Victorian gardeners knew of at least nine or ten varieties of zinnia, but the one preferred above all others was the ‘coccinea’, or scarlet-rayed zinnia. The species was introduced into Britain from Mexico in 1796, the scarlet-rayed variety being introduced in 1829 and rapidly being bred into a ‘perfect double’ flower. The flower was named after J.G. Zin, Professor of Botany and Natural History at the University of Gottengen (who died at the tender age of 32 in 1758).
The zinnia was sometimes referred to as the Mexican Marigold. Classed as a half-hardy annual, Hibberd warned that it must not be cultivated in a half-hearted manner. The seeds needed to be sown about mid-April, but not earlier. They should be sown on a hotbed where they would germinate very quickly. They could, however, also be sown into a cold frame, or under a hand light, in rich earth.
The young plants should be hardened off and planted out during mild quiet weather into rich soil in a warm and sheltered position. If planted out during sunny weather then Hibberd advised shading them against the sun.
Hibberd was firmly of the opinion that the scarlet varieties of zinnia were the best, followed by the yellows and purples in order o merit, with the white ranking lowest of all.
Information and image taken from F. Edward Hulme and Shirley Hibberd, Familiar Garden Flowers (Cassell, Peter, Galpin and Co.: London: c. 1890), 5 vols.