THE POSSIBILITIES OF A CITY FLAT

There are possibilities in the indoor culture of flowers, though it may
seem to the casual observer, that only open air culture would justify
one in undertaking the growing of a flower garden on any extended
scale; but open air gardening, while it certainly makes for unlimited
area of flower beds and a great variety of sorts has still its
drawbacks of inclement weather, insufficient or too much moisture, much
humbling of one’s physical self on bended knees and a summer-long fight
with the myriad insect pests, from the tiny aphis that colonizes itself
on the tip of every green shoot in early spring, to the predatory mole
that furrows up paths and beds, making efficient drains to deflect all
water intended for the refreshment of the plants.

Such indoor plants as one may elect to grow are assured an adequate
and continuous supply of moisture, a soft and friable soil, a
reasonable freedom from insect pests and a certain amount of protection
from burning sun and drying winds. Moreover they are not restricted in
their season of bloom to a few months of the year; the indoor garden
may be in bloom the year around—a bewitching succession of most of the
seasons repertoire of bloom.

The indoor garden may have its beginning in the late days of September,
when the hardy spring blooming bulbs come into the market. Nearly all
of this class of plants force readily and pots and window boxes may
be filled with soil, planted to tulips, hyacinths, narcissi, valley
lilies, and the like and set aside in a cool dark cellar for midwinter
blooming, requiring no further care for weeks to come. In the meantime
their places need not be kept empty waiting their time of bloom but
boxes and pots of bright geraniums, cinnerarias, primroses, cyclamen
and the like will keep bright every nook and corner one can spare.
Nothing is more dainty and delightful than a window full of primroses,
and no plant will give a more generous and constant succession of bloom
from fall until spring.

As far as practicable, the growing of plants in window-boxes instead
of pots will be found more satisfactory. Inside boxes which are narrow
enough to rest on the window-sill are preferable and the plants may be
planted directly in the boxes or, if preferred, in pots and the pots
plunged into the boxes with moss packed between the pots to retain
the moisture. This gives a better moisture condition than when the
pots are stood on a shelf, exposed on all sides to the drying air
of the living-room. It has the added advantage of allowing the pots
to be lifted from the box for spraying the foliage, a great help to
successful growth, and to apply such insecticides as may occasionally
be needed. Plants grown in the dry air of the living-room are apt to
be affected by red spider; this is especially noticeable with such
plants as cinnerarias, calceolarias and a few others. Those who are
so fortunate as to possess that modern essential of a well equipped
house—a sun room—will find limitless opportunities for floriculture,
boxes beneath the windows, trellises against the walls and hanging
baskets, all affording opportunity for much delightful work with
flowers.

One of the most fascinating features of indoor gardening is found in
the growing of greenhouse and other flowers from seed, and this is a
feature especially suited to the invalid or shut in. The little flats
in which seed is started are so light and easily handled and the plants
grown from seed so sure to do well that one may depend almost entirely
on plants from this source. Almost any light, shallow box may be used,
as flat, half size cigar boxes, codfish boxes, or boxes specially
constructed to fit the window-sills and divided by strips of wood into
several compartments may be used. All require the same treatment—a few
holes to insure drainage, a fine mellow soil of fibrous loam, leaf mold
and a little sharp sand, filled to within a half inch of the top of the
box and well shaken down, and the best seed procurable.

All begonias, rex, fibrous and tuberous may be readily grown from seed
which should be lightly scattered over the surface of the soil, and
pressed down with a bit of smooth board, then set in a pan of water
till the surface looks dark, surplus water drained away, covered with
white paper, glass and set in a warm place till the tiny plants break
through the soil, when they should be given air and light gradually and
encouraged to make a healthy, sturdy growth from the start.

A low, broad table with a large, shallow drawer and a shelf half way
down one side will be found the most convenient place to work and this
can be moved as the work progresses from place to place so as to make
as little walking and lifting as possible. Another work-table that I
have found most convenient consists of a broad shelf—hinged to a strip
of wood nailed to the window-casing, as wide as the window-casing and
deep enough to reach the floor when dropped down out of use. This is
held in place by two strips of metal attached to the window-casing that
hook over screw-heads in the side of the shelf, but drop down against
the wall when not in use. Such a shelf affords an excellent working
surface for starting seeds in flats, bulbs and cuttings in pots and is
indispensable for drawing plants away from a window on stormy nights.
If finished to match the woodwork of the room it will be an attractive
feature whether in use or dropped down out of the way and may be used
for papers and magazines when not required for plants. For the latter
purpose a neat finish is a border to match the standing woodwork and a
center of green baize of felt.

There are a number of attractive vines and trailing plants—the
Asparagus Sprengeri, Manettia Vine, Thumbergia—that may be grown
successfully from seed and add greatly to the interest of the indoor
garden.

At this time of the year it will be worth while to start seeds of
certain garden annuals for use in outside window-boxes. Nasturtiums,
verbenas, candytuft, phlox Drummondii, petunias, coleus, ageratums,
daisies, lobelias, all make bright and charming window gardens and
when the sliding screens are used that may be pushed up out of the
way, the boxes may be planted and cared for from the inside with little
fatigue.

Hanging baskets add much to the charm of sun room and porch, but are
difficult to care for as usually arranged, but if instead of hanging
from a short chain from a hook in the ceiling or cornice of porch or
sun room, the basket is attached to a stout cord passed over a pulley
and the free end provided with a couple of rings to hook over hooks in
the side wall or pillars to hold it at the desired height it can be
lowered on to a table for attention with little trouble. The moss-lined
wire baskets are the best for this purpose; they retain moisture and
are free from danger of breakage. If a pail of water is placed on the
table beneath them and the basket lowered into this and allowed to
remain until the soil is thoroughly soaked, then raised sufficiently by
one of the rings to drain away all surplus water, the plants will be in
the best possible condition to grow and bloom.

One of the most fascinating plants for growing indoors is the little
Japanese rosebushes, which may be grown from seeds into blooming plants
in from six to eight weeks. They make the daintiest, most charming
little plants imaginable. Shapely, many branched and loaded with bloom
they are the very daintiest “Favors” imaginable for luncheons and other
social affairs and are charming gifts at all times. The blossoms are
about the size of a ten cent piece, and come in white, pink and red.
The seeds may be sown in the pots—three inch ones, in which they are
to bloom or may be sown in flats and pricked out into pots when large
enough. I have found the seed to germinate very freely and the plants
to grow on finely from the start. When planted in pots these should be
plunged in a shallow box of wet sand or moss in a sunny window. This
is the way to handle all young greenhouse plants, especially cyclamen,
cinnerarias, gloxinias, carnations, Lady Washington geraniums and the
like. To keep them growing vigorously they should not be allowed to
dry out, nor to become soggy with too much water.

For starting summer-blooming bulbs the use of moss in shallow boxes
or baskets will be found more convenient than the heavier soil. The
sphagnum moss used by florists for shipping plants is the sort needed
and may be used again and again if necessary, the only merit it has
being its retention of moisture, exclusion of air and lightness for
handling.

If one wishes to grow from seed for outdoor planting the hardier
annuals and perennials, then somewhat larger and deeper flats should
be used, but none over four inches in depth should be undertaken. In
these such readily salable plants as asters, salvias, balsams, cobæa
scandens, Shasta daisies, pansies, and the like will prove a veritable
little pin-money mine and equally profitable will be found peppers,
cauliflowers, bush musk-melons and other of the choicer vegetables, all
requiring, practically, the same treatment.

The shut-in who wishes to specialize in the unusual might make an
attempt to imitate the dwarf trees of China and Japan. This is not so
impossible or difficult as it appears as the appearance of great age is
more often the result of skill than of many years.

The possibilities of the city flat will depend upon just how much
window space the flat affords and how much sunlight the windows
receive, for upon the amount of light will depend not so much the
quantities of flowers which may be grown, as their character.

It may be possible that, in a restricted area, but one window can be
devoted to the growing of plants during the winter season and where
that is the case one will wish to realize as much pleasure as possible
from that one window. If it is a sunny window then it will be an
easy matter to fill it full of bright flowers. Now no flower so well
withstands the heat and dust of our living-rooms as the geraniums, but
it is by no means necessary that they should be of the more common
zonal type. The Lady Washington geraniums—pelargoniums—are far more
beautiful and even more prolific in their bloom. They may be purchased
all ready to bloom of the florist or easily raised, from spring sown
seed, to blooming size by fall. Heliotropes, the sweetest of all
flowers, will bloom freely in any sunny window if the precaution is
taken to spray or wet the foliage thoroughly every day; without this
refreshing bath the foliage will curl up and die and the buds blast.

The carnation is an excellent plant for the sunny window but must be
sprayed frequently to keep in check the red spider, and all the spring
blooming bulbs can be depended upon for the winter window garden and
have this advantage that they can be potted in the fall, tucked away in
a dark closet somewhere and brought out when ready to begin blooming,
and again relegated to any out of the way place as soon as their season
of bloom is passed.

The most convenient way of growing house plants where there are
only common windows to accommodate them is in boxes made to fit
the window-sills. The ready-to-use metal boxes are very handy and
satisfactory, but not as attractive as simple boxes made of wood to
match the standing woodwork of the room; these should have a metal
lining to protect the woodwork and if the expense of boxes of hardwood
in a rented flat seems undesirable, very simple boxes of cheap wood
may be made to imitate the hardwood finish by giving a covering of the
paper or wood pulp that comes in all the natural hardwood finishes.
This is simply pasted on the boxes and when dry should be given a coat
of sizing-glue dissolved in hot water to a thin paste, and when this is
dry a coat of varnish or jap-a-lac. This will be so successful that few
casual observers will detect the substitution. A very pretty plant box
can be evolved from a single cheese box, cut down a couple of inches
covered with the paper and supplied with legs or mounted on a small
lamp stand, or white enamel will be charming, especially when the box
is filled with blooming tulips or narcissi, or given over to ferns,
asparagus vines and the like.

Where one has a window opening on to an air shaft or a court that
gives no view but infringes one’s privacy a delightful screen which
will not deprive one of too much light and air, but effectually screen
the window is made from a box the length of the window-sill, fitted
with double casters to allow it to be moved from place to place. A
long rod or wire, long enough to extend upright as high as the screen
is desired, cross over and return on the other side, should be fitted
into the end boards close to the back by boring holes with a drill the
size of the rod for nearly the depth of the wood and the ends of the
wires firmly sunk in them. The frame is then covered with wire netting
or twine and the box planted to some light, graceful vine like the
asparagus plumosus nanna, the manettia vine, clarodendron, but the
plumosus nanna is an excellent choice. Such a screen is very convenient
and artistic between two rooms where it is desired to leave a door open
for air, but desirable to screen the contents of one of them.

It is the summer flat, however, that offers the greater possibilities
of floriculture for in this season the boxes may be placed outside
of the windows if properly secured, and a much greater variety of
plants grown, for there is no exposure for which there are not many
delightful things available. A north window, that to many would seem
especially undesirable for plants, will often be found to develop the
most interesting boxes. All the hardier varieties of cultivated ferns
may be usual here, all the blooming and fibrous rooted begonias, all
the asparagus fern, especially A. sprengeri, the various impatiens,
especially I. sultani, the trailing fuchsias, abutilons, variegated
wandering Jew, aspidistras, farfugiums. Palm grass, Pannicum
Excurrens—a palm-like grass which one has to send to southern florists
for but which grows rankly at the north, either in the house or in the
open ground—is good. I bedded one out in spring, intending to lift in
the fall for interior decoration and found it to have made so sturdy a
root growth, and so immense a top that it defied a spade to move it and
had to be abandoned to the frost. Within doors its long, curved leaves
are most attractive and interesting. It is a magnificent plant for the
rear wall of a sun room or conservatory.

