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SOME OLD FAVOURITES AND NEW
EXACTLY what influences favour in flowers, or indeed in most other things, it is hard to say; no Dutch bulb-grower ever attempts to do so. It may interest the leisurely student of mankind to discover the causes and trends of fashion, but the grower asks little or nothing about it, he merely accepts the evidence of his carefully-kept books, and the character of the attention given to some certain flower or groups of flowers at the shows, and sets himself to supply the demand that has arisen, or is about to arise. He may regret, if he is an old man with old-fashioned tastes, that popular liking has deserted Ranunculus asiaticus. He may, if he is a young man, himself sharing the general taste, prefer the dark-eyed Anemone coronaria to the rosetted flowers of earlier favour. But he will certainly give greater space to the latter now. Both of these two are grown in Holland, and both in something the same manner, though ranunculi want a heavier and moister soil than anemones. There is one kind of ranunculus, the Turban ranunculus, which is planted in December and covered rather thickly to protect it from frost, but the asiaticus is treated just as anemones are. Both are set in early spring, both harvested in August; both are strikingly beautiful when in flower, making very gorgeous stripes of colