This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
All that has been said in preceding papers of the results of a love of flowers and floriculture concerns man as an individual, and would be true if, like Robinson Crusoe, he tended his garden in solitudes where he was the only rational inhabitant. The effects of this taste for the beauties of the vegetable kingdom are pre-eminently confined to the individual, although not exclusively so; and we shall now endeavour to illustrate the results of it upon men in a state of society, or in combination. This design will occupy three distinct papers: the first of which will consider the general influences of horticultural societies; the second, their influence upon the labouring and poorer classes; and the third, the bearing of floral tastes on the national welfare.
The most obvious remark on the first of these subjects is, that competition tends to improved cultivation; and this is true wherever men patronise gardening pursuits under the observation of each other, even when no organised society exists to stimulate their zeal and elicit their talents. If my neighbour, like myself, is growing a bed of Ranunculuses, and I can see his movements over my fence or wall, I shall naturally watch his procedure with interest; and if at the time of blooming I find that his flowers are stronger in their health, and more perfect in their character, I shall not rest until I am able to bring my productions to an equality with his. This, therefore, is one object of a society which rewards superior cultivation: on the one hand, it lets us see what can be done in this department of art by our neighbours; and on the other, it urges us to the attainment of excellence by an appeal to various motives, which are found to lead to more vigorous action. This may lead, in some cases, to envy and jealousy, and in others to mere cupidity; but this cannot be regarded as a reason why competition should be discouraged.
It is impossible to secure advantages without some admixture of evil or inconvenience; and to say that horticultural societies may engender malevolent feelings, is only to affirm that they have to do with human nature. When we see that it is by competition that civilisation has won some of its greatest triumphs, we must conclude that it is intended to have a place in the government of the world.
But these combinations for floral purposes are found to promote kindliness among neighbours, to smooth away the asperities and angularities of individual characters, and to form a bond of union among those whom political and religious differences have widely separated from each other. On this common ground all can meet; and when once brought into contact, it is surprising how soon men become better acquainted. Among the gentle scenes of Nature they forget the differences of public life, and find a pleasure in their intercourse not soon to be forgotten; a pleasure procured without the sacrifice of principle, and followed by no regret. We have now in our eye an instance of this harmonising tendency of the most pleasing kind, in the case of a horticultural institution a short distance from London. It was formed in a town where political and religious differences, as well as the distinctions of wealth and position, had done very much to disturb social concord, and where there appeared the greatest improbability, a priori, of these dissentient parties being brought into any friendly union. However, a few lovers of flowers joined together and formed a society, which was speedily favoured by almost all the respectable inhabitants of the place, and soon became very prosperous and influential.
On the days of exhibition common topics were presented for conversation, and acquaintances were formed, which in many cases were permanent, and in all proved very promotive of that respect which citizens should entertain for each other. In this society were realised the sentiments so elegantly expressed in the following passage by a writer whose name I have forgotten:
"The cultivation of flowers is, of all the amusements of mankind, the one to be selected and approved, as the most innocent in itself, and most perfectly devoid of injury and annoyance to others; the employment is not only conducive to health and peace of mind, but probably more good-will has arisen, and more friendships have been founded, by the intercourse and communication connected with the pursuit, than from any other whatever. The pleasures of the horticulturist are harmless and pure; a streak, a tint, a shade, become his triumph, which, though often obtained by chance, are secured alone by morning care, by evening caution, and by the vigilance of days; an employ which, in its various grades, excludes neither the opulent nor the indigent; and, teeming with boundless variety, affords an unceasing excitement to emulation, without contention or ill-will." We are sanguine in our expectations of the good which will result from the multiplication of these institutions, whether, like those of London, they draw the higher classes to Chiswick or the Regent's Park, or unite together the inhabitants of a country town or village. Only let one word of advice be given, having for its object the real welfare of exhibitors.
Let your proceedings be conducted in the spirit of generous rivalry; so that when successful, you may bear your honours meekly; and when defeated, know no feeling but that of a determination to imitate your competitors in those points in which they excelled. Henry Burgess.