is not because I think them needless. The reason may be frankly confessed. I am not sure that my time would be duly paid. If this little book should reach a second edition, I will resume once more the ignorance that was mine eight years ago, and as a fellow-novice tell the unskilled amateur how to grow orchids.
North Lodge, Addiscombe, 1893.
The contents of my Bungalow gave material for some "Legends" which perhaps are not yet universally forgotten. I have added few curiosities to the list since that work was published. My days of travel seem to be over; but in quitting that happiest way of life—not willingly—I have had the luck to find another occupation not less interesting, and better suited to grey hairs and stiffened limbs. This volume deals with the appurtenances of my Bungalow, as one may say—the orchid-houses. But a man who has almost forgotten what little knowledge he gathered in youth about English plants does not readily turn to that higher branch of horticulture. More ignorant even than others, he will cherish all the superstitions and illusions which environ the orchid family. Enlightenment is a slow process, and he will make many experiences before perceiving his true bent. How I came to grow orchids will be told in this first article.
The ground at my disposal is a quarter of an acre. From that tiny area deduct the space occupied by my house, and it will be seen that myriads of good people dwelling in the suburbs, whose garden, to put it courteously, is not sung by poets, have as much land as I. The aspect is due north—a grave disadvantage. Upon that side, from the house-wall to the fence, I have forty-five feet, on the east fifty feet, on the south sixty feet, on the west a mere ruelle. Almost every one who works out these figures will laugh, and the remainder sneer. Here's a garden to write about! That area might do for a tennis-court or for a general meeting of Mr. Frederic Harrison's persuasion. You might kennel a pack of hounds there, or beat a carpet, or assemble those members of the cultured class who admire Mr. Gladstone. But grow flowers—roses—to cut by the basketful, fruit to make jam for a jam-eating household the year round, mushrooms, tomatoes, water-lilies, orchids; those Indian jugglers who bring a mango-tree to perfection on your verandah in twenty minutes might be able to do it, but not a consistent Christian. Nevertheless I affirm that I have done all these things, and I shall even venture to make other demands upon the public credulity.
When I first surveyed my garden sixteen years ago, a big Cupressus stood before the front door, in a vast round bed one half of which would yield no flowers at all, and the other half only spindlings. This was encircled by a carriage-drive! A close row of limes, supported by more Cupressus, overhung the palings all round; a dense little shrubbery hid the back door; a weeping-ash, already tall and handsome, stood to eastward. Curiously green and snug was the scene under these conditions, rather like a forest glade; but if the space available be considered and allowance be made for the shadow of all those trees, any tiro can calculate the room left for grass and flowers—and the miserable appearance of both. Beyond that dense little shrubbery the soil was occupied with potatoes mostly, and a big enclosure for hens.
First I dug up the fine Cupressus. They told me such a big tree could not possibly "move;" but it did, and it now fills an out-of-the-way place as usefully as ornamentally. I suppressed the carriage-drive, making a straight path broad enough for pedestrians only, and cut down a number of the trees. The blessed sunlight recognized my garden once more. Then I rooted out the shrubbery; did away with the fowl-house, using its materials to build two little sheds against the back fence; dug up the potato-garden—made tabula rasa, in fact; dismissed my labourers, and considered. I meant to be my own gardener. But already, sixteen years ago, I had a dislike of stooping. To kneel was almost as wearisome. Therefore I adopted the system of raised beds—common enough. Returning home, however, after a year's absence, I found my oak posts decaying—unseasoned, doubtless, when put in. To prevent trouble of this sort in future, I substituted drain-pipes set on end; the first of those ideas which have won commendation from great authorities. Drain-pipes do not encourage insects. Filled with earth, each bears a showy plant—lobelia, pyrethrum, saxifrage, or what not, with the utmost neatness, making a border; and they last eternally. But there was still much stooping, of course, whilst I became more impatient of it. One day a remedy flashed through my mind: that happy thought which became the essence or principle of my gardening, and makes this account thereof worth attention perhaps. Why not raise to a comfortable level all parts of the area over which I had need to bend? Though no horticulturist, perhaps, ever had such a thought before, expense was the sole objection visible. Called away just then for another long absence, I gave orders that no "dust" should leave the house; and found a monstrous heap on my return. The road-contractors supplied "sweepings" at a shilling a load. Beginning at the outskirts of my property, I raised a mound three feet high and three feet broad, replanted the shrubs on the back edge, and left a handsome border for flowers. So well this succeeded, so admirably every plant throve in that compost, naturally drained and lifted to the sunlight, that I enlarged my views.
The soil is gravel, peculiarly bad for roses; and at no distant day my garden was a swamp, not unchronicled had we room to dwell on such matters. The bit of lawn looked decent only at midsummer. I first tackled the rose question. The bushes and standards, such as they were, faced south, of course—that is, behind the house. A line of fruit-trees there began to shade them grievously. Experts assured me that if I raised a bank against these, of such a height as I proposed, they would surely die; I paid no attention to the experts, nor did my fruit-trees. The mound raised is, in fact, a crescent on the inner edge, thirty feet broad, seventy feet between the horns, square at the back behind the fruit-trees; a walk runs there, between it and the fence, and in the narrow space on either hand I grow such herbs as one cannot easily buy—chervil, chives, tarragon. Also I have beds of celeriac, and cold frames which yield a few cucumbers in the summer when emptied of plants. Not one inch of ground is lost in my garden.
The roses occupy this crescent. After sinking to its utmost now, the bank stands two feet six inches above the gravel path. At that elevation they defied the shadow for years, and for the most part they will continue to do so as long as I feel any interest in their well-being. But there is a space, the least important fortunately, where the shade, growing year by year, has got the mastery. That space I have surrendered frankly, covering it over with the charming saxifrage, S. hypnoides, through which in spring push bluebells, primroses, and miscellaneous bulbs, while the exquisite green carpet frames pots of scarlet geranium and such bright flowers, movable at will. That saxifrage, indeed, is one of my happiest devices. Finding that grass would not thrive upon the steep bank of my mounds, I dotted them over with tufts of it, which have spread, until at this time they are clothed in vivid green the year round, and white as an untouched snowdrift in spring. Thus also the foot-wide paths of my rose-beds are edged; and a neater or a lovelier border could not be imagined.
With such a tiny space of ground the choice of roses is very important. Hybrids take up too much room for general service. One must have a few for colour; but the mass should be Teas, Noisettes, and, above all, Bengals. This day, the second week in October, I can pick fifty roses; and I expect to do so every morning till the end of the month in a sunny autumn. They will be mostly Bengals; but there are two exquisite varieties sold by Messrs. Paul—I forget which of them—nearly as free flowering. These are Camoens and Mad. J. Messimy. They have a tint unlike any other rose; they grow strongly for their class, and the bloom is singularly graceful.
The tiny but vexatious lawn was next attacked. I stripped off the turf, planted drain-pipes along the gravel walk, filled in with road-sweepings to the level of their tops, and relaid the turf. It is now a little picture of a lawn. Each drain-pipe was planted with a cutting of ivy, which now form a beautiful evergreen roll beside the path. Thus as you walk in my garden, everywhere the ground is more or less above its natural level; raised so high here and there that you cannot look over the plants which crown the summit. Any gardener at least will understand how luxuriantly everything grows and flowers under such conditions. Enthusiastic visitors declare that I have "scenery," and picturesque effects, and delightful surprises, in my quarter-acre of ground! Certainly I have flowers almost enough, and fruit, and perfect seclusion also. Though there are houses all round within a few yards, you catch but a glimpse of them at certain points while the trees are still clothed. Those mounds are all the secret.
