The Journal of Horticulture, 354-355 (August 6, 1861)


Donald Beaton

It is a curious saying to state that colour can be made to grow, but the fact is certain. A black or brown spot not bigger than a pin's head has been made to grow in Pelargoniums to the size of a broad Windsor Bean; and all the pink, rose, scarlet, and white in that aristocratic race have been grown from small and very insignificant beginnings. In 1858 I was at the beginning of this century with one shade in seedlings—only fifty-eight years behind time. In 1859 I got as far as the battle of Waterloo. Last year I advanced only about five or six years; but by the end of this season I expect to be well on to 1840; and when I am "up to the times" I shall fulfil prophecy and drown all the bedding Geraniums that existed in 1855 in the bottom of the Thames. The new order of seedlings will supplant most certainly; and although it is a most pleasant occupation, it is a most wearisome one at the same time.

In my haste to gain time I have "run" many a good breeder by crossing, so that the seedlings could not stand on their legs—that is, that they were so reduced in constitutional vigour as to be beyond the power of cultivation to rear them. The phrase is not mine, at least not its meaning. Dr. Herbert often alludes to the same thing. The "run" is now by two ways—by pollen and by breeding in-and-in. My baby anthers in Pelargoniums have the very same effect on the next and succeeding generations, as Mr. Standish and all who have "worked" the Rhododendrons since Mr. Smith, Lord Liverpool's gardener, have proved in-and-in breeding to do in that race. They ran them till the seedlings were past rearing. Now, mark this difference: in Pelargonium breeding in-and-in is the only power we have of improving the breed in strength, in health, and in "properties;" while in Rhododendron breeding in-and-in soon ruins a race, and unless a fresh kind, a wild species, is got to infuse fresh vigour into the in-and-in-got seedlings, their offsprings would soon fail and could not be reared. But Mr. Standish is the godfather of that race; and I do hereby call upon Mr. John Standish, of Bagshot Nursery, to tell how it is possible for any one to debilitate a strain of Rhododendrons so that no one could rear the seedlings. No hemming or hawing will do, we must have it chapter and verse—that is to say, the origin and extinction of species of Rhododendrons. Some Rhododendron cross-seedlings are as genuine species as any in the books, being quite distinct in looks, and coming perfectly true from seeds if care is taken of them when they are in bloom. But the fact is this—books and botany, physiology and Nature, put together as we do, are just three very different things, which any three men may study and each find out things which might never occur to the other two.

"If Mr. Beaton thus hints at new and curious facts, he must not be surprised at being plagued with questions," so writes Mr. Darwin. Now, I take it that no writer in this Journal can be so complimented by any of his readers than when he is questioned in order to get at the bottom or the meaning of what he writes about. I do not object myself even to be called over the coals, provided it is not done in a carping spirit. But I did not volunteer to lay myself out for such questioning; I had no intention to say anything about pollen, or this variegation in plants, but what is well known or received as if it were well known. As I have just said, Mr. Darwin is at the bottom of it all. I could not answer his questions against my convictions; but the more questions he asks and the more searching he puts them the better he will please his humble servant. Even grumblers are as beans and bacon to a public writer; but questioning in a manly spirit and for free inquiry, is like the hot rolls and butter to his breakfast-cup, and he ought to aspire to please the hand that feeds him. Having been fed thus far, I shall give a résumé of the explanations in answers to Mr. Darwin. The pollen of Lobelia fulgens, and the pollen of Lobelia speciosa, together with the pollen of plants of two generations from their union failed to fertilise any one of the seedlings of the third generation. I would recommend to Mr. Darwin to apply the pollen of Lobelia speciosa—that is, the cross plant from the syphilitica, on the stigma of his best scarlet seedling from fulgens, then to select the best seedling of that cross with the pollen of speciosa, the object in view being to produce the finest colour which scarlet and purple can be made to yield—that is to say, true mauve colour, if the tints are in the right proportions. But if that mixture should be found to make the seedlings too dark—too much purple, say, then apply the pollen of fulgens to the darker seedlings in order to lighten the shade. Secondly, the treaties of alliance between his majesty of cross-breeders and the writer do not empower the latter to demand the former to do or say a single thing to a third party, but he knows his majesty has been always willing to tell of all his sayings and doings. As to the case in point, the blue and white Anemones, nothing is more common than for original blue flowers to sport into white-flowering varieties without crossing. Thirdly, in Pelargoniums and in Rhododendrons the pollen of the shortest stamens has been proved to produce seedlings of more dwarf habit than the parents; and by applying the pollen from the shorter stamens to the stigmas of the dwarf race, again and again, the seedlings at last will be so faint, for want of a better term, that no art can grow them. But Mr. Standish is respectfully requested to state about Rhododendrons, and, lastly, the more questions, the more luck.

Beaton Bibliography