If one occupies a flat with a rear outside staircase, then one may
utilize the top of the railing to place boxes of trailing nasturtiums
and bright flowers—a planting of nasturtiums in the rear, a middle
planting of geraniums, justitias, petunias, verbenas, phlox drummondii,
etc., and a fringe of sweet alyssum or other delicate trailer along the
front will give a succession of bloom all the summer long.

Along the outer edge of the steps one may arrange small but deep boxes
of earth and in each plant blooming vines such as the Japanese morning
glory, the cobæa scandens, flowering beans, or that gay little new
vine—the cardinal climber. These may be trained to run on wire or cord
so as to afford privacy for the stairway, or if this is not desired,
trailing vines and erect plants may be used instead, the trailers
masking the unlovely architecture of the stairs.

Possibly one may be in possession of one of those flats whose side
windows look out upon the roof of a lower building—a tin roof
expansion of ugliness which is a hindrance to spiritual calm and mental
cheerfulness. If this is the case, why not utilize it to create a roof
garden? If the area is small one can utilize all of it, if too large
then pre-empt the portion nearest one and draw a trellis of wire across
the boundary line on which one may grow in long, narrow boxes of soil
morning glories galore. It is not necessary that these boxes be of
anything but the roughest construction; home-made boxes, evolved from
old packing cases, are as good as anything as they will be masked by
the plants and vines; these should extend around three or even all four
sides of the roof, those in the rear and, if it is desired to secure
privacy, those on the sides, being planted with vines or tall-growing
plants like ricinus, cannas, cleomes, cosmos and the like. It will not
be desirable to leave too much open space in a garden of this sort,
unless it will be possible to cover the roof with sand or sawdust that
can be wet down with the hose to create a moist atmosphere; but where
this can be done a very successful roof garden can be created with the
principal expenditure that for earth and sawdust. Most flowers of the
summer garden can be grown in such a position and one could arrange a
very satisfactory little lily pool and fountain by means of a big zinc
tub, a length of hose, two or three water lilies and some gold fish. A
few inches of earth in the tub will supply a footing for the lilies and
a mask of plants around the base will hide the crudeness of the pool.

When one has undertaken a garden like this it will be found surprising
how many things one will pick up in one’s little excursions out of town
to add to it; all one’s friends will take an interest and pleasure in
donating seeds and plants and if the roof affords room for a hammock
and a few chairs, the question of where to go for a summer vacation
will not take on such poignant interest, nor the inability to afford
one be so great a tragedy. Such an oasis in the heart of a city will
be a delight to a child and solve the problem of keeping it off the
street and from undesirable companions. I should like to think that a
good many such little oases will develop and that I might know of them.

It might be that two or more people have homes overlooking a roof who
would join together in the making of a garden. In that way a larger
area could be undertaken and the expense would not be seriously felt.
If the roof is one exposed to much sunshine, then one should select
plants which revel in sunshine like the annual poppy, the verbena,
salvia, sweet alyssum, candytuft, ageratum, dahlia, canna, California
poppy, asters; all these are hardy, easily grown plants, which will
give an abundance of bloom all summer. Of course geraniums’ and coleus
can also be depended upon to do their prettiest, but one and all should
have a daily or semi-daily showering with a hose to remove the grime
and dust of the day and freshen the foliage as well as to provide the
necessary water to drink. Probably the entire success of the roof
garden will depend upon just this one feature of an adequate water
supply at the roots and a thorough cleansing of the foliage each day.
Given this there is no reason why a garden of this sort should not be a
success.

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