This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Thus have flowers an utterance everywhere and always; the wild Columbine, on its thread-like stem, that hangs on the stony cliff; the fungus, that swells from the mouldering trunk of gigantic forest-trees; the tropical exotics of the stuffo, that almost bewilder in their strange beauty; and the buds that open beneath Alpine snows, address our sense of adventure, of wonder, and of gentleness, in quiet yet persuasive appeals, that sometimes we cannot choose but heed.
The fondness of the Dutch for Tulips, it may be conjectured, is partly owing to the flatness of their country, as well as its alluvial soil; the absence of picturesque variety in form inducing a craving for the most vivid sensations from colour. Perhaps the compactness and neat growth of bulbous roots, so adapted to their cleanly and well-arranged domiciles, somewhat accounts for the exquisite degree of cultivation to which they bring this species of flowers. It is one characteristic advantage of such natural ornaments, that a few well selected, or even one in a room, or in the midst of a grass-plat, will diffuse refreshment and excite imagination. Thus the flowers that cluster on the roofs of Genoa, and the little knot of Violets imbedded in Geranium leaves dispensed by the flower-girls in Tuscany, are more pleasing than if the display were greater. On revisiting a city of the latter state, after years of absence, as I followed the lagging porter who carried my luggage, in the twilight of early morning, I was startled by a cordial exclamation, "Ben tomato, 0 ben tomato, signore !" and looking down a narrow street, I saw the flower-girl from whom I had so long ago been accustomed to purchase, gaily advancing with a bouquet.
It was a welcome such as awaits the traveller in few countries, and one which touched the heart with cheerful augury.
There is, indeed, something in flowers redolent of hope and suggestive of amity. Their very universality renders them eloquent of greeting. The fair maternal bosom of Titian's Flora has a significance beyond that which artists recognise; it proclaims Nature as a beneficent parent, lavishly dispensing the flowers that strew life's rugged path with sweet monitions and grateful refreshment. How, in the season of vivid emotion, has the unexpected sight of a pale Crocus bursting from the mould in early spring, the teeming odour of a Magnolia tossed on a summer breeze, or the green flakes of a Larch powdered with snowy crystal in the winter sun, kindled the very frame with a kind of mysterious delight! There is to the poetical sense a ravishing prophecy and winsome intimation in flowers, that now and then, from the influence of mood or circumstance, reasserts itself, like the reminiscence of childhood or the spell of love. Then we realise that they are the survivors of our lost paradise, the types of what is spontaneous, inspiring, and unprofaned in life and humanity, the harbingers of a blissful futurity.
It was, therefore, in a rational as well as a fanciful spirit that trees were consecrated into emblems and auguries; that the Willow, in its. meek flexibility, was made the insignia of desertion; the Cypress, in its solemn and dense foliage, of death; the enduring Amaranth, of immortality; and the classic-shaped and bright-green leaves of the Laurel, of fame. Not only in their native traits, but in their almost sympathetic habits, flowers come near our affections. How patiently the Ivy binds the disjointed stones of a ruined edifice; and the Moss creeps over the grey and time-stained roots and rocks, as if to cover their decay, and relieve their sterility ! With what a wreathing protection clusters the Woodbine round the humble porch! The field-flowers, some one has truly said, smile up to us as children to the face of a father; and the seeds of those destined for birds fly on innumerable wings of down to germinate the more abundantly. The warm hues of the Dahlia would be oppressive in any other season than autumn; and the glitter of the ocean's strand is chastened by the gay weeds, whose variegated tints are freshened by every wave that dies along the beach.
This herbal, the repository of memorials gleaned from hallowed scenes, or treasured as the fragile trophies of joys as fragile, "strikes the electric chain" of imagination and memory with a deeper vibration than a sketch-book or a diary. That little cluster of thin pale-green leaves with a shade of delicate brown at the edges (called by the Italians the Hair of Venus), which clings to the page as if painted on its surface, once hung from the dark rocky wall of the remarkable cavern in Syracuse called the Ear of Dionysius; and as I look upon it, the deserted bay, crumbling tombs, and wreck-strewn campagna of that ancient site are vividly before me; even the flavour of the Hybla honey, and the echo of the mule's tramp, return to my senses. This weed, so common in shape and hue that it needs a reminiscence to justify its preservation, was plucked as I stood tip-toe on the edge of a gondola, and held fast to old Antonio's shoulder, while he checked his oar beneath the Bridge of Sighs, and I snatched it from the interstices of the arch; - the piazza of San Marco, the Adriatic glowing with the flush of sunset, the lonely canals, and all the grey quietude of Venice, are conjured by the withered memento, "as at the touch of an enchanter's wand." More costly acquisitionsJiave yielded less zest in the winning than this slender yellow flower, which, evading the jealous watchfulness of the guard at Pompeii, I gathered, to assure myself thenceforth that I had actually walked the streets of the buried city.
