This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
It may consist in forms, or numbers, or colours, or in any combinations of these. We have here principally to deal with the first, with some remarks on the second.
In the general or primary outline, variety arising from form can only be considered an element of beauty when it is easy and flowing. To explain which, it is necessary first to make clear the difference in the effects of straight lines and curves; for outlines can only be formed by straight lines and curves, and the characteristic effects of these are diametrically opposite to each other.
A straight line is one the direction of which is always the same; whence its effect is to accumulate force upon a point. And the impression produced by it will be asperity, brilliance, and power.
A straight line by itself gives no idea but that of simple progression, as in the stem or bole of a plant; and in the subjects of the present inquiry can never be of a length sufficient to require further notice.
But there are two positions, in combination, in which it has considerable power over the appearance of flowers, illustrating what has been said of its impression, namely, when grouped in clusters radiating from a centre in the form which painters call a glory; and contrariwise, when two or more of them terminate in a point or angle outwards. Both these forms are often very effective in a subordinate outline, though either, if prominent, would be a marked defect in the principal one.
Lines radiating from a centre are found in many markings of flowers, as in the eye of a Pansy, the colour of an Auricula (in which they resemble the streamings in the arch of an aurora borea-lis), and the pencillings of the back petals of a Pelargonium. Nor is it of much consequence whether those lines, if they are mere lines, are strictly straight, or, as is more common, wavy and involved: they are more forcible if straight, and more feeble if curved; but are for the most part subject to the same remarks. In all cases the ideas suggested by this form must be completely subordinated to that of some other in which it is included, or it will give an idea of coarseness, as in a veiny Pelargonium; or of harshness, as in a very narrow-striped Carnation.
Straight lines running outwards to a centre, that is, meeting in an angular point, are not infrequent in the principal outline of many natural flowers, as in the pointed petal of the Auricula or Dahlia. In such cases it is invariably a fault; although in flowers destitute of high properties, as the Cineraria, the defect is lessened in the same ratio with the importance of the single bloom.
Sometimes a floral disc is made up of florets, as in the natural single Chrysanthemum and Cineraria; in which case, the outline being formed of the ends of the florets or petals, if any character is expected to be attained in the individual blossoms, the angular points must be got rid of as soon as possible. In the present state of the latter flower, the general outline being rather that of the entire bloom of the whole plant, the minute appearance of each particular blossom becomes secondary, and the starry outline is less of a defect.
But even in the general outline, absolute perfection in getting rid of this appearance is in many flowers certainly not to be wished. The resulting appearance would be tame, from the want of a foil to call attention to the beauty of the more perfect part of the form. This would be especially the case in the Auricula. Small processes in the way of points to the petals are clearly serviceable to the general appearance, though lobes produce the same effect in a less objectionable way. In a subordinate position, a distinct star, or a starry appearance, would have all its lively effect, without involving the charge of roughness.
A curve is a line the direction of which is deflected at every point according to a fixed law; whence its effect is to disperse instead of concentrating force. And the impression produced by it will be that of gracefulness, gentleness.
Curve -lines are of two kinds, of single and of compound curvature; the former being those of which the flexure is always in one direction, as the circle, ellipse, and others. The latter are those which are not always concave towards the same parts, but the curvature is alternately in opposite directions, or such as that a straight line might meet them in more points than two. The quilled form is an instance of it. Curves of high mathematical complexity of both kinds are found in flowers. The hyperbola is represented by the blossom of the Arum. In the detached petal of a good Tulip, and in some other flowers, the two portions of the outline divided by the axis or line of symmetry are asymptotes to each other and to the axis.
The general outline of trumpet and of bell flowers is commonly of double curvature. So is that of some disc flowers. And when, as in the best varieties of the Polyanthus, the segments are small and equal, and symmetrically arranged upon the circumference of a circle, they form one of the most pleasing and effective of all.
The circle is the curve which, in proportion to its length, encloses the greatest space, and therefore, for a containing outline, it is theoretically the most perfect, and must ever stand the highest in reference to its capabilities. Its diameter, moreover, being in all directions equal to itself, it has nothing to attract the eye to one part rather than to another, but all is equable. These properties belong to no other curve, and therefore it possesses advantages for a general outline which no other possesses.
It does not, however, from thence follow that a circle in one plane, or presenting a flat surface, is the most perfect. On the contrary, we should say, a priori, that the spherical form which presents a circle in every direction would be superior. Whether in any given instance it is so, will depend on several considerations, as the characteristic of the flower, the form and disposition of its colours, and in part also on its size. What is invariable is, that the circle, abstractedly speaking, must take the first place among curves for a primary outline, as will be admitted at once on comparing a circular with an oblong Pansy.
In secondary outlines the oval is often better than the circle, because completeness is in them not unfrequently out of place, as being an element of separation, not of union; and the want of fulness and completeness in a figure disposes the eye to connect it with surrounding objects to make up what is wanting.
To sum up, therefore, the difference in the impressions produced by straight lines and curves: a straight line concentrates its force in one direction, and produces the idea of pungency and sharpness. In following a curve, the direction of the eye is in a constant state of change, and therefore no accumulation takes place; and as the change can never be abrupt, the perception arising from it is one of smoothness, softness, and elegance. Hence curves alone are suited to the general outline, because the general notion of beauty must be one of softness; while a moderate amount of straight lines, and of angles produced by them, are effective in contained figures; and to reverse this is an analogous mistake to that made by Petruchio in offering his mistress mustard instead of beef.
To return, therefore, to the effect of variety.
[To be continued.] IoTA.