This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
* I have been much encouraged since this letter was prepared, by seeing, in the Gardeners' Chronicle of some years back, a dissertation upon the points of a good Tulip, in which most of my conclusions are forestalled, though the reasons for them, as might he expected, are not given.
The restricting mode of colour, however, has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. For the Carnation, from its greater variety, both in forms and colours, ought to be the prettiest of the three; in which quality I believe most of my fair readers would be disposed to place it, where I should myself, as the last instead of the first. There is a sort of masculine character imparted to it by its concentrated efforts towards magnitude, which impairs its delicacy. It is this direction of the lines of colour in the Picotee which make what are called "bars" a disfigurement; a sentence which many denounce as capricious and unreasonable, not considering that they are transverse to the lines of colour, and that lines at right angles are necessarily harsh.
The ordinary mode in which the petals of a modern Pelargonium are disposed, give an instance of another effect imparted to a system of colours by the shape of the ground on which they are laid. The two larger or upper are sometimes called back petals, not because they really lie farther back than the three lower ones, but because these latter are commonly thrown straight forwards, while the others have a greater tendency to the other direction and to reflex, whereby the face of the flower is thrown upwards and forwards, and a character of forwardness or boldness imparted to it, the same as there is to the human countenance by the same position; and what is called a bold flower is one in which this disposal of the petals is more than ordinarily conspicuous.
When colour is only effective in the mass, the shape most adapted for shewing it to advantage will depend partly on the natural form of the flower, partly, as before observed, on its size, and partly on the brilliance, or otherwise, of its hue, or, which comes to the same thing, whether colour or shape take the precedence.
In the subordinate parts of a flower, as the single petal for instance, the imbricated form, so called from its resemblance to a drain-tile, takes off from the stiff formality of the Camellia; and the quilled petal gives liveliness and grace to the Chrysanthemum. The same form detracts from the appearance of the Aster, because its petals are so narrow, that they cannot afford the shrinking of size it occasions.
Observations of this kind may and ought to be extended to considerable minuteness of detail; but as they are only applications of what has gone before, they will not require me to draw at greater length upon the kind patience of your readers or yourself.
The other origin of beauty is Colour, the most obvious source of our varied pleasurable impressions from the flower-garden, and on which, therefore, the reader may not unreasonably fear a discussion as long as that which has gone before. Happily, however, in this he will be mistaken; for the philosophic or constant elements of its effectiveness, to which I am here confined, are few; nor is it intended fully to discuss these, for a reason that will be afterwards adverted to. The observations I have to offer will class themselves under colours in general as such, and on the juxtaposition of two or more on the same grounds.
1. With regard to colours in general, the preference of one before another arises, for the most part, from causes of which I do not treat; for each has, intrinsically, an equal right to admiration. Much belongs to individual taste, much to accidental circumstance, such as rarity; and these, as not reducible to rule, are beside the present purpose. A blue Dahlia, or a scarlet Pelargonium, may be worth a hundred guineas; but the value is accidental, not essential, and belongs to the philosophy, not of the flower, but of man. There are, however, a few intrinsic qualities, according to which colour seems necessarily effective, or the contrary. I shall mention but two, applicable equally whether the flower in which they are found is self or party-coloured. The first is brightness; by which I mean, neither a higher nor a deeper tint, the value of which is purely conventional and a matter of taste, but the opposite to the flat and washy appearance often seen in petals of thin substance, as if it were fading, and somewhat similar to what in art would arise from a too thin coat of paint.
Possibly it may sometimes be connected with the epidermis alone being the seat of colour; because, if you look closely into the bell of a good light-blue Hyacinth, the colour, however light, will appear to penetrate the entire fleshy substance of the petal, and will be as bright and lively as the deepest tint could be. All the rays of its colour are reflected back to the eye, and not absorbed and lost, as many of them are, in the dull, thin, and watery colour of some of the old (not Chinese) Hollyhocks of twenty years ago. Byblcemen Tulips, when narrowly examined, are seldom entirely free from this fault. The other quality is distinctness; by which term I mean, not the impossibility of mistaking at first sight whether the colour in question be a blue or a violet, a rose or a pink (for, on the contrary, I think such indescribable shades of colour as are best to be found in the Rose form one of the highest charms of that peerless monarch of the garden), but such an individual (may I use the word idiosyncratic?*) distinctness, as when once well seen and felt will ensure its being distinguished from others.
Without this it would be equally impossible to discriminate between 2000 varieties, and useless to cultivate them; for a colour that excites no corresponding and pleasurable idea is worthless. Yet colours of this objectionable and meaningless kind are not uncommon, and often partially intrude into some of our best varieties, as in the Catafalque Tulip, and others, - as if for a stimulus to the raiser still to press on for something nearer his idea of perfection. Seedling or breeder Tulips often are of a hue that seems hardly to be classed as a colour, but rather as a negation of colour. "Foxy" Auriculas and Polyanthuses are of this class Iota. [To be concluded in our next Number].
* Peculiar to its own composition.
THE GARDEN-SPIDER (EPEIRA DIADEMA).
Our vignette this month brings under the notice of our readers an old and interesting inhabitant of our gardens.
Who can pass it, and not pause to admire its portly figure and handsome livery? And as we know of no offence it ever offers to the horticulturist, let us recommend it to closer inspection than is often bestowed on an insect which many of us were taught in our childhood to avoid and detest. How well does it repay even our unscientific observation, as we watch the manner in which it constructs its beautifully geometrical web, takes its prey, encases it when secured in a silken envelope, serving as a larder to which it may resort on a future occasion! Joshua Sylvester, writing in the year 1600, displays the same taste for observing this insect as ourselves; for thus he sings:
"Still at the centre she her warp begins, Then round, at lengths, her little thread she spins, And equal distance to their compass leaves; Then neat and nimbly her new web she weaves, With her fine shuttle circularly drawn Through all the circuit of her open lawn; Open, lest else ungentle winds should tear Her cypress tent, weaker than any hair; And that the foolish fly might easier get Within the meshes of her curious net".