THE COTTAGE GARDENER (January 22, 1852) 254-255

Donald Beaton

THERE is a white-flowered variety of Unique, a very strong grower, and the leaves not so soft or downy; but it flowers too sparingly for a bedder, and it seems to be quite barren. It is a good variety, however, to force in the spring for cut flowers, and the way to make the most of it is to keep it well cramped at the roots all the summer, and to have it in its flowering pot before the middle of July, and from that time to the end of September to keep it stopped at every second joint it makes. It will stand the same degree of heat as Alba multiflora, but will not come into flower so soon. Every conceivable experiment ought to be tried with this geranium, to see if it can be made to seed. Starvation at the roots, old age, and a sudden check or change of temperature at the moment the flowers are ripe for crossing, are the best-known rules for causing geraniums, that are shy to seed, to become breeders. The easiest way to accomplish all this is to use poor, light soil for potting, to keep the plant or plants in the same pot for years, without any change of soil, to give them no stimulus, by extra heat or otherwise, through the whole winter and spring, and to endeavour to keep them back from blooming to a later period than is natural to them, and when the flowers begin to open stop the shoot a joint beyond the truss, and set the plant in a cold draught, and give it very little water for a few days. I am quite confident that each of these steps will help a shy breeder to seed, also that old age helps the process.

The cause of barrenness in geraniums is more mysterious than that in any other family of plants that I have tried. I never met a single instance in the whole race in which the female organs were not quite perfect, as far as could be made out even by the help of magnifiers. The male organs, on the other hand, have all kinds of defects, from a barren anther to the want of any traces of their existence beyond a toothed ring where they ought to spring from. Their numbers, when they are developed, are as variable as the colour of the flowers. Another freak worthy of notice, and one which ought to save a promising seedling, is that for some years a seedling may be quite destitute of pollen, and yet turn round after a while and produce pollen in abundance. Witness Compactum, in which, at first, you could not meet with a pollen anther in a hundred flowers, but now it is as rare to find a barren anther. The same with Tom Thumb. I recollect Mr. Ayres, who first brought Tom into notice, being quite fierce with some one who offered seeds of it for sale; he said the thing was downright imposition, that he had known it for so long a time, and that it produced no seeds at all. Meantime, however, Tom was getting up to the age of manhood, and thenceforward has seeded as freely as any of them.

Now, it is well worth while to keep this in mind, as when we get a seedling, however poor in colour, from a section that is hard to seed, we ought to keep it some years, although at first we might think it of no use because it had no pollen. The very distinct sections of geraniums will only cross--for some generations--with others belonging to the same section as themselves, and when any of these are ticklish to seed, a seedling like the above comes in very useful if it ever produces pollen. Hence it is that I would strongly recommend the White Unique to be kept for the chance of yet getting it to seed, or even to yield pollen, because we are very short of kinds in the section of Unique, and they have not yet crossed with any in the other sections.

Moore's Defiance is the only other sort that I know of which belongs to the true Unique, or Capitatum, section, and, like the white one, hitherto quite barren; it has dull scarlet flowers, runs a long way, but with us it does not make a good bed; but I am told that in the Isle of Wight, they leave it out in the beds from year to year, with a slight covering in winter, and by that means it blooms beautifully every year, and is one of their best bedders there. I have no doubt but the white one, under this treatment, would answer equally well.

Here, then, ends the list of this section, Queen of Portugal, very scarce; Shrubland Pet, much scarcer; Unique, purple and white; and Moore's Defiance. It will save trouble in our correspondence, if our readers will bear in mind that no other geranium that we know of will cross with any of these; but still that is no reason why some one might not succeed better, and a haphazard experiment may prove how little the best of us know on the subject, For walls or pillars, and for pyramidal training in pots, the Unique section is well adapted, owing to their free growth and long-jointed stems; and we are much indebted to the young gentleman who sent us word about the best way of rooting cuttings of them in summer.

