Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening 20: 98-99  (February 9, 1871)

IMPROVING THE GENERA VIOLA AND DIGITALIS

The finest improvement of a British plant by the hand of the florist, I think, must be considered to be the Pansy or Heartsease. In suitable soils no other British plant gives such a variety of rich tints; it rivals in texture and gorgeous colouring the vegetable denizens of the sunny south, and hybridises freely with kindred species and varieties, as Viola lutea and purpurea, which may be said to be the ancestors of this lovely family. I can see no reason why other species of this extensive family may not be improved in size of flower, in vigour of growth, and in richness of colour as well as in fragrance. I am not aware of anyone having taken the Violas in hand in earnest with a view to improving them. The varieties of Viola canina (sylvatica) and hirta are charming pot plants, and do not "fog off" so much under culture as Viola odorata and its varieties sometimes do. Once let us get a start with the best forms of Viola sylvatica and hirta, and depend upon it there will be produced endless variety. All we want is a good break from the normal condition of the plant, and by following up artificial fertilisation and judicious selection important results must be attained.

As an instance of what may be done by judicious selection, I may mention that some years ago I undertook to improve Digitalis purpurea, the stately Foxglove, through seeing a variety that accidentally grew in a garden where I was gardener. The variety that took my fancy was a white one very lightly ticked or mottled in the throat with purple. Contiguous to this plant grew a white-flowered one and the common purple; they seem to have fertilised each other freely, bees, too, being very fond of them. Among the progeny were several varieties, and in four years I had produced forty varieties of Digitalis purpurea, some of them most beautiful, and many far superior to the Digitalis gloxiniaeflora now sold at the nurseries. In moving to another situation I unfortunately left them behind, and so lost them; one in particular had a large campanulate-shaped flower more than twice the size of the ordinary Foxglove, evenly lobed all round, with a white ground, the inside being spotted and blotched much in the way of an herbaceous Calceolaria, the blooms not pendent, but standing out at right angles from the stem. At that time I knew not the importance of these results, and I may say twenty years will elapse from that date before another such collection can be produced. I have mentioned this instance as one amongst many that must occur in the gardening world. All novelties should be carefully looked after, for many a floral gem has been lost through carelessness.—W. E., The Gardens, Cromwell House.