This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
The growing love of horticulture, both in England and America, is continually demanding new hand-books of botanical knowledge. Although a most attractive science, the study of botany has, until within a very few years, received but little attention; there have been few scholars and few teachers. - The garden in which grow the fairest of the children of nature has been surrounded by an almost impenetrable hedge of technicalities, of uninteresting de-tail, and seemingly unmeaning nomenclature; so that few have had the courage to attempt to break through so formidable a barrier.
Although never wholly ignored, the study of botany, as pursued in our schools and colleges, has been a mere farce; while recognized as a branch of study, no special attention has been devoted to it, and no branch of natural science has been so completely neglected. While a few, animated by a love of botanical pursuits, have availed themselves of all opportunities for study and investigation which were available, the mass of educated men have been content to remain in ignorance of even the rudiments of the science, until botany was almost regarded as a pursuit for a specialist, instead of a branch of knowledge which should form a part of the education of every cultivated mind.
Perhaps one controlling reason why botany failed to attract the attention of the masses, is the uninteresting manner in which the science has universally been presented. A botanical text-book was formerly a dry collection of technical phrases, of unintelligible descriptions, in an unknown tongue, seemingly unmeaning abbreviations, and not unfre-quently mysterious signs, all of which terrified the beginner, and which were not, always within the comprehension of the more advanced student.
Not on]y did botanical works contain no illustrations, and present nothing to attract the eye, but our horticultural publications were generally filled with mere records of cultural experiment, with botanical facts or descriptions, which, in the absence of illustrations, often failed of their purpose, and certainly were of little interest to the mass of readers; or, if illustration was attempted, the figures were such Wretched libels upon Nature that they repelled rather than attracted.
And these were the facts, when a love of nature is inborn to the mass of mankind; when there are comparatively few who derive no pleasure from the beautiful so lavishly spread around us in field and forest, whose pulses do not quicken with the opening buds of spring, or who draw no enjoyment from the successive glories of the circling years.
Within a few years, however, there has been a great change in the manner of presenting botanical knowledge. The eye is the great educator, and an attractive presentation of a subject is, in many cases, a sure prelude to the acquisition of knowledge.
The present interest in botany and horticulture owes much of its origin to the new mode of presenting botanical science by copious illustration, as well as to the simplifying of dry details, and thus affording knowledge, stripped of much of its former unattractive guise.
In this new education a great work is being accomplished, and to no one is more credit due than to the learned pro-fessor of botany in Harvard University, Dr. Asa Gray, who by a series of text-books simple and intelligible in language, and profuse in illustration, has done quite as much to pop-ularize botanical science as he has, by his more elaborate and learned writing, laid the scientific world under lasting obligation.
But, with all that has been done, there is a great want of books upon botanical subjects which are adapted to the use of the masses, and often the student and the culturist find themselves at a loss whence to seek information.
The volume now presented to the public is a contribution to this new method of presenting botanical facts, and is one of which a need has long been felt; for, in spite of the glories of the green-house, it is to hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants that the attention of the multitude is directed, and it is upon these subjects that information is required. It is a happy combination of the scientific and the cultural, affording a ready reference to every plant which is commonly met with in cultivation.
While sufficiently scientific to suit the requirements of the botanist, it is not such a mass of technical terms as to confuse the culturist; and* any person with a moderate knowledge of the common terms of botany can read it un-derstandingly, and with profit. The arrangement according to the Natural system is in accordance with the present progress of botanical science.
The American reader must, however, adopt the cultural recommendations of the volume with much caution, and make much allowance for the statements as to the hardiness of the various plants. It must continually be borne in mind that the book is written for the latitude of England, where many plants are hardy which will not survive our winters, and to which country many plants are indigenous which are to us exotics.
Of the illustrations we cannot speak too highly. Yet we need give no word of praise, for they are too attractive to be carelessly passed over by even the most negligent reader. While we cannot hope that the volume is above criticism, and are free to confess that in some respects improvement might be made, we welcome the book as a great aid to all lovers of flowers, as an invaluable hand-book of botanical knowledge, and one which will supply a long-felt want, and will be of the greatest value, both to culturist and student.
Edward S. Rand, Jr.
Glen Ridge, March, 1873.