Cottage Gardener 14: 156-157 (June 5, 1855)

HYBRID PERPETUAL GERANIUMS
Donald Beaton

With the exception of the China Rose, the original Noisette Rose, and the old Musk Rose, I do not remember that we had any kind of Roses which bloomed in the autumn when I began gardening. Whence, therefore, came the Hybrid Perpetuals of the present day? Whence, indeed; but that is not the question which I mean to write about to-day. At the time referred to, or between 1820 and 1830, we had several Geraniums which bloomed not only in autumn, but from April to October; and my question is this. Why have we not succeeded in producing a race of Hybrid Perpetual Geraniums between these perpetual flowerers and the summer-flowering Pelargoniums of the florist kinds?

In 1830, it would have been easier to work into, or work out, a new race of autumnal-flowering Geraniums than to originate Hybrid Perpetual Roses; but at that time there was no demand for the bedding Geraniums. The system of bedding plants was then in its infancy, and we had no conception of the value of Hybrid Perpetuals, either in Roses or Geraniums; but now that the French growers have loaded us with all kinds of autumn flowering Roses, we seem to want the extension of our Geraniums, or Pelargoniums, in the same direction. We have all along kept a-head of all foreigners with seedling florist Pelargoniums, and the field is in our own hands; but we have hitherto neglected its extent and capacity; yea, we have hardly acknowledged, yet, that Hybrid Perpetual Geraniums are possible of attainment. However, there can hardly be a question on the subject. Pelargoniums are just as capable of being extended into the autumn in full bloom as the Scarlet Geraniums or the Bourbon Roses, and that is what they must come to some day; for we cannot rest satisfied for ever with running in a circle, which gives us May and June flowers only; the whole system must be changed. New books must be written about the treatment of Hybrid Perpetual Geraniums; no "cutting" of them till they are frost bitten; no potting of them in October, or in January either, for May blooming; for we must have them to bloom from the middle of May till the middle or end of October. How is this to be done? and who is to set about it?

The florist is so tied down to the circle that he will not hear of it. The amateur is only beginning to ask questions about which he is to cross, so as to be on a par with the florist, and to escape from his 42s. and 21s. seedlings; but this will never do. You may as well try to put down steam, as to shake the "balance of power" in the hands of the florist. He has the run safe enough, and is able to keep it to the end of the chapter; and one of the wildest schemes which was ever thought of, is for an amateur, or a gardener either, to think of ever getting up to the winning-post against the florists.

No, we must first rid ourselves of all ideas of improving on the circle; then we must see and acknowledge the necessity of a new race of autumn-flowering Geraniums, and give a fair welcome to whatever comes, at first, from the cross-breeder, by giving a good price for it, until we can make it appear that the plants will pay; and self-interest will then, doubtless, work out the problem, as in other branches of the trade.

We all know, by this time, that a good, new, and very distinct bedding Geranium will pay in the market as well as Governor General, or Petruchio; and most of us know, or ought to know, how many good bedding Geraniums we possess already; then, by crossing the best of them with such Pelargoniums as Basilisk, Governor General, Magnet, and Magnificent, and other bright scarlet flowering kinds, we may reasonably expect something good to begin with in the way of scarlets.

In the flower-garden, the most telling varieties will always be those with the brightest colours and most free from the dark brown spots and blotches; scarlets and whites, also white and scarlet in the same flower, then bright rose, deep pink, and any good shade of purple. This is on the supposition that bedding Hybrid Perpetuals would pay better than those for pots and the greenhouse. The style I mean is well represented in many of the fancy Geraniums; but there are none among the fancy, as far as I know, which have a natural turn for perpetual blooming, as Lady Mary Fox, for instance; therefore, it would be the merest chance in the world to get a Hybrid Perpetual between fancies and florists' kinds.

Between 1830 and 1844 or 1845, we had several sports from the florists', which they and we have since all but banished from the gardens. The best known of these is Priory Queen, but all of them differed considerably from the general run, in flowering as freely in the autumn as they or any of the others did in May and June; but they rested between the first and second time of flowering, which the true Perpetuals, as Unique, never do; still they would make a valuable step in our attempts for a race of true Hybrid Perpetuals; and, depend upon it, we need all the assistance within our reach before we can make an impression, as it were, as all our true perpetual-flowering Geraniums are very unwilling to seed, if they are not absolutely barren.

If Lady Mary Fox, Touchstone, Diadematum rubescens, Sidonia, Ignescens superba, and Unique, would but seed half so freely as Punch, or Tom Thumb, I would undertake, myself, to clear the whole garden of the present race of that breed, and plant whole beds of such brilliant and varied flowers as would put your shows of the best fancies of the present day entirely in the shade.

