This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
BY H. T. TUCKERMAN, NEW YORK.*
Floral apostles! that in dewy splendour,
Weep without woe, and blush without a crime,
Oh, may I deeply learn, and ne'er surrender, Your lore sublime.
I attended church on a fine day of midsummer, in one of the most beautiful villages of New England. The structure, though externally attractive from its retired situation and the pleasant grove that surrounded it, like most places of worship in the country, had a very bare and unhallowed aspect within. I suddenly, however, beheld a vase of flowers on the communion-table. They were most inartificially and tastefully arranged; the brilliant tints judiciously blended, the shadowy green naturally disposed, and the base of the jar which contained them wreathed with trailing blossoms. The sight of this vase of flowers was like enchantment; it seemed to fill that forlorn church with its presence; it spoke of nature, of beauty, of truth; it atoned for the meagre altar, the homely edifice, and the ungarnished pew.
Science and sentiment have rather formalised than illustrated the association of flowers. The one by its rigid nomenclature, and the other by an arbitrary language, profane the ideal charms of the floral kingdom. It is pleasant to regard these graceful denizens of the garden and forest in the spirit of that fine hymn of Horace Smith's which celebrates their beautiful significance. Instead of looking at them through the microscopic lens of mere curiosity, or according to the fanciful and hackneyed alphabet that floral dictionaries suggest, let us note their influence as symbols and memorials. To analyse the charm of flowers is like dissecting music; it is one of those things which it is far better to enjoy than to attempt to understand. In observing the relation of flowers to life and character, I have often been tempted to believe that a subtle and occult magnetism pervaded their atmosphere; that inscriptions of wisdom covered their leaves; and that each petal, stem, and leaf, was the divining-rod or scroll that held an invisible truth.
* Somewhat abridged from the Horticulturist.
Viewed abstractedly, one of the peculiar attractions of flowers is the fact that they seem a gratuitous development of beauty: " they toil not, neither do they spin." In almost every other instance in nature, the beautiful is only incidental to the useful; but flowers have the objectless, spontaneous luxury of existence that belongs to childhood. They typify most eloquently the benign intent of the universe; and by gratifying through the senses the instinct of beauty, vindicate the poetry of life with a divine sanction. Their fragility is another secret charm. A vague feeling that the bright hue is soon to wither, and the rich odour to exhale, awakens in the mind unconsciously that interest which alone attaches to the idea of decay. These two ideas - that of the gratuitous offering of nature in the advent of flowers, the benison their presence seems to convey, and the thought of their brief duration - invest flowers with a moral significance that renders their beauty more touching, and as it were nearer to humanity, than any other species of material loveliness. The infinite variety of form, the exquisite combination of tints, the diversity of habits and odorous luxuries they boast, it would require an elaborate treatise to unfold.
We may obtain an idea of the perfection and individuality of their forms by considering their suggestive-ness. Scarcely a tasteful fabric meets the eye, from the rich brocade of a past age to the gay prints of to-day, that owes not its pleasing design to some flower. Not an ancient urn or modern cup of porcelain or silver but illustrates in its shape, and the embossed or painted sides, how truly beautiful is art when it follows strictly these eternal models of grace and adaptation. Even architecture is chiefly indebted to the same source, not only in the minute decorations of a frieze, but in the Acanthus that terminates a column, and the leaflike pointing of an arch. A skilful horticulturist will exhibit the most delicate shades of fragrance in different species of the Rose, until a novice cannot but realise to what a miraculous extent the most refined enjoyment in nature may be sublimated and modified; and the same thing is practicable as regards both hue and form.
The spirit of beauty in no other inanimate embodiment comes so near the heart. Flowers are related to all the offices and relations of human life. They bound the sacrificial victim of the ancients, and from the earliest times have been woven into garlands for the victor, trembled in the hair of the bride, and cheered the invalid's solitude. They have been offered at the shrine of beauty, and claimed as the pledges of love, nor ceased to adorn the banquet, or be scattered over the grave. Thus domesticated, even without intrinsic beauty, and exclusive of any appeal to taste, flowers are blended in the memories of the least poetical with scenes of unwonted delight, keen emotion, and profound sorrow. Hence they have a language for each, not recognised in any alphabet, and their incense is allied with the issues of destiny. M'Gregor's foot was more firmly planted, because upon his " native heather;" the Syrian, in the Jardin des Plantes, wept as he clasped his country's Palm-tree; Keats said in his last illness that he felt the Daisies growing over him; and one who, even in renowned maturity, had wandered little from the singleness of childhood, declared that he could never see a Marigold without his mouth's watering at the idea of those swimming in the broth Simple Susan prepared for her mother, in Miss Edge worth's little story.
There is no end to the caressing allusions of Petrarch to the Violet and the Laurel, so identified with the dress and name of his beloved. Indeed, we might scan biography and the poets for years, and continually find new evidences of the familiar and endearing relation of flowers to sentiment. Each of the latter have celebrated some favourite of the race in their choicest numbers; and the very names of Ophelia and Perdita are fragrant with the flowers that Shakspeare, with the rarest and most apposite grace, has entwined with their history.