This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
On Variety I would observe, that by this term I do not mean exactly that quality which gives value to a new seedling plant, by reason of its being different from others already in cultivation; but a quality to be looked for in any single given specimen irrespective of others; that is, not comparative but absolute; not as differing from its fellows, but as containing differences in itself. And this quality, as I observed before, may arise from either of the three sources of form, number, or colour, or from any two, or all united. The Passionflower, and still more the Water-lily, strike the eye as much from their varied forms as colours; and the Hyacinth derives its principal and constant value, irrespective of colour, from the same source. The petals of the Ranunculus are alike in form and markings, but their numbers contribute as much to an appearance of variety as to fulness of outline. And a bizarre Carnation, or which has two colours besides the ground, is considered to belong to a higher class than the simpler flaked kinds. From whatever source, however, arising, it is essential that the florist's flower which would claim a high position should not be deficient in this.
In a bed or a border the brilliant colour of some self-flowers make them the most useful and attractive of all, as the scarlet Geranium, the Gentianella, the Lobelia cardinalis or caerulea, the Nemophila, and others; but that is because variety is produced by their being seen as a whole, and contrasted with surrounding objects. Separate a single blossom from the plant, and examine it attentively, and you will find it flag in its interest sooner than one in which relief is given to the eye by variety. Its properties are perceived at a glance, and the eye has done its office; and our copy-books will be found to enunciate a philosophical truth, when they impress upon the child what the child knows better than any philosopher, that it is variety that is charming.
I. It is produced by form. No class of plants approach the Orchids in illustrations of this. Very few of their blossoms have simple forms; and when there is a leading feature, as in the Papilio, in some of which a butterfly is represented as faithfully as a bee in a Larkspur, the whole blossom nevertheless is complex. Indeed, it is probably as much from the endless variety in every department of that quality that is found in these flowers, as for any individual superiority they possess, though this too must be accorded to them, that they owe their unrivalled popularity. But as these are beyond the reach of ordinary growers, I prefer drawing my illustrations from more familiar objects.
A very good instance is the Fuchsia. At present, and until F. spectabilis has revolutionised the tribe, its pendulous character, its want of petalous expansion, and its glossy texture of skin unbroken for the greater part of its length, seem to remove it in appearance from the class of flowers, and liken it to a fruit. It is, however, and will probably always continue, very popular, and it has several points of high excellence, of which I have here only to remark upon those which depend on the variety of its outline.
Flowers of this class differ from those of a more uniform surface in a manner somewhat analogous to the difference between sculpture and paintings, and are hardly more fit to exhibit delicate markings of colour than a statue would be. Contrasts, brilliance, or an attractive colour as a whole, are the points in this respect, in which their excellence is to be sought. But the very unevenness of form which prevents the finer uses of colouring, is itself the parent of many advantages. The general outline is ever varying, and never the same from any two points of view. The ordinary position of the blossom of the Fuchsia on the plant is full of variety. The long and gracefully arched footstalk, the seedpod, the tube, itself rarely cylindrical, the calyx, the corolla, the anthers and pistil, form a constantly varying and pleasing outline. But in this position the petals are for the most part, and sometimes entirely, hidden; and if you examine them, the tube is out of sight. It is owing chiefly to this that the notched starry appearance of the open sepals in most varieties, so disagreeable in other flowers, is no dissight in this; indeed, it has a positive advantage in opening to sight the contrasted colours of the corolla within.
Nor does it signify whether the variety of form be in the substance or in the markings of flowers. The Carnation owes much, though not all, of its superiority to the Picotee or the Pink (excuse me, ladies), to the fact that, without violence to its general unity, it has no two petals, and no two stripes on the same petal, alike in the form of their colours. A Calceolaria that has its spots or its stripes all of the same size and shape is tame compared with one that is more varied in its markings.
The Pelargonium and the Pansy have many points common to both, and each flower has its respective admirers; but general estimation assigns the palm to the former; and it may be interesting, and not uninstructive, to trace to the quality now under consideration some of the superiority of the one over the other. The number of petals, their form, the order of their disposition, and their relative importance, are the same in both flowers. The general outline is, in the main, alike, and the required properties, as far as they can be compared, not very different; yet the ideas excited by them are exceedingly dissimilar, the reasons of which I will now investigate.
1. The Pelargonium has a throat, the Pansy terminates at the eye; and therefore the former has a whole class of properties of which the latter is deprived; and these, though not numerous, have a very influential bearing upon the general appearance of the flower, and are becoming of more importance to its estimation every year. Here is an advantage in respect of variety.
