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.]