Few occupations are as attractive to cultured women as that of seed-raising
N. DE BERTRAND LUGRIN
FROM the hill it looked as though a rainbow had fallen from the sky and spread all of its changing panoply of color over the field. And when we came down and sped along the maple-shaded road, waves of fragrance were wafted to us, sweet as nectar. If there is anything more delicious than the incense dispersed by acres of sweet peas in full bloom, we have yet to experience it. We opened the gate of the seed plantation, went in and were met with a flood of color and perfume, so that for a few moments our senses swam in it, and we stood there overwhelmed. There were ten acres of sweet peas of every shade, endless rows of them. The flowers were in the fullness of their perfection, dew-wet, three, four, even five on a long emerald stem, and each blossom a fairy chalice of delight.
Up and down between the rows, some girls were working, hoeing industriously; tall, clean-limbed, straightbacked girls from England; needing no touch of rouge on their ruddy cheeks, and with teeth as white as the inside of a snow-apple.
“It seems to me that raising seed is peculiarly a woman’s work,” said one of them, laughing; “raising seed of one kind or another. And this sort of thing never disappoints. Think of the possibilities that lie in one of these little packets we sell for ten ‘cents; each packet the nucleus of a lovely garden.
A college bred girl she was, with experience in war work. But for the present, she admitted, she had found her metier, and was profoundly happy.
The young women working side by side with her, were of the same stamp as herself, and had quite the same convictions. “Of course we are enthusiastic,” said another one, “and it’s about time that somebody did wax eloquent over
the glories of peace, after the horrors of war. If we are going to save civilization there’s got to be a back-to-theland movement, and if the men won’t go back the women must.” And she continued hoeing with the easy grace of an athlete.
There is quite a little army of women employed on the seed plantations of Vancouver Island, where are grown the finest sweet peas in the world. So far, the plantations have made their reputation on sweet peas alone. That they excel all others is no idle boast, but can amply be substantiated. A well-known firm in England specializes in the product from Vancouver Island gardens, and there is a constant demand from the United States both from individual growers and from wholesale seed men.
But though the sweet pea seeds hold first place, excellent crops are obtained from other flowers. An outstanding example of women who have made a successful hobby of seed-growing is Mrs. R. P. Butchart, owner and designer of the famous Butchart Gardens at Victoria.
The innumerable queries which she received from the thousands of visitors who flock to ‘Benvenuto’ every year, first gave Mrs. Butchart the idea of raising seed.
Five years ago the plantation was started, sweet peas alone being planted the first year. But experiments with other blooms were begun almost at once and with such excellent results that the third year saw many other flowers included. Eight acres have now been sown on either side of the long driveway which gives access to the inner gardens, and from early summer till early fall these two plots of land are level sweeps of gorgeous bloom. Because Mrs. Butchart wishes to keep to the color scheme which she carried out in the garden-proper, she does not raise all flowers, only those of certain shades. Red and yellow are rarely seen, and then only through some misadventure. White is absolutely taboo. The coloring is in every shade of rose, every frank and subtle tint of blue, and mauves of endless variety.
She specializes now in perennials as there is a larger demand for them than for annuals. Among the finest of the seed-stock are delphiniums. Her own particular ‘Benvenuto Hybrid’ is a magnificent thing, with spikes of very large flowers from two to three feet in length and in the loveliest shades of blue and mauve imaginable.
There are over three hundred varieties of seed raised on this plantation, and it keeps a large corps of workers busy to supply an ever-increasing demand.
There are three propagating houses in connection with the four hot-houses, and an artistic little office and shop where the seeds are dispensed and where orders are taken. It is all in keeping with the architectural design of this charming place and strikes no commercial note. It was not started with the idea of making money, but it does so in spite of that fact.
The Seed-Growing Process
OEED-GROWING is not such a light ^ job as one might suppose. The neverceasing transplanting is laborious work, but the cultivating and the harvesting are comparatively easy. As it is an allthe-year round business and keeps one constantly out of doors, it is one that makes for robust health. It has an aesthetic appeal which often is lacking in ordinary domestic tasks. This is one reason why it makes such a strong appeal to women.
In seed-growing, as in every other branch of horticulture, climate is the most important factor. There must be plenty of moist air in the spring, and a long, quiet, dry summer. A wet spell in July or August would be fatal. Hence it will be seen that great care must be taken in the choice of a locality. The acreage must be well-drained, level, sheltered from the wind, and wide open to the sun.
Early varieties are sown in cold frames and planted in March or April. With sweet peas, the seeds are first soaked in water until they are swollen, then placed between wet cloths in flats. When they have sprouted, they are set out in rows three feet or more apart and staked with brush. Sweet peas are the easiest of all flowers to harvest from. Pansies are sown in cold frames in July, and transplanted in September, remaining out all winter. Antirrhinums are sprouted in the greenhouse during February, or in a hot bed early in March, the young seedlings pricked off in April in cold frames, and planted in the middle of May. French marigolds and stocks are sown in the cold frames the first week in April. Quickgrowing annuals, such as candy-tuft, mignonette, larkspur, goedetia, nigella, and Shirly poppies, are sown outside in April. The biennials, wallflower, sweet william, myosotis and Canterbury bell which do specially well with us, are sown thinly in drills in the spring, and planted out in the following fall or spring into their flowering quarters.
The seed begins to ripen about the end of August, and keeps on until the first frost. Large sheets of cotton are placed on the ground, and the stalks are cut to the end of the seed pods. If the weather is fine and wind-still, the seed is placed in a sheltered spot for continued drying. If the weather is not good it must be taken inside. When the seed is thoroughly dried, the threshing is done, usually by hand, although there is a small machine for the purpose, or one can easily be made. The cleaning process comes next, when the seed is separated from the chaff, and then the dust from the seed. Afterwards it is stored away in tins, until such time as the packing is done. Small envelopes are used for retail, and very heavy ones for the larger orders.
Small Seed Growers
A PART from the number of growers who are in the seed^producing business commercially, there are any number of women, and men, too, for that matter, who raise all of their own seeds in their own gardens, hundreds of dollars worth a year. Said one amateur gardener, speaking of the seeds grown in the southern end of Vancouver Island: “They are 100 per cent.; one can be certain that every one of them will produce. English seeds are good, but we excel them here. Look, for instance, at these columbines and sweet williams, the seed of these plants was gathered two months ago (this was in October) and the plants pulled ou^
Now see!” ;/.The]~ground was literally covered with little seedlings that spilled all over the border and marched along the walk.
WhatTis true of flower seeds on Vancouver Island is true to a large extent of vegetable’seeds, especially those which need cooUnights and a long season to ripen.*,^Planting out or sowing may be done very early, thus ensuring a deep root growth which means that the plants can withstand the dry weather which we get later on for there is rarely any rain durirg the summer. Vëry frequently seed crops are gathered which have never had a drop of rain on them. This is ideal for the maturing of seeds of high vitality and good bright color. Owing to climatic conditions, too, many of the diseases common to plants are unknown here. Vegetable seed-raising does not make ouite the same appeal to women as does the more aesthetic business of raising flowers seeds. The latter is, of course, far more intriguing, because of its accompaniments of lovely color and perfume, and it does not involve nearly so much hard labor.
In a list of the principal seed-growers on Vancouver Island prepared by the provincial government, it is seen that outside of the vegetable seed-growers, twenty-five per cent, go in for sweet peas alone. But all of them are experimenting with other seeds, and the results have been well worth while. There are at nresent twenty-four large seed plantations, running from a few acres up to one hundred, the largest being the Sunset Seed Company which has just purchased the fine old Dean Brothers farm near Victoria.
Another pleasant and lucrative garden employment for women is bulb-growing. There are more women owners of bulb farms on Vancouver Island than there are of seed plantations. One reason, perhaps, is that bulb growing may be taken up as a side-line by one who has the domestic duties of the farm to look after. If she specializes in daffodils or
any of the early spring varieties, the season is a short one and the work well over before the warm weather. One woman, Mrs. Bastin, the wife of a rural minister near Victoiia, has made a hobby of tulips, and from them has earned sufficient money to enable her to send her children away to school. Her magnificent flowers invariably carry off most of the prizes at the Island and Mainland shows. The Bastin’s rectory acreage is a picture of blazing beauty throughout April and May, and Mrs. Bastin does nearly all of the work herself, tending the tulips, cutting them and packing them.
There are no bulbs marketed at present from Vancouver Island—only the blossoms. There is a steady and growing demand for them in the prairie towns and cities. The fields around Victoria are golden with bloom while the prairies are still white with snow. To open a box of sunny daffodils witha winter blizzard raging around must be to transport one to a sort of seventh heaven. And the daffodils begin to blossom early in February.
Mrs. Stewart, of Comox, has a large acreage devoted to narcissi (which includes daffodils) and tulips. She also is a consistent prize winner, as are Mrs. Leather, of Duncan; Mrs. Charles Toomer and Mrs. H. G. Hammond, of Sidney.
Mention must specially be made of the beautiful varieties of gladioli raised by the bulb farmers. They are not excelled anywhere, and rarely equalled. The demand for these cut flowers is far greater than the supply.
Bulb flowers are cut while still in the bud, or barely open, and are shipped in thin wooden boxes, or heavy cardboard. There is no reason why the bulbs themselves should not be raised for export, in fact this was done on several large bulb farms prior to the war.
But bulb-growing as well as seed-raising is still in its infancy. A good beginning, however, has been made and both of these branches of horticulture are beginning to bring fame to Vancouver Island and its women growers.
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