2. Again, an immediate result from its closed throat is, that the Pansy cannot be too flat; whereas a flat-centered Pelargonium, like Meleager, proves that the brightest colour loses something of its brightness, and becomes flat-coloured from the deadness of its surface. The form of the Pelargonium has the advantage again in variety, which gives greater effect to its colours.
3. A corresponding difference is observable also at the limb or outer extremity. Owing partly to its flat centre and partly to its flimsy substance, the edge of the Pansy must be flat likewise. In fact, it never curves inwards but when withering, or outwards but from inability to support its own weight. The stouter texture of the Pelargonium admits of its being slightly either inflected or reflected, and thus another source of graceful variety is obtained, the one making an approach in form to the reversed ogee, or Hogarth's line of beauty, the other to that of the rim of a Tuscan vase. And Meleager is, as might be expected, an instance in this too of the loss sustained by a flower which gives up one of its properties, for it is as level as a Pansy. And therefore, notwithstanding its very high colour and beautiful tint, it is not brilliant. Nor, high as was its price last October, do I suppose we shall hear much more of it. There is much value in the varying surface of the Pelargonium, another proof of which will be referred to presently under another head; and therefore, from its greater richness in variety of outline, as well as for some other advantages, it is completely removed from fear of rivalry on the part of its humbler but not less pretty sister, the Pansy.
Variety may also be produced by number, when the units composing it are alike, as in spotted, striped, or double flowers. Thus a spotted Calceolaria or a striped Marigold is not destitute of variety, by reason of the many changes of individual object the eye has to take in. The same may be said of a double Rose or Dahlia. Not that this is the only object attained by multiplying the petals, because the general outline commonly undergoes thereby a complete alteration, and properties that were prominent before become subordinate or altogether obliterated, and others take their place. From this it happens that some flowers, as the Tulip, are handsomer when single, others when double, as the Rose. Nor is it always easy to predict which of the two is the more desirable form, until actual comparison has decided between them. A few general remarks, however, are applicable.
1. To bear the double condition with advantage the petals must be symmetrical, or such as that, a line being drawn lengthwise through the centre, the parts on each side of this line shall be alike. For if otherwise, the entire petal will have a peculiar and distinctive shape, in which some, and perhaps the chief, properties of the flower are contained; and these will be hidden and lost in the double form. The lower petals of the Pelargonium are symmetrical; but the upper petals are not, and in these the leading characters are found. And therefore a double Pelargonium would be no advantage. The double condition would reduce all at an equal distance from the centre to an equal value, or else would make a one-sided flower. It so happens that direct experiment has in a manner shewn this to be correct, for this year I had a blossom of Aurora with four upper and six under petals, an exactly double allowance; and certainly it was no improvement.
2. Size by itself gives no means of judging; for the Dahlia is as large as the Tulip, and the former gains, while the latter loses, by being doubled. So again, on the other side, the Hepatica loses, while the Daisy and American Groundsel, which are no larger, gain by it.
3. But size and colour conjointly do enable us in some measure to form a judgment. For if delicacy of touch in the strokes of colouring be one of the leading characteristics of the flower, according to which varieties are discerned and prized, the individual blossom is of more importance than the mass of bloom, and size (proportionate to the growth and habit of the plant) is indispensable; in which case multiplying the petals hides the beauties and deteriorates the character. A double Auricula or a double Tulip could never be endued with so many points of excellence as belong to them in their single state. This is not the case with a Rose or a Dahlia. They are large, but their colour is valued as a whole, not in its parts; and the variety caused by numerous petals and a filled-up outline is advantageous to them, as their size admits of such an increase without detriment to their brightness.
But if, on the contrary, it is the colour itself, and not the pencilling of colour, that is the characteristic, and the size of the individual blossom be small, then the brilliancy is greatly impaired by the flower being doubled. The single and the double pink Hepatica are of the same hue; but the single one is far the more striking flower, because its whole bright surface is seen. In the double, the petals being so small and seen edgewise, much of the brightness is lost, and it looks comparatively uninteresting. In the Dahlia, Rose, and others, the surface is so much larger that this effect is not produced.
The colours of the Cineraria are so bright, in some instances so dazzlingly so, that even while its pretensions were far humbler than they are now, I have doubted whether, in losing the intensity of its hue, which would be unavoidable were it to become double, it would not proportionably lose its interest. It is now, however, developing qualities which put the other impediment also in the way, and render a double Cineraria a thing not to be wished for.
Of variety produced by colours I shall speak under the head of colour.
[To be continued.] IOTA.