This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
To conclude the subject of form or shape, we come, lastly, to treat of it as subservient to an ulterior purpose, to set off to greater advantage some other means of beauty. This is a large rather than a difficult branch, requiring more a copious induction of particulars than the announcing and establishment of any fresh general principles. Whatever can be correctly said upon the subject will be found to depend on some of those principles that have been laid down before. I shall not therefore here attempt any such extended induction, but confine my observations within as narrow a space as will suffice to explain the mode of their application.
With respect to the general forms of flowers, different shapes are best suited to different purposes. The cup-edged, or rose-leaved petal, elegant as it is, is unsuited to shew the colours of the Polyanthus, the Auricula, or the disked Cineraria, though it enhances the beauty of the Carnation, the Picotee, and the Pink. The flat surface will not effectively display the markings of such as are equally painted on both surfaces, as the Tulip; nor wall the hollow cup, so admired in that flower, suffice to bring the single Poppy or Peony, with all their glowing colours, into favour with the fastidious. Regard must be had to the mode of colour before a decision can be pronounced on the form most available for its display. The most perfect is, when the flower is calculated to produce both a general effect as a whole, and likewise to attract observation to its several parts. In this respect I imagine the first place must be conceded, without a rival, to the Tulip, and the second probably to the Orchids. Nor does this prejudice the popular claim for the Rose, a claim in which I cordially join, to be the queen of flowers. The Rose has too many and too solid attractions to fear giving other flowers their due meed of superiority in particular points over itself.
But the Rose is essentially a self-coloured flower, though there are some departures from this rule, and, for the most part, with little improvement. And it is rather an encomium upon, than a disparagement of, its merits, that, having to contend at a disadvantage, it wins for itself the highest place in our esteem. The Auricula, the Pelargonium, and perhaps the Carnation, present more of a picture,* and have more properties or points that conduce to excellence than the Rose.
Were there any flower, the colours of which are disposed with as minute a reference to mutual position as those of a picture, no doubt a perfectly flat surface would be best. And although making no such pretensions to accuracy, the Auricula is impatient of any other form, because the relative proportions of its primary subdivisions, which proportions are its principal characteristic, are injured or lost without it. The Polyanthus and the party-coloured varieties of Cineraria would suffer in the same way, but in a less degree. The colours of flowers, however, are beautiful by a higher than the painter's rule, and when in their utmost regularity disdain the servile trammels of man's imitative art. Themselves and their purposes are alike original, and not by copy; and display their Maker's praise as much in what, to a superficial observer, would appear their imperfections, as in what are called their highest perfections. And therefore the forms on which their beauties can be inscribed with effect are not so limited.
* The Pansy does this; but I have no wish to expose a truth to ridicule by appearing to compare the Pansy to the Rose.
I have before observed that, theoretically, a globe would be in itself the most perfect form considered simply as a figure; and the same will apply to a considerable extent as a surface for the reflection of colour. Yet if a globe were formed in any other manner than by the convex edges of many petals, as in some of the Ranunculacese or the Amaranthus, it would not answer our ideas of a flower, the essence of which is expansion or opening out, which, indeed, is the meaning of the word "petal." It would, therefore, be out of the question for single flowers; and, in fact, the casual arching over of its petals into the resemblance of a globe, which takes place in some long-cupped varieties of the Tulip, is a great dissight.
The section of a globe, as in a well-shaped Tulip, offers the next greatest amount of advantages; and one of the charms of that magnificent flower is owing to its mathematically perfect form. And in the recent controversy about its exact proportions, I have no doubt of all eventually agreeing in the opinion of those who assert that it ought to be half a globe; because if it be less, in the same degree that it falls short of a hemisphere does it lose the globular, which is its higher character, and approach the idea of a plane surface with cupped edges - a form actually assumed by some Tulips in the middle of a hot day after they have been some time in flower; and if it be greater, in the same degree that it exceeds a hemisphere does it fall short of its just expansion both in appearance and effect.* For the half of a hollow globe of the size of a Tulip presents a sufficiently level surface for the most delicate floral markings to be perceived; and in the case of this flower, which is painted on each surface, enables both the inner and the outer to be seen at the same time.
Hence it is the most effective form of any.
Another way in which an adventitious magnitude is produced is, when the lines both of form and colour are parallel instead of crossing each other, and both run outwards (that is, towards infinity) without a stop. This is well illustrated in the singular difference of effect produced by the three florists' species of Dianthus, - the Carnation, Picotee, and Pink. Whichever may be the favourite, none, I think, will deny that all the grandeur belongs to the Carnation. The reason of this, though not obvious, is quite intelligible, and arises (to compare small things with great) from the same difference of principle that separates Gothic architecture from classical - the principle of perpendicular and of horizontal lines. The stripes of the Carnation are disposed longitudinally, the same way with the length of the petal, and are not terminated by any visible end. They run out, as it were, and lose themselves in space. The lacing on the petal of a Picotee or a Pink is stopped by its adjoining one, and it is transverse to the length of the petal; it forms a visible termination both to the flower and to its colours.