“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!