This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
Easter day is undoubtedly the greatest floral festival of the entire year. For many years it has been the custom to trim and decorate our churches of all denominations with plants and flowers, but, apart from that, it is the custom now to give and receive from friends a pretty plant or box of flowers. The Easter card is gone and a plant has taken its place. It is the day on which thousands visit the cemeteries, perhaps the first visit of the spring to the resting place of the departed, that for months has been covered with snow. So several causes tend to make this a busy time with the florist, but the most commendable fashion of remembering friends near, and even distant, with a pretty flowering plant and Easter greeting surpasses all other demands for flowers and plants, and I see no reason why this virtuous practice should ever drop from public favor.
There is no other occasion when plants and flowers must be just right, just in perfection, so much as at Easter. Nine-tenths of all the plants are delivered on the Friday and Saturday, and must be at their best on Easter morning. If a batch of flowering plants are at their best one week ahead of time, they will be very unsatisfactory to your customers, and if a few days too late it is often nearly a total loss. Many of us can remember having some hundreds of lilies that would have sold for a dollar each on Easter morning, or rather the day before, had they each two or three flowers open, but were sold the following week at 10 cents a stalk, and the same with other plants. The quantity grown for Easter, if attractive, would bring a good price, but if late the supply is ten times in excess of the demand, the day is over, and they are given away. Another feature of the Easter trade is the fact that it is a movable festival and occurs any time between March 22 and April 25, and we have seen Easter Sunday a day of ice and snow, and again, late in April, I remember having nights of 70 degrees and fanning ourselves on the veranda.
To digress a moment. Why can't Easter Sunday be fixed for a certain date, say the second Sunday in April? In these days of common sense this ought to be straightened out. Easter Sunday and the days preceding it are supposed to commemorate events of solemn moment to sincere Christians, but as the moon, or the tide, or something else, dodges these anniversaries all over the month of April, how can they have any significance? We believe that ages after the events that gave rise to Easter and Good Friday are lost in oblivion, there will still be holidays kept, and let us hope that in the coming century the date will be fixed for that holiday and that many more will be added to the calendar.
Life is a continuous holiday to some and endless and hopeless drudgery to others. This is all wrong and was never ordained so. We have only recently (for five centuries is but a speck in the history of man) emerged from the feudal system, and but yesterday emancipated millions of slaves. Hopeless starvation wages is also slavery with a tincture of uncertainty added to its bitterness. The "white man's burden" is not so much a care to the millions of a race or races who never yet have evolved to a high state of civilization and are still happy in their primitive life. The great burden of all of us is to bring about a better and happier condition of the fellow being whom we meet and see every day. Although in a wretchedly imperfect state as yet, a better time on earth for every man, woman and child must surely come. And then there will be more holidays for all. "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn," but every age brings more humanity, and justice and right will follow and equality for all must come.
I consider the ability to get in crops just when the market is ready for them quite equal to that which produces the plants and flowers, and at Easter time is when you want to exercise that particular line of ability to the greatest extent. It will tax your knowledge and experience, however great they are. Not only is the day of the month variable by two or three weeks, but the weather also is never two seasons alike. It is a question whether it is better to be what is called on the safe side - that is, have your plants a little early, or have them rather backward, so that they will improve from the day they are delivered. Of course, the ideal is to have them in their best appearance on Easter Sunday. If people wanted these plants for their own conservatory or house, then a lily with one flower open and four or five buds would suit the great majority. They ask for a lily or azalea "not so much blowed out." But ninety per cent of all the plants bought are sent as presents, and a good showy appearance is demanded, and for church decorations it is entirely appearance and effect that is wanted; however well grown a plant may be, it is not wanted unless well in flower. 1 may add here that flowering plants greatly predominate at Easter. Occasionally Mr. Goodman buys a ten-dollar palm for his dear, plump little ducky, but that stops in the family, and the vast majority of plants sent as presents must be flowering. It is a cheerful morning with all Christendom and flowers are the thing to add to its joys.
Easter Lilies in Celluloid Basket.
Hydrangea Trimmed with Crepe Paper.
The Conventional Form of Azalea.
We find that novelties go well to a limited extent, but they must have some good merit to take well, and you had better try them in moderate quantity the first year. Wealthy communities in our very large cities will purchase a basket or collection of plants put up in a fancy basket and decorated with ribbon. In this arrangement there would be no end to the varied combinations to tempt the corpulent purse. These baskets of plants are sold for $10, $15 or even $25, and are works of art, but they have not yet reached the general trade. We find a few customers willing to spend $10 or $15 on a single plant, a great many willing to purchase a five-dollar azalea, but a far greater number whose limit is $2. Then there is the school child, or the poor person, who wants to make his window bright and who can hardly afford 25 cents for a hyacinth. Our trade is made up of all these classes, and if you do a general retail trade, you must cater to all of them, and be just as pleasant and attentive to the delegation of little girls who have clubbed together to buy their school-teacher a 50-cent plant as to the millionaire who orders a dozen Beauties at $20 a dozen. A little different manner, you know, but just as attentive.