This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
In my last I disposed of the first of the three forms of objection, in which the charge of uselessness is ordinarily brought against the system of fancy flowers.
II. The second objection admits the existence among us of a systematic standard of excellence, not the mere creature of caprice; but repudiates it as bad, on the ground that to admit any such external and common standard at all, it not being founded in nature, is unnaturally to cramp the freedom of taste existing separately and independently in every one. And further, because, by creating a conventional fastidiousness, it restricts instead of augmenting the pleasure derivable from flowers, and fixes our admiration rather on effects produced by art than on the genuine beauties of nature.
This form of objection, or some portion of it, is most frequently used by those who are naturally capable of the highest degree of discrimination, both of beauties and of defects in such matters, - the ladies; and therefore I am not without hope that when I have shewn them that their fears are groundless, I shall enlist heartily in our cause some of the ablest supporters of this really interesting science. And that the objection, though specious and less transparently unsound than the former, is wholly imaginary, might not unreasonably be inferred from the universal habit of florists perversely to agree in preferring their bondage to liberty; while yet they ever become more interested in their pursuit the more they occupy themselves in it, and at the same time continue to retain their relish for a hedge Violet or a Primrose.
Those who plead for ignorance, even though it be ignorance of the properties of a Pink, are presumptively in the wrong. Nor will the presumptive evidence in this instance mislead us; for the objection assumes as true what I hope to shew is unfounded: (1) that there is no external standard of floral excellence in nature, but only in the capricious taste of each beholder; (2) that therefore the established system is of the florist's making, not of his finding ready made for him; and (3) that to be bound by it, is to diminish the natural pleasure beneficently given us by the Creator in the works of his creation.
1. With regard to the first assumption, the principal object of these papers is, to trace out from nature, as I hope to do in a subsequent one, that standard which is alleged to have no existence; for there certainly is an external standard of perfection, and that in every species of flower, even though we should never reach it in practice, to see it; because care and cultivation uniformly develop certain qualities, differing in each species, which are only dimly, and perhaps not at all, seen in their wild or natural state. And in those kinds which are technically called florists' flowers, or such as are capable of great diversity in their varieties, by a judicious use of the method of hybridising, fresh varieties are still produced, more and more developing those qualities in the same direction, and pointing to a yet invisible standard of what, if ever reached, would be the perfection of that particular species.
2. Therefore it follows, that if florists do not unwisely depart from the standard indicated in nature, their requirements are not their own, and they are not answerable for any alleged consequences of their art. It is not they who put restrictions on the admirers of natural beauties, if any such restrictions exist (which, however, they do not), but not even for the appearance of them are they answerable. The work of the florist is simply to follow whither nature leads him, selecting always that track in which there is the greatest promise of success; and on his judgment in never departing from this, and in using the best means for securing the accomplishment of his desires, depends the correctness of his practical science.
And though mistakes have, of course, been made, and will be made again, in the endeavours after advancement in each particular object of our culture, yet these still become fewer as progress is made in developing the natural powers and characteristic excellences of the plant, whereby the philosophy of its improvement is seen, and we do not work in the dark; because there is a system of such development in nature, and a definite point of perfection, the constant approach to which constitutes improvement in each species. And as this is effected by crossing the seed of those varieties which have shewn respectively the greatest advances in some particular quality, it is plain there is a substantial truth in the phrase common among florists, "a high-bred flower".
3. As to the third and last assumption, namely the hardship of being deprived of the power of admiring a wild Pansy, and so of losing half the pleasure designed by the Creator, - the matter is not quite fairly stated. I do not think florists generally despise wild flowers in their proper place; with myself I know the very reverse is the fact. I take much more pleasure in them now than I did before I paid attention to their cultivated varieties. And further, I think it will be found, that a wild Pansy will be tolerated, and even cherished, by a florist, where a bad cultivated one, though much in advance of it in respect of properties, would be consigned with disgust to the pit as a weed.
Yet it is frankly to be admitted, that an untutored eye may delight in a cultivated specimen, which to the more deeply versed, and therefore fastidious, taste of a connoisseur, would convey unqualified distaste. But that is no more an argument that a person must sacrifice his pleasure in flowers, by learning to cultivate them, than it is an argument against learning the art of painting, lest the student should lose his admiration of the signs in the streets; or the art of music, lest he should cease to be pleased with the organ of an itinerant. The same argument indeed is equally available, and has been often used, against all civilisation generally, and every particular part of it. The fact is, that we are so constituted, that our onward progress in every thing must be clogged with such accompaniments; and he who would have it otherwise, forgets that he is in a world of probation, and discipline, and hardness. We are urged forward only by the goads and spurs of our wants. But who ever regretted the introduction of coffee from Arabia, tea from China, or muslin from India, because the use of these things is inseparably connected with disgust at acorn diet, and at the homespun manufactures of our ancestors? The refinement of our pleasures, in changing their objects, does not necessarily abridge them.
Nor, though it were sure to introduce a corresponding loss at the other end of the scale, would it lessen by an hairsbreadth the sum of human enjoyment, while assuredly it is capable of a beneficial effect in humanising the man. And therefore I think ladies especially should pause before they find fault with a pursuit, which may, in its degree, become subservient to one of the great ends they themselves are destined to fulfil on our behalf. Iota.
[To be continued].