If not the most important flower we grow, the carnation certainly stands next to the rose, both in area of glass devoted to its culture and value of the flowers sold. Of all our commercial flowers the type of carnations we grow are most distinctively American. They are very different from the tree carnations of Europe, which had the reputation of being perennial bloomers there, but the flowers were few and far between and had no such stems as our present-day carnations. Nor are they like the garden carnations which come with a grand burst of bloom in June and July, but have no tendency to flower again for another year. It is certain that our strain inherits the blood of more than one breed, for seedlings often revert back to varieties that produce a strong growth and few flowers, and some again are croppers.
The White Sport of Carnation Enchantress.
House of Mrs. Lawson Carnation in Full Crop.
The splendid varieties we have today have been produced not suddenly but by the slow operation of the law of evolution, aided by artificial selection. The first carnations that I attempted to flower in the winter months were La Purite, carmine, and Edwardsii and President Degraw, both white, all very free bloomers, and the flowers were always used with short stems. If we had disbudded and picked the flowers with long stems I doubt whether they would be as free as many of our present varieties.
Astoria was a pioneer among carnations and a cross between it and Edwardsii produced Buttercup, which was a wonderful flower in its day and which for years had no rival. From 1875 to 1885 there were no carnation specialists and the few varieties introduced during that time are gone and forgotten. About the latter date appeared Grace Wilder, the first of its color (Scott is almost the same shade). Then Mr. Simmons, of Geneva, sent out his famous varieties, several of which were a great advance on existing varieties. Silver Spray, J. J. Harrison, Portia, Tidal Wave and, greatest of all, Daybreak, were sent out by him.
To trace further the subsequent introductions would make too long a chapter. It is about fifteen years since the carnation was taken up and specialized by many of our best horticulturists, with the result that we have attained what ten years ago would have been considered the absolute ideal. But who can tell what Dorner, Hill, Fisher, Ward, Witterstaetter, Hartshorne, Dailledouze, Patten or other enthusiasts will do? Size has been attained almost or quite to the desired point. Length and stoutness of stem with most of the latest introductions is about ideal, some very fine varieties having a little more length of stem than is essential; that, however, is a fault much easier to remedy than insufficiency of stem.
Fragrance should be an attribute of all varieties. In color we have shades from deep maroon to purest white, and yet perhaps it is in color that the future promises most for the raiser of new varieties. I would say just here that when any good variety does well with you don't discard it till you are sure you can grow a better variety of the same color.
There are few plants that accommodate themselves so readily to a great variety of soils. Yet from quality of soils, or more likely methods of handling, good gardeners fail with some varieties while entirely successful with others.
Whether we have reached the limit in the improvement of the divine flower or not is a question that it is not at all essential to worry over, because we shall want the disseminator of new varieties always with us. Whether under our continuous winter culture varieties should gradually lose health and vigor is a question that has led to some controversy. We don't "force" carnations by any means, yet to a great extent we reverse the seasons and propagating by cuttings is not raising a new individual, as is growing from seed. We are merely dividing and perpetuating the old original plant. And my experience is that after five or six years a variety loses its vigor and is a prey to all carnation diseases. And even if it did not it would be superseded by improved varieties.