This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
J am one of those who have been, of late years, in the habit of growing that magnificent flower, the Pelargonium, for exhibition at the Horticultural Societies in London, where those who have attended them, know the engraving that you have given to your readers in volume 5, page 201, of the Horticulturist, is by no means an exaggerated representation of the general character of the geraniums produced there. I long to see this, my favorite flower, grown in the same state of excellence in this country, and I by no means despair of having that pleasure; for I was gratified to see some specimens at the exhibition of the New York Horticultural Society, at Metropolitan Hall, in June last, which, although very far behind the standard of perfection which I am desirous to hold forth for attainment, were, notwithstanding, very fairly grown, and evinced in their general appearance an acquaintance with the plant, which will, I doubt not, enable the grower of them, whose name I do not now recollect, to progress to the highest excellence in their cultivation.
I am happy to accord him my meed of praise; and I shall also be glad, if he should not happen to be acquainted with the details of English practice, if I can offer him any suggestions which can further his success.
I hope that upon those who are not aware of the beauties of this family of plants, the geraniums I have just been referring to, will have the effect of creating a desire to possess in their own green-houses and gardens similar specimens. For when properly grown, the Pelargonium assumes an importance and produces an effect which is gorgeous in the extreme; and can only be equalled, by a few of the inmates of other families in our best collections.
They can be grown in the greatest perfection, without a great demand upon the time of the gardener; with only fire-heat enough to exclude frost; and by judicious pruning, and by propagation early in the season, the bloom can be prolonged over a lengthened portion of the year; and although not at all times in the same perfection, yet always with enough success to well repay the cultivator for his trouble.
I propose in this paper, to give a history of the improvement of the Perlargonium, during the last few years, which I think may interest the present amateurs of the flower, and show what may be done by perseverance and well directed experiments.
The modern history, if I may so call it, of the Pelargonium, may be said to commence with a flower, which some thirty years ago made a great sensation in the floricuttural world of London, which was raised there, by a well known florist named Davey, And was called by him after himself, "Daveyanum." It was a dark crimson variety, of small poor shape, and not equal in that respect to some others of the day, which had broader and more substantial petals; but the color was remarkably attractive, possessing a velvet gloss and depth of tint which was then novel and much admired. Davey, (who was an old florist, and well knew how to make the most of a good flower,) is said to have made a thousand pounds sterling by this geranium, which amount is probably over-rated, although my own acquaintance with what was done by some nurserymen, at the height of the Dahlia-mania in England, a few years ago, by no means renders the supposition of his having done so absurd. Another florist, about the same time, of the name of Moore, brought out a flower which he called " Victory;" this was in shape and quality, much on a par with the Daveyanum, but in color it approached a scarlet, and possessed a good compact habit, and an elegantly shaped leaf, much like the common rose scented geranium.
These two flowers, with a white variety, named Macranthon, were the giants of that day, although, I fear their pigmy character, in comparison with our present favorites, would give a very unfavorable impression to modern amateurs, of the tastes of their predecessors. About the year 1824, a flower made its appearance, which may be regarded as something like the first ancestor of the existing race of Pelargoniums. I do not mean to assert that such was literally the case; but that it bore some approach to those points of excellence which have since been improved upon, and brought prominently out in the flowers of the present day. This was a white flower called the " Thenew Duchess of Gloucester," of the character of Macranthon, but so much better a flower, as wholly to supercede it. The amateurs were mad after it, and at three guineas a plant, it found among them ready purchasers; and so popular did it become, that I well remember finding in a nurseryman's, one day in the second or third year it was out, a green-house some 30 or 40 feet long, entirely filled with plants of " The new Duchess," and upon my remark at the large stock of one plant, he said he could find a ready market for as many more if he had them.
For some few years after this, no great move was made, to mark particularly the progress of the geranium culture; although each year brought out its new candidates for public favor, which they possessed in a greater or less degree according to their merits. At this day it is not fair to pass judgment upon them; so completely have our notions of the qualities of a really good Pelargonium, been revolutionized in this age of revolutions. Upon looking over a few dried specimens, which I preserved of the flowers of that day, (including among them the celebrated " Daveyanum,") I cannot say much in their favor.
One of the prettiest! which I recollect was a great favorite with me, although a small flower, was named " Queenii," in which the softened color of the petal added to a peculiarly neat habit of growth, combined to give an effect of elegance which was very engaging to a florist's eye. There was another, "Eldonii," which was .one of the first that possessed the deep suffused blotch of color covering the whole of the upper petals, and which feature in our modem plants, forms one of their most marked characteristics: but that variety was not in other respects a bit better in quality (ban the others of the time.