This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
That a certain refinement results from intercourse with works of art is manifest to the most cursory observer of the habits of mankind. When the Roman poet affirmed that " the diligent study of the liberal arts softens manners, and prevents them from becoming brutal," he merely collected into an aphorism the constant experience of all ages. The arts of poetry and painting, and sculpture and architecture, when understood by a people, have always raised them from barbarism; and if they have not purified the hearts of their votaries, they have at least refined their manners. Those who read history rightly will always recognise those minor instruments of civilisation to which we refer, which, if insufficient to give to man his highest polish, yet grind away the ruder angularities of that piece of breathing and thinking statuary.
If the contemplation of beautiful forms when wrought out by human skill, and consequently chargeable with human imperfections, produces effects so beneficial, the refining influence of Floriculture cannot be doubtful, since it has to do with so much that is surpassingly lovely, executed in a manner too elaborate for the imitation of the most skilful human artificer. Let a love of flowers be possessed, and we cannot conceive of the manners being brutal, especially when that love extends to all the interesting processes of their growth, from the sowing the seed to the full development of the lustrous, symmetrical, and scented form which at length rewards our labour. Most amateurs must have been sensible on various occasions of a softening and refining influence resulting from their pursuit, as they have looked, for instance, on a bed of Ranunculuses glowing in their oriental dyes in the morning sun, or caught the fragrance of a parterre of Pinks whose delicate lacings are spangled with the early dew. Irascible emotions are calmed; discontent is felt to be out of place; censoriousness becomes charitable, at least for a season, in such circumstances, as though the silent beauty of the objects contemplated were a divinity in whose presence such feelings are interdicted.
As the harp of the minstrel of Bethlehem could tame the savage breast of the forsaken king, so the mute eloquence of flowers has often purged the heart of "the perilous stuff" engendered by selfish and mere worldly pursuits.
If the sentiments we have expressed are founded in truth, or even if they admit of some deduction, as being a little overstrained and fanciful, then the extension of floral tastes must be hailed by every lover of his country and of mankind, as combining with other influences to extend that social and public melioration which all good men seek. There is no class of men who can be considered independent of any of the refining causes which divine Providence has supplied, and therefore to a certain extent the most cultivated and most pious may derive an additional finish from the love of flowers. How important, therefore, is the diffusion of such a taste among the masses of mankind, whose characters have fewer advantages and greater temptations! Take two labouring men, one fond of gardening, and the other not, and although their position in life may be equal, the latter will in many respects be inferior to the former. We speak generally, of course, for there is no rule without exceptions. What is thus propounded as a theory we have found to be proved by actual instances brought under our notice again and again.
In a horticultural society which had much to do with cottagers, the exhibitors were generally above the average range of their class in sobriety, frugality, and civility; and we believe this is always the case where opportunities of cultivating a garden are embraced by some, and neglected by others.
We therefore hail the increase of a taste for gardening, whether exhibited by actual garden operations or garden literature, as a sign of advancing intelligence and civilisation. Those institutions which contemplate the rewarding the most industrious or the most skilful cultivator, may exert an immense influence on the working classes, by proposing to them a fair proportion of prizes. It is pleasing to follow, in fancy, the agricultural labourer, or the mechanic, from the time when the list of prizes first comes into his hands, until the day of exhibition, when his laudable ambition is gratified by his becoming a successful competitor. There is first a careful survey of the various items, to ascertain in what his strength lies; then the concentration of his powers on the Pansies or Polyanthuses, the Carnations or Roses, as the case may be. He has no time for the scenes of low company and dissipation, for his flower-bed demands every spare moment. The pleasing excitement extends to his family, and the young child learns to respect the growing plants which the father tends so carefully, and would not hurt them for the world. At length the flowers expand, the show-day arrives, and the attainment of a prize diffuses great joy through the little household.
Or if he should fail, he knows that another and another trial is before him, and by noticing the causes of his rival's success becomes more wary and attentive for the future. Henry Burgess.