I was my own gardener, and sixteen years ago I knew nothing whatever of the business. The process of education was almost as amusing as expensive; but that fashion of humour is threadbare. In those early days I would have none of your geraniums, hardy perennials, and such common things. Diligently studying the "growers'" catalogues, I looked out, not novelties alone, but curious novelties. Not one of them "did any good" to the best of my recollection. Impatient and disgusted, I formed several extraordinary projects to evade my ignorance of horticulture. Among others which I recollect was an idea of growing bulbs the year round! No trouble with bulbs! you just plant them and they do their duty. A patient friend at Kew made me a list of genera and species which, if all went well, should flower in succession. But there was a woeful gap about midsummer—just the time when gardens ought to be brightest. Still, I resolved to carry out the scheme, so far as it went, and forwarded my list to Covent Garden for an estimate of the expense. It amounted to some hundreds of pounds. So that notion fell through.
But the patient friend suggested something for which I still cherish his memory. He pointed out that bulbs look very formal mostly, unless planted in great quantities, as may be done with the cheap sorts—tulips and such. An undergrowth of low brightly-coloured annuals would correct this disadvantage. I caught the hint, and I profit by it to this more enlightened day. Spring bulbs are still a specialite of my gardening. I buy them fresh every autumn—but of Messrs. Protheroe and Morris, in Cheapside; not at the dealers'. Thus they are comparatively inexpensive. After planting my tulips, narcissus, and such tall things, however, I clothe the beds with forget-me-not or Silene pendula, or both, which keep them green through the winter and form a dense carpet in spring. Through it the bulbs push, and both flower at the same time. Thus my brilliant tulips, snowy narcissus poeticus, golden daffodils, rise above and among a sheet of blue or pink—one or the other to match their hue—and look infinitely more beautiful on that ground colour. I venture to say, indeed, that no garden on earth can be more lovely than mine while the forget-me-not and the bulbs are flowering together. This may be a familiar practice, but I never met with it elsewhere.
Another wild scheme I recollect. Water-plants need no attention. The most skilful horticulturist cannot improve, the most ignorant cannot harm them. I seriously proposed to convert my lawn into a tank two feet deep lined with Roman cement and warmed by a furnace, there to grow tropical nymphaea, with a vague "et cetera." The idea was not so absolutely mad as the unlearned may think, for two of my relatives were first and second to flower Victoria Regia in the open-air—but they had more than a few feet of garden. The chances go, in fact, that it would have been carried through had I been certain of remaining in England for the time necessary. Meanwhile I constructed two big tanks of wood lined with sheet-zinc, and a small one to stand on legs. The experts were much amused. Neither fish nor plant, they said, could live in a zinc vessel. They proved to be right in the former case, but utterly wrong in the latter—which, you will observe, is their special domain. I grew all manner of hardy nymphaea and aquatics for years, until my big tanks sprung a leak. Having learned by that time the ABC, at least, of terra-firma gardening, I did not trouble to have them mended. On the contrary, making more holes, I filled the centre with Pampas grass and variegated Eulalias, set lady-grass and others round, and bordered the whole with lobelia—renewing, in fact, somewhat of the spring effect. Next year, however, I shall plant them with Anomatheca cruenta—quaintest of flowering grasses, if a grass it must be called. This charming species from South Africa is very little known; readers who take the hint will be grateful to me. They will find it decidedly expensive bought by the plant, as growers prefer to sell. But, with a little pressing seed may be obtained, and it multiplies fast. I find Anomatheca cruenta hardy in my sheltered garden.
The small tank on legs still remains, and I cut a few Nymphaea odorata every year. But it is mostly given up to Aponogeton distachyon—the "Cape lily." They seed very freely in the open; and if this tank lay in the ground, long since their exquisite white flowers, so strange in shape and so powerful of scent, would have stood as thick as blades of grass upon it—such a lovely sight as was beheld in the garden of the late Mr. Harrison, at Shortlands. But being raised two feet or so, with a current of air beneath, its contents are frozen to a solid block, soil and all, again and again, each winter. That a Cape plant should survive such treatment seems incredible—contrary to all the books. But my established Aponogeton do somehow; only the seedlings perish. Here again is a useful hint, I trust. But evidently it would be better, if convenient, to take the bulbs indoors before frost sets in.
Having water thus at hand, it very soon occurred to me to make war upon the slugs by propagating their natural enemies. Those banks and borders of Saxifraga hypnoides, to which I referred formerly, exact some precaution of the kind. Much as every one who sees admires them, the slugs, no doubt, are more enthusiastic still. Therefore I do not recommend that idea, unless it be supplemented by some effective method of combating a grave disadvantage. My own may not commend itself to every one. Each spring I entrust some casual little boy with a pail; he brings it back full of frog-spawn and receives sixpence. I speculate sometimes with complacency how many thousand of healthy and industrious batrachians I have reared and turned out for the benefit of my neighbours. Enough perhaps, but certainly no more, remain to serve me—that I know because the slugs give very little trouble in spite of the most favourable circumstances. You can always find frogs in my garden by looking for them, but of the thousands hatched every year, ninety-nine per cent. must vanish. Do blackbirds and thrushes eat young frogs? They are strangely abundant with me. But those who cultivate tadpoles must look over the breeding-pond from time to time. My whole batch was devoured one year by "devils"—the larvae of Dytiscus marginalis, the Plunger beetle. I have benefited, or at least have puzzled my neighbours also by introducing to them another sort of frog. Three years ago I bought twenty-five Hyloe, the pretty green tree species, to dwell in my Odontoglossum house and exterminate the insects. Every ventilator there is covered with perforated zinc—to prevent insects getting in; but, by some means approaching the miraculous, all my Hyloe contrived to escape. Several were caught in the garden and put back, but again they found their way to the open-air; and presently my fruit-trees became vocal. So far, this is the experience of every one, probably, who has tried to keep green frogs. But in my case they survived two winters—one which everybody recollects, the most severe of this generation. My frogs sang merrily through the summer; but all in a neighbour's garden. I am not acquainted with that family; but it is cheering to think how much innocent diversion I have provided for its members.
Pleasant also it is, by the way, to vindicate the character of green frogs. I never heard them spoken of by gardeners but with contempt. Not only do they persist in escaping; more than that, they decline to catch insects, sitting motionless all day long—pretty, if you like, but useless. The fact is, that all these creatures are nocturnal of habit. Very few men visit their orchid-houses at night, as I do constantly. They would see the frogs active enough then, creeping with wondrous dexterity among the leaves, and springing like a green flash upon their prey. Naturally, therefore, they do not catch thrips or mealy-bug or aphis; these are too small game for the midnight sports-man. Wood-lice, centipedes, above all, cockroaches, those hideous and deadly foes of the orchid, are their victims. All who can keep them safe should have green frogs by the score in every house which they do not fumigate.
I have come to the orchids at last. It follows, indeed, almost of necessity that a man who has travelled much, an enthusiast in horticulture, should drift into that branch as years advance. Modesty would be out of place here. I have had successes, and if it please Heaven, I shall win more. But orchid culture is not to be dealt with at the end of an article.
In the days of my apprenticeship I put up a big greenhouse: unable to manage plants in the open-air, I expected to succeed with them under unnatural conditions! These memories are strung together with the hope of encouraging a forlorn and desperate amateur here or there; and surely that confession will cheer him. However deep his ignorance, it could not possibly be more finished than mine some dozen years ago; and yet I may say, Je suis arrive! What that greenhouse cost, "chilled remembrance shudders" to recall; briefly, six times the amount, at least, which I should find ample now. And it was all wrong when done; not a trace of the original arrangement remains at this time, but there are inherent defects. Nothing throve, of course—except the insects. Mildew seized my roses as fast as I put them in; camellias dropped their buds with rigid punctuality; azaleas were devoured by thrips; "bugs," mealy and scaly, gathered to the feast; geraniums and pelargoniums grew like giants, but declined to flower. I consulted the local authority who was responsible for the well-being of a dozen gardens in the neighbourhood—an expert with a character to lose, from whom I bought largely. Said he, after a thorough inspection: "This concrete floor holds the water; you must have it swept carefully night and morning." That worthy man had a large business. His advice was sought by scores of neighbours like myself. And I tell the story as a warning; for he represents no small section of his class. My plants wanted not less but a great deal more water on that villainous concrete floor.
