After so much advice as to the possibility of making conditions right for the growing of plants in the house, the inexperienced reader will naturally want to know what these conditions are. LIGHT In the first place, almost all plants, whether they flower or not, must have an abundance of light, and many require sunshine, especially during the dull days of winter. Plants without sufficient light never make a normal, healthy growth; the stems are long, lanky and weak, the foliage has a semi-transparent, washed-out look, and the whole plant falls an easy victim to disease or insect enemies. Even plants grown in the full light of a window, as everyone with any experience in managing them knows from observation, will draw toward the glass and become one-sided with the leaves all facing one way. Therefore even with the best of conditions, it is necessary to turn them half about every few days, preferably every time they are watered, in order that they may maintain an even, shapely growth. As a rule the flowering plants, such as geraniums and heliotropes, require more light and sunshine than those grown for foliage, such as palms, ferns and the decorative leaved begonias.
It is almost impossible, during the winter months, to give any of them too much sunlight and where there is any danger of this, as sometimes happens in early fall or late spring, a curtain of the thinnest material will give them ample protection, the necessity being not to exclude the light, but simply to break the direct action of the sun's rays through glass. A great variety of plants may be grown in the ordinary window garden, for which the sunniest and broadest window available should be selected. There are two methods of handling the plants: they may be kept as individual specimens in pots and "dishes" or "pans" (which are nothing more or less than shallow flower pots), or they may be grown together in a plant box, made for the purpose and usually more or less decorative in itself, that will harmonize with and set off the beauty of the plants. The latter method, that of growing in boxes, offers two distinct advantages, especially where there is likely to be encountered too high a temperature and consequent dryness in the air. The plants are more easily cared for than they are in pots, which rapidly dry out and need frequent changing; and effects in grouping and harmonious decoration may be had which are not readily secured with plants in pots. On the other hand, it is not possible to give such careful attention to individual plants which may require it as when they are grown in pots; nor can there be so much re-arrangement and change when these are required--and what good housekeeper is not a natural born scene shifter, every once in so often rolling the piano around to the other side of the room, and moving the bookcase or changing the big Boston fern over to the other window, so it can be seen from the dining-room? If the plants are to be kept in pots--and on the whole this will generally be the more satisfactory method--several shelves of light, smooth wood of a convenient width (six to twelve inches) should be firmly placed, by means of the common iron brackets, in each window to be used.
It will help, both in keeping the pots in place and in preventing muddy water from dripping down to the floor or table below, if a thin, narrow strip of wood is nailed to each edge of these shelves, extending an inch or two above them. A couple of coats of outside paint will also add to the looks and to the life of these shelves and further tend to prevent any annoying drip from draining pots. Such a shelf will be still further improved by being covered an inch or two deep with coarse gravel or fine pebbles.
This is much better than the use of pot saucers, especially for small pots. Where a bay-window is used, if cut off from the room by glass doors, or even by curtains, it will aid greatly in keeping a moist atmosphere about the plants and preventing dust from settling on the leaves when sweeping or dusting is being done. A window-box can readily be made of planed inch pine boards, tightly fitted and tightly joined. It should be six to ten inches wide and six to eight inches deep. If a plain box is used, it will be necessary to bore inch holes every six inches or so through the bottom to provide for carrying off of any excess of water--although, with the method of filling the box described in a later chapter, those holes would hardly ever be called into service.
Plants in the house in the winter, however, are as likely to suffer from too much water as from too little, and therefore, to prevent the disagreeable possibility of having dirty drainage water running down onto several feet of floor, it will be almost as easy, and far better, to have the box constructed with a bottom made of two pieces, sloping slightly to the center where one hole is made in which a cork can be kept. A false bottom of tin or zinc, with the requisite number of holes cut out, and supported by three or four inch strips of wood running lengthways of the box, supplies the drainage. These strips must, of course, be cut in the middle to allow all the water to drain out. The false bottom will take care of any ordinary surplus of water, which can be drained off into a watering can or pitcher by taking out the cork. The details of construction of such a box are shown in figure 1.
It will be best to have the box so placed upon its supporting brackets that it can be changed occasionally end for end, thus keeping the plants growing evenly, and not permitting the blooms continually to turn their backs to the inside of the room. With the above simple provisions one may take advantage of all the light to be had in an ordinary window. Occasionally a better place may be found ready to hand, such as the bay-window illustrated facing page 8 or such as that described in the preceding chapter, or those mentioned in the first chapter of Part II (page 146). The effort demanded will always be repaid many times by greater ease and greater success in the management of plants, and by the wider scope permitted.
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