How venerable seems this bunch of grass and flowers that drew its sustenance from the loamy walls of the Coliseum ! And with how marvellous a freshness do I call up the mediaeval architecture, exquisite campanile, and mountain boundaries of Florence, beholding again the Anemone purloined, on a fine Sabbath morning, in the gardens of the Boboli! I cannot see this Cassia-blossom without feelins: a certain impulsion to monastic life; as I think of the kind friars, the noble organ, lava-heaped confines, and soothing retirement of the Benedictine convent at Catania, whence I bore it as the memento of one of those white days in the traveller's experience, that atone for a thousand discomforts. Pleasant was the summer evening at Messina, when, in one of the palaces that line the marina, we kept gay vigil in order to witness the blooming of this faded Cereus; and high beat the pulses of an entranced multitude on the night this faded nosegay was pressed to the lips of Amina, in that last scena, when her voice quivered with uncontrollable feeling, and carolled the "Ah! nou giunge" in tones of such pathetic delight as brought a tear to the sternest eye.
I will not throw away this rusty-looking Japonica, but keep it as a talisman to guard me from the fascination of heartless beauty, reflecting on the character of the brilliant - , in whose dark hair it rested during the last ball of her triumphant season, that bewitching face displaying every phase of expression, while not one look was inspired by a soul, any more than this flower, in its graceful prime, was imbued with fragrance. Far different is the association that endears the Scarlet Honeysuckle and White Hollyhock beside it. Through peaceful hours that overflowed with unuttered tenderness, and an ecstatic sense of geniality and recognition, I watched beside one I loved; the humming-bird and the bee sipping the nectar from their chalices, and compared the luxurious pastime with my own. Nor will I cease to treasure this Orange-blossom given me by the dark-eyed Palermitan in the grove of her father's domain, when the air was filled with the odour of the sweet south, and musical with the far-off chime of the vesper-bells. The scent of this Grape-blossom is associated with the hospitality of a villa below Fiesole; and that Heliotrope makes me think of a fair invalid with whom I wandered among the Ilexes of a palace-garden, in whose grassy walks the Vanilla-flower grew profusely.
I saved the reedy leaf that is stitched to the opposite page, as one of the countless proofs of the thoughtful care of my motherly hostess at -: she stuck it in my window on Palm-Sunday. When gleaned in a field near Lucca, this little Flax-blossom held a dew-drop, and looked like the tearful blue eye of a child: arid as it is, the pink star-like flower beneath whispers of romance. At a pic-nic, a friend of mine, who has an extreme impatience of tenter-hooks, determined to have his position with a certain fair one defined, as, after some encouragement, she seemed half inclined for another. With true feminine tact she avoided an interview, though they constantly met. I believe she either could not decide between the two, or hated to give up my friend. He laughingly proposed, while we were resting in a meadow, to make his favourite a sibyl, and handed her a knot of these starry flowers, to pluck the leaves one by one and reveal the hearts of the company, according to a familiar game. When the time came to apply the test to her own sentiments, she was visibly embarrassed. He fixed his calm eyes upon her face, and I, knowing at once his delicacy and his superstition, felt that this was a crisis.
The lovely creature's voice trembled, when, half petulantly, and with visible disappointment, she plucked away the last leaf, which proved her only his well-wisher. The omen was accepted, and my friend soon had "A rougher task in hand Than to drive liking to the name of love".
Flowers are the most unobjectionable and welcome of gifts. There is a delicacy in selecting an offering, whether of gratitude, kindness, or affection, that sometimes puzzles a considerate mind; but where any such hesitancy occurs, we can turn to flowers with complacency. Nature furnishes them, and all her beautiful products may bravely challenge fastidiousness. No human being not utterly perverted can scorn flowers; nor can they be offered, even to the spoiled child of fortune, without an implied compliment to taste. The fairest of Eve's daughters, and the proudest scion of nobility, as well as the village beauty, the most gifted and least cultivated - provided either imagination or heart exists - must feel gratified at such a tribute, whether from dependent or equal, new acquaintance or faithful lover. Like all spontaneous attractions, that of flowers gives them immunity from ordinary rules. They are so lovely and so frail, that, like children, they bespeak indulgence ere they offend. Of all material things they excite the most chivalric sentiment; and hence are given and received, scattered and woven, cultivated and gathered, worn and won, with a more generous and refined spirit than any other ornaments.
They are radiant hieroglyphics sculptured on the earth's bosom; perhaps the legacy of angels, but certainly overflowing with messages of love that are apart from the work-day scenes and prosaic atmosphere of common life, and allied to better moments, - to the sweet episodes of existence, to the promises of love, and the memories of youth; and hence they are consecrated, and like " the quality of mercy," bless " him that gives and her that takes".