Despairing of horticulture indoors as out, I sometimes thought of orchids. I had seen much of them in their native homes, both East and West—enough to understand that their growth is governed by strict law. Other plants—roses and so forth—are always playing tricks. They must have this and that treatment at certain times, the nature of which could not be precisely described, even if gardening books were written by men used to carry all the points of a subject in their minds, and to express exactly what they mean. Experience alone, of rather a dirty and uninteresting class, will give the skill necessary for success. And then they commit villanies of ingratitude beyond explanation. I knew that orchids must be quite different. Each class demands certain conditions as a preliminary: if none of them can be provided, it is a waste of money to buy plants. But when the needful conditions are present, and the poor things, thus relieved of a ceaseless preoccupation, can attend to business, it follows like a mathematical demonstration that if you treat them in such and such a way, such and such results will assuredly ensue. I was not aware then that many defy the most patient analysis of cause and effect. That knowledge is familiar now; but it does not touch the argument. Those cases also are governed by rigid laws, which we do not yet understand.
Therefore I perceived or suspected, at an early date, that orchid culture is, as one may say, the natural province of an intelligent and enthusiastic amateur who has not the technical skill required for growing common plants. For it is brain-work—the other mechanical. But I shared the popular notion—which seems so very absurd now—that they are costly both to purchase and to keep: shared it so ingenuously that I never thought to ask myself how or why they could be more expensive, after the first outlay, than azaleas or gardenias. And meanwhile I was laboriously and impatiently gathering some comprehension of the ordinary plants. It was accident which broke the spell of ignorance. Visiting Stevens' Auction Rooms one day to buy bulbs, I saw a Cattleya Mossiae, in bloom, which had not found a purchaser at the last orchid sale. A lucky impulse tempted me to ask the price. "Four shillings," said the invaluable Charles. I could not believe it—there must be a mistake: as if Charles ever made a mistake in his life! When he repeated the price, however, I seized that precious Cattleya, slapped down the money, and fled with it along King Street, fearing pursuit. Since no one followed, and Messrs. Stevens did not write within the next few days reclaiming my treasure, I pondered the incident calmly. Perhaps they had been selling bankrupt stock, and perhaps they often do so. Presently I returned.
"Charles!" I said, "you sold me a Cattleya Mossiae the other day."
Charles, in shirt-sleeves of course, was analyzing and summing up half a hundred loose sheets of figures, as calm and sure as a calculating machine. "I know I did, sir," he replied, cheerfully.
"It was rather dear, wasn't it?" I said.
"That's your business, sir," he laughed.
"Could I often get an established plant of Cattleya Mossiae in flower for 4s.?" I asked.
"Give me the order, and I'll supply as many as you are likely to want within a month."
That was a revelation; and I tell the little story because I know it will be a revelation to many others. People hear of great sums paid for orchids, and they fancy that such represent only the extreme limits of an average. In fact, they have no relation whatsoever to the ordinary price. One of our largest general growers, who has but lately begun cultivating those plants, tells me that half-a-crown is the utmost he has paid for Cattleyas and Dendrobes, one shilling for Odontoglots and Oncidiums. At these rates he has now a fine collection, many turning up among the lot for which he asks, and gets, as many pounds as the pence he gave. For such are imported, of course, and sold at auction as they arrive. This is not an article on orchids, but on "My Gardening," or I could tell some extraordinary tales. Briefly, I myself once bought a case two feet long, a foot wide, half-full of Odontoglossums for 8s. 6d. They were small bits, but perfect in condition. Of the fifty-three pots they made, not one, I think, has been lost. I sold the less valuable some years ago, when established and tested, at a fabulous profit. Another time I bought three "strings" of O. Alexandrae, the Pacho variety, which is finest, for 15s. They filled thirty-six pots, some three to a pot, for I could not make room for them all singly. Again—but this is enough. I only wish to demonstrate, for the service of very small amateurs like myself, that costliness at least is no obstacle if they have a fancy for this culture: unless, of course, they demand wonders and "specimens."
That Cattleya Mossiae, was my first orchid, bought in 1884. It dwindled away, and many another followed it to limbo; but I knew enough, as has been said, to feel neither surprised nor angry. First of all, it is necessary to understand the general conditions, and to secure them. Books give little help in this stage of education; they all lack detail in the preliminaries. I had not the good fortune to come across a friend or a gardener who grasped what was wrong until I found out for myself. For instance, no one told me that the concrete flooring of my house was a fatal error. When, a little disheartened, I made a new one, by glazing that ruelle mentioned in the preliminary survey of my garden, they allowed me to repeat it. Ingenious were my contrivances to keep the air moist, but none answered. It is not easy to find a material trim and clean which can be laid over concrete, but unless one can discover such, it is useless to grow orchids. I have no doubt that ninety-nine cases of failure in a hundred among amateurs are due to an unsuitable flooring. Glazed tiles, so common, are infinitely worst of all. May my experience profit others in like case!
Looking over the trade list of a man who manufactures orchid-pots one day, I observed, "Sea-sand for Garden Walks," and the preoccupation of years was dissipated. Sea-sand will hold water, yet will keep a firm, clean surface; it needs no rolling, does not show footprints nor muddy a visitor's boots. By next evening the floors were covered therewith six inches deep, and forthwith my orchids began to flourish—not only to live. Long since, of course, I had provided a supply of water from the main to each house for "damping down." All round them now a leaden pipe was fixed, with pin-holes twelve inches apart, and a length of indiarubber hose at the end to fix upon the "stand-pipe." Attaching this, I turn the cock, and from each tiny hole spurts forth a jet, which in ten minutes will lay the whole floor under water, and convert the house into a shallow pond; but five minutes afterwards not a sign of the deluge is visible. Then I felt the joys of orchid culture. Much remained to learn—much still remains. We have some five thousand species in cultivation, of which an alarming number demand some difference of treatment if one would grow them to perfection. The amateur does not easily collect nor remember all this, and he is apt to be daunted if he inquire too deeply before "letting himself go." Such in especial I would encourage. Perfection is always a noble aim; but orchids do not exact it—far from that! The dear creatures will struggle to fulfil your hopes, to correct your errors, with pathetic patience. Give them but a chance, and they will await the progress of your education. That chance lies, as has been said, in the general conditions—the degree of moisture you can keep in the air, the ventilation, and the light. These secured, you may turn up the books, consult the authorities, and gradually accumulate the knowledge which will enable you to satisfy the preferences of each class. So, in good time, you may enjoy such a thrill of pleasure as I felt the other day when a great pundit was good enough to pay me a call. He entered my tiny Odontoglossum house, looked round, looked round again, and turned to me. "Sir," he said, "we don't call this an amateur's collection!"
I have jotted down such hints of my experience as may be valuable to others, who, as Juvenal put it, own but a single lizard's run of earth. That space is enough to yield endless pleasure, amusement, and indeed profit, if a man cultivate it himself. Enthusiast as I am, I would not accept another foot of garden.
[Footnote 1: It is not inappropriate to record that when these articles were published in the St. James' Gazette, the editor received several communications warning him that his contributor was abusing his good faith—to put it in the mild French phrase. Happily, my friend was able to reply that he could personally vouch for the statements.]
AN ORCHID SALE.
Shortly after noon on a sale day, the habitual customers of Messrs. Protheroe and Morris begin to assemble in Cheapside. On tables of roughest plank round the auction-rooms there, are neatly ranged the various lots; bulbs and sticks of every shape, big and little, withered or green, dull or shining, with a brown leaf here and there, or a mass of roots dry as last year's bracken. No promise do they suggest of the brilliant colours and strange forms buried in embryo within their uncouth bulk. On a cross table stand some dozens of "established" plants in pots and baskets, which the owners would like to part with. Their growths of this year are verdant, but the old bulbs look almost as sapless as those new arrivals. Very few are in flower just now—July and August are a time of pause betwixt the glories of the Spring and the milder effulgence of Autumn. Some great Dendrobes—D. Dalhousianum—are bursting into untimely bloom, betraying to the initiated that their "establishment" is little more than a phrase. Those garlands of bud were conceived, so to speak, in Indian forests, have lain dormant through the long voyage, and began to show a few days since when restored to a congenial atmosphere. All our interest concentrates in the unlovely things along the wall.
