The Horticulturist 25(289): 208-210 (July, 1870)

EDITOR HORTICULTURIST: May day has come and gone, and we shall remember it as one of the many cold May days this generation has enjoyed, or at all events endured. The teamsters garnished their whips with ribbons and their horses' heads with rosettes, as usual; the great person and parcel carrying companies sent out their omnibusses and carts newly painted; the chimney sweeps came forth with shovels and brooms; clowns, sprites and May queens carrying ladles to ladle up the largesse, and the heavens showered down sleet and rain, except at rare intervals, when the wind blew extra hard and people out of doors felt quite certain that it was dripping nuggets off their noses. As for people indoors, they crouched close to great coal fires and talked about the weather, and agreed pretty generally that a shivering May day is no novelty in Great Britain. There is a cheerful side to the story, for the country is exquisitely beautiful now; all the trees are in leaf except the oak, the mulberry and the locust. The horse chestnuts are as dense in leafage as they will be in June, but of a different color—a most confidential, hand-squeezing sort of tender green. Every separate tree looks as if it would presently sidle up to another and kiss it. And the fast uprising of the flower spikes helps out this idea; the trees are about to become bridal bouquets, and by the 10th they will be in full bloom. It would abundantly repay your traveling countrymen to make arrangements to see our Bushey Park during the whole of the month of May. We hear much about your forest trees and believe all we hear. I hope you will believe me when I say that the horse chestnuts of Great Britain are not to be surpassed in their season by anything that can fairly compete with them in all the world. The tree is absolutely worthless in a commercial sense; when planted by the roadside it is a nuisance, for the boys pelt it with sticks and stones through all the daylight hours in the latter part of the summer, in order to obtain its fruit, and yet in the suburbs of all our towns it is the favorite tree, the tree of trees, the one that is first planted when grass lands are converted into gardens.


There is something due from me this time on the subject of geraniums; or, to speak more correctly, Zonale pelargoniums. The subject is so vast that I know not where to begin, but I can make a comprehensive preface by remarking that I have had the good fortune both to see and take part in everyone of the stages of improvement which the geranium has undergone in becoming a proper florist's flower. In my early days Tom Thumb was the leader and the type of highest perfection as a bedding plant. With it were associated Reidii, Punch, Kingsbury Pet, Rigby's Queen, Danby and Lady Plymouth, as the best typical varieties, and they all revolved around Tom Thumb like satellites around a planet. Donald Beaton, an able and most eccentric man then made a dash amongst them with an eye to color only, giving his attention chiefly to the nosegay or narrow-petalled race, and the result was a host of splendid bedding varieties, of which Stella, Cybister and Lord Palmerston may be named as having attained to highest popularity in this series. Beaton believed in the possibility of raising a yellow variety, and got so far towards it as to obtain Indian yellow, a curious orange-colored flower; and he also believed he might some day secure a blue, and his finest effort was in Amy Hogg, a lovely, soft, mouse color. When these two are placed side by side, the contrast is not only delightful, but instructive, for they mark the two extremes of divergence from typical color.

In 1857, I had the good fortune to obtain a double flowering kind, which I thought not good enough to bear a name, and so, having made note of the fact in the Floral World, I allowed it to pass into oblivion. But "Hibberd's Pet," a great advance on Reidii, I put into Messrs. Carter's hands, and that for a few years enjoyed high rank as a bedding geranium; the tri-colors and the doubles came before the floral public almost simultaneously. The French were the first raisers of double varieties, but the English are entitled to a monopoly of the fame that may belong to the origination of the tri-color leaved varieties, First amongst the breeders of this race we must put the name of Peter Grieve, the raiser of Mrs. Pollock and many another of the most famous of this famous race. While the tricolors and doubles were still in their very first development", the old, single flowered, zone leaved race were undergoing some marked improvements, and the first distinct and noble representative of these improvements was a variety named Dr. Lindley, one of a splendid batch raised by Mr. Bull, the most prominent characteristics of which were their large circular flowers and their great diversity and richness of coloring. The Stoke Newington collection have, to speak of them collectively, combined the two best qualities of the narrow and broad-petalled races, for they produce large circular flowers with immense breadth of petal on plants that arc dwarf and compact in habit, and produce their flowers as freely as Tom Thumb, or Stella, or any of the old flimsy textured bedding race. As it is not desirable to say more of my own varieties than the story requires, I shall dismiss them by expressing my belief that Richard Headly, Thos. Moore, and Orange Nosegay, of our lot, are the three best in their classes hitherto produced, and we are inclined to back our Golden Banner against all other yellow leaved varieties for a leafage that cannot be surpassed.

