This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Those who are curious about the early history of our fashionable garden plants will find an excellent account of the introduction of this truly noble flower, than which we have nothing of its season half so valuable, in the third volume of the Transactions of the Horticultural Society. It is there stated by the late Mr. Sabine, that the merit of first carefully attending to and cultivating these plants (Dahlias) belongs exclusively to the continental gardeners; for although we received them almost as soon as the French and Germans, yet, if not lost, they had nearly gone out of notice with us, whilst in France and Germany they had increased as much in number as in beauty; and persons fond of gardening who visited the Continent on the return of peace in 1814, were surprised with the splendour and varieties of the Dahlias in the foreign collections. In the winter of that year several roots were imported into this country; and since that period we have made up for former neglect, as is sufficiently evinced by the splendid exhibitions of these flowers both in the public and private gardens near London. Such was the state of our collections in 1818, when the above account was written.
DAHLIA. Beauty of Hastings.
Cavanilles was the first scientifically to define the genus, naming it in honour of Dahl, a Swedish botanist. Some objections were at first made to this name, which has, however, eventually become established.
The Dahlias are natives of Mexico, where they were found by Baron Humboldt in sandy meadows in the province of Mechoacan, between Areo and Patzcuaro, at 4800 or 5600 feet above the level of the sea. From their native habitats they had been transferred to the Botanic Garden at Mexico, and thence to the Royal Garden at Madrid, in which the then existing species, Pinnata, Rosea, and Coccinea, flowered between the years 1789 and 1794. In 1802, plants of each of these were transferred from Madrid to the Jardin des Plantes at Paris. In May 1804 seeds of the three kinds were sent from Madrid by Lady Holland to Mr. Buonaiuti, then the librarian at Holland House. From these seeds Pinnata was raised, and flowered in the following September, and was figured in the Botanists' Repository. It proved to be a deep purple stellated single-flowered sort. In the succeeding year plants of Rosea and Coccinea also flowered at Holland House, from which nearly all the plants then in our gardens were obtained. The original introduction of the Dahlia is, however, ascribed to the Marchioness of Bute, who brought the first species from Spain in 1789; but it is stated that this plant was soon afterwards lost.
Mr. Fraser, of Chelsea, flowered Coccinea in 1803, when it was figured in the Botanical Magazine. This plant was also lost. Mr. Fraser is said to have obtained it from France in 1802, the same year in which it was introduced from Spain to the French gardens. In 1803, Mr. Woodford, of Vauxhall, flowered Cavanilles' Rosea, which he had obtained from Paris; so that, independently of the Marchioness of Bute's plant in 1789, it seems that both species had flowered in this country before the seeds were transmitted by Lady Holland. From the above it will be seen that Madrid supplied both the French and English gardens.
The first three species were named by Cavanilles, Pinnata, Rosea, and Coccinea; but these being objectionable names, they were afterwards changed. Pinnata has been called Su-perflua, Purpurea, Sambucifolia, and Variabilis; Rosea, Sphondyliifolia and Lilacina; and Coccinea, Frustranea, Cro-cata, and Bidentifolia. Some confusion, however, appears to exist with regard to these names.
But if it is interesting to trace the origin of the introduction of the Dahlia, it is no less so to follow up its progress towards perfection. Count Lelieur began to direct his attention to Dahlias in 1808. He successively hybridised the few varieties he possessed, until he obtained purples, dark reds, cherry reds, buffs, and pale yellows; and, by continued attention, the seedlings raised under his care at St. Cloud made rapid advances in perfection. He also succeeded in raising some stripes and shaded single ones, the parents of our "fancies." In 1818, our own collections contained several double varieties, and these, from their superior beauty, form, and size, soon banished the single sorts from our gardens; and during the next thirty years our Dahlias made such rapid strides in the march of perfection and variety, that now hardly a desideratum is left, save, perhaps, that of a blue Dahlia.
Beauty of Hastings, the subject of our Illustration, was raised by Mr. Barham, of Springfield, in 1847, from Gaines' Princess Radziwill. It possesses the fine foliage of that variety, and is more erect in habit. The colour of the tip, or edging, is more rosy than that of its parent, and more striking and showy. The petals are a trifle more cupped, the centre smaller, and more compact. It was proved in 1848. It has not been exhibited large, but can be produced of a fair average size, and will stand good growth without becoming coarse.
Dahlias should be examined for two purposes: to observe if any choice variety is decaying, or rotting downwards from the stem, in which case it should at once be placed in heat to make growth before it has gone below the eyes. Secondly, to see that the fastenings of the labels are secure, which often rot from the moisture of the decayed foot-stalk. If a large number of plants are required of any particular kind, it should be put to work, and the cuttings taken off when from three to four inches long, and placed in moist heat; they will soon become rooted: care must be taken, in hardening them off, not to stop their growth too suddenly, or to draw them up weakly.
Nursery, Slough. C. Turner.