The habitual attendants at an auction-room are always somewhat of a family party, but, as a rule, an ugly one. It is quite different with the regular group of orchid-buyers. No black sheep there. A dispute is the rarest of events, and when it happens everybody takes for granted that the cause is a misunderstanding. The professional growers are men of wealth, the amateurs men of standing at least. All know each other, and a cheerful familiarity rules. We have a duke in person frequently, who compares notes and asks a hint from the authorities around; some clergymen; gentry of every rank; the recognized agents of great cultivators, and, of course, the representatives of the large trading firms. So narrow even yet is the circle of orchidaceans that almost all the faces at a sale are recognized, and if one wish to learn the names, somebody present can nearly always supply them. There is reason to hope that this will not be the case much longer. As the mysteries and superstitions environing the orchid are dispersed, our small and select throng of buyers will be swamped, no doubt; and if a certain pleasing feature of the business be lost, all who love the flower and their fellow-men alike will cheerfully submit.
The talk is of orchids mostly, as these gentlemen stroll along the tables, lifting a root and scrutinizing it with practised glance that measures its vital strength in a second. But nurserymen take advantage of the gathering to show any curious or striking flower they chance to have at the moment. Mr. Bull's representative goes round, showing to one and another the contents of a little box—a lovely bloom of Aristolochia elegans, figured in dark red on white ground like a sublime cretonne—and a new variety of Impatiens; he distributes the latter presently, and gentlemen adorn their coats with the pale crimson flower.
Excitement does not often run so high as in the times, which most of those present can recall, when orchids common now were treasured by millionaires. Steam, and the commercial enterprise it fosters, have so multiplied our stocks, that shillings—or pence, often enough—represent the guineas of twenty years back. There are many here, scarcely yet grey, who could describe the scene when Masdevallia Tovarensis first covered the stages of an auction-room. Its dainty white flowers had been known for several years. A resident in the German colony at Tovar, New Granada, sent one plant to a friend at Manchester, by whom it was divided. Each fragment brought a great sum, and the purchasers repeated this operation as fast as their morsels grew. Thus a conventional price was established—one guinea per leaf. Importers were few in those days, and the number of Tovars in South America bewildered them. At length Messrs. Sander got on the track, and commissioned Mr. Arnold to solve the problem. Arnold was a man of great energy and warm temper. Legend reports that he threw up the undertaking once because a gun offered him was second-hand; his prudence was vindicated afterwards by the misfortune of a confrere, poor Berggren, whose second-hand gun, presented by a Belgian employer, burst at a critical moment and crippled him for life. At the very moment of starting, Arnold had trouble with the railway officials. He was taking a quantity of Sphagnum moss in which to wrap the precious things, and they refused to let him carry it by passenger train. The station-master at Waterloo had never felt the atmosphere so warm, they say. In brief, this was a man who stood no nonsense.
A young fellow-passenger showed much sympathy while the row went on, and Arnold learned with pleasure that he also was bound for Caraccas. This young man, whose name it is not worth while to cite, presented himself as agent for a manufacturer of Birmingham goods. There was no need for secrecy with a person of that sort. He questioned Arnold about orchids with a blank but engaging ignorance of the subject, and before the voyage was over he had learned all his friend's hopes and projects. But the deception could not be maintained at Caraccas. There Arnold discovered that the hardware agent was a collector and grower of orchids sufficiently well known. He said nothing, suffered his rival to start, overtook him at a village where the man was taking supper, marched in, barred the door, sat down opposite, put a revolver on the table, and invited him to draw. It should be a fair fight, said Arnold, but one of the pair must die. So convinced was the traitor of his earnestness—with good reason, too, as Arnold's acquaintances declare—that he slipped under the table, and discussed terms of abject surrender from that retreat. So, in due time, Messrs. Sander received more than forty thousand plants of Masdevallia Tovarensis—sent them direct to the auction-room—and drove down the price in one month from a guinea a leaf to the fraction of a shilling.
Other great sales might be recalled, as that of Phaloenopsis Sanderiana and Vanda Sanderiana, when a sum as yet unparalleled was taken in the room; Cypripedium Spicerianum, Cyp. Curtisii, Loelia anceps alba. Rarely now are we thrilled by sensations like these. But 1891 brought two of the old-fashioned sort, the reappearance of Cattleya labiata autumnalis and the public sale of Dendrobium phaloenopsis Schroderianum. The former event deserves a special article, "The Lost Orchid;" but the latter also was most interesting. Messrs. Sander are the heroes of both. Dendrobium ph. Schroederianum was not quite a novelty. The authorities of Kew obtained two plants from an island in Australasia a good many years ago. They presented a piece to Mr. Lee of Leatherhead, and another to Baron Schroeder; when Mr. Lee's grand collection was dispersed, the Baron bought his plant also, for L35, and thus possessed the only specimens in private hands. His name was given to the species.
Under these conditions, the man lucky and enterprising enough to secure a few cases of the Dendrobium might look for a grand return. It seemed likely that New Guinea would prove to be its chief habitat, and thither Mr. Micholitz was despatched. He found it without difficulty, and collected a great number of plants. But then troubles began. The vessel which took them aboard caught fire in port, and poor Micholitz escaped with bare life. He telegraphed the disastrous news, "Ship burnt! What do?" "Go back," replied his employer. "Too late. Rainy season," was the answer. "Go back!" Mr. Sander repeated. Back he went.
This was in Dutch territory. "Well," writes Mr. Micholitz, "there is no doubt these are the meanest people on earth. On my telling them that it was very mean to demand anything from a shipwrecked man, they gave me thirty per cent. deduction on my passage"—201 dollars instead of 280 dollars. However, he reached New Guinea once more and tried fresh ground, having exhausted the former field. Again he found the Dendrobiums, of better quality and in greater number than before. But they were growing among bones and skeletons, in the graveyard of the natives. Those people lay their dead in a slight coffin, which they place upon the rocks just above high tide, a situation which the Dendrobes love. Mr. Micholitz required all his tact and all his most attractive presents before he could persuade the Papuans to let him even approach. But brass wire proved irresistible. They not only suffered him to disturb the bones of their ancestors, but even helped him to stow the plunder. One condition they made: that a favourite idol should be packed therewith; this admitted, they performed a war dance round the cases, and assisted in transporting them. All went well this time, and in due course the tables were loaded with thousands of a plant which, before the consignment was announced, had been the special glory of a collection which is among the richest of the universe.
There were two memorable items in this sale: the idol aforesaid and a skull to which one of the Dendrobes had attached itself. Both were exhibited as trophies and curiosities, not to be disposed of; but by mistake, the idol was put up. It fetched only a trifle—quite as much as it was worth, however. But Hon. Walter de Rothschild fancied it for his museum, and on learning what had happened Mr. Sander begged the purchaser to name his own price. That individual refused.
It was a great day indeed. Very many of the leading orchid-growers of the world were present, and almost all had their gardeners or agents there. Such success called rivals into the field, but New Guinea is a perilous land to explore. Only last week we heard that Mr. White, of Winchmore Hill, has perished in the search for Dendrobium ph. Schroederianum.
