The Rose Garden (1848)
William Paul

Heartsease and Dahlias

Let us turn to the Heartsease, or the Dahlia, whose progress from the species to the present state has been more rapid, and has fallen within the pale of more general observation.

It is well known that the beautiful garden varieties of the Heartsease are descended from the Viola tricolor and Viola lutea of Botanists, both species indigenous to Britain. They had long been grown in the borders of flower gardens, and the flowers had no doubt become varied in colour and size; but I believe it is not more than thirty years since Mr. Thompson, of Iver, first commenced their cultivation with the expectation of improving them. They were then, perhaps, not very far removed from the species. He collected several kinds, and saved seed from them promiscuously. From the plants thus raised, some were larger and handsomer than their parents: these he reserved, saving seed from such; and by continuing to reserve and save seed from the finest varieties, and by planting them in the most favourable soil, he materially improved them. He did not long work single-handed: other Florists joined him, and the results are now before us; —the flowers are changed from an irregular and indescribable form, and become quite circular. I do not know whether he adopted artificial fertilization in his course of practice, but others have done so.

Take another instance. The Dahlia, when first introduced to England, was single; the flowers had but one row of petals, the centre being occupied with a yellow disk; they resembled a single Aster. The first double Dahlias had long, narrow, flat, pointed petals, and were very different in character from the present favourites. The Florist and Amateur disliked the pointed flat-petalled flowers, and they raised an ideal standard of perfection. All their endeavours were directed towards the attainment of this. Dahlias, said they, should not be flat flowers, but circular, forming half a ball: the petals should not be long and pointed, but short, rounded at the edge, and cupped. Now mark the change that has followed. The Dahlia has, so to speak, been remodelled.