The great variations among plants and flowers that to most people seem very much alike should become better known both for the enjoyment this study yields and for its educational and cultural value. The formation of a fine collection of one or two genera of plants like the peony, the iris, or the gladiolus, may become a hobby that will give for the study and time and money expended upon it much reward, additional to that obtained from enjoying the blooms of one's own choice plants. Not only are ideals of excellence improved and the aesthetic sense cultivated, but there is genuine and lasting pleasure found in becoming acquainted with congenial persons through a wide range of territory, united by community of plant interest in a pursuit that leads to refinement. The interchange of ideas expressed in their publications yields a satisfaction greatly enhanced when the members of the society interested in "promoting" the flower meet in convention. It all becomes fascinating to a degree unintelligible to a person who has not yet given himself enthusiastically to specializing in a flower. For those who have the inclination or the financial means that justify them in seeking the satisfaction that comes from possessing rare varieties of a flower, there are available the publications of the societies such as have been named.
Many treasures consisting of native plants still generally unknown, and of rare horticultural varieties, have long been denied to the purchasers of nursery stock in this country, either because they have not been properly presented to the public by the nurserymen, or because the prospective purchaser has been too timid to try new varieties of old plants. Thus much of our American ornamental planting has a sameness which tends to discourage people who have wearied of seeing the old familiar plants but would respond quickly to an opportunity to secure and use new and better varieties.
Peonies, lilacs, and irises are now becoming very well known, many amateurs have collections which are equal to the best, and people often travel long distances to see them in bloom. Garden roses, too, have their societies and have secured a place in the regard and the knowledge of the public which is not altogether justified by their position in the horticultural world. Aside from their flowers roses have nothing to recommend them for ornamental planting. Lilies, small flowering trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, and other broad-leaved evergreens all possess better foliage and are more free from bugs, mildew, and other diseases.
Magnificent effects may be secured by using the proper sorts of lilies, properly planted. Lilies seem, on the whole, to thrive better in soil which is full of the roots of other plants, and thus they are most happily used in conjunction with other herbaceous or small woody plants. They may be selected to provide bloom continuously from May till September and to suit any type of soil or condition of shade or open sun.
During recent years numerous named sorts of thorn apples, crabapples, flowering cherries, and other small trees have been put on the market. These trees could, with splendid results, be substituted for the round-leaved or umbrella catalpa and weeping mulberry of the old-time nursery salesman. They are not only hardy, shapely, and beautiful in flower, but many of the single-flowering sorts produce handsome fruit and others have a good autumn colour.
There are now at least fifty sorts of small evergreen shrubs and vines, aside from the rhododendrons, which are reasonably hardy throughout the northern states. It is coming to be generally recognized that, aside from the antipathy to calcareous soils which is shown by the rhododendrons and other ericaceae, the chief drawback to the use of many of our charming broad-leaved evergreens has not been so much the finding of a proper soil as the securing of a proper exposure and a condition of continuous moisture without stagnation. As the smoki-ness of our cities continues to increase the list of coniferous evergreens that will survive this condition grows smaller. Therefore for winter effects in cities we should turn to broad-leaved evergreens, many of which are not only able to survive smoke and dust, provided they are occasionally washed down and are kept always moist at the roots, but which contain among them some of the finest flowering plants which can be secured.
Care should be taken when purchasing horticultural varieties of plants not to invest too heavily in "novelties" which have not withstood any test or been passed upon by horticultural societies or other authorities. Many so-called novelties are merely old varieties, which have long since been superseded, masquerading under new names while others are likely to be untried and may be undesirable sorts. The amateur in his selection of horticultural varieties should adhere to standard varieties which have been generally recognized for a considerable period. The use of horticultural varieties which are advertised as a good substitute for standard varieties, unless from some reliable nursery, should be avoided.