I mentioned the great sale of Cyp. Curtisi just now. An odd little story attaches to it. Mr. Curtis, now Director of the Botanic Gardens, Penang, sent this plant home from Sumatra when travelling for Messrs. Veitch, in 1882. The consignment was small, no more followed, and Cyp. Curtisi became a prize. Its habitat was unknown. Mr. Sander instructed his collector to look for it. Five years the search lasted—with many intermissions, of course, and many a success in discovering other fine things. But Mr. Ericksson despaired at last. In one of his expeditions to Sumatra he climbed a mountain—it has been observed before that one must not ask details of locality when collecting orchid legends. So well known is this mountain, however, that the Government, Dutch I presume, has built a shelter for travellers upon it. There Mr. Ericksson put up for the night. Several Europeans had inscribed their names upon the wall, with reflections and sentiments, as is the wont of people who climb mountains. Among these, by the morning light, Mr. Ericksson perceived the sketch of a Cypripedium, as he lay upon his rugs. It represented a green flower, white tipped, veined and spotted with purple, purple of lip. "Curtisi, by Jove!" he cried, in his native Swedish, and jumped up. No doubt of it! Beneath the drawing ran: "C.C.'s contribution to the adornment of this house." Whipping out his pencil, Mr. Ericksson wrote: "Contribution accepted. Cypripedium collected!—C.E." But day by day he sought the plant in vain. His cases filled with other treasures. But for the hope that sketch conveyed, long since he would have left the spot. After all, Mr. Curtis might have chosen the flower by mere chance to decorate the wall. The natives did not know it. So orders were given to pack, and next day Mr. Ericksson would have withdrawn. On the very evening, however, one of his men brought in the flower. A curious story, if one think, but I am in a position to guarantee its truth.
Of another class, but not less renowned in its way, was the sale of March 11th last year. It had been heavily advertised. A leading continental importer announced the discovery of a new Odontoglossum. No less than six varieties of type were employed to call public attention to its merits, and this was really no extravagant allowance under the circumstances alleged. It was a "grand new species," destined to be a "gem in the finest collections," a "favourite," the "most attractive of plants." Its flowers were wholly "tinged with a most delicate mauve, the base of the segment and the lip of a most charming violet"—in short, it was "the blue Odontoglossum" and well deserved the title coeleste. And the whole stock of two hundred plants would be offered to British enthusiasm. No wonder the crowd was thick at Messrs. Protheroe's room on that March morning. Few leading amateurs or growers who could not attend in person were unrepresented. At the psychological moment, when eagerness had reached the highest pitch, an orchid was brought in and set before them. Those experienced persons glanced at it and said, "Very nice, but haven't you an Odontoglossum coeleste to show?" The unhappy agent protested that this was the divine thing. No one would believe at first; the joke was too good—to put it in that mild form. When at length it became evident that this grand new species, heavenly gem, &c., was the charming but familiar Odontoglossum ramossissimum, such a tumult of laughter and indignation arose, that Messrs. Protheroe quashed the sale. A few other instances of the kind might be given but none so grand.
The special interest of the sale to us lies in some novelties collected by Mr. Edward Wallace in parts unknown, and he is probably among us. Mr. Wallace has no adventures in particular to relate this time, but he tells, with due caution, where and how his treasures were gathered in South America. There is a land which those who have geographical knowledge sufficient may identify, surrounded by the territories of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil. It is traversed by some few Indian tribes, and no collector hitherto had penetrated it. Mr. Wallace followed the central line of mountains from Colombia for a hundred and fifty miles, passing a succession of rich valleys described as the loveliest ever seen by this veteran young traveller, such as would support myriads of cattle. League beyond league stretches the "Pajadena grass," pasturage unequalled; but "the wild herds that never knew a fold" are its only denizens. Here, on the mountain slopes, Mr. Wallace found Bletia Sherrattiana, the white form, very rare; another terrestrial orchid, unnamed and, as is thought, unknown, which sends up a branching spike two feet to three feet high, bearing ten to twelve flowers, of rich purple hue, in shape like a Sobralia, three and four inches across; and yet another of the same family, growing on the rocks, and "looking like masses of snow on the hill-side." Such descriptions are thrilling, but these gentlemen receive them placidly; they would like to know, perhaps, what is the reserve price on such fine things, and what the chance of growing them to a satisfactory result. Dealers have a profound distrust of novelties, especially those of terrestrial genus; and their feeling is shared, for a like reason, by most who have large collections. Mr. Burbidge estimates roughly that we have fifteen hundred to two thousand species and varieties of orchid in cultivation; a startling figure, which almost justifies the belief of those who hold that no others worth growing will be found in countries already explored. But beyond question there are six times this number in existence, which collectors have not taken the trouble to gather. The chances, therefore, are against any new thing. Many species well known show slight differences of growth in different localities. Upon the whole, regular orchidaceans prefer that some one else should try experiments, and would rather pay a good price, when assured that it is worth their while, than a few shillings when the only certainty is trouble and the strong probability is failure. Mr. Wallace has nothing more to tell of the undiscovered country. The Indians received him with composure, after he had struck up friendship with an old woman, and for the four days of his stay made themselves both useful and agreeable in their fashion.
The auctioneer has been chatting among his customers. He feels an interest in his wares, as who would not that dealt in objects of the extremest beauty and fascination? To him are consigned occasionally plants of unusual class, which the owner regards as unique, and expects to sell at the fanciest of prices. Unique indeed they must be which can pass unchallenged the ordeal of those keen and learned eyes. Plumeria alba, for instance, may be laid before them, and by no inexperienced horticulturist, with such a "reserve" as befits one of the most exquisite flowers known, and the only specimen in England. But a quiet smile goes round, and a gentleman present offers, in an audible whisper, to send in a dozen of that next week at a fraction of the price. So pleasant chat goes on, until, at the stroke of half-past twelve, the auctioneer mounts his rostrum. First to come before him are a hundred lots of Odontoglossum crispum Alexandrae, described as of "the very best type, and in splendid condition." For the latter point everyone present is able to judge, and for the former all are willing to accept the statements of vendors. The glossy bulbs are clean as new pins, with the small "eye" just bursting among their roots; but nobody seems to want Odontoglossum Alexandrae in particular. One neat little bunch is sold for 11s., which will surely bear a wreath of white flowers, splashed with red brown, in the spring—perhaps two. And then bidding ceases. The auctioneer exclaims, "Does anybody want any crispums?" and instantly passes by the ninety-nine lots remaining.
It would mislead the unlearned public, and would not greatly interest them, to go through the catalogue of an orchid sale and quote the selling price of every lot. From week to week the value of these things fluctuates—that is, of course, of bulbs imported and unestablished. Various circumstances effect it, but especially the time of year. They sell best in spring, when they have months of light and sun before them, in which to recover from the effects of a long voyage and uncomfortable quarters. The buyer must make them grow strong before the dark days of an English winter are upon him; and every month that passes weakens his chance. In August it is already late; in September, the periodical auctions ceased until lately. Some few consignments will be received, detained by accident, or forwarded by persons who do not understand the business.
That instance of Odontoglossum Alexandrae shows well enough the price of orchids this month, and the omission of all that followed illustrates it. The same lots would have been eagerly contested at twice the sum in April. But those who want that queenliest of flowers may get it for shillings at any time. The reputation of the importer, and his assurance that the plants belong to the very best type, give these more value than usual. He will try his luck once more perhaps this season; and then he will pot the bulbs unsold to offer them as "established" next year.
Oncidium luridum follows the Odontoglots, a broad-leaved, handsome orchid, which the untrained eye might think to have no pseudo-bulb at all. This species always commands a sale, if cheap, and ten shillings is a reasonable figure for a piece of common size. If all go well, it may throw out a branching spike six or seven feet long next summer, with—such a sight has been offered—several hundred blooms, yellow, brown and orange, Oncidium juncifolium, which comes next, is unknown to us, and probably to others; no offer is made for its reed-like growths described as "very free blooming all the year round, with small yellow flowers." Epidendrum bicornutum, on the other hand, is very well known and deeply admired, when seen; but this is an event too rare. The description of its exquisite white blossoms, crimson spotted on the lip, is still rather a legend than a matter of eye-witness. Somebody is reported to have grown it for some years "like a cabbage;" but his success was a mystery to himself. At Kew they find no trouble in certain parts of a certain house. Most of these, however, are fine growths, and the average price should be 12s. 6d. to 15s. Compare such figures with those that ruled when the popular impression of the cost of orchids was forming. I have none at hand which refer to the examples mentioned, but in the cases following, one may safely reckon shillings at the present day for pounds in 1846. That year, I perceive, such common species as Barkeria spectabilis fetched 5l. to 17l. each; Epidendrum Stamfordianum, five guineas; Dendrobium formosum, fifteen guineas; Aerides maculosum, crispum and odoratum 20l., 21l., and 16l., respectively. No one who understands orchids will believe that the specimens which brought such monstrous prices were superior in any respect to those we now receive, and he will be absolutely sure that they were landed in much worse condition. But the average cost of the most expensive at the present day might be 30s., and only a large piece would fetch that sum. It is astonishing to me that so few people grow orchids. Every modern book on gardening tells how five hundred varieties at least, the freest to flower and assuredly as beautiful as any, may be cultivated without heat for seven or eight months of the year. It is those "legends," I have spoken of which deter the public from entertaining the notion. An afternoon at an orchid sale would dispel them.
