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Paxton's Magazine of Botany
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From 1834 to 1849, The Magazine of Botany was published by Sir Joseph Paxton each month.  In addition to providing hand-colored illustrations of ornamental plants found in British gardens, along with descriptive text, The Magazine also featured a variety of articles of interest to the gardener.  Each month we will feature monthly "operations" advice from The Magazine for tending your garden!

Operations for February

OUR monthly calendar of operations necessary to be performed in the various departments of floriculture having already been conducted through five successive annual volumes, it may easily be imaged that the subject is now nearly exhausted. To avoid any useless and tedious reiterations, in the last volume of this Magazine we deemed it advisable to generalise the instructions as much as possible, neither detailing every process, nor enumerating each individual plant to which any particular treatment was required. In accordance with this practice of submitting general principles rather than petty precepts, we propose commencing and continuing the present volume, and beg to refer the reader, who may desirous of obtaining more particular information, to the directions contained in those previously issued.

During this and the succeeding months, the time of the gardener is usually occupied in the attention to the preservation of all kinds of tender plants. In plant structures, besides the expulsion or exclusion of frost and damp, a state of profound torpor must be maintained. Although, by abating the supply of moisture, this object may be partially attained, the due regulation of temperature is of much greater moment. As the sun’s beams are not now sufficiently intense to furnish heat commensurate with the excessive calorific radiation, the value of interposing any substances which may obstruct the latter will be fully recognised by the economical cultivator. A very trifling degree of artificial heat, accompanied by a close covering of garden mats over every part of the glazed surface, will be much more effectual in preserving plants from frost than the employment of active heat to twice the extent, without any covering to the glass.

To the amateur, or gardener of limited means, a knowledge of this fact is of very great importance; as, by availing himself of the system here recommended, an immense saving of fuel may be effected. But the practice is even still more valuable in maintaining the plants in a healthy condition, and consequently should be adopted even where economy is not so much regarded. Its beneficial result to the plants is twofold, combining ample protection from cold, with the maintenance of that dormancy which we before stated to be so desirable, neither of which objects is ensured by any other method. Without a covering to the glass of some material which will diminish radiation, whatever quantity of heat may be at command, the upper and tender shoots of plants that are within a few feet from the glass, are almost inevitably injured when frosts are very intense. Their susceptibility of injury is also greatly increased by the excitation which must and does always accompany an elevation of temperature. Thus, when in frosty weather a high temperature is created and maintained, a stimulus is imparted to the roots and lower portions of plants, which, upon communicated to their upper extremities, induces growth; and the shoots thus formed are exceedingly liable to be destroyed when any augmentation of frost occurs.

By the practice of the method above suggested, no danger of this kind will be incurred, and the plants will be kept in a uniformly dormant state. The partial refraction of light which it will occasion, cannot be productive of injury to any plant if its shoots are fully matured and completely torpid; and even this will be obviated during the day, except in extreme frost, since the covering may be safely removed while the sun is shining, or the temperature only moderately low. In fine weather, indeed, a greater degree of light will be afforded by this system than could also be obtained; as the cultivator will be enabled to place his plants much nearer the glass than he otherwise could with security.

These principles apply with equal force and propriety to the management of pits and frames, and also to tender plants in the open ground. If they are closely enveloped in some thick covering which will prevent or retard radiation, the natural heat of the ground, and also the latent heat of the plants themselves, will render them perfectly secure from external cold. The preservation of tuberous or other roots, which are taken from the ground during winter, may likewise be included in these remarks. If duly sheltered with dry straw, and all apertures or glazed surfaces in the apartment in which they are kept carefully covered, no artificial heat will be necessary, unless it be for dispelling injurious moisture.

When a complete thaw succeeds a severe frost, all herbaceous plants and bulbs that have been planted in the autumn should be examined, and those which have been so near the surface as to be left exposed by the contraction of the soil during congelation, must be carefully reinstated.

Bulbs or other plants intended for early flowering, should be immediately placed in a moist heat, and their growth attentively watched, for the purpose of removing all obstructions, and affording every desirable facility. Gentle syringing is, or should be, an essential feature in forcing, though a moist atmosphere will have precisely the same effect, and is much more congenial to plants.

Last updated February 2017