The Cottage Gardener 4(94): 238-239 (July 18, 1850)

R. Fish

The day is not yet so far distant when our scientific botanists were experiencing something like fever heat, from witnessing the growing partiality for these truly beautiful, though to them hateful, monstrosities—a fever only secondary in its evils to the nightmare antipathy with which they viewed the labours of the hybridising florist, who, in the extreme number as well as diversified forms of the varieties he introduced, seemed to make havock of nomenclature, and ride rough-shod through all then nicely drawn-up specific distinctions and definitions. Even they, however, our learned instructors—for though they were not free from prejudices any more than other men, we must not forget the debt we owe them—even they can now join the florist in expatiating upon, and defining the merits of, a beautiful hybrid; and, what is more, can mingle with the vulgar throng and behold a peculiar beauty in these double monstrosities, altogether apart from the means which such flowers present for building up a peculiar phytological theory.

I confess that in the case of many plants, such for instance as the Chinese Hibiscus, the single perfect flower is to my eye far more beautiful than the double varieties; but beautiful and lovely though many even of our common plants be in their single state—such as the daisy, when slowly rolling back its pale crimson hood-like covering as the sun's rays reach it in the morning—I conceive that few, with a correct taste for the beautiful, would think of contrasting for a moment the single and the double in such plants as daisies, primroses, violets, ranunculuses, pinks, carnations, roses, stocks, wall-flowers, Sweet Williams, rockets, balsams, fever-few, catch-fly, &c.; plants which, though generally found in the highest perfection in the garden of the amateur and cottager, will never disgrace the parterre of the nobleman.

Our attention has been directed to this subject by the inquiries of a lady correspondent, as to how such flowers are at first produced. "Is it from richness of soil, as in the stock? I know that double flowers may be perpetuated by impregnation, but want to know how to get one double in the first instance." Now our difficulty here consists in the fact, that our own mind is not quite made up on the subject, though we incline to our friend's supposition, that double flowers are chiefly produced by cultivation, and, in addition, that they are perpetuated by the same means; and although aware that they may be perpetuated by impregnation, we consider that even that holds a rather secondary place to careful cultivation. Glancing, however, at one or two fallacies may lead the investigations of our friends, who have time at their command, into a channel whence more consistent and legitimate deductions may proceed.

That our correspondent is not alone in her opinion, that double flowers are perpetuated by cross fecundation, may be seen in the circumstance of saving a single flowering stock for seed that has been surrounded by double ones; the practitioners believing that the contiguity of the double flowers will influence the single ones, and thus so far affect the seeds formed that they will produce plants with double flowers. Now, in examining the matter, it will at once be found that the double state in flowers is generally produced by the stamens, and the pistils, the male and female organs, and also at times what are termed floral leaves, &c, being all changed into petals; and the more completely this has been done, the more perfect the specimen appears as a double flower. But the more effectually this was accomplished, the more unlikely would such double flowers be to exercise any influence whatever upon the properties of the seed produced from single flowers in their vicinity. If these double flowers contained any perfect stamens, the fertilising pollen of these stamens might be transferred to the summit of the pistil of the single flowers, and thus the properties of the double flowers might be imparted to the seeds so fecundated. Thus, in saving seed from semi-double flowers, or even from flowers containing a greater number of petals than usual, there is a greater probability of obtaining double flowers in future than from plants with perfectly single flowers, as a predisposing cause in the first case has already been in action. Whether this double flowering condition be the result of disease or merely of a full plethoric habit, superinduced by high cultivation, is a question that will not at all affect the above proposition But, if no such influence in the shape of male organs existed in the double flowers, then their neighbourhood to the single ones could exercise no power whatever upon the qualities of the seed that would naturally be produced. Future culture will determine whether the plants from such a seed shall be puny or luxuriant, but that culture for the first season will have little or no influence as to the plant possessing double or single flowers; these are qualities which would be chiefly lodged in the seed while yet remaining in the seed-vessel of its nurse-parent. What, then, are some of the principles by which we ought to be guided, when our object is to obtain and preserve double flowers?