There is no room to deal with this great subject historically, scientifically, or even practically, in the space of a chapter. I am an enthusiast, and I hold some strong views, but this is not the place to urge them. It is my purpose to ramble on, following thoughts as they arise, yet with a definite aim. The skilled reader will find nothing to criticize, I hope, and the indifferent, something to amuse.
Those amiable theorists who believe that the resources of Nature, if they be rightly searched, are able to supply every wholesome want the fancy of man conceives, have a striking instance in the case of orchids. At the beginning of this century, the science of floriculture, so far as it went, was at least as advanced as now. Under many disadvantages which we escape—the hot-air flue especially, and imperfect means of ventilation—our fore-fathers grew the plants known to them quite as well as we do. Many tricks have been discovered since, but for lasting success assuredly our systems are no improvement. Men interested in such matters began to long for fresh fields, and they knew where to look. Linnaeus had told them something of exotic orchids in 1763, though his knowledge was gained through dried specimens and drawings. One bulb, indeed—we spare the name—showed life on arrival, had been planted, and had flowered thirty years before, as Mr. Castle shows. Thus horticulturists became aware, just when the information was most welcome, that a large family of plants unknown awaited their attention; plants quite new, of strangest form, of mysterious habits, and beauty incomparable. Their notions were vague as yet, but the fascination of the subject grew from year to year. Whilst several hundred species were described in books, the number in cultivation, including all those gathered by Sir Joseph Banks, and our native kinds, was only fifty. Kew boasted no more than one hundred and eighteen in 1813; amateurs still watched in timid and breathless hope.
Gradually they came to see that the new field was open, and they entered with a rush. In 1830 a number of collections still famous in the legends of the mystery are found complete. At the Orchid Conference, Mr. O'Brien expressed a "fear that we could not now match some of the specimens mentioned at the exhibitions of the Horticultural Society in Chiswick Gardens between 1835 and 1850;" and extracts which he gave from reports confirm this suspicion. The number of species cultivated at that time was comparatively small. People grew magnificent "specimens" in place of many handsome pots. We read of things amazing to the experience of forty years later. Among the contributions of Mrs. Lawrence, mother to our "chief," Sir Trevor, was an Aerides with thirty to forty flower spikes; a Cattleya with twenty spikes; an Epidendrum bicornutum, difficult to keep alive, much more to bloom, until the last few years, with "many spikes;" an Oncidium, "bearing a head of golden flowers four feet across." Giants dwelt in our greenhouses then.
So the want of enthusiasts was satisfied. In 1852 Mr. B.S. Williams could venture to publish "Orchids for the Million," a hand-book of world-wide fame under the title it presently assumed, "The Orchid Grower's Manual." An occupation or amusement the interest of which grows year by year had been discovered. All who took trouble to examine found proof visible that these masterworks of Nature could be transplanted and could be made to flourish in our dull climate with a regularity and a certainty unknown to them at home. The difficulties of their culture were found to be a myth—we speak generally, and this point must be mentioned again. The "Million" did not yet heed Mr. Williams' invitation, but the Ten Thousand did, heartily.
I take it that orchids meet a craving of the cultured soul which began to be felt at the moment when kindly powers provided means to satisfy it. People of taste, unless I err, are tiring of those conventional forms in which beauty has been presented in all past generations. It may be an unhealthy sentiment, it may be absurd, but my experience is that it exists and must be taken into account. A picture, a statue, a piece of china, any work of art, is eternally the same, however charming. The most one can do is to set it in different positions, different lights. Theophile Gautier declared in a moment of frank impatience that if the Transfiguration hung in his study, he would assuredly find blemishes therein after awhile—quite fanciful and baseless, as he knew, but such, nevertheless, as would drive him to distraction presently. I entertain a notion, which may appear very odd to some, that Gautier's influence on the aesthetic class of men has been more vigorous than that of any other teacher; thousands who never read a line of his writing are unconsciously inspired by him. The feeling that gave birth to his protest nearly two generations since is in the air now. Those who own a collection of art, those who have paid a great sum for pictures, will not allow it, naturally. As a rule, indeed, a man looks at his fine things no more than at his chairs and tables. But he who is best able to appreciate good work, and loves it best when he sees it, is the one who grows restless when it stands constantly before him.
"Oh, that those lips had language!" cried Cowper. "Oh, that those lovely figures would combine anew—change their light—do anything, anything!" cries the aesthete after awhile. "Oh, that the wind would rise upon that glorious sea; the summer green would fade to autumn yellow; that night would turn to day, clouds to sunshine, or sunshine to clouds." But the littera scripta manet—the stroke of the brush is everlasting. Apollo always bends the bow in marble. One may read a poem till it is known by heart, and in another second the familiar words strike fresh upon the ear. Painters lay a canvas aside, and presently come to it, as they say, with a new eye; but a purchaser once seized with this desperate malady has no such refuge. After putting his treasure away for years, at the first glance all his satiety returns. I myself have diagnosed a case where a fine drawing by Gerome grew to be a veritable incubus. It is understood that the market for pictures is falling yearly. I believe that the growth of this dislike to the eternal stillness of a painted scene is a chief cause of the disaster. It operates among the best class of patrons.
For such men orchids are a blessed relief. Fancy has not conceived such loveliness, complete all round, as theirs—form, colour, grace, distribution, detail, and broad effect. Somewhere, years ago—in Italy perhaps, but I think at the Taylor Institution, Oxford—I saw the drawings made by Rafaelle for Leo X. of furniture and decoration in his new palace; be it observed in parenthesis, that one who has not beheld the master's work in this utilitarian style of art has but a limited understanding of his supremacy. Among them were idealizations of flowers, beautiful and marvellous as fairyland, but compared with the glory divine that dwells in a garland of Odontoglossum Alexandrae, artificial, earthy. Illustrations of my meaning are needless to experts, and to others words convey no idea. But on the table before me now stands a wreath of Oncidium crispum which I cannot pass by. What colourist would dare to mingle these lustrous browns with pale gold, what master of form could shape the bold yet dainty waves and crisps and curls in its broad petals, what human imagination could bend the graceful curve, arrange the clustering masses of its bloom? All beauty that the mind can hold is there—the quintessence of all charm and fancy. Were I acquainted with an atheist who, by possibility, had brain and feeling, I would set that spray before him and await reply. If Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like a lily of the field, the angels of heaven have no vesture more ethereal than the flower of the orchid. Let us take breath.
Many persons indifferent to gardening—who are repelled, indeed, by its prosaic accompaniments, the dirt, the manure, the formality, the spade, the rake, and all that—love flowers nevertheless. For such these plants are more than a relief. Observe my Oncidium. It stands in a pot, but this is only for convenience—a receptacle filled with moss. The long stem feathered with great blossoms springs from a bare slab of wood. No mould nor peat surrounds it; there is absolutely nothing save the roots that twine round their support, and the wire that sustains it in the air. It asks no attention beyond its daily bath. From the day I tied it on that block last year—reft from home and all its pleasures, bought with paltry silver at Stevens' Auction Rooms—I have not touched it save to dip and to replace it on its hook. When the flowers fade, thither it will return, and grow and grow, please Heaven, until next summer it rejoices me again; and so, year by year, till the wood rots. Then carefully I shall transfer it to a larger perch and resume. Probably I shall sever the bulbs without disturbing them, and in seasons following two spikes will push—then three, then a number, multiplying and multiplying when my remotest posterity is extinct. That is, so Nature orders it; whether my descendants will be careful to allow her fair play depends on circumstances over which I have not the least control.