Instead of making a long history or a tedious enumeration of varieties, I prefer just now to make a few remarks on the methods by which the several distinct strains have been secured. For the most part the first step has been made in every case by nature, and art has immediately followed it up. Breeding is, in every instance, a matter of selection, and when once we get what we call a new break, that is, a deviation in some new direction from a type, we have but to persevere, and we may reasonably hope to obtain a new race. The large circular flowers were obtained in the first instance on coarse growing plants, and I believe the best work I have done has been to combine the large flowers with the dwarf plants. If the results of thousands of experiments could be summed up in a word, it would be to this effect—that the male or pollen parent determines all the most distinctive characters of the seedlings. The old rule, written down in all the books, that the mother plant should give the form and the father plant the color, has been abundantly confirmed as a sound rule, founded on the facts of nature in all the steps and stages by which the several distinct races of Zonale geraniums have been produced. But we must never expect to make rapid progress, and we must always take a hint from nature if she is disposed to give us one. Thus we had in Countess of Warwick and Attraction, hints of the splendid zone colors that would appear in Mrs. Pollock and United Italy, and that have attained to intenser glory in Sophia Dumaresque and Achievement. If you were to visit the sanctum of a tri-color breeder, you would find lots of common Zonales, selected solely for their large, round, fat leaves, with very bold black zones upon them. Experienced breeders prefer the most vigorous Zonales they can find. Mr. Grieve has many a time said to me, "I care not how coarse the plant is that I put a high colored variegate upon." These robust Zonales are selected to produce seeds for tri-colors, the tri-color element being conveyed into them by the pollen of tri-colors with which the flowers of the dark Zonales are fertilized. Many curious phenomena accompany the raising of these curious and beautiful plants. None can foretell, no matter how expert, what a seedling will become in a year or so from the seed leaf. But we can very soon see how far our operations have been successful as to the mere producing of variegated plants, for the variegation always appears in the seed leaves or cotyledons, if it is in the seed; that is to say, every seedling that rises with variegated seed leaves will in time be a variegated plant, though for six, twelve, or a hundred months it may be only a common looking Zonale. Sometimes the seedlings rise with cotyledons wholly white, with not even a streak of green upon them, in which ease they soon perish. But deep yellow seed leaves are a sign that the plant will be a golden self or a bronze Zonale. The best tri-colors, whether of the silver or golden class, are usually ushered into the world with cotyledons streaked with green, white and yellow.

The raising of double varieties is a troublesome task, because of the difficulty of obtaining seed. But as to the mere raising of doubles, whether good or bad, it is not so difficult a task, as many imagine. I hope I shall not be kicked by any of my geranium growing friends for letting loose a few secrets on the subject. The double flowers I had in 1857, told me all that might be done and would be done, but in spite of all that I never yet raised a double variety that I considered worth naming. It would have been better, too, if other raisers had been as exacting as myself; we should have been spared the cultivation of a lot of brutally coarse plants, many of which, as usual, are too nearly alike, and the whole race of doubles would have been in better blood. It is a great injury to floral art when bad blood is sent abroad under high credentials; just remember, as no doubt you will, what mischief was done to the fuchsia thirty years ago by the mistake of breeding from Fulgens. Just in the same way mischief is going on now by the practice of breeding from a lot of geraniums that are like cabbages, and that are bred from, because they have bad double flowers. But how are doubles bred? Both ways, by making doubles seed bearers, and also by taking pollen from them. But the best will be got from doubles as mothers, and singles as fathers, and I can tell you without having seen Lemoine's sanctum, that his best pollen plant for doubles has been Surpass Beauté du Suresne, which is, I will bet my head to a tin tack, the father of all his rose pink doubles, of which, by the way, he has presented us with rather too many. The very first year in which the doubles "came out" I starved a plant of Chanflour because of its execrable coarseness, and actually got fine seeds. Those seeds produced fine plants too. Yes; and every plant was a coarse beast like the parent, and produced double flowers like it, and went, each in turn, to the same heap of rubbish, which said heap of rubbish had been duly consecrated to the service of the rejected, under the designation of the "Stamp-hole." A wiry man of mine so called it because he used to see me go there and stamp out of existence flowers of all kinds that had earned extinction by disappointing me. Doubles, as remarked above, may be bred both ways, for it is quite as common for them to produce a bit of vital pollen, as it is to bear seeds when fertilized from singles. But the rule I should give would be, according to the old florists—double mother, single father; the mother for form and habit, the father for color and carriage. Starvation improves the doubles in two ways—it reduces their coarseness and promotes their flowering; it also renders them more capable of giving and receiving pollen, and therefore is capital practice for the breeder.