Making allowance for exceptions, the following may bo adduced as leading general propositions:—First. To obtain double flowers from seed, dependence must not be placed upon the influence of a stray stamen that was not converted into a petal or flower leaf, but means must be taken to make the seeds possessed of a property which otherwise they would not possess, by superinducing a highly elaborated, full, plethoric habit, in the seeds. This can only be done by stimulating the plant with high cultivation at a certain period — after the flower-buds appear,—and then by removing the greater portion of the seeds. If the stimulus is applied at an earlier period, the plant will increase greatly in luxuriance; by giving it thus later, a greater degree of strength is conveyed to the flowers; by thinning these flowers, or the seed vessels, as soon as formed, so as to have only a very few seeds to ripen, these, in consequence, acquire a full plethoric habit; and we know that in the vegetable and animal world alike, this state is opposed to productive fruitfulness, while in the deplethoric state it is encouraged. From a full double flower, therefore, we expect and obtain no seeds. From such plants as balsams, which, though said to be double, yet produce seeds, the rendering of them more double must be obtained by the high cultivating and seed thinning process. In their case, as well as some others, compactness of growth and clearness of colour seem to be gained by preserving the seed for several years; the fresher a seed, the sooner will it vegetate, and the stronger and more luxuriant the plant. In double composite flowers, such as the Dahlia, which consist of a number of florets upon a common receptacle, though the most of these florets may have their parts of fructification changed into petals, others may be unchanged, though they remain unnoticed until the petals fall off; and from these, when seeds are produced, more double flowers may be expected than from seeds saved from more single varieties, because possessing a greater constitutional tendency in that direction. This will more especially be the result when, as in the other cases, high cultivation is resorted to whenever the seed appears. Thus something like superfetation is induced in the seed, which leads it afterwards, when sown, to develope itself more in leaves and petals (which the botanists tell us are the same thing), instead of flowers producing seed; and this altogether independent of the culture it receives for that season. When any of our friends, therefore, look somewhat disconsolate on their beds of stocks nearly all single, they may rest next to assured that the culture they imparted had little or nothing to do with it. The seeds they sowed would have been single in any circumstance. The matter is different in the perennial plants, such as the daisy and the primrose. Without resorting to seeds at all, the plant from being divided, having its soil frequently changed and stimulated by rich compost, will often gradually change from the single into the double flowering condition, upon exactly the same principles; luxuriance and fruitfulness being ever opposed to each other. Several years ago we carried out these ideas with considerable success, and such as they are, now commend them to the notice of our friends who have more time at their command.

Secondly. On much the same principle, care should be taken to preserve double flowers, when propagating them by cuttings, runners, and divisions of the root,—by giving them the same careful cultivation, otherwise they are apt to return to the primitive single state. To secure this object effectually, two considerations should be attended to. If a rich stimulating system of cultivation is at the first resorted to, there will be the likelihood of having a luxuriant development of stem and leaves, at the expense of depriving the flowers of their requisite proportions. In all free-growing luxuriant plants, it will be wise policy not to over stimulate the plant until the bloom appears; and the increased nourishment judiciously given will then enlarge the size of the flower, while the rest of the plant would continue to maintain a comparative dwarf and stubby character. In choosing seed when it is produced, let it be selected from such plants. Then, again, if the size of the flower is to be maintained, and prevented degenerating into its primitive condition, rich composts should not only be used, but fresh soil, if possible, given to them every year. Now is a good time to propagate all these pretty desirables, at least all that are of a comparative hardy nature. Many of them, when the flower stems are decayed, may be divided at the root; such as the Rocket, which with the Wall-flower and Sweet William, Lychnis, &c, will strike by small cuttings in light soil under a hand-light, under the same treatment as is resorted to with Pinks. In the case of using hard stems of Rockets and Wall-flowers, &c, it is advisable, after cutting through with a sharp knife at a joint, to run the knife upwards a short distance, through the centre of the cutting, and then to make a similar incision at right angles with the first, so that the base of the cutting shall consist of four equal divisions. This exposes a greater portion of the inner bark, and roots in consequence are more quickly and plentifully produced.