When we come to speak of the development of the modern Viola we are on surer ground than in the case of the Pansy. One reason for this is that a great deal of the work has been done within living memory.
At a Viola Conference held at the Botanical Gardens, Birmingham, in May 1895, under the presidency of the present writer, the late Mr. Richard Dean read a paper on "Old Violas," which was reported in the gardening press at the time, and is reproduced here, as it is one of the most valuable contributions ever penned on the subject. Mr. Dean said: "The credit of first employing the Pansy as a bedding plant for forming lines and masses belongs, I think, to Mr. John Fleming, formerly of The Gardens, Cliveden, Maidenhead. At the time he commenced his famous spring gardening, somewhere about 1854, the distinctive term Viola applied only to the odorata section and such species as found a place in the botanical gardens. He had raised seedlings, and from them obtained the Cliveden Yellow,
Cliveden Dark Purple, and Cliveden White. What he grew as Cliveden Blue was a distinctively blue flower which, I was once informed, came originally from Russia, and which is now in all probability lost to cultivation. He also employed a fine white flower, named Great Eastern, raised by Henry Hooper of Bath, a variety which remained in cultivation many years; and also that flower which always possessed such a marked individuality of its own, the old Magpie, the La Pie of the French. Magpie is perhaps the oldest of the Violas, other than true species, in cultivation; but its origin has never been traced beyond a cornfield in France, where it was said to have been discovered growing wild. It was offered for sale by the late Mr. John Salter at what was then the Versailles Nursery, Hammersmith, in 1857, and since then it has been known in England under several names, such as Mazeppa, Paul Pry, and Wonderful.
"I think it was the publicity given to Mr. Fleming's use of the Pansy through the medium of the gardening journals which induced Mr. James Grieve to commence employing Viola lutea and other species as seed parents as far back as 1859-60; and from what I can learn, Mr. John Baxter, Daldowie, was at that time interesting himself in a similar direction. One of Mr. Grieve's bantlings - Grievii - was an excellent yellow bedder in those days, and may be in cultivation still.
"It was the boom made with Viola cornuta about 1863, by Mr. John Wills, which raised this species to such a high degree of popularity. In those days summer flower gardening was much practised, and Viola cornuta became largely grown. From Viola lutea came lutea grandiflora, and later in point of time lutea major and My Yellow Boy - all capital bedding varieties in their day.
"About 1870, Mr. B. S. Williams of Holloway introduced V. cornuta Perfection, said to have been raised at Rotherfield Park, Hampshire. I have grave doubts on this point, as at the very time Mr. Williams was announcing he had the entire stock, I was able to buy it in quantities at Salisbury. It made a distinct advance as a bedding Viola, and was followed by Enchantress, Sensation, and Admiration, all of the same type, and showing but little difference in colour. The four varieties were of somewhat tall growth, and very subject to mildew when grown in the south.
"In 1872-73 I introduced Blue Bell. It came as a chance seedling in my little garden at West Ealing, where I do not think any form of Viola had been previously grown. I noticed a plant of close tufted growth spreading itself, and I let it bloom, and at once stood sponsor to it. It is essentially a bedder, and when I was at that historical mansion, Syon House, Brentford, a few days ago, I found Mr. George Wythes was using it as an edging to many of his flower-beds. He said nothing in the way of a Viola he had tried would stand the heat and drought of the summer in the south like Blue Bell. About this time I got from Mr. Grieve several of the varieties he had raised, and which were figured in one of the numbers of the Floral Magazine for 1872, but only 'The Tory' did well in our warm southern climate. [The Tory is still grown, and is this year (1910) offered by Messrs. Grieve & Sons. It is deep blue in colour, with dark blotch.]
Plate 2. Three Fancy Pansies
Mrs. J. Sellars, R M'Kellar.
"One excellent variety which about this time became very popular in the south was Imperial Blue Perfection. It was quite distinct from B. S. Williams' cornuta Perfection; a good flower, and very free. I think it was distributed by Messrs. E. G. Henderson & Son, then of Wellington Road Nurseries, St. John's Wood.
"As far as my own seedlings were concerned, cornuta Perfection and lutea grandiflora formed the material I worked upon; Cliveden Purple Pansy was also employed. Blue Bell, Lothair, Princess Teck, and Corisande were the first four I put into commerce - all true Violas; and with these a batch of Tom Thumb Bedding Violas, very dwarf and compact in growth, producing an abundance of small, well-formed flowers - the varieties, Blue Gem, Lily White, Little Gem, Painted Lady, and Yellow Boy. These were all true Violas. I had batches of new bedding Pansies also.