For among their innumerable claims to a place apart among all things created, orchids may boast immortality. Said Sir Trevor Lawrence, in the speech which opened our famous Congress, 1885: "I do not see, in the case of most of them, the least reason why they should ever die. The parts of the orchideae are annually reproduced in a great many instances, and there is really no reason they should not live for ever unless, as is generally the case with them in captivity, they be killed by errors in cultivation." Sir Trevor was addressing an assemblage of authorities—a parterre of kings in the empire of botany—or he might have enlarged upon this text.
The epiphytal orchid, to speak generally, and to take the simple form, is one body with several limbs, crowned by one head. Its circulation pulsates through the whole, less and less vigorously, of course, in the parts that have flowered, as the growing head leaves them behind. At some age, no doubt, circulation fails altogether in those old limbs, but experience does not tell me distinctly as yet in how long time the worn-out bulbs of an Oncidium or a Cattleya, for example, would perish by natural death. One may cut them off when apparently lifeless, even beginning to rot, and under proper conditions—it may be a twelvemonth after—a tiny green shoot will push from some "eye," withered and invisible, that has slept for years, and begin existence on its own account. Thus, I am not old enough as an orchidacean to judge through how many seasons these plants will maintain a limb apparently superfluous. Their charming disposition is characterized above all things by caution and foresight. They keep as many strings to their bow, as many shots in their locker, as may be, and they keep them as long as possible. The tender young head may be nipped off by a thousand chances, but such mishaps only rouse the indomitable thing to replace it with two, or even more. Beings designed for immortality are hard to kill.
Among the gentle forms of intellectual excitement I know not one to compare with the joy of restoring a neglected orchid to health. One may buy such for coppers—rare species, too—of a size and a "potentiality" of display which the dealers would estimate at as many pounds were they in good condition on their shelves. I am avoiding names and details, but it will be allowed me to say, in brief, that I myself have bought more than twenty pots for five shillings at the auction-rooms, not twice nor thrice either. One half of them were sick beyond recovery, some few had been injured by accident, but by far the greater part were victims of ignorance and ill-treatment which might still be redressed. Orchids tell their own tale, whether of happiness or misery, in characters beyond dispute. Mr. O'Brien alleged, indeed, before the grave and experienced signors gathered in conference, that "like the domestic animals, they soon find out when they are in hands that love them. With such a guardian they seem to be happy, and to thrive, and to establish an understanding, indicating to him their wants in many important matters as plainly as though they could speak." And the laugh that followed this statement was not derisive. He who glances at the endless tricks, methods, and contrivances devised by one or other species to serve its turn may well come to fancy that orchids are reasoning things.
At least, many keep the record of their history in form unmistakable. Here is a Cattleya which I purchased last autumn, suspecting it to be rare and valuable, though nameless; I paid rather less than one shilling. The poor thing tells me that some cruel person bought it five years ago—an imported piece, with two pseudo-bulbs. They still remain, towering like columns of old-world glory above an area of shapeless ruin. To speak in mere prose—though really the conceit is not extravagant—these fine bulbs, grown in their native land, of course, measure eight inches high by three-quarters of an inch diameter. In the first season, that malheureux reduced their progeny to a stature of three and a half inches by the foot-rule; next season, to two inches; the third, to an inch and a half. By this time the patient creature had convinced itself that there was something radically wrong in the circumstances attending its normal head, and tried a fresh departure from the stock—a "back growth," as we call it, after the fashion I have described. In the third year then, there were two heads. In the fourth year, the chief of them had dwindled to less than one inch and the thickness of a straw, while the second struggled into growth with pain and difficulty, reached the size of a grain of wheat, and gave it up. Needless to say that the wicked and unfortunate proprietor had not seen trace of a bloom. Then at length, after five years' torment, he set it free, and I took charge of the wretched sufferer. Forthwith he began to show his gratitude, and at this moment—the summer but half through—his leading head has regained all the strength lost in three years, while the back growth, which seemed dead, outtops the best bulb my predecessor could produce.
And I have perhaps a hundred in like case, cripples regaining activity, victims rescued on their death-bed. If there be a placid joy in life superior to mine, as I stroll through my houses of a morning, much experience of the world in many lands and many circumstances has not revealed it to me. And any of my readers can attain it, for—in no conventional sense—I am my own gardener; that is to say, no male being ever touches an orchid of mine.
One could hardly cite a stronger argument to demolish the superstitions that still hang around this culture. If a busy man, journalist, essayist, novelist, and miscellaneous litterateur, who lives by his pen, can keep many hundreds of orchids in such health that he is proud to show them to experts—with no help whatsoever beyond, in emergency, that which ladies of his household, or a woman-servant give—if he can do this, assuredly the pursuit demands little trouble and little expense. I am not to lay down principles of cultivation here, but this must be said: orchids are indifferent to detail. There lies a secret. Secure the general conditions necessary for their well-doing, and they will gratefully relieve you of further anxiety; neglect those general conditions, and no care will reconcile them. The gentleman who reduced my Cattleya to such straits gave himself vast pains, it is likely, consulted no end of books, did all they recommend; and now declares that orchids are unaccountable. It is just the reverse. No living things follow with such obstinate obedience a few most simple laws; no machine produces its result more certainly, if one comply with the rules of its being.
This is shown emphatically by those cases which we do not clearly understand; I take for example the strangest, as is fitting. Some irreverent zealots have hailed the Phaloenopsis as Queen of Flowers, dethroning our venerable rose. I have not to consider the question of allegiance, but decidedly this is, upon the whole, the most interesting of all orchids in the cultivator's point of view. For there are some genera and many species that refuse his attentions more or less stubbornly—in fact, we do not yet know how to woo them. But the Phaloenopsis is not among them. It gives no trouble in the great majority of cases. For myself, I find it grow with the calm complacency of the cabbage. Yet we are all aware that our success is accidental, in a measure. The general conditions which it demands are fulfilled, commonly, in any stove where East Indian plants flourish; but from time to time we receive a vigorous hint that particular conditions, not always forthcoming, are exacted by Phaloenopsis. Many legends on this theme are current; I may cite two, notorious and easily verified. The authorities at Kew determined to build a special house for the genus, provided with every comfort which experience or scientific knowledge could suggest. But when it was opened, six or eight years ago, not a Phaloenopsis of all the many varieties would grow in it; after vain efforts, Mr. Thiselton Dyer was obliged to seek another use for the building, which is now employed to show plants in flower. Sir Trevor Lawrence tells how he laid out six hundred pounds for the same object with the same result. And yet one may safely reckon that this orchid does admirably in nine well-managed stoves out of ten, and fairly in nineteen out of twenty. Nevertheless, it is a maxim with growers that Phaloenopsis should never be transferred from a situation where they are doing well. Their hooks are sacred as that on which Horace suspended his lyre. Nor could a reasonable man think this fancy extravagant, seeing the evidence beyond dispute which warns us that their health is governed by circumstances more delicate than we can analyze at present.
It would be wrong to leave the impression that orchid culture is actually as facile as market gardening, but we may say that the eccentricities of Phaloenopsis and the rest have no more practical importance for the class I would persuade than have the terrors of the deep for a Thames water-man. How many thousand householders about this city have a "bit of glass" devoted to geraniums and fuchsias and the like! They started with more ambitious views, but successive disappointments have taught modesty, if not despair. The poor man now contents himself with anything that will keep tolerably green and show some spindling flower. The fact is, that hardy plants under glass demand skilful treatment—all their surroundings are unnatural, and with insect pest on one hand, mildew on the other, an amateur stands betwixt the devil and the deep sea. Under those circumstances common plants become really capricious—that is, being ruled by no principles easy to grasp and immutable in operation, their discomfort shows itself in perplexing forms. But such species of orchids as a poor man would think of growing are incapable of pranks. For one shilling he can buy a manual which will teach him what these species are, and most of the things necessary for him to understand besides. An expenditure of five pounds will set him up for life and beyond—since orchids are immortal. Nothing else is needed save intelligence.