Lady Mary Fox is the best and the last of its race. I am not sure that we have another belonging to the same section, but I have known a good many of them. Reniforme and Saepeflorum were the wild parents from whence this favourite race first sprang. The third or fourth generation in this line produced one called Ignescens, which was a great favourite thirty years ago. After that came Ignescens major, a still greater favourite followed by Fire King, which brought them to the borders of the Unique section. If these old geraniums are now lost, as I expect they are, we have no means left us to extend the race of Lady Mary Fox, for I am quite certain it will never cross with any other geranium out of its own strain. No one can take more pains with it, or try more varied experiments with it than I have done, and as I am constantly asked how to improve or go to work with such and such bedders, I mean to put the whole on the best footing I can before I have done with them. I know very well, however, how Lady Mary Fox, or the breed to which it belongs, may be improved to a certainty, and that is to begin at the beginning again, and to keep every plant that seeds in every cross or generation, until you push the race to the exact stage at which we now see it represented in Lady Mary Fox, that is, to a dead lock. Then turn back, and see which are the best of your reserved seedlings which proved fertile, and then cross them round in a circle under very high cultivation. This is exactly the route by which the florists have brought up their Pelargoniums to be the wonder of the age, and yet many of them deny the inference when they say that breeding in-and-in spoils their stock, when the truth is that nothing else but breeding in-and-in has been going on among them for the last twenty years. The offspring of three wildings only are the only materials that have been worked on with during that time. However the tints have been varied, the blood has not been altered since Garth and Foster, the fathers of the large geraniums, took the reins from the hands of Dennis and Weltje, the last of the old race of breeders. Breeding in-and-in went on prosperously for a dozen or fifteen years, but, like our bedders, it has come to a stand still affair at last. I have seen every new seedling, as it appeared in London for the last twenty years, and were it not that the "fancy” ones had been made use of, and have given some fine variations to the race, I can safely assert that there was not a single improvement as to race, in all the seedlings which were exhibited for the last ten years, although a wonderful improvement was going on all the time according to the views of the florist's fancy. Circularity and substance of petal kept the game alive all that time but at last the "Little Fancies" made a grand improvement in the hands of Mr. Hoyle. Ajax and Ocellata leading the way. Their points ought not to be lost, nor a seedling of good colour got in the same strain for years, if it seeds, although the flowers gaped like snapdragons. The great fault, or misfortune, has been, that as soon as an improved seedling appeared in any section, the more inferior parents were cast away, and when that race arrived at the last stage and became entirely barren, there were no more plants left to experiment on in any other direction. Lady Mary Fox, Rouge et Noir, Quercifolium, Coccinium, Sidonia, Spleenii, and a few others are familiar instances in proof of this view of the subject, every one of them being in the last stage of so many sections, and all of them barren, with none of their respective sections now left to try more experiments with. For a long time I thought the Diadematum section was in its last stage also, but I got one seedling from Diadematum rubescens, the one called Regium, the fourth variety, three of which produce abundance of pollen, so that we have good grounds for believing that the Diadematum section may yet be much improved.

Sidonia, Spleenii and Diadematum bicolor, with striped flowers, puzzle me as to their parentage; they are the produce of three distinct mothers by the pollen of one type, whatever it may be. In Sidonia we see the gouty stems of some of the tuberous-rooted sections quite apparent, and so seeing, there can be no question about the great changes which may yet be effected by introducing the pollen of the wild tuberous species to some of our improved sections.

There is Curate, a perfectly barren kind, and only removed a few generations from Reniforme, by the pollen of some of the oak-leaved section; but now we have no means of improving it, or of varying the experiments by which it first appeared. In short, taking a general view of all our best bedders, we shall find ourselves in a fix, from which we cannot budge one step for want of materials; and it is much better to own the fact at once, and not waste more time in hopeless experiments; but let me give a description of these barren ones, for the use of young beginners.

The breed of the Unique I have already described, and they are all barren except Unique itself. Lady Mary Fox is, perhaps, the best bedder of all; the flowers are large, orange red, with large dark blotches in the upper petals. It should not be propagated in the summer, because after it comes into flower to the end of the season, there is no cutting to be got from a thousand plants except of "flowering wood," and that soon turns a plant naked and too loose for a well-clothed bed. I burnt my fingers with it twice from over-greediness, striving to get rich in it too soon, instead of being content with spring cuttings, which never fail to make fine healthy plants with full foliage. It will not stand forcing. Rouge et Noir is quite barren, but has plenty of pollen; the flowers are red and black, as the name implies. It is the hardiest of all the bedders, and the freest grower; will easily root all the year round, and never fails to bloom freely to the very end of the season, unless the soil is rich. Poor dry soil suits it best, and the older the plants are the better they flower. Mr. Davidson, my successor, intends planting a row of it next summer close under a hedge of Gloire de Rosamene rose. The effect will be good, no doubt, for the particular situation; but the combination, or the two together, in nine places out of ten, would not please fastidious people.

Beaton Bibliography