*Rose Geranium

By-the-by, allow me to remark, now that I think of it, that I have made a mistake, and a very serious one, some years since, and that others have since deepened the dye. At the present moment we have not a single plant of the true Unique breed in the kingdom but itself and the Shrubland Pet, after all. Our lilac, white, and scarlet Uniques are not Uniques, nor anything near it, but a slight resemblance in the mode of growth. They are all of them of the race of Ignescens, except the so-called White Unique, a name which was given by a pupil of mine, who left Shrubland Park, and sent me this one from Kent, by that name, avowedly as his own manufacture; but he found it at a cottage without a name. This has three parts of the old Quercifolium breed in it, and no more. A little pale pink flower called Capitatum* is the great-great-grandmother of Unique, and Shrubland Pet is the only other plant in our gardens of the Capitatum breed. For the present, the breed breaks there, and there is no pushing of it any farther, that I am aware of.

There was no end to the breed of Ignescens thirty years ago. Lady Mary Fox is of that breed, and the best of it that ever I saw. It also is barren, or, at least, we do not possess the real male line with which it would breed.

If Lady Mary Fox, or Unique, and all such, were transported to Madeira for three years, they would be very likely to breed there, after that interval, as freely as if they were genuine species.

The race of Diadematum is also most difficult to seed; but I have effected one cross in it which will be a help to the breeder for Hybrid Perpetuals. I never know one of that race which would not bloom from April to November, in-doors, at the beginning and end of the season, of course.

But why follow the subject into these difficulties? Why, indeed, but that I cannot otherwise see my way straight through to a now race of Hybrid Perpetual Geraniums. Such a race will be raised, that I am quite sure of; but if we do not break ground on a true scientific basis, depend upon it we shall be hampered at each step, and get into a circle again, and be no better off than the florists, who, however, have proved one great fact, which is, that in this order the Geranium tribe can be improved to the highest pitch of excellence by breeding in and in. Cross breeding may not do so much in the same family in our times. Still, to have gay flowers all through the season would be a great triumph.

Hybrid Perpetual Roses wanted the true scent for a long while, but now they are getting them more scented, and in time they will be as sweet as the Cabbage Rose. We, in our turn, may want points at first, which are now in high esteem in Geraniums, but ultimately all the points will come out as true as I write about them.

We have now arrived at the very best time of the whole year for effecting difficult crosses in the Geranium family, which is done by a sudden check just before the flowers open, and that check we now give to all our bedders on turning them out into the beds, whether we cross them or not. Therefore, there is not a day to lose in these experiments.

If you have a particular Geranium which you would like to have seedlings from, begin on this wise—pick off all the open flowers, if it stood in the same house or pit with other Geraniums which might innoculate the flowers unknown to you; then remove it to a place by itself, turn it out of the pot, under a south wall, or some very hot place, and do not water it nearly so often as other plants, and keep the rain from it if you can. Dust the flowers as they open with their own pollen, and nine out of every ten seedlings from it will be as like the first plant as can be, and these are the best sort of plants to make pyramids with, as they make such a host of side-shoots—three or four times more than plants from cuttings would do.

The next step is to get a new sort, and that must be by using pollen from a different kind; then the cross will be, in most cases, half from the mother side and half from the father side, and that is how we mean to get Hybrid Perpetual Geraniums. We plant out perpetual-flowering ones, which are all difficult to seed, and which will only seed with us under a sudden check, if even then, and try and get a cross between them and the best of the greenhouse kinds; that is the best for our purpose, as I have already explained.

I have tried several ways of giving this sudden check to shy breeders; but none of them have been so effectual as this at first turning out at the beginning of the seasons.

When they have grown a little out-of-doors, or when they are growing vigorously in the greenhouse, it is next to impossible to seed them by any means that I know of. Sometimes you may possibly seed them by exposing them in the draught of air, on a front shelf, till the leaves droop two or three times, or by shaking them out of the soil, and repotting them in smaller pots in poor soil; but then the seed has no germ and cannot vegetate. This led me to believe that a dry, hot climate would so ripen and harden the wood; and where they would hardly rest at all in winter, that fertility might be restored that way; for the female organs seem perfectly developed and healthy, although we cannot fathom the reason why they fail to seed. There is some constitutional reason for their barrenness, rather than any impediment in the reproductive organs; but, whatever the cause, we must overcome it before we shall establish a race of perpetual bloomers, and the present month of June is the only time this season which appears to me to be favourable to these experiments. There are other opinions on the subject; but I am not acquainted with their results; and any one may take an opposite view from mine. There is room for all conjectures, and who ever succeeds will do service to the state of gardening. D. Beaton.

Beaton Bibliography