The Cottage Gardener (January 29, 1852) 268-270

Donald Beaton

The improvement of our present race of Bedding Geraniums may well be said to be one of "the most difficult problems of the day." and to make good the assertion, I go on to describe more of them which are perfectly barren on the pistil or female side, although most of them yield pollen, which, to all appearance, seems good enough. Rouge et Noir is the last one I mentioned, and one called Touchstone is the only other variety, in the same section, with which I am acquainted. That variety also is barren, though with apparently good pollen. Oliver Twist was driven out of the garden by Touchstone, and the latter, in its turn, had to give way to Rouge et Noir. I never tried the capacity of Oliver Twist for seed, and I forget if it yields pollen. If it will seed, I am almost certain it will cross by the pollen of Lady Mary Fox, although not exactly of the same breed. Oliver is the nearest in affinity to it of all the sorts now under cultivation. Here, then, we have one chance, though a slender one, of breeding in the section of Lady Mary Fox, but I see no hope for us in the case of Rouge et Noir, except by returning to some of the wild species.

Sidonia is a very fine bedding variety, with large striped flowers, shading from pink and lilac to a lighter ground. It strikes freely from cuttings all the season. The stems are so fleshy that the plant may be kept dry, like a scarlet geranium, from October to March. I have known it kept that way tied in a ball of dry moss, with a plant of Fulgidum, the finest of all the wild species, and the brightest scarlet of the whole tribe, therefore I would have no hesitation in recommending these two to intending emigrants to Australia or New Zealand, or to those who send plants to their friends in those parts, provided they are packed close in dry sawdust or moss, and sent oil' not later than the end of November. The only fault I have to find with Sidonia, is that it is of a delicate constitution, and will not answer but in very sheltered situations. As cut flowers, ladies are more fond of Sidonia than any other sort, and gardeners often have to keep a large stock of it, merely for cut flowers. It does not stand much heat or confined forcing, but it comes in very early in the season, under the same treatment as the tea-scented roses. I forgot to say of Unique and Rouge et Noir that, with a little management, they might be had for ten months out of the twelve for cut flowers. From 55° to 60° of heat will not distress them much in forcing. Sidonia yields abundance of pollen, and yet is absolutely barren. I tried more varied experiments with it than with any other plant, and I do not think it is possible for any one to seed it, and, what is almost as bad, I can hardly guess what its parents were. It is, probably, one of those extreme crosses which some people call mules, but in such families as sport freely, like the geranium, I have no more faith in mules than I have in asses, yet I would exchange a good donkey, if I had one, with any one, for the secret of seeding my favourite Sidonia.

Moore's Victory, though not a bedder, belongs to the bedding class, and to the section of the Oak Leaves, or Quercifoliums. It is an extremely pretty one for cut flowers and in small nosegays, but for large ones the flower stalks are too short; it is also a gay thing anywhere above the eye, but let it come below the chin, and you see no more of it than the back of the truss, and not always that, as sometimes the leaves cover the flowers all over, so that it is of no use, even as a single plant in a mixed border, much less as a whole bed. Nevertheless, its bright and very gay fiery colour would claim a place for it in my experimental greenhouse— when I can have one; but the old story again—it is quite barren, and after all this, seven writers within the last ten years recommended it either as a breeder, or for bedding out; but here, I think, we have it now in the right state.

The nearest variety to Moore's Victory is Quercifolium coccineum, alias Quercifolium superbum, which has an excellent dwarf habit for a bedder. The flowers and trusses small; the colour crimson, with dark spots. It requires a warm sheltered place for a bed out-of-doors. It will force for cut flowers in April, but the forcing must be gently brought on, otherwise it is apt to get blind. It strikes from cuttings easily all the season. It is quite barren, and seldom has any pollen.

