The exhibits from the historic Chelsea nursery of new hybrid Phyllocacti at the Royal Horticultural Society's Shows of recent years testify to this, yet none of these can exceed the gorgeous splendour of the old Cereus speciosissimus, well-beloved of our forefathers. These " fat " plants, so singularly adapted to the dry and barren regions in which they are mostly found, are-and for an analogous reason -well suited to any one who has a taste for cultivating plants, but little time personally to devote to them, for they are not impatient, like most others, of a little neglect.
In fact, they are much more apt to resent too much fussy attention, especially in the matter of watering, than a little wholesome negligence. Many business men have found recreation and solace in making a collection of these characteristic plants.
A collection, however, hardly appeals to the majority, but a selection may well be chosen by those who have any fancy for them, for they are easily grown and easily stowed away in winter, if, indeed, they are not in flower, while they possess more fascination than might be supposed. I once gave an Echinopsis Eyriesii-one of the many-ribbed globular Cacti-to a friend, who watched, with a great deal of interest, the slow evolution of the fluffy, button-like knobs which one day were to develop into flowers. It happened just at the time that a move had to be made from the old home to a newly built house at no great distance, and, during the flitting, the greenhouse was mainly left to chance.
Days passed by before the neglected plants came to mind, but in the gloaming of an early summer evening some errand occasioned a visit to the dismantled house. The key grated harshly in the unused lock, echoing through the silent, deserted rooms, yet lo ! a presence was there. A fragrance -new and unfamiliar-pervaded the still air of the empty house, filling every corner with mysterious incense.
It was the Cactus, which, all unconscious of neglect or oversight, had put forth its long white trumpets after the strange, sudden manner peculiar to its kind, and was breathing out its sweetness in all the unearthly loveliness which white flowers will take on in the fading twilight-a voiceless poem, and for the moment overpowering in its simple pathos.
It is this quality of uncomplaining patience which gives to succulent plants of all kinds a value not to be estimated for busy people, and, it may be added, for invalids to whom the care of a few pot plants is often a great resource and boon. Yet it need not be supposed that there is no attraction in their quaint forms and brilliant colours for others besides business men and persons in feeble health. Far from it.
The flat-leaved Cactuses (Phyllocacti) before - mentioned have flowers of exceeding beauty, and, besides, are not beset with the cruel spines which belong to so many of their kin.
The old pink Cactus (P. phyllanthoides) is one of the most valuable of any of this section, though, strange to say, it is not very well known. The soft rose-pink tubular flowers are borne in great numbers, and are much longer lasting than many others of the same family.
The white-flowered P. crenatus and the still finer Cereus grandiflorus are still the cynosure of all eyes during their brief season of beauty, though the time has long gone by since supper parties used to be arranged in order to watch the wonderful unfolding of the shaggy grey buds of the Night-blowing Cereus into the great milk-white blossoms which were to fade so quickly before the dawn of a new-born day.
To come to another group, Agaves and Aloes also fill a very useful place, and well-grown specimens are handsome whether in or out of bloom. Echeverias and Cotyledons, though smaller, may be put into the same category. In the genial climate of the Scilly Isles and in positions sheltered from cold winds, these will all live and thrive out of doors.
To show the profusion with which the somewhat shy aloes will bloom there under suitable conditions in the open air, a unique and striking decoration for a large dinner-table may be mentioned which once seen could never be forgotten, com posed entirely of the fine clear yellow flowers, tipped with green, of a species very much at home in the rock-garden, arranged with suitable greenery.
One reason why succulent plants are seldom so satisfactory as they might be is because they are kept too much under glass, whereas, as gardeners express it, they cannot in most cases be grown too " hard." The hottest exposure in the garden should be allotted to them, where they can remain in the open air day and night during the summer months, and this attention will generally be repaid by annual flowering.
Of the different genera of succulent plants of moderate height and character Mesembryanthemums may be recommended as amongst the most interesting and profitable to grow, for two special reasons-the plentifulness of their brilliant, many-hued flowers, and the fact that a number of the finest species are quick-growing and may be treated practically as biennials or even as annuals. The usual practice is to let Mesembryanthemums grow into gnarled and woody shrubs which are ugly in themselves and never flower, until at last they are discarded as worthless.
That this need not be the case is plainly shown by the fact that certain free-flowering species of the type of M. bicolor used to be grown for market in great numbers by the nurserymen of the day when succulent plants were in vogue. It is quite true that a large proportion of Mesembryanthemums are merely of botanical interest. This must naturally be the case in a genus comprising some hundreds of species.
