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.
Those who remember what our hot-house and green-house plants were ten years ago, must have gazed with unfeigned pleasure upon the many fine specimens which have this year decked the tables of our exhibitions in all parts. The improvement in the beauties of the courts of Flora, have been as marked as have those in the domains of Pomona. Of the rival queens, however, we think the latter has the greater number of successful votaries, as respects the quality, although not perhaps as regards the number of them. For though much indeed has been done, and most worthily, in floriculture, yet much remains to be done.
The time was, and is not yet so far left behind as to be out of our remembrance, wher the laws of vegetable physiology were so little known, and the principles on which successful pot culture depends, had been so imperfectly studied, that it was considered an impossibility to grow an exotic plant in a pot, with any approach to the perfection which the same species attains in its natural habitat. At present, although it may be too much to affirm that under the management of a first rate cultivator, exotics can be grown in greater perfection than they arrive at in the place assigned to each particular species by nature, yet may it, with great truth, be asserted that we do see, under the best cultivation, a degree of beauty and vigor, imparted to many species which, owing to adventitious circumstances, (as the extremes of meteorological changes and other contingencies,) we seldom see in the same species when found in its native wilds. This consideration deserves to be often made the subject of our recurring thoughts; because, while in one point of view, it should operate as a stimulus to prosecute our experiments in the perfection of such species as hitherto have been but indifferently cultivated; in another, it should remind us that we must not seek by an undue measure of those stimulants, on which, frequently, our success depends, to push the constitutional habits of a plant beyond its legitimate development.
For although we cannot agree with the pure botanist who condemns our development of the beauties of double flowers on the ground of interference with his systematic arrangements; yet we have seen the injudicious persistence in a mode of culture, which to a given point was most successful, continued until the heterogeneous results produced, led from a misconception of their cause, to the abandonment of that which, legitimately practiced, was the correct course of culture.
As connected with horticultural displays one of the greatest advantages, which the improved culture of the last few years has imparted to them, is the more natural mode of training and pruning hot-house and green-house plants. Formerly, every exotic climbing plant was seen tied down and cramped by a frame work, so as to leave the mind of the unscientific spectator in doubt whether the frame was a part of the plant or not. Well do we call to mind some time back, being at an exhibition with a friend, who was a skilful landscape painter, and consequently possessed a ready perception of the beautiful in nature, who, when admiring a fine plant of Maurandia Barclay ana which had been tortured into covering a flat surface like a stable door, exclaimed, suddenly, " How beautiful! What a pity we have not a climbing plant like it /" Upon our explaining to our friend his mistake, his reply was, " Is it possible! What a barbarian the gardener it belongs to must be; but I am glad to find my perception of truth in nature is correct; depend on it she makes no mistakes whatever gardeners may do." Our friend was right.
Then again every green-house shrub was cut and trimmed into some domelike or conical shape, and the very beauties arising so strikingly from the varied habits of growth in different families of plants was destroyed, and a monotonous symmetry produced which tended rather to weary the senses by its precision than to please them by its uniformity. And although to a considerable extent the evil complained of is got rid of, still we see enough of this very important error of by-gone days remains to warrant us in calling attention to it and pointing out the wrong principles of taste upon which it rests.
Undoubtedly this habit of cutting plants in particular shapes, arose at a time when plant structures for the culture of exotics were themselves in their infancy; and when a much .larger number were crowded into them, owing to the imperfect state of knowledge as to the requirements of light, air, and ventilation, as materially important agents towards success. And this economy of room, added to a quaintness of style which in those early days of gardening, also prevailed in the treatment of out-door pleasure grounds, doubtless induced this unnatural and inharmonious mode of adapting plants to their habitation instead of adjusting the latter to them.
It should be ever borne in mind that the very object of exotic plant growing, is to associate with ourselves for our enjoyment and use, those native beauties of other climes, which we cannot otherwise see, or having seen, are desirous to appropriate to the ministration of our continuous enjoyment; and therefore that in their culture we should endeavor to adjust their treatment to their habits of growth in a state of nature; for (as it has been well remarked) although a strict adherence to the natural conditions of a plant in its wild state will frequently not be, in all particulars, suited to its culture under the guidance of art, yet no system of art culture will be successful, in which those natural conditions are wholly disregarded. The object in pot culture should be to produce a luxuriant growth, and then to observe and conform to the constitutional requisitions of our plants as to their periods of rest and activity. The pruning of them should, in the early periods of their growth, be regulated by the design to produce a sufficiency of branches, so as to give us a well furnished specimen of the species; but when approaching its maturity as a worthy denizen of our green-house, we should allow the plant to assume its natural growth, taking care that too many branches are not left to crowd each other, and thereby prevent their perfect development.
Every green-house shrub so treated, and being in vigorous health, cannot fail to present at once an object of natural beauty and of true symmetry. It is of course admitted that climbing plants must necessarily have some support; but instead of the adoption for this purpose of special forms unknown to the vegetable world, it will be found in the great majority of cases, that the most elegant object will be presented by allowing them to run over the twigs of a branch of some de-cidous shrub, placed for the purpose as a support, upon which, slight attention in occasionally directing the tendrils and young shoots, will induce it to twine with all the airy gracefulness of natural growth.
In orchideous plants there is a wide field unoccupied in our middle and northern states into which we hope to see soon many amateurs step forward with earnestness of purpose. There is we know a general and vague idea that these families of plants involve a quantity of labor and expense, to say nothing of the extraordinary skill, which people are unwilling to undertake. But in this supposition there is much misconception. It is quite true that a competent knowledge of the peculiarities of treatment is required, because they, like heaths, and some families of green-house plants, have fixed habits which cannot be transgressed with impunity; but those fixed laws are few and soon known, and moreover they involve no great difficulty in acting upon. European orchid growers have difficulties of climate to contend against that we are free from, and with us their growth is comparatively easy. It is an erroneous supposition to fancy that a high temperature is uniformly necessary for their successful cultivation.
What they do require is a powerful sun at times, and in this country they have it in as considerable a quantity, as many of the most beautiful amongst them have it in their native habitat.
We hope some of our amateurs will be induced to try a few of the common species, and we doubt not their unlooked for success will induce them to go on with these magnificent jewels of nature's toilet.
The portions of our exhibition tables devoted to vegetables, have literally groaned under the weight of the valuable varieties with which they have been covered; and have borne ample evidence of good culture and well directed skill. Still at no exhibition that we have attended, has there been any difficulty in detecting the marked difference between the well tended crop, and its less lucky competitor. The fine clear skin of the full swelled tuber, tells us unerringly the tale of its careful and intelligent master's toil, as does the well bloomed geranium. But we must draw our remarks to a close, wishing to all exhibitors, "honor to whom honor is due." B. M.
We have in type, reports of the Hartford Co. Society, Kentucky Horticultural Society, Yonkers Horticultural Society, American Institute, etc, which we are compelled to lay over a month for want of room. We have done the very beat we could.