This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
It has always been a source of much astonishment to me, that so few really fine Polyanthuses have been raised, considering the very great quantity of seed annually sown.
The thought has struck me, in looking over my own beds of seedlings, that it arises in a great measure from the selection of improper varieties from which to raise seed, and at the same time always "breeding in and in," or, in other words, allowing the flowers to fertilise themselves. Any one at all conversant with these flowers knows that, unless the stigma, or female organ, is well covered by the thrums, or anthers, florists consider it a serious drawback. If, then, the stigma is out of sight, hidden by the male organs, I contend it is difficult "to cross the flower," for in nine cases out of ten it is previously done with its own farina. Now the "pin-eyed flower" offers no such difficulty. Though it may be perfection itself in point of shape, the lacing all that the most fastidious could wish, the body-colour well proportioned, and the yellow or ground-colour of the most brilliant character, yet, with all these points in its favour, if the stigma unfortunately protrudes, it is by the critical florist mercilessly destroyed.
I have now seedlings of this description; some, with the groundcolour of the most vivid scarlet, others as dark as the blackest velvet, in fact I look upon them as forerunners of improvement, and it is to these I would direct the amateur on which to experiment: here there is no difficulty; the stigma stands prominently forward, and by crossing with farina from other flowers of the best quality, I am certain much improvement would speedily be the result. How many of what are considered our best Polyanthuses are eminently faulty! For instance, in the list of the best sorts named by Mr. John Holland, in the April Number, Alexander is coarse and uncertain; Bang Europe bleaches on the lace long before the flower fades; Fletcher's Defiance is also similarly defective; Lord Crew (Lakin's), the yellow or ground-colour is much too large in proportion to the body-colour; Lord John Russell, which I believe to be synonymous with Hufton's Earl Grey, is termed "foxy," that is, a tinge between the body and ground colours, wanting decision of character; Collier's Princess Royal is apt to sport in the number of segments in the corolla, some pips having five, others six - the latter number giving it a frilled and rough appearance; George the Fourth (Buck's), often very coarse.
From this may be seen how much we need improvement; and I make no doubt each of the sorts I have enumerated has been raised twenty years. Now I would cross my good pin-eyed seedlings with one of the best of these, say Buck's George the Fourth; I would by no means use farina from Bang Europe or Defiance. George the Fourth has size, form, and good constitution to recommend it, and with larger and neater flowers would doubtless soon produce some brilliant and valuable varieties.
I feel the importance of improvement so much in this favourite class of spring flowers, that I trust you will find a place for these few suggestions in an early number. H. S. M.