Planting Bulbs for Easter

This is the second article in January of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on January 10, 1909, and is an article on planting.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Planting Bulbs for Easter

It is a long look ahead for our amateur florist. Every anniversary falls into our lives like a surprise, no matter how long and how carefully we have prepare for it. Easier—the movable feast—seems to require less preparation at the hands of the housemother than the winter holidays.

Yet it behooves those of us who love flowers well enough to take the trouble to cultivate them to lay our plans now for filling our homes with beauty and fragrance on the most joyous festival of the year.

In our Easter talk (if it please the Lord of Life to keep us here and together until then) we will hold sweet converse as to the glorious promise symbolized in each opening bud. Today we address ourselves to homely details, without which we may not expect leaf or flower.

It sounds strange to the ears of country-bred readers to be told that it is not an easy matter to get heath for house plants in winter. For them there is always a corner of the barnyard where a few strokes of the spade will break through ice and snow down into loose soil, black, rich and warm. Our flat-dweller must buy earth for filling flower pots and jardinieres. It will be brought to her in a stout paper parcel, as if it where so much moist sugar. Even then the business of filling pots and boxes with dirt in the bathroom or kitchen is not a pleasant task. It is a relief in such circumstances to recollect that spring flowers may be brought into healthy bloom by substituting water for soil.

Easy to Grow.

Hyacinths take obligingly to this method of window gardening. If you have fruit jars that are not too wide at the mouth to support large-sized bulbs above the surface of the water, you need not go to the expense of hyacinth glasses. The latter are not costly, however, and make a better show in the window than the homelier substitute. Select some blubs of uniform size; fill the glasses with pure water and set the bulb in the mouth so that the bottom rests in the liquid. To submerge would rot it and ruin all. Be sure that the circle containing the foot-gterms is under water, and examine every few days to see that evaporation has not expose the same. When the bulbs are thus arranged set the glasses in the cellar, if you have one; if not, in a dark, rather cool closet.

All this while the water must be kept at the right level. Replenish the supply gingerly from above, stirring the blubs as little as possible, and with water suited to the temperature, of the place in which the plants are kept. Cold would check the growth temporarily.

Once in the sunlight, your nurselings require little more attention. See that water is added before the roots begin to dry out and turn the glasses daily, that the light may visit all parts of the plants impartially, and you will not have to wait long for satisfactory flowering.

Narcissus and jonquils may be brought to blossoming in water, but under different treatment. Have ready enough clean pebbles or broken bits of marble, picked up at a stonecutter’s, to half fill a wide, rather shallow bowl. Dispose the bulbs judiciously among these, so that they will not crowd one another, and that all will stand firmly upright. This done, pour in water until the root central circles are well covered. Lay a piece of lace set over the top of the bowl, fastening it at the bottom, that it may not dip into the yater. This will keep the inevitable dust from coasting and befouling it. Now, put the bowl away in the cellar or closet, as I have directed you to proceed with the hyacinths, and follow these directions exactly in further treatment until the sprouting bulbs are sufficiently advanced to be set in the window. When there they must have sunlight for several hours of each day. Reflected sunshine will not induce blossoming. Replenish the supply of water as it sink below the level in evaporating.

A Water Plant.

The Chinese sacred lily grows better in water than in earth. Indeed, the only experiment I ever made in cultivating them in the latter direction was unfortunate in result. I had brought the comparatively new plants to such beautiful perfection in water, that I reasoned in favor of setting them in the bosom of their mother earth. I knew that hyacinths, tulips, narcissus, freesias, jonquils, etc., accepted water as a makeshift for the nourishing soil. Why should the celestial bulbs be of a different mind? Therefore, I planted them in a box of rich garden mould; left them in the cellar for the prescribed four weeks, brought them by prudent stages into the light, and awaited developments in sanguine calmness. The leaves grew rapidly and rankly, and never a single bloom blessed my sight the season through. Next winter I meekly set the blubs between the pebbles, as of old, and took no risks.

If you can get a china jardinière—an oblong box made for the window garden—it will be more slightly than the bowl, and accommodate itself more gracefully to the dimensions and shape of the shelf which is the improvised conservatory of hundred of thousands of flower lovers.

For those who are poor (or rich) enough to command all the garden and forest mold they want, I add a few simple rules for the cultivation of Easter bulbs. Set those I have named in earth, instead of in water (always excepting the Chinese specimen!) Fill with soil that covers the bulb. Not too deep, as that will give the leaves unnecessary trouble in reaching the light. Half an inch of earth is sufficient to shield the upper part of the bulb from dust and draughts.

The upper stratum should be crumbled fine, and laid in loosely. Keep the pots in the cellar or dark closet until the shoots above the surface are from wo to three inches in height, then bring them gradually to the sunlight. During the weeks of seclusion, water sparingly—not oftener than once a week; and not then unless the earth is dry to the tip of the finger thrust three inches into the mold. The philosophy of this is clear—what you want to accomplish by darkness and quiet is vigorous root growth. The fibers which are to draw nutriment through the sap for the growing plant must strike deeply into the earth in order to extract it. If the surface be kept wet, the rootlets are attracted to the top of the earth, making what we know as “lateral roots,” which depend entirely upon frequent watering and get little sustenance from the soil below.

Calla lilies (which botanists tell us, are not lilies at all, but “Richardia Africana”) require larger pots than do the bulbous plan e have already spoken of. They, too, must be set in the dark until the roots have taken hold of the lower soil and the green blades appear above ground. I have seen them growing in artificial ponds, the bulbs having been set among stones. I think, however, that they must have a foundation of earth to bring them into vigorous growth. I have raised them successfully in flower pots and jardinieres. They hold their bloom longer than they hyacinths and jonquils and have a stately grace that peculiarly adapts them for Easer decorations.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

Window Gardening and House Plants

This is the first article in January of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on January 13, 1909.

For this article, Marion spends time on the topic of window gardening and specifically on her Wardian case. I had never heard of a Wardian case before and needed to look it up before continuing the article. As found on Wikipedia, a Wardian case is an early type of terrarium used to protect plants first invented by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791–1868) in the late 1820s.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Window Gardening and House Plants

The author of “St. Cuthbert’s,” a charming story of Scotch-Canadian life, says:

“I do contend that the watering can and the spade and the pruning knife are a means of grace.”

My contention may not take that form, but I know, and am persuaded by actual and personal experience and by wide and close observation, that the care of green and growing things is a cure of ennui and a wholesome diversion of thought from the perplexities and vexations which make workaday life a weariness to flesh and spirit.

I hope each of my readers has made acquaintance at one time or another with “Picciola.” For those who have not read the book, in the original French or in translations I will say that it is a biography of a plant that sprang up between the stones in the courtyard of a prison, in which was confined a nobleman accused of conspiracy against the government. His study of the flower saved him from madness and suicide. Bunner tells of the mission to the “little sick child in the basement,” of

The pot of mignonette
In the attic window set.

The ministry of flowers is an exhaustless theme. It is appreciated in all its fullness and beauty by none who do not love to plant, tend and watch the making of these—God’s angels of healing and His teachers in the knowledge of the “real things” which have to do with the invisible and the eternal.

The owners of winter gardens and conservatories that are tended by salaried gardeners and visited by the nominal possessors are not learners in our school. I et hundred of letters of inquiry touching the cultivation of house plants, but they do not come from rich women or from girls who can afford to buy cut flowers whenever they like. My correspondents wish to know how to make house plants grow and bloom in living rooms in the dining room that looks out upon an apartment court; in the family parlor that has a sunny exposure, and, most pathetic of all, how to set a window shelf of ferns, palms, tradescantia and ivies n the sight of a shut-in, whose glimpses of the outer world of life and light are confined to the section—sometimes a mere slice—of wintry sky discernible through her window.

For my army of shut-ins, and for the housemother tied to the toilful routine of domestic tasks from year’s end to year’s end, I am telling the story of my own window gardening and the dear Wardian case, alias fernery, now in the 30th year of beneficent life.

It took me some years to find out the disabilities of house-plants—in other words, how not to do it. During one happy winter spent in my country house I had hyacinths in fragrant bloom before Easter, big fluffy globose chrysanthemums early in December and roses all winter. By inclosing a southern veranda with glass and running steam pipes and radiators into the improvised conservatory we secured these treasures and a glory of geranium bloom, which were the admiration of visitors and a continual joy to ourselves. The suburbanite may do this at a comparatively small outlay of money and time. A bay window that has a southern exposure, freedom from gas light and hot-air furnaces, together with loving and intelligent care, are all that are needed to insure success.

In the city the chief foe to budding and blossoming is the fine, impalpable black dust that coats our books, furniture, food and skins, the stuff we draw into our lungs with every breath, which changes new-fallen snow to gray and black within a day after it has left the sky.

Began with Greenery.

The impossibility of keeping my plants free from it, and the certainty that it clogs the forming buds into barrenness, first led me to confine my window-gardening to greenery alone. Ferns of all sorts thrive even in sunless windows. Geraniums grow and make leaves, but they do not blossom. I have brought freesias and hyacinths into flower, but the result was sickly miniatures of the real blooms that made my heart ache.

Early in the autumn I set—in a window that gets none but reflected sunshine for nine months of the year—a pot of asparagus fern. It took kindly to the situation, and by November—when the picture that heads this page was taken—it made a graceful loop upon itself (encouraged by me) of “lacy” foliations, the growth of which was a ceaseless joy. As I write, the loop is thick with verdure and tall shoots have darted up from the roots that rival the parent stock. Once a week the pot is set in the bath tub and water is run from both faucets up to the top of the pot, so that it gently overflows the surface of the earth. The whole plant is prayed from a watering pot until all the dust is washed off and the foliage drips with moisture. I then draw off the water, leaving the pot in the tub for half an hour. Beside the tall-looped fern stand a broad, low pot of asparagus vetch that was a wee plant when I brought it indoors. It is now a living fountain of delicate, feathery verdure and grows by the hour. Pots of other and broader-leaved ferns flank the asparagus varieties. All have the weekly bath, and should the earth become very dry, intermediate sprinklings. The rooms are steam-heated and lighted by electricity and lamps.

The Wardian case (named for the inventor) was a Christmas gift to me 30 years back. The frame is of black walnut; it is mounted upon stout and easy-running casters; the glass top is hinged. In the autumn the water-tight bottom is covered with broken pottery three inches deep. Upon this substratum are spread four inches of good mould. I get from the country a store of wildings, principally ferns; but partridge berries and other low-creeping plants work in well. They are set out in the earth, wood mosses are snugly packed about them to make them feel at home and they are left to grow.

All winter long they get the reflected sunlight. If the sun shone directly upon the glass it would be necessary to raise the top of the fernery, or to cover it with a cloth. The hot rays would scald the tender things within. In the center is a Jerusalem cherry three begemmed with scarlet fruit. It has held its own all winter, and gives a gorgeous touch of color to the jungle below—a jungle which has been preacher, companion and solace to me for months.

Each morning the cover is propped open for an hour, and the air is changed by five minutes’ vigorous fanning. Once a week the plants are sprayed with tepid water.

The beauties require no other care. And how they grow! Tradescantia runs riot over the moss; from roots of the hardy ferns I every day descry soft gray-green upstarts like shepherd’s crooks or bishop’s croziers, emulous to reach the light. Little anonymous shoots, that would be weeds in their native wood—each of which is a “picciola” to me—peep up daily from the kindly moss beds. Here and there a souvenir ivy, brought from storied places overseas, nestles and gleams contentedly—all growing toward the light!

At Christmas I had a simpler and much smaller fernery built upon the sample principle as the Wardian, as a gift to a small granddaughter, whose loving admiration for mine is almost painful to behold. It is made of four panes of glass set in a wooden frame; the bottom is of zinc; the cover is hinged. A cheap affair, but no casket of jewels could afford so much pure pleasure as the tiny girl extracts from it.

When summer comes the contents may be removed to some shady corner and left to rest until mid-October.

On very cold nights, if the room in which the fernery stand be a bed-chamber, and the windows must be left open, a thick rug thrown over the closed case will be all that is needed to guard the plants from injury.

May I suggest to one who would brighten the loneliness of the bedridden woman or crippled child the gift of an indoor garden, such as I have described? In the sickroom it may stand in summer as in winter. And the glass makes it absolutely harmless in cases where growing plants would be forbidden by physicians.

If I linger over the story of what my window gardens and the conservatory in petto are to me it is because I owe so much to both that I have a heart-thrill at the mention of either. The Wardian case is to me a garden of sweets, a cabinet of memories, a reliquary, such as our forbears used to stock with rare and precious mementos.

In the far corner lurks a bit of climbing vine I picked from the mossy wall of the garden about Dove Cote cottage, the home of Wordsworth in Grasmere. A trail of ivy sprang from a spray that had crept into the open window of the little church, under the chancel of which gentle George Herbert lies, awaiting the resurrection of the just and the crown of them who true many to righteousness. The spreading Jerusalem cherry tree is in the successor of one that grew in the same place that Christmas morning 30 years agone, when the fernery first greeted my enraptured sight. Tradescantia and variegated geraniums were taken from the Sunnybank greenhouse on the southern slope, overlooking the hill-girt lake, one bland day in October. Distant mountains and nearer hills were veiled in blue haziness—Bryant’s “smoky light.”

The sound of dropping nuts was head
Through all the woods was still.

and in a leafless apple tree a belated song sparrow was thrilling a farewell to summer. English Robert, who has tended my shrubs and flowers for ten years with paternal affection, selected and potted ivy, and silver geranium, and sundry other lowly garden darlings he warranted to thrive under glass. He had ready maiden-hair fern and mosses brought from the woods. It is always a wrench to the heartstrings to leave our country home for city quarters. The faithful fellow comprehends, as I can never tell him, the consolation wrapped up tenderly and packed away carefully in the great box he expresses to town by the train that takes me back to miles of brick and mortar.

My children smile and visitors marvel when I am detected hanging above the opened fernery and loitering about the window shelf, noting the appearance of new leaves, the budding of geraniums and cyclamen. These last are among the very few plants that bloom in the reflected sunshine. It was a triumph of faith over science when, in defiance of florist and botanist, I set a clump of tailing arbutus in the “Wardian” four years ago and coaxed it into bloom in early march. The scarlet globes on the cherry tree will give place to white flowers by and by.

On the windowsill stand two recent acquisitions—gifts from a dear kinswoman and fellow-flower lover in my far Southern home. They are an exotic evergreen—a Norfolk island pine, symmetrical and erect—and a North Carolina holly that bears tiny white flowers of delicate and exquisite fragrance.

I envy no millionaire his glasshouses and graperies while my miniature parterre smiles up into loving eyes.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

An Aquatic Conversation

This is the third article in April of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Apr 23, 1905, and an article about what sort of plants can be grown with the coming of spring.

School for Housewives – An Aquatic Conversation

Flowers and Easter go as naturally together in the mind and upon the tongue as April and soft showers, June and roses. It is human and natural that plant and flower vendors of all ranks should take advantage of the season’s demand to impose preposterous prices upon those to whom the association of the Christian festa with the resurrection of blade, bud, and blossom is sweet and sacred.

Every housemother must have a living plant upon her table on Easter day. The extravagance of the rich and time requisition of the churches set a price upon the humblest spring flowers which puts them beyond the poor man’s reach.

Our forefather’s kept house plants, not in leaf alone, but in flower, all winter. The traveler in England, in Scotland, and on the Continent sees cottage windows lined with thrifty shrubs and blossoming blubs, from November to May. We of this country and this generation have long since given over the attempt to decorate our sitting rooms in like manner. Azaleas, geraniums, cinerarias, and primroses, brought hopefully at the conservatory, begin to droop within a few days after they are brought into the arid atmosphere of furnace-heated, gas-lighted houses. We may inhale impalpable dust by the proverbial peck, and lengthen out our days in seeming health. Plant pores are choked and the sap refuses to circulate.

The flat-dweller who reads these lines may have abundant testimony to their truth if she will look out upon the balconies and fire-escape lining the court separating her back windows from her neighbors’. That window is exceptional which does not display one – often a dozen-forlorn, discarded earthen flower pot, with brown stalks of varying height protruding from useless soil.

Because to most of us the love of green and growing things is a passion I am writing this article. There is keen delight in watching the successive processes of the ever-new, always marvelous miracle of creation. The exquisite story of “Picciola” is in no particular exaggerated. Every leaf is a revelation; every bud has a history.

Because the sincere lover of the beautiful cannot content herself with the stiff monotony of glazed rubber plants – bearing at their best estate a humiliating likeness to patent leather – or the mournful droop of palms that live, but do not grow; because pots with earth in them are cumbrous, homely, and, as we have shown, always more or less monuments of blasted hopes – I would direct the ambition of my fellow-worshiper to some methods by which the Easter spirit may be invoked by one who is no gardener, and winter barrenness be beaten back from our windows.


The wise woman who buried bulbs of hyacinths, tulips, narcissus and crocus in the earth, sex weeks ago; who kept the tiny pots in the dark, wetting the soil once a week – may now bring them into the light by degrees, and have the pure delight of seeing the tender shoots leap up to meet the sunlight, gaining strength and color hour by hour. The next best thing to this – and sometimes a surer joy – is to buy hyacinth, crocus, and jonquil bulbs which are already “Started,” to the extent of showing a couple of inches of sturdy leafage above the top of the bulb. Hyacinth glasses are cheap. Fill each to the ridge that supports the swell of the blub, so that the lower part will touch the water. If it is submerged, the tissues will rot before the roots can strike downward. Set in the shade for a week, approaching nearer and nearer to your sunniest window daily. Then let them bask, rejoicing in the source of light and all life. As the water slowly evaporates, replenish with more that is just the temperature of the room. I have had most satisfactory results from bulbs treated thus. You should have the same.

The Chinese sacred lily deserves a distinguished place in our aquatic conservatory. Choose bulbs of uniform size; settle them in and among clean pebbles in the bottom of a bowl. A pressed glass bowl will allow you to see the lively work of the roots among the stones. The better vessel is a stout, broad-bottomed china bowl with a Chinese pattern upon it – the willowware, if you can get it in any color except blue. The opaque blue contracts unfavorably with the green stem and leaves. When bulbs, pebbles and water are in, set the whole construction in a dark room or closet, and leave it there for a fortnight. As with the other bulbs, let its approach to the perfect light be gradual. Otherwise, the delicate shoots will be scalded.

Another most pleasing decoration for mantel, window or dinner table is made by setting among clean pebbles in the bottom of a glass bowl a dozen or more healthy sprays of variegated Tradescantia, familiarly known as “Creeping Charley,” “Wandering Jew,” and “Wandering Willy.” Select woody stems, fill the bowl half-way to the top with water; set in the window – and see it grow! In a few weeks the stems will curl over the brim of the bowl and hang downward, branching to the right and left until you have a cataract of green streaked with purple and pink. A goldfish globe suspended in the window and stocked with Tradescantia is a pretty ornament.


Another hanging plant is port, or Madeira, vine. China cornucopias, with holes at the side by which to suspend them against the wall, may be bought at Japanese stores. Set a port vine root in each, pour in water and hang evenly at the side of the window.

The common sweet potato is a faster grower than the Madeira vine. Pick out one that will fit loosely in the mouth of a hyacinth jar. You will soon cease to think it homely in watching the tiny, swift filaments shoot into the water, the rapid growth above of a delicate green leaves and the graceful sway of the sprays.

A pleasant dash of green to window sill or table is gained by lining a large round platter with canton flannel and setting in the middle of it a globular sponge. Soak the flannel with water, and scatter millet seeds thickly all over it. The sponge should be filled in every pore with the seed while dry, and before it is put in place upon the flannel. Fill it with water and set in the window, wetting it every morning. In an incredibly short space of time you will have a hillock of dapple green, surrounded by a band of verdant turf.

Ah! the blessed Easter-tide! Ah! the visible promise of resurrection and of life to which death is unknown! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Marion Harland

The Housemother’s Exchange
Three Little Kitchen Conveniences
Unique Dishes – Syrian Recipes Contributed by a Syrian Constituent

How Uncle Sam Teaches Gardening to Children

This is the first article in April of the School for Housewives 1904 series published on Apr 4, 1904, and is about teaching children gardening.

School for Housewives – How Uncle Sam Teaches Gardening to Children

Photographs Reproduced by Courtesy Of “Floral Life,” Philadelphia.
Practical Work among Vegetables and Flowers for Public School Scholars

A few years ago the Department of Agriculture hit upon he happy idea of interesting public school children in practical gardening.

The plan was received with enthusiasm by the little circle of thinkers to whom it was first made known.

Here was a simple and pleasurable way of accomplishing a number of good ends. A way to keep the children interested and occupied in the open air and to stimulate their power of observation, at the same time causing forlorn or dilapidated back yards to blossom like the wilderness.

In he beginning the philanthropy was beset by many difficulties. One of the greatest of these was the fact that few teachers knew a pea vine from a pie plant.

Various methods were used to introduce the children to the seeds. In some instances little envelopes containing the latter were distributed to the pupils, with the laconic direction, “Plant.”

It is likely that all of the seeds were planted – but not all of them grew.

One tot carefully covered the envelope with six inches of soil, and eagerly awaited results. Several bricks were removed from the pavement by another youngster, the seeds most carefully distributed upon the earth and the bricks as punctilious returned to their former location.

Since that time civic leagues, woman’s clubs and similar institutions have helped along the good cause by distributing seeds, with directions for planting on the packet.

The results here have been much more satisfactory than by the first method.

The lasting and most valuable results, however, must be obtained through intelligently teaching the subject in the schools. In a short time the public schools of Washington, D.C., hope to be a model in this work for other cities.

The chief of the Bureau of Plant industry of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. E.T. Galloway, realizing the value of well-organized work through the medium of the public schools, placed at the disposal of the Normal School, a workroom, a greenhouse and all material necessary for an elementary course in horticulture. The course is under his careful guidance. Two ??? a ??? during one term is the time allotted to it.

By this method the child receives an addition of ??? to its teaching crops each year, equipped to handle the subject intelligently with children under their immediate care and to give inspiration and ideas to other teachers.

All facts are taught by experiments, the workroom being really a laboratory.

Germination experiments are performed in the spring, showing seed vitality, conditions for planting and depth of planting. Plant propagation by cuttings, budding and grafting are taught. Geraniums scarlet sage, hydrangeas, begonias, ivy are propagated in the fall and grown in the greenhouse during the winter. Cuttings of forsythia and privet for hedges are buried in sand to be ready for planting in the spring. Young apple seedlings are grafted. Bulbs are ??? for winter blooming. This material is used to beautify schoolrooms during the winter and school grounds in the warm weather.

In the spring each student has her home garden in which she applies her learning.

The beautifying of back yards is not the primary object in this course. it comes usually as a result of the effort expended, but the real aim is to cultivate close observation of plant life; to instil a love for plant culture, and by so doing awaken the young student teachers to the ??? influence of plants ins school or home, and to enable them to be an inspiration to others from the fullness of their pleasure in the work. Some of the students prefer to devote their ??? to but one variety of plant, bringing it to a high state of perfection. Sweet peas, poppies and nasturtiums have been prime favorites for such work. Others have remodelled yards after methods of good planting, keeping the centre of the yards in grass and massing the plants in borders. A number of them have had to resort to box gardening, but, whatever the form, i has always brought pleasure with it.

In addition to the work mentioned, the course of instruction calls for planning improvements of school grounds.

A school very much in need of attention is selected. Each student submits a plan for improving its grounds without reducing the playground.

The best plan is accepted and followed.

Marion Harland

A Collection of Good Recipes of General Interest
Housewives, Parents and Children Discuss Topics of Mutual Interest – Little Talks with Marion Harland
Starching – For Young Housekeepers