"In 1874 I took pollen from a garden Pansy named Blue King, a bedding variety then in fashion, and applied it to the pistil of Viola cornuta, a Pyrenean species. There was a podful of seed, which produced twelve plants, which were well taken care of. The next season they flowered and were all blue in colour, but with a good tufted habit. I again took pollen from a pink garden Pansy and fertilised the flowers of my first cross, with a limited success. The seed from this cross gave me more variety in colour of flower, and the same tufted habit of growth, which evidently came from the Viola cornuta influence. The best of this cross were propagated and grown, some of the plants being sent to the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens at Chiswick for trial, after an invitation to all
Viola growers to send their best there, to see how they would thrive in a southern climate. After being in the ground for some time, I received a letter from a member of the Floral Committee inquiring how they had been raised, as they were entirely different in growth from all the others sent in. In reply I told exactly what I have already stated, and heard no more of the matter till the autumn of 1875. I was rather surprised when informed that I had got six first-class certificates and was first in the competition, Messrs. Dickson & Co. of Edinburgh being second. Nothing more was done at this time, beyond growing the plants I had already raised, and sowing the seed from them in a bed broadcast. They were all more or less rayed. A floral ally, seeing one of these certificated plants, a fine white Self, remarked: 'If you could only get that flower without rays in the centre, I think it would be a great improvement.' Keeping a sharp look-out on the seed-beds, it was ten years before I succeeded in finding a really rayless Viola. In the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, while walking round the seed-bed, I saw what I had been seeking for, in a pure-white, rayless Self. The plant was there and then pulled to pieces, and every bit propagated. It was a warm, summer night, and the perfume from the blooms at once attracted my attention. The next season I had a little plantation of the rayless Self and a wealth of blooms. A box of them was sent to Mr. Robinson, the editor of the Garden} who at once recognised a new strain, and promised to figure the variety in the Garden. Such is the true history of Violetta, one of the most popular of the ray-less tufted Pansy family. Violetta has proved the mother of thousands of a rayless race, some better, some worse than the parent. Violetta pollen crossed with a white Self with a few rays gave Sylvia, too well known to require description. Sylvia crossed with a Peacock Pansy gave me Border Witch - a singular flower, which, in its best dress, in moist weather is very striking. I found, however, that this Pansy crossing was too much, for out of a hundred and fifty seedlings Border Witch was the only one without rays. Mr. Robinson has more than any one advanced the strain of rayless Violas. Many of them have been figured in the Garden and in other magazines, and he put me under a deep debt of gratitude in dedicating a volume of his beautiful publication to a humble amateur in acknowledgment of original work."
In hybridising or crossing wild varieties of Violas, it is necessary that the pollen should be taken from the cultivated species of Pansy and dusted over the pistil; that is, the wild species should be the mother. Pollen taken from V. cornuta, for instance, will, if put on the common Garden Pansy, only give seed which will produce Bedding Pansies, not the sturdy, tufted-rooted, dwarf strain, which Violetta now represents.
The work of progression has in recent years been carried forward by many growers whose names are known to all in the horticultural world. Among so many it is almost invidious to set forth any, but to Mr. William Sydenham, Mr. D. B. Crane, to Messrs. Dobbie & Co., and Messrs. James Grieve & Sons, no one will deny honourable mention.
There is another factor which has largely aided the popularity of the Viola, and that is the persistent and consistent advocacy of its claims in the horticultural press. The wonderful exhibitions, too, of collections of blooms, made by the leading growers at the principal flower-shows, have brought the new varieties prominently before all lovers of flowers. The Royal Horticultural Society has conducted trials, in the Wisley Gardens, of all known varieties of Viola from time to time, and has sent out Reports recommending the best. These Reports are published in the Society's Journal, and may be purchased by all interested in the subject.