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House Plants Without A Greenhouse

( Originally Published 1923 )

The ability to force plants out of season, without the application of heat, but by freezing by means of ether, is not a theory. It has been done successfully by several people; but I must confess to having had no experience of it myself. Still, the account of it given by Mrs. Flora L. Marble in The Garden Magazine for September, 1905, is circumstantial enough, and convincing. To quote:

"Success crowned our attempt at forcing by ether. We had flowers for Christmas just like those of the stores which had been forced by the expensive florist's green-house, heated by steam or water. Our apparatus was only a little bottle of ether, an old washboiler for small plants, and an old-fashioned chest for the shrubs. Actual cash outlay fifteen cents a plant! After the ether treatment the plants were subject to all the discomforts that commonly fall to the lot of house plants during winter.

"The old-fashioned chest, with dovetailed corners and double boards on the sides and bottom, was lined with heavy paper and all suggestions of cracks were filled with putty. The lid was removed, and the chest was placed upside down on the cellar floor and banked around with earth. A hole was drilled for the funnel through which the ether was poured. Inside was a sponge and a small basin under the sponge to hold the ether, while the sponge continually soaked it up and aided evaporation. This chest contained about fifty-six gallons space and we used four ounces of ether for the dose that is the approved ratio. The hole was tightly plugged after the funnel was withdrawn.

" We chose for our experiment two azaleas, Vervaeniana, and Simon Mardner; two lilacs, Marie le Gray and Charles X.; two deutzias.

"November 4th the plants arrived from the nursery. They were potted at once in dry earth that is important, dry earth and put under the chest packed like cord. wood, their branches still tied, and cloth bound about the pots to hold the soil. The ether was poured in and the plants remained for seventy-two hours. What a sorry sight as they were removed from the forcing chest!" These plants that were to be a joy at Christmas and it was already Novem ber 7th!

" The Marie le Gray lilac, a bare shrub, looked unaltered, but there was a smell of ether about the dirt when it was watered that was hopeful.

"The other lilac, Charles X., is notoriously hard to force. So it was left dry and bewrapped on the cellar floor to rest a couple of days before going into the chest for another dose of ether.

"Look at the azaleas! Vervaeniana, that had been of so shiny. a green when put in the chest, now had the lower leaves a rich crimson, while the top of the plant remained green as our sumach does in the fall. It followed the lilac upstairs. Simon Mardner showed no signs of a change of heart, so we put it back to rest with the Charles X. lilac.

One of the deutzias was watered and sent to join the promising ones; the other was wrapped up and treated once more.

"Then we began to quake. Finally we did the thing only half way, which is very foolish always. Charles X., Simon Mardner, and the deutzia were put back in the chest bravely enough, but when we came to pour in the ether we stopped at two ounces.

"On the evening of the 12th, having been in the chest three days, these plants were once more brought into fresh air and daylight. The lilac and deutzia were in no wise altered, but Simon Mardner had folded its small green leaves close to the branches as a clover plant will at night.

"Azalea Vervaeniana began to lose the crimson leaves, and many of the green leaves fell off. This dropping of the foliage continued until December 3rd, when the plant began to grow like a miracle. The flower buds, that had been nestling in the tips of the branches, swelled and doffed the russet caps that covered their pink glory. December 13th found the first blossom fully open. By Christmas time the plant was a thing to marvel at. The flowers were large and perfect, crowding each other in the shape of an old-fashioned bouquet, and the plant was beautiful all through January, when it was cut back, to make a new growth for next season.

"After it had been upstairs a day or so, azalea Simon Mardner waked up and straightened out its folded leaves, and many of them fell off. The flower buds showed colour on December 15th, and after that the plant took up a great pace, and by Christmas time most of the flowers were fully open. They are just the color of the American Beauty rose, having a richness of tone that Vervaeniana lacks; but, for all of that, we prefer the pale pink of the latter. Vervaeniana rather likes sunshine, and will live comfortably in a warm room. Simon Mardner, on the other hand, hates sunshine even more than artificial heat. In spite of being too warm sometimes, it kept its good looks through January, but by the middle of February was dead. Dead from overwork and rush, no doubt.

"Our most delightful success was with the Marie le Gray lilac. In four days the leaf buds began to swell. The first week in December the white flowers began to unfold; by the loth of the month the flowers were full blown, and hung there, unchanging, to the last day of the month.

"We have different things to say of Charles X. The person who christened it must have known what the history books say of that French Charles X: `His policy was bigoted and reactionary. It excited much discontent.' Of no Charles X. was this remark ever more true than of the one who occupied our sunny window after November 12th. It came into leaf, but the flowers never developed.

"The deutzias remained unpromising until about December 3rd, when a faint show of green could be detected along the branches of the plant that had had two treatments. The other remained dormant. By Christmas Day all the lower flowers were in full bloom, while those at the tips of the branches were still tiny buds. The leaves did not grow much until the flowers were out. The photographs were taken at Christmas time to show the relative condition. (see plate ).

"All the plants had the same treatment from the time the dopes ended. They were taken to the third floor, where the hall widens out into what we call the sun parlour. Here the windows face south and east and west. The light is diffused, and there are no draughts. At night the temperature would often go down to 35 degrees or 4o degrees. On a few very cold nights we huddled our patients about the radiator, with a screen around them to keep off the cold air which might come up the stairway. In the daytime the temperature averaged about 65 degrees, sometimes climbing up to 70 degrees.

" When the plants were beginning tO bloom they were watered every four or five days with weak manure water. There is a great difference in the thirst of the various. plants. Water them when the soil on top gets dry, not before, though there is a great temptation so to do when the plant in the next crock needs a drink. The deutzias were only watered about once a week, but the lilacs and azaleas needed water every day. The plants that were not dosed did not take as much water, for they were not growing as fast.

"If we had been working in a hothouse, and could have started early enough, it would have been possible to get the same results.

The use of anaesthetics shortens the time of forcing twenty to thirty days.

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