The Journal of Horticulture, 353-354 (August 6, 1861)

Donald Beaton


MY best thanks are due to some one, for making known at once, that the plan of slitting the involucre of Gazania splendens did not keep his flowers open day and night. I believe many plants of the composite order would seed in this climate if we could prevent them closing up at even. Damp or moisture shut up with the florets for so many hours, and the chill at night, prevent the action of the pollen, or perish the young seed as soon as it receives the germ of life: therefore, a sure plan to prevent this is of much greater consequence than one might think, if he only looked at it in the light of a handy turn to help on the gayness of a flower-bed; and unless the failure was made known, the cure might not so readily suggest itself at a future opportunity.

Besides, to another class of readers there is a little philosophy hid in the straight jacket. My flowers were open day and night all through May and June; but my plants were of a different mould, and my plan much more so than falls to the lot of bedding plants. My plants consisted of so many Gazania rigens, and so many of splendens. My object was to cross them. They were two years old last March when I turned them out of their pots, and towards the end of May and many days in June they were in a temperature of from 90° to over 100°, but during the nights they were very nearly as cool as if they were in the open air. They were planted in a row quite close to the inside front of a cold pit, the bed being level with the front wall of the pit; and when they were in flower the glass-lights had to be tilted day and night, for if the lights were let to rest on the front wall the flowers would be crushed. The same thing or treatment was in the idea of giving them a front-orchard-house treatment, as was suggested last winter; and the plan of submitting plants to an enormously high day temperature, and to allow them to get so cool at night as barely to keep late spring frost from them, has been recorded in the first or second volume of this work, from a practice with some seeds and seedlings at Shrubland Park.

It was a regular set plan that was adopted with these Gazanias for a very particular purpose. The plan is now before you in a more perfect shape for future use; and if ever you should have to do with half-hardy plants that are very difficult to seed, or to receive foreign pollen, I would advise the same as against all the ways that ever I tried to get out of a fix. It was only an after-thought of mine to suggest that way for flower-beds; but you see some one has taken it up and failed, probably because the strength of his plants, and the power of his stimulant—his degree of heat, were so much less than with me. But for having tried the thing, and for the bold-hand front of telling me it was non-hygrometric, I just took another turn and at the first flower discovered a more easy way to keep these flowers open as long as the last even in the coldest part of this island. Make only one slit, and fully half way down—that is to say, to the bottom of the lowest circle of the scales of the involucre; then turn up the lower edge of that cut, and gently tear off the upper half of the belt, by balancing the hand, just as if you were tearing a leaf out of my book and wished to leave a straight edge, or as you would tear out a cheque from your cheque-book; either way is easier than the dressmaker's way of slashing jackets.

I am sorry to have to say that I have failed to cross, or seed without crossing, any one of these flowers. I rooted out the row in the pit, all but two plants, one of a. kind, before I heard of the failure; but I had a strong row of two-year-old Gazania rigens across a border, and the flowers yielded at once to that way of relieving them from their belt pressure at even. Yet the ray florets curled the edges without closing.

My reason for leaving a plant of each kind inside the pit will sound strange to some people, but strange stories could be told of such things till you were tired to hear them. Some gardeners say we have not half light enough in our climate for exotic plants, but my requirements assure me we have twice too much light for too many of them. I can cross some exotics only when the day and night are about of equal length, as is natural for them in a belt round the globe, in which belt the days and nights never vary, and there is neither dawn nor twilight. Our long days are too long by far for such plants, for they never can receive their natural daily rest so near the north pole us we inhabit. It is by taking advantage of this natural state of things, and by forcing plants so as to flower out of season, and in a more suitable climate to themselves, that I have been kept from the throne, and from satisfying my ambition.

But I am in alliance with his majesty of cross-breeders. I sit in his councils; he has reviewed my forces, and looked over my armoury. He knows his strength and how best to use it; and, moreover, he knows that he can seed plants with ease, which I cannot seed by forcing under my system; but when the days and nights come again to be of equal length I shall have another trial with these two Gazanias, for that was the reason for leaving them in the pit." Should I fail at the equinox I shall move for leave to send two couples of my oldest plants to his majesty aforesaid, with a request for him to try the effects of the vernal equinoxes in pollenising them; but you are quite free to believe the moon and the stars have more influence on crossing than such periods.


Mr. Darwin is at the bottom of all this. I should never have thought of exposing myself to the risk of being hauled over the coals so often were it not for his questions, and from knowing there is no way so sure of getting out of his grasp as by telling him of things in our line just as they are. Respecting his request about Lobelia fulgens, cardinalis, and speciosa, the only three tall kinds which were in cultivation when I was engaged on them. Two of them, but I forget which two, were completely sterile at the second cross—that is, all the seedlings of the second generation were quite sterile; but the third would produce three generations of seedlings, and these seedlings resisted any farther advances from the pollen of any of the parents, or of any of the seedlings which I kept. I believe I had every variety of tall Lobelia that is now in cultivation as early as 1835. One of the best of them is St. Clair, and I had it in 1833. It was lost in 1836, and appeared with some other breeder many years afterwards. I had one finely grown specimen of it in a pot, which was 9 feet high, and the flowering part of the spike was nearly 3 feet long. It was measured by the present Mr. Low, of Clapton, and one of the Messrs. Dickson, of Chester. On their travels both happened to meet in that garden the same day. Both had seen all my Lobelia seedlings; and if either of them has seen one seedling of that race different from what he saw that day, these pages are open to receive the record. But as his majesty succeeded in crossing several other seedlings which were absolutely sterile under my system of growth, and I have been prosperous with some seedlings which Dr. Herbert could not push further, I am quite satisfied that cultivation has as much influence ever the power of breeding as it has over the improvement in the form and substance of florists' flowers.

I should be curious to know if the present St. Clair Lobelia, or any of the finer seedlings of that race, are barren now. Mr. Kinghorn is the last breeder whom I know to have influence with Lobeliads, and he could tell us their present standing sure enough. I recollect that Lobelia speciosa, a blueish-purple flower, was received as a genuine wild kind at the time I went through the course with them; but in 1836 Dr. Herbert recorded, in his "Amaryllidaceae," that it was certainly a garden seedling, a cross between fulgens and syphilitica; but I can well remember that that cross seedling would come quite true and never vary from seeds thirty years back. It is not so tall as fulgens; but of all the Lobelias that I have seen speciosa would be the best to work with fulgens and its seedlings, to infuse that degree of the purple tint with the crimson and scarlet which makes the fashionable mauve colour in its highest or deepest shade; and I would advise cultivators to attempt the true mauve colour in Lobelias on spikes that would vie with those of Gladiolus itself.

I have got the second degree of mauve, and the first or best magenta in Nosegays this season; but I have overdone the seedlings, so that practically they are of no value save as breeders. If I recollect rightly, the St. Clair Lobelia comes constantly in the second generation from fulgens. Mr. Darwin's finest seedling from fulgens will possibly, by the pollen of fulgens, produce the true St. Clair. The question is, Can the breed be raised higher or pushed beyond St. Clair? My experience says No; but the influence of cultivation through a course of years supervenes, and will very likely subvert my testimony. In two years more Mr. Darwin will be in a position to prove the case from his own seedlings. I hope he will also get the blood of speciosa into his strain.


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