The psychologist, who loves to bring his mental dissecting knife into play on human characteristics and emotions, would find a little material for his operations if he were to turn his attention to the study of Rose growers. Set him up with the elementary fact that men systematically over-prune, and women as consistently under-prune, and he would straightway reel off a dissertation on the primitive instincts of the sexes, which, highly learned though it might be, would teach us only what we know already namely that man is in his elements a savage, whereas woman is sweet, tender, and angelic.
On the face of things there is no apparent reason why the horticulturist should add another to his already long list of subjects of study; yet here we see that psychology has its value. In his ignorance of human instincts, the horticulturist, who is usually a mere child in worldly wisdom, has often puzzled his brains to account for the departure from his precise instructions which he has observed. The man whom he set out to teach has overdone it; the woman has underdone it.
Now, having sucked the psychological orange dry, and satisfied ourselves that the reason why Rose growers so often go astray with their pruning is purely a matter of sexual impulses, it may be well to deal with the situation on such hard and fast lines of practical philosophy as are represented by the letters of the alphabet, the figures of the numerical system, and a foot rule.
I do not believe that Roses will ever be pruned properly on general principles. Principles are beautiful things, but they will not in themselves prevent people from spoiling Rose bushes.
There are many thousands of Roses in this world that are not pruned half enough, and there are nearly as many that are pruned far too much. Roses go unpruned because Angelina "can't bear to cut the poor things about." They are overpruned because the man at the show told Edwin that the way to get good Roses was to prune 'em, and no half measures about it neither.
Feminine humanity joins with masculine in agreeing that finger-nails must be trimmed. True, aristocratic China leaves one nail untrimmed, but it really finds it very inconvenient. Roses must be cut. If the knife is never used upon the bushes they will be as troublesome as the unpruned nail of the Son of Heaven.
Do we get more or fewer flowers by pruning Roses? Fewer certainly, at one particular season. An uncut bush grows to a great size. If the soil in which it is growing suits it, the tree throws up a great many branches, and on these form a large number of shoots, some comparatively long, others mere twigs, but all, or nearly all, capable of producing flowers of a sort. Oh, yes! We will admit at once that non-pruning means a great many more flowers open at what we consider orthodox Rose time than pruning. But this conceded, we proceed to "get our own back" in two ways - (1) by claiming, which we can do with confidence, that the pruned bush gives better successional crops than the unpruned one; (2) the flowers are more intellectually satisfying, because they are larger, and have finer form, greater substance, and richer colour.
With the growth of Rose shows, the temptation to push hard pruning to its extreme limits in order to get a few flowers of abnormal size became too strong to be resisted. Rose bushes were pruned harder and harder: they gave larger and larger flowers: the hard pruner won more and more prizes, consequently he became regarded more and more as an authority: he wrote more and more articles and books. The whole order of events is perfectly natural, but it is not a bit less mischievous. To cut every Rose bush in the "garden equally hard, regardless of its habit and relative degree of natural vigour, is on the same intellectual plane as cutting the hair of a charity school.
It may be argued by the Rose writer that to give individual instructions for dealing with every one of the hundreds of varieties grown in gardens would be an impossible task. I agree. With a tolerably long list in my own garden, and a long, long string in other gardens with which I have had to do, I am well able to appreciate the force of the argument. No writer can show, without an interminable array of illustrations, the exactly very best way of pruning every Rose grown.
He need not, however, on that account go and tell the beginner that the ideal pruning for every Rose is to cut it close to the ground line every spring. A large number of Roses which are grown in good soil throw out strong, sub-climbing shoots. It is barbarous to cut these to the ground every year. If slightly shortened and kept well apart, so that the side shoots which they throw have room to extend without crowding, they will give a succession of very fine flowers.