Not even heat, since his collection will be "cool" naturally; if frost be excluded, that is enough. I should not have ventured to say this some few years ago—before, in fact, I had visited St. Albans. But in the cool house of that palace of enchantment with which Mr. Sander has adorned the antique borough, before the heating arrangements were quite complete though the shelves were occupied, often the glass would fall very low into the thirties. I could never learn distinctly that mischief followed, though Mr. Godseff did not like it at all. One who beheld the sight when those fields of Odontoglossum burst into bloom might well entertain a doubt whether improvement was possible. There is nothing to approach it in this lower world. I cannot forbear to indicate one picture in the grand gallery. Fancy a corridor four hundred feet long, six wide, roofed with square baskets hanging from the glass as close as they will fit. Suspend to each of these—how many hundreds or thousands has never been computed—one or more garlands of snowy flowers, a thicket overhead such as one might behold in a tropic forest, with myriads of white butterflies clustering amongst the vines. But imagination cannot bear mortal man thus far. "Upon the banks of Paradise" those "twa clerks" may have seen the like; yet, had they done so their hats would have been adorned not with "the birk," but with plumes of Odontoglossum citrosmum.
I have but another word to say. If any of the class to whom I appeal incline to let "I dare not wait upon I would," hear the experience of a bold enthusiast, as recounted by Mr. Castle in his small brochure, "Orchids." This gentleman had a fern-case outside his sitting-room window, six feet long by three wide. He ran pipes through it, warmed presumably by gas. More ambitious than I venture to recommend, "in this miniature structure," says Mr. Castle, "with liberal supplies of water, the owner succeeded in growing, in a smoky district of London"—I will not quote the amazing list of fine things, but it numbers twenty-five species, all the most delicate and beautiful of the stove kinds. If so much could be done under such circumstances, what may rightly be called difficult in the cultivation of orchids?
This is a subject which would interest every cultured reader, I believe, every householder at least, if he could be brought to understand that it lies well within the range of his practical concerns. But the public has still to be persuaded. It seems strange to the expert that delusions should prevail when orchids are so common and so much talked of; but I know by experience that the majority of people, even among those who love their garden, regard them as fantastic and mysterious creations, designed, to all seeming, for the greater glory of pedants and millionaires. I try to do my little part, as occasion serves, in correcting this popular error, and spreading a knowledge of the facts. It is no less than a duty. If every human being should do what he can to promote the general happiness, it would be downright wicked to leave one's fellow-men under the influence of hallucinations that debar them from the most charming of quiet pleasures. I suspect also that the misapprehension of the public is largely due to the conduct of experts in the past. It was a rule with growers formerly, avowed among themselves, to keep their little secrets. When Mr. B.S. Williams published the first edition of his excellent book forty years ago, he fluttered his colleagues sadly. The plain truth is that no class of plant can be cultivated so easily, as none are so certain to repay the trouble, as the Cool Orchids.
Nearly all the genera of this enormous family have species which grow in a temperate climate, if not in the temperate zone. At this moment, in fact, I recall but two exceptions, Vanda and Phaloenopsis. Many more there are, of course—half a dozen have occurred to me while I wrote the last six words—but in the small space at command I must cling to generalities. We have at least a hundred genera which will flourish anywhere if the frost be excluded; and as for species, a list of two thousand would not exhaust them probably. But a reasonable man may content himself with the great classes of Odontoglossum, Oncidium, Cypripedium, and Lycaste; among the varieties of these, which no one has ventured to calculate perhaps, he may spend a happy existence. They have every charm—foliage always green, a graceful habit, flowers that rank among the master works of Nature. The poor man who succeeds with them in his modest "bit of glass" has no cause to envy Dives his flaunting Cattleyas and "fox-brush" Aerides. I should like to publish it in capitals—that nine in ten of those suburban householders who read this book may grow the loveliest of orchids if they can find courage to try.
Odontoglossums stand first, of course—I know not where to begin the list of their supreme merits. It will seem perhaps a striking advantage to many that they burst into flower at any time, as they chance to ripen. I think that the very perfection of culture is discounted somewhat in this instance. The gardener who keeps his plants at the ne plus ultra stage brings them all into bloom within the space of a few weeks. Thus in the great collections there is such a show during April, May, and June as the Gardens of Paradise could not excel, and hardly a spike in the cool houses for the rest of the year. At a large establishment this signifies nothing; when the Odontoglossums go off other things "come on" with equal regularity. But the amateur, with his limited assortment, misses every bloom. He has no need for anxiety with this genus. It is their instinct to flower in spring, of course, but they are not pedantic about it in the least. Some tiny detail overlooked here and there, absolutely unimportant to health, will retard florescence. It might very well happen that the owner of a dozen pots had one blooming every month successively. And that would mean two spikes open, for, with care, most Odontoglossums last above four weeks.
Another virtue, shared by others of the cool class in some degree, is their habit of growing in winter. They take no "rest;" all the year round their young bulbs are swelling, graceful foliage lengthening, roots pushing, until the spike demands a concentration of all their energy. But winter is the most important time. I think any man will see the peculiar blessing of this arrangement. It gives interest to the long dull days, when other plant life is at a standstill. It furnishes material for cheering meditations on a Sunday morning—is that a trifle? And at this season the pursuit is joy unmixed. We feel no anxious questionings, as we go about our daily business, whether the placens uxor forgot to remind Mary, when she went out, to pull the blinds down; whether Mary followed the instructions if given; whether those confounded patent ventilators have snapped to again. Green fly does not harass us. One syringing a day, and one watering per week suffice. Truly these are not grave things, but the issue at stake is precious: we enjoy the boon of relief proportionately.
Very few of those who grow Odontoglossums know much about the "Trade," or care, seemingly. It is a curious subject, however. The genus is American exclusively. It ranges over the continent from the northern frontier of Mexico to the southern frontier of Peru, excepting, to speak roughly, the empire of Brazil. This limitation is odd. It cannot be due to temperature simply, for, upon the one hand, we receive Sophronitis, a very cool genus, from Brazil, and several of the coolest Cattleyas; upon the other, Odontoglossum Roezlii, a very hot species, and O. vexillarium, most decidedly warm, flourish up to the boundary. Why these should not step across, even if their mountain sisters refuse companionship with the Sophronitis, is a puzzle. Elsewhere, however, they abound. Collectors distinctly foresee the time when all the districts they have "worked" up to this will be exhausted. But South America contains a prodigious number of square miles, and a day's march from the track carries one into terra incognita. Still, the end will come. The English demand has stripped whole provinces, and now all the civilized world is entering into competition. We are sadly assured that Odontoglossums carried off will not be replaced for centuries. Most other genera of orchid propagate so freely that wholesale depredations are made good in very few years. For reasons beyond our comprehension as yet, the Odontoglossum stands in different case. No one in England has raised a plant from seed—that we may venture to say definitely. Mr. Cookson and Mr. Veitch, perhaps others also, have obtained living germs, but they died incontinently. Frenchmen, aided by the climate, have been rather more successful. MM. Bleu and Moreau have both flowered seedling Odontoglots. M. Jacob, who takes charge of M. Edmund de Rothschild's orchids at Armainvilliers, has a considerable number of young plants. The reluctance of Odontoglots to propagate is regarded as strange; it supplies a constant theme for discussion among orchidologists. But I think that if we look more closely it appears consistent with other facts known. For among importations of every genus but this—and Cypripedium—a plant bearing its seed-capsules is frequently discovered; but I cannot hear of such an incident in the case of Odontoglossums. They have been arriving in scores of thousands, year by year, for half a century almost, and scarcely anyone recollects observing a seed-capsule. This shows how rarely they fertilize in their native home. When that event happens, the Odontoglossum is yet more prolific than most, and the germs, of course, are not so delicate under their natural conditions. But the moral to be drawn is that a country once stripped will not be reclothed.