This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
"In this concluding chapter we propose saying a few words upon horticultural exhibitions. We have been connected with these public exhibitions for many years, and we are fully impressed with their utility and beneficial influence upon horticulture generally. A difference of opinion in this respect has sprung up recently, and a few visionary articles have been written, which prove nothing but want of knowledge, and bad taste on the part of the writers. It is a fact beyond dispute, that horticultural societies throughout the three kingdoms have been the means of promoting the science of horticulture, and to their influence, fostering care, and encouragement, is due the introduction of the many plants which now ornament our stoves and greenhouses, as well as the open air - both of these yielding fine flowers and ornamental foliage. Such subjects as these, when brought together at an exhibition, and made to form the basis of a gorgeous display, impress the enthusiastic beholders with a love for plants, and many of our leading amateurs have assured us that these floral displays were the means of first instigating them to become horticulturists.
"Having for many years been a constant visitor at these shows, and taking an active part in these displays both at home and abroad, we have been able to judge practically of the progress these have been the means of producing on plant cultivation, and in the effective grouping of plants; also in regard to the great variety of objects brought for public competition. Being fully alive to all this, it has necessarily caused us extreme regret to see the backward tendency displayed by our Metropolitan Horticultural Societies during the present season; for just at the time when we have become fully aware of our error in devoting our whole energies to produce flowers only, to the utter neglect of plants of elegant forms and beautiful leaves, and are earnestly endeavouring to retrieve this error, and when, too, we are introducing these plants largely for the decoration of our gardens in the open air, the societies have totally withdrawn their encouragement for the production of them; and by their silence respecting them - by their not asking for plants remarkable for the beauty of their foliage to grace their exhibitions - they seem to ignore the existence of grand specimen plants, whether ornamental in foliage or flowers.
How such a state of things has originated it is difficult to say, but of this we are fully assured, that the exhibitions without these fine ornamental-leaved plants will be miserable in the extreme. What lent the great charm to the London and Paris Great International Flower-Shows, but the elegant Tree Ferns, and those of humbler growth, the noble Palms and Musas, besides the vast quantities of other ornamental - leaved plants there brought together? The various shades of green and variegated leaves formed an agreeable contrast with, and served to enhance the beauty of, the masses of bloom staged with and around them; and what would these exhibitions have been without such plants? Again, what is it that causes all visitors to plant-exhibitions upon the Continent to pronounce them finer than our own? It certainly is not their grand Heaths or New Holland Plants, for such things are not well grown by Continental cultivators; neither is it their magnificent stove-flowering plants and Azaleas, for with these we are infinitely their superiors; but it is through the quantity of Ferns, Palms, and ornamental leafage generally introduced, and which is judiciously arranged with their somewhat inferior flowering subjects.
These materials being grouped for effect, the appearance produced is most enchanting, such as we have never yet equalled. This is the only reason why all reporters receive a more favourable impression abroad than at home. Yet such as these are the very plants that are to be banished, as specimens, from our flower-shows in the metropolis ! Let us fain hope that those who perpetrate such barbarisms - who thus try, as it were, to hurl horticulture back into its dark ages - may speedily see the error of their ways. They manage these things far better in the provinces; and the authorities of such centres of horticulture as Manchester, Leeds, and York, are too well aware of, and appreciate too well, the effect large ornamental - leaved plants produce, ever to think of discarding them from their exhibitions. At the same time, they are fully as well aware that mill-operatives and mechanics are great admirers of beautiful-leaved plants as well as of flowers, and to banish either section from their great Whit-week display would not only cause widespread dissatisfaction, but would tend materially to diminish their exchequer; for it must be borne in mind that at the provincial flower-shows the working classes constitute a great portion of the visitors.
Many of them are enthusiastic botanists and amateur horticulturists, and it is a rich treat to which they anxiously look forward, and one that enables them to refresh their memories and gladden their sights with the beautiful works of nature, of which, to a great extent, their daily occupation deprives them. We say, long may such societies flourish - and flourish they must and will, whilst their efforts all tend towards the education and elevation of the masses, which is the noblest aim of life".
Our own experience teaches us that, as touching provincial horticultural exhibitions generally, the foliaged plants are not only more numerous than flowering stove and greenhouse plants, but also better done, though this is no doubt owing to the fact that foliaged plants are much more easily cultivated. Ixoras, Allamandas, Clerodendrons, Gesneras, Gloxinias, and a few others, are seen, but of New Holland plants but very few. While we quite think with Mr Williams that the managers of the Great London Horticultural Exhibitions are to be censured for the way in which some of the finest features of these shows have been lopped off, we should still like to see in country shows of second-rate excellence more of flowering greenhouse plants, Heaths, etc, than are usually seen there. It does seem that the rage for foliaged plants, that are after all much less attractive, is gradually pushing the flowering-plants out of cultivation.
To young gardeners especially we particularly commend Mr Williams's new book. As a reference work, they will find it extremely useful; besides, every page is full of instructive matter of high value to them in learning their profession.
The Farmers' Almanack and Calendar for 1871. By C. W. Johnson, F.R.S., and William Shaw. London: William Ridgway.
This is the thirty-first edition of this useful annual, and it is one of the cheapest and most useful shilling's worth issued at this season of the year, when annuals spring up as thickly as weeds. The gardener will find much to interest and instruct him in its pages; and the gatherer of scientific facts will get something for his storehouse of information also.
"Grand" Horticultural Exhibitions are likely to be more than usually plentiful this autumn. Foremost and most important - judging from the very liberal schedule of prizes - is that to be held under the auspices of the Manchester Botanical Society, in its gardens at Old Trafford, on the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th of August, and it is to be an International affair. Liberal prizes are offered; and, under the usual good direction of Mr Bruce Findlay, this is sure to be a great gathering of horticultural produce, appliances, and horticulturists from all quarters. Among the chief prizes for fruits are - £45 in three prizes for fifteen kinds of fruit, £30 for twelve kinds, £20 for nine kinds, and £15 for six kinds; £25 in three prizes for ten varieties of Grapes. The General Horticultural Company, Limited (John Wills), offers first and second prizes of £30 and £20 for six kinds of Grapes, two bunches of each; and for twelve kinds of fruit, the same as for the Grapes. If these prizes do not bring out a splendid display of choice fruits, they ought to do so. £45 is offered in three prizes for twenty miscellaneous plants (open). To amateurs, £16 for eight Orchids, and the same amount to nurserymen in three prizes.
The vegetable section is dealt with in an equally liberal manner, and so are cut-flowers. There is also a section for foreigners, and one for cottagers. Altogether it is a liberal and well-got-up schedule. One unfortunate mistake has eluded the notice of Mr Bruce Findlay when correcting proofs at p. 22 - John Wills, Limited. The prize is said to be "for the best collection of twelve kinds of fruit, including two Pines, two kinds of Grapes, two Melons, and six other kinds of Grapes." The last word Grapes should no doubt he fruits.
The South of Scotland Horticultural Society is to hold "a grand Autumn Show on the 2d and 3d September, in the Barrack Square, Dumfries." The schedules of prizes offered by these two societies are very comprehensive, and encouraging to competitors; and it is to be hoped the efforts of all these societies will be successful.
The Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, by way of husbanding its resources for a splendid effort in 1882, has dropped the Summer Shows out of the programme for this and next years.