Quercifolium.—For general purposes this is the most useful of all the Oak Leaves, as it is a fine grower, a good bloomer, and of a very hardy constitution; I can recommend it to all who grow any of this class of bedders. It is an old variety, got from seeds in the county of Norfolk, and Mr. Bell, the well-known nurseryman, of Norwich, told me, that, through his recommendation, it was bought from the raiser by Mr. Russel, a London nurseryman, after whom Rhododendron Russellianum was named. Mr. Russel "brought it out" in London as a fine "greenhouse plant" some twenty or five-and twenty years ago; and I believe it is the very last Geranium of the old school for which a handsome sum was offered to a provincial grower for the London trade, and as such it is a remarkable plant, showing the difference between the old and new schools of Geranium breeders. The word Quercifolium means oak-leaf, and is, therefore, an unfortunate name, because we have a great many newer seedlings with leaves just as much entitled to that name as any of the old ones; and although none of these now ones are yet gay enough, or, at any rate, not yet sufficiently proved to be good bedders, we may rest assured that in a few years we shall have a large number of Oak Leaves to select good bedders from, notwithstanding that the three last-named, the cream of the old Oak Leaves, are barren. A fresh breed of Oak Leaves, with much stronger habits, and a hardier constitution, is now in the second and third generations, from an excellent breeder, having oak-leaves, and by name called Fair Helen. This Fair Helen is the oldest cross we now cultivate, and, with the solo exception of the Prince of Orange, the hardiest of all the Geraniums we grow. If their leaves are dry, eight degrees of frost do them no harm. I once had a whole bed of the Prince of Orange overtaken by ten degrees of frost, and a sunny day following, which caused no more injury than a little crumpling in the top leaves. The flowers of Fair Helen are as thin as those of an old Petunia, and as gaping as a monkey, with the colours not at all strong, or well contrasted, yet Fair Helen has kept her ground, and, to this day, is a great favourite with the ladies in their nosegays, owing no doubt to the delicious fragrance of her leaves; and her offspring, as far as we have gone on with them, are also sweet-scented. The first Helen was the cause of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, as every schoolboy knows; and our Helen bids fair to occasion a war, and a long siege too, between the breeders of bedding geraniums and those who are striving to get them as round us a full-moon. But the worst of it is, that our Helen, though fair and sweet, and a great favourite besides, will not do in a bed, and yet she is the first of the season to bloom out of doors, and the last to yield to the autumn frosts, except perhaps Unique, and on that account, and having some knowledge of her ways, I introduce her here as the most sure breeder of all our old crosses, but her seedlings will have to pass through several generations before they will be fit companions for Unique, Lady Mary Fox, or our Diadematums. An old plant of Fair Helen, planted out in a sheltered border, and not pampered with rich soil, will come as true from seeds as if it were a wild species from the Cape. These seedlings will reproduce themselves, but in the third generation they begin to vary. I once had a self-coloured one at this stage, and one with the petals quite entire on the edges, but that was before the "fancies" appeared, and I was not then experimenting for bedders, so I followed them no farther. I have since crossed seven or eight kinds with it, and re-crossed some of them again and again; and although I have nothing to prove my assertion, I am quite confident that Fair Helen is a safe one for any new beginner to begin with in the way of crossing. Unique would be an excellent one to cross with an early breed from Fair Helen, but the two, as they stand at present, will not unite, at least I failed in doing so after various experiments for seven years, and I could never get any of the huge greenhouse ones to touch it. As I am almost certain that the first two or three generations of seedlings from Fair Helen will be good-for-nothing, except as breeders, and for the sweetness and variety of their leaves, and also that high-feeding in the parents is very apt to cause very large leaves in seedlings, and, moreover, that Fair Helen is too strong already, I would strongly advise that it, and breeders from it, be kept in a half-starving condition in small pots, until good colours are first obtained; and then, if the leaves or flowers are too small, we must cross again, under a more nourishing diet, to get both as big as we want them. After that, breeding in-and-in, as the florists do, but under a protest that it is no such thing, will give substance of petal, and an improved form up to a certain point, and then a stand-still, except shifting the shades for want of fresh blood. That is an epitome of the true history of cross-breeding geraniums in this country since 1815.

Spleenii.—This is a fine bedding geranium, a strong grower, and, like all the strong growers, old plants of it will flower more abundantly than young ones, and the bed should not be rich or deep for it. The flowers are shaded with stripes of light pink or salmon on a deeper ground. It comes freely from cuttings all the season, and is very easily carried over the winter; I highly recommend it. Sidonia and Diadematum bicolor are the only two more striped ones which can be had this season; but there is a new striped one at Ipswich, which will soon occupy the same place as Spleenii, and be a capital match-bed with it, where two beds, as near as possible alike, arc required to balance two corners, &c, in a geometric flower-garden. The name of this new one will be Mrs. Jeffries; at least, I desired it should be so called when I first saw it about the beginning of last October. They tell us, when a new French rose "comes out" by the name of Madame this or Madame that, you may safely buy it at once, as the best seedling of the season, picked out by the Mrs. of the establishment on purpose to commemorate her own dear name: see how lucky Mrs. Laffay and Mrs. Souchet, and many more of the French rose-growers' wives have been, in selecting good flowers for their name. I selected this name for Mrs. Jeffries on the same principle, for she is certainly as active in looking after seedlings and sports, and other things about the nursery, as any Madame in France, or anywhere else, can be. Every season since 1843, I spent some time endeavouring to seed Spleenii, but all my efforts were in vain, and I put it down as perfectly barren, so you may judge of my surprise when I saw this new seedling in a bed of seedings in Mr. Jeffries's nursery, and knowing that there is not another plant in England which could produce it, except Spleenii itself, for it is as like Spleenii as any of the Diadematums are to each other. After a number if hard cross-questions, Mr. J. could not well stand his ground; the old breeder and I were referred to the Mrs., who "knew all about it." One does not like to run aground too close in an argument against a lady, but still the thing ought not to be left a mystery, as, if means had been found to seed one barren geranium, why not the whole of them? But no; there is no mystery in the matter; this new bedder is a sport from Spleenii, with the stripes of the flowers and shades only shifted, and to Mrs. Jeffries we are indebted for this new addition to our bedders, which is to bear her name; and if all were known, we should find that "sports," as this freak of nature is called, would throw more light on the cause of barrenness, than we have yet dreamed of in our philosophy. D. Beaton.

Beaton Bibliography