Nothing finer, however, by way of colour can be grown for a sunny porch or greenhouse than M. bicolor, M. micans, and M. polyanthon when their masses of small daisy-shaped flowers of glittering orange and scarlet and purple are open in the sunshine. Amongst those of different character and with larger, if not more conspicuous, flowers, M. blandum, in both varieties of rose and white, is seldom entirely out of bloom, and is admirable for any position where it may be wanted to trail, or for a hanging-basket. M. aureum, an upright species with large, sparkling orange flowers, opens with the earliest spring sunshine, even in February. M. glaucum, one of the hardiest, with handsome canary-yellow blossoms from two to three inches across, flowers at all seasons, according to treatment; and M. spectabile, with pretty glaucous leaves and fine rose-coloured flowers is another favourite. Most of the species have the drawback of only opening in sunshine, but there are a few, like M. lacerum, which have not this failing. Indeed, the different hours at which Mesembryanthemums open is one of their most interesting peculiarities.
Some expand in the morning, some at noon-day, others at four o'clock in the afternoon, and a few are night-flowering ; but if for any hygrometrical reason they refuse to open at the right hour, it is seldom that any amount of coaxing from later sunshine tempts them out of their fit of sulks for the day. Besides their bright flowers, moreover, Mesembryanthemums take some of the most curious forms of leafage.
Best known of these, perhaps, is M. tigrinum, with stemless boat-shaped leaves, furnished with wicked-looking interlacing claws, between which the large, solitary, golden-hued flower pushes its way. But this is only one amongst many which will repay a little study. No plants are more easily grown from cuttings.
With such species as M. polyanthon-the copious-flowered section, as they are called by their historian, Haworth-small tops may be pricked over the surface of a pot or pan in the early spring. Every bit will root, and the young plants, without any disturbance, will give a mass of colour in two or three months' time with less trouble than any plant I know.
The larger-flowered sorts require rather more patience-but the main points are to let the rooted cuttings have as much open air and sunshine as possible, to harden their tissues, and to give water with moderation and good judgment, as the softer and more succulent species are easily ruined by over-watering, and should be kept quite dry during the colder months. No one who takes the trouble to understand and to grow these fine plants well will have reason to be disappointed in them if they choose the right sorts.
All kinds of Mammillarias and Echinocacti present features of interest, though it sometimes lies more particularly in their curious forms and in the colour and diversity of their prickly spines than in their flowers. The pretty little Texan M. lasiacantha is remarkable for the silvery, feather-like tufts which take the place of the sharp spines so characteristic of these singular Cacti.
In summering succulent plants in pots of all kinds out of doors, it is well to raise them well above the ground level, out of the way of slugs and snails, which are exceedingly fond of browsing upon their juicy stems and leaves, causing much disfigurement which cannot afterwards be remedied. A platform of some kind, however temporary, with a hard surface, as of slates, for the pots to stand on, is very much to be recommended.
Mesembryanthemums more particularly fill their pots with roots very quickly, and should never be allowed to strike through the drainage-holes into the soil. Even on a hard standing-place the pots should be moved pretty often, as it tends to check over-luxuriance of growth, which not only makes them tender but hinders abundant flowering. A very sharp, gritty soil suits most succulent plants, though it is not unusual to find that, in fear of feeding this class of plant too much, growers run into the other extreme of starving them.
A large proportion of Cacti and plants of like nature are tolerably hardy. As to that, one must be guided in the choice of kinds suitable for an unheated greenhouse by a knowledge of their native habitats. Most plants from Cape Colony are subjected at times to somewhat severe frost, especially at high altitudes, and in Colorado and elsewhere in the New World where Cacti abound, they are often under snow for weeks together.
What they cannot stand, however, is superabundance of damp in winter, either in soil or atmosphere, and drip is fatal, especially when followed by severe frost. Dry cold is not particularly injurious, but these very accommodating plants may be placed almost anywhere for safety in severe weather-in a bay-window or on a vacant shelf, or even, under great stress of circumstances, in a cupboard, so that they cannot be said to be very exacting in their necessities.
It is seldom that any attempt is made to group plants of this somewhat stiff character, but in a house with removable lights, such as has been elsewhere suggested, a very charming rock-garden might be made with succulent plants alone, especially if it were lofty enough to include some of the hardier Draccenas, like D. australis and D. indivisa, and such graceful subjects as Furcrwas, though this would be on an ambitious scale and out of ordinary reach.
Such a house would be more interesting and ornamental than the usual monotonous rows of Cacti in pots ; and more than one amateur has already adopted the plan with success. Of all plants, those of a succulent nature should be grown by themselves under the conditions which suit them, because those conditions are usually detrimental to other classes of vegetation.
Given complete dryness in winter when the temperature is low, and as much sun and air as possible for the rest of the year, with sufficient moisture during the growing season, their wants are few compared to the amount of interest and pleasure they will bestow upon any grower who cares to study the immense diversity in their forms and to encourage them to develop the singular beauty of their flowers.