This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Those who take an interest in the improvement, as they believe, of florist flowers are now receiving little encouragement from a class of writers in English journals, some of which claim that better results would have been obtained bad as much attention been bestowed upon single as has been upon double varieties. And others, again, regard wild flowers with greater favor than they do garden varieties; thus raising an issue without cause, as each class in its own place is worthy of all esteem.
Florists need have no contention with those who prefer flowers in their natural state to cultivated varieties, and many of them look upon all natural productions with as much interest as do those who protest against the changes which have been wrought on many by their hands. The clear-sighted among them can see two fields wherein to exercise their faculties, the one wide as the flora of the globe, the other an enclosure wherein are gathered the choicest specimens, and such as are best adapted for use and show. In this limited field the mind is less liable to be distracted by a multiplicity of objects than in the other, and is therefore at greater liberty to concentrate its energies upon a few chosen specimens with which to experiment and cultivate up to ideal perfection. In so doing no violence is done to nature, for " The art itself is nature," and as they find her so far yielding to their wishes as to permit changes which, although not conducive in every case to the good of the individual, adds so much the more to their own and to others enjoyment as to entitle them to a place among public benefactors.
A similar course has been pursued in the improvement of vegetables. While we know not with what esteem Brassica oleracea and cam-pestris were held by primitive man, we do know that those products would make a poor display now, in the garden or on the farm, in their normal state. But since they have "grown great in bulk and succulent of leaf," by cultivation, Ru-tabagas and Drumhead cabbage are justly held in high esteem. So it has been with the dahlia and the rose. In their natural state both are interesting and attractive; but he who would prefer them in this state to the double forms now so common, and which add so much to the beauty and attraction of modern gardens, must have a poor conception indeed of elegance with grandeur combined.
And yet, because of their unassuming elegance and grace, a single wild rose may make a deeper impression upon the mind than could be produced by any one with a fuller compliment of petals. Objects of this nature address themselves directly to the finer feelings of mankind, and excite a sympathy which is ever responsive to the calls, or seeming calls of every thing that is tender and beautiful. Such were the feelings of Robert Burns, when, on that farm of his, he turned a daisy under the sod to bloom in his verse for evermore. Wordsworth, too, was under the same inspiration when he said:
" To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that too often lie too deep for tears".
This, in part, might be regarded as the sentimental love of flowers, and is strongest in minds of deep reflection and poetic taste; it stoops not to commercial valuations, but is fully occupied with that beauty in flowers which addresses itself alike to the imagination and the judgment.
But the florist must be true to his calling, which is not so much to hold to the sentimental and severely simple as to make use of every flower at his disposal which may aid in making his flower beds and greenhouses showy and attractive. And few will dispute that garden varieties, in their rounded fullness, are better adapted for this purpose than their representatives in a natural state.
But double varieties are especially obnoxious to a class of writers who claim that the highest types of beauty are to be found amongst those that are single, which claim may be true; but it is also true that very high types of beauty are to be found amongst double sorts, such as the Marechal Niel rose and double white Camellia fully attest. In setting forth the superior claim of single varieties it has been asked, " Why are the primrose, the wild daisy, or the buttercup so much admired, and the dandelion held in contempt? It is gaudy, it is inelegant, it is a wisp of • of petals, hence it is a failure, a 'hissing and a byword,' and - and a model for florists." This is hard on the dandelion and the florist; but, had the writer studied more closely the elements of floral beauty, he would not have so estimated the dandelion, and also have given due credit to the florist, for selecting such a flower for his model. At the same time, the statement is what might be expected from one who believes that the highest beauty consists of simplicity and elegance, combined with delicacy of color. A statement by no means complete, and no statement of principles can be complete which does not give due prominence to form, congruity. or harmony and smoothness, as well as delicacy of color.
And, moreover, we do not see how simplicity can be regarded as an element of floral beauty, but rather as the outgrowth and sequence of a happy combination of such elements as have been named. If this is not so. a blow is struck at all ornamentation, and by the same token a flail is more worthy of admiration and esteem than a threshing machine, or a phial three parts filled with water suspended by a cord attached to the bottom, than an elaborately constructed barometer, with all modern improvements. But this will not be believed; neither can we believe that the beauty of a flower depends upon simplicity, but upon the harmonious blending of such elements as enter into its composition, no matter whether the petals be many or few, provided they are all perfectly formed, all harmoniously arranged, all delicately smooth, and of whatever color, clear and distinct, or when of different shades, these so disposed as to produce the most agreeable impressions.
I do not pretend to give a complete analysis of beauty in flowers, but only to draw attention to some of its principal constituents, and as every family has its own kind of ideal beauty, the criterion for one may not meet the case of another. This is equally applicable to the difference between double and single sorts of the same species. But if the petals of a single rose, for example, come up to the standard of utmost perfection, no difficulty can be felt in recognizing the importance of symmetry and proportion in those that are double. And yet, strange to say, the men who are loudest in their protestations against double flowers stand up in defence of semi-double ones, in the new strain of dahlias, which, if we may judge from wood-cuts, come nearer to being "wisps of petals" than the underrated dandelion. But they say they are finely colored. Be it so; but color alone, however elegant, cannot make up for a deficiency of form, symmetry and proportion. And, we repeat, that these principles are of the utmost importance in all flowers either single or double. Without them, they may be gaudy, but they cannot satisfy the judgment which takes cognizance of order and congruity, as well as of color.
As well say that a human countenance of fair color is beautiful, when the features are ill formed, irregular and disproportioned, as that a flower, especially a double flower, is beautiful without these prerequisites. And perhaps it is not too much to say, that greater progress would have been made in floriculture had cultivators attended more strictly to the principles I have endeavored to set forth.