"I always looked upon Dickson's Sovereign, sent out in 1874, as one of the most useful bedding Violas of that day. Alpha, more a Pansy than a Viola, came out with it, and a number of Violas also from the same source. In 1875 I put into commerce of my own raising Crown Jewel, Royal Blue, Lilacina, Mulberry, and White Swan - all true Violas; and Mr. B. S. Williams distributed Mrs. Gray - a good white variety.
"At this time the unobtrusive Viola, by sheer force of its inherent beauty and great usefulness, had so forced itself upon public attention that the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society originated a trial on an extensive scale at their Chiswick Gardens. A large number were sent in, two inspections were made by the Floral Committee of the Society, and the following were awarded first-class certificates of merit (chosen from the point of view of showing compactness and dwarfness of habit, profuseness and continuity of bloom, and useful and effective colours; chosen, in fact, for those special features which made them effective as bedding plants): - From Messrs. Dickson & Co. - Alpha, Golden Gem, Peach Blossom, Queen of Lilacs, Sovereign, and Tory. From Mr. R. Dean - Bedfont Yellow, Blue Bell, Lilacina, Lothair, Lily White, Tom Thumb, The Old Magpie (so named on account of the strongly contrasted colouring of the flowers), Mulberry, Princess Teck, Royal Blue, and White Swan. From Dr. Stuart - Dr. Stuart and Williams. From Messrs. James Cocker & Sons - Novelty. From Mr. G. Westland - Blue Perfection.
"A tribute is due to Dr. Stuart for his efforts to obtain new varieties, and for what he has done since with so much success. Since writing this passage, I have been informed by Dr. Stuart that he began to work at Viola-raising in 1872 or '73. He sent to Chiswick, probably in 1874 or '75, six varieties raised from crosses between Viola cornuta and Pansy Blue King, and received six first-class certificates. 'These,' says Dr. Stuart, 'were the ancestors of my rayless section.' Nor should my dead brother's work be forgotten in this relation, as it is nearly twenty years since, when at Walsall, he produced his first batch of seedling Violas, including True Blue, a variety of such sterling qualities, especially as a bedding plant, that it will keep his memory green among Viola raisers, cultivators, and exhibitors for some years to come.
"What has been produced since 1878 comes within the range of contemporary knowledge, and I need not particularise further."
The work done by Mr. James Grieve, who was for a long series of years nursery manager to Messrs. Dickson & Co., and who is now in business for himself in Edinburgh, is, viewed as a whole, the greatest of all. Mr. Grieve started in
1862 to cross Viola lutea of the Pentland Hills and the ordinary Show Pansies of that day. In 1863, he tells us, he procured Viola Amoena, and crossed it with purple Pansies, also Viola cornuta, and crossed it with "Dux" Show Pansy, the best of the seedlings from this cross being named Vanguard. Viola stricta he next procured, and crossing it, got such varieties as Ariel, Bullion, stricta alba, and a number of varieties without blotches or rays. In 1867 Messrs. Dickson got six plants of Viola cornuta Perfection, and Mr. Grieve "crossed every bloom with everything he could lay his hands on," and had 700 seedlings as a result, among which were Tory, Lilacina, Canary, Holyrood, etc. Grievii, pallida, and Golden Gem were raised from Viola lutea. Sovereign, so long and favourably known, was the result of a cross between Golden Gem and Golden Bedder, a yellow Show Pansy sent out by E. J. Henderson & Son, London. When it is mentioned that, in addition to the varieties named above, Stanley, Mary Gilbert, Dorothy Tennant, Royalty, Souvenir, Virginalis, and Merchiston Castle were raised and sent out by Messrs. Dickson & Co., it will be realised how important was the work of Messrs. Dickson and Mr. Grieve in the earlier days of the Viola.
Another raiser who worked contemporaneously with Mr. Grieve was the late Mr. John Baxter, gardener to Colonel M'Call of Daldowie near Glasgow. Many of his seedlings were introduced by Messrs. Dobbie & Co., Rothesay, and now of Edinburgh, who have long been associated with Viola culture.
The late Dr. Charles Stuart of Chirnside, Berwickshire, was all his life an ardent florist and a successful raiser of Polyanthi, Aquilegias (Aquilegia Stuartii), and Violas. In a volume on Pansies and Violas published in 1898 by Messrs. Dobbie & Co., Dr. Stuart gave a short account of his experience as a raiser, which is here reproduced: -