Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

A Few Words on Gesneraceous Plants

The family Gesnereaceae was an important contributor to the diversity of the colonial garden of Camden Park, with 97 plants described in the Hortus, mainly from the genera Achimenes and Sinningia. This short article provides a good overview of the history of Gesneriads as garden plants, and some very useful advice on their culture. Unfortunately I have lost the source reference, but the content suggests that it was written for an Australian colonial readership. The article is simply signed L.W.

The plants belonging to this natural family are chiefly suited for Pot Culture, and as such they stand pre-eminent, being the chief decoration of the greenhouse from December to April, and one or other of them may be had in ?ower almost every month in the year. The Gesneria is the type of this very useful class of plants; this Genus was named by that illustrious Naturalist, Linnaeus, in honor of John Gesner, a Canon of Zurich, who was born 1709, and died in 1790; Gesner was the first to announce the new system of Linnaeus, in his dissertations on plants, published in 1741, in which he says - that Linnaeus was a man destined to reform all Natural History. Linnaeus at that time was about thirty four years of age. The Genus Gesneria comprises plants of great beauty, both in foliage and flowers, a circumstance but rarely attained by any other single plant; there are some as a matter to course in this Genus, that are not worth their room as pot plants - in fact, I am not acquainted with any other Genus which is composed of plants of such opposite characters as the Gesnerias; some have flowers of great beauty, others rich and gorgeous in foliage, several of them possessing both these good qualities; some are dwarf, bushy, and of good habit, while others have neither flower, foliage, nor habit, to recommend them; some are bulbous and grow from the same root, or bulb year after year, others are tuberous and form new roots every year, (the old ones or preceding year’s tubers dying); some are herbaceous, others are half shrubby; some are in flower in the spring and summer months, others in the autumn and winter time - from such a variety and singularity of plants, either one or other of them may be had displaying their beauties during the greater part of the year. But few plants can surpass Gesneria Donkellarii either in flower or lineament, and but few can equal that much admired old favourite Zebrina Splendens, the georgeousness of its velvet like leaves none can surpass.

The first Linnaeus discovered, was G. Tomentosa, in 1752; the next; was Acaulis, in 1793; then Tubiflora, in 1615; Aggregata and Bulbosa 1816; and Prasinata, in 1818. There are several others or more recent introduction, which along with garden hybrids swell out some the Nurserymen’s Catalogue into a goodly list. The most desirable of those in cultivation in New South Wales, are, Donkellarii, Miellarii, Blassii, Zebrina, G. Splendens, Cinnabarina, Gloxinaeflora, and Mexicana. Donkellarii, Miellerii, and Gloxinaeflora, are bulbous rooted, one in each pot is sufficient; the others are tuberous, and from one to three, or more may be planted in each pot.

Zebrina, Z. Splendens, and Mexicana, are autumn flowering; Cinnabarina and Blassii, are winter; and the others are summer flowering; each requires a light rich vegetable soil to grow in, with an abundance of drainage, and a shady situation, never allowing the direct rays of Sol to shine upon them, and I invariably find them to do best when not too large sized pots are used, for too much soil is apt to retain a superabundance of moisture about their roots, and as such is highly injurious to them.

The next I would mention, is the Gloxinia, and if one Genus is more desirable than another for the sake of their flowers in this natural family, it is I think the Gloxinia, for all of them are beautiful, and their number is legion. The Gloxinia is named in memory of B. P. Gloxin, of Colmar, a German Botanist, by Charles Louis L’Héritier, a French Author on Gardening.

The ?rst Gloxinia discovered, was G. Maculata, in 1739, after which an intervening period of seventy-six years occurred before there was another discovered, viz., in 1815, when G. Speciosa was introduced; afterwards G. Caulescens, in 1820; then G. Hirsuta, in 1824; subsequently appeared G. Rubra, and Rubra variegata, in 1840; Picta in 1842, Tubiflora and Digitaliflora, in 1843, and several others soon followed; all of which represented a fine scope for the purpose of raising new and improved varieties, and which is now so wonderfully and popularly effected, gaining for them admirers far and near. The Gloxinia readily yields to the art of Hybridization, ripening its seeds in abundance, and producing flowering plants in an incredibly short period.

The most curious of these cross bred flowers which we have seen, from a batch of seedlings raised by that zealous and noble promoter of Horticulture, T. S. Mort, Esq., one of them named Jupiter, reminds us of those winged Lions of the Assyrian antiquities, for on each side of the flower there is an extra petal likening it unto those ancient monsters.

All the species have been found growing in light rich vegetable mould, amongst decayed leaves, sticks, &c., by the edges of dense forests in tropical climates, and consequently we find that they require in pot culture, ?rst, a thorough drainage, the pot being fully half filled with crocks, pieces of charcoal, decayed sticks, peat, &c.; second, a soil composed of thorough decayed leaves, sticks, old tan, &c., with a little peat, loam, sand, &c., all well blended together; and third, a warm, shady situation; and although the Gloxinia is impatient of too much moisture about their roots, yet, a humid atmosphere is bene?cial to them, and this must be maintained through evaporation and not syringing, as this is equally prejudicial to them as too much moisture about their roots.

The third is Achimenes, a name of unknown meaning originally given by Dr. Patrick Brown; this is a genus no less interesting than either of the two already mentioned, possessing as it does, many species of rare and beautiful kinds, displaying their various colored and gaudy flowers, of red, white, and blue, &c., from December to April. The ?rst Achimenes discovered, was Coccinea, (named Trevirana Coccinea, and Cyrilla pulchella) in Jamaica, in 1778, the others are chiefly of recent discovery.

There have been various rules laid down for the management of this tribe of plants; some recommending that they should be stored in the pots in which they have grown the previous season, and as soon as they attain the height of three or four inches, to be carefully separated, and potted either singly or three in a pot, to be kept-near the glass, frequently syringed, &c. Others recommending them to be grown from cuttings, so as to flower them in a more dwarf state. The plan I adopt, is as follows: as soon as they die down after flowering, I let them remain through the winter quite dry, and as soon as I find them showing signs of growth in spring, I prepare my soil, of vegetable or leaf mould, and peat, of equal parts, giving it a half sifting, using the roughest portion of it with a little white sand, decayed sticks, small pieces of charcoal, crocks, &c., mixed with the soil; then I take my pots of about ten inches across and four inches deep, place a drainage of two inches in the bottom, upon which I place one inch of soil; I then take the tubers and according to their kinds vary the number in each pot from six to twenty, (such as Picta, Gigeantea, Pedunculata, &c., from three to six is suf?cient), I barely cover them until they have made some growth, I then fill up the pots with the same kind of soil; during their growth I keep them in a rather confined and humid atmosphere, (a common frame containing a few loads of spent tan), carefully shading at all times from the rays of the sun, giving sufficient air, so as to prevent a too weak and straggling growth; as soon as they show signs of flowering, I remove them to the greenhouse, prior to which they receive a careful staking and tying up; an operation oft performed with bad judgment and taste, rendering what is really elegant and beautiful, into stiff and unnatural objects, by either bundling them up into one mass, or else by placing a stout and glaring stake to each root; whereas, their supports ought to be light and well concealed, and their shoots loosely and skillfully attached to them.

Many of the Achimenes accommodate themselves with willingness as basket plants, which, when suspended, hang their graceful and fragile forms, adding an additional variety to the ordinary usage.

A sub-division of this [Gesnereacea] now exists in the form of those exceedingly beautiful and sweetly spotted flowers, the Tydaea, which unmistakably ought to be in every collection of pot grown plants. The same treatment as the last answers the Tydaea, except that the common pot maybe used, and from one to three tubers should be placed in each pot. There are several other genera and sub-genera in this interesting family of plants, as Mandiola, Loeheria, Scheeria, Sinningia, Besleria, Niphaea, &c., &c., most of which flourish well, under nearly the same kind of treatment as the Gesnera, Gloxinia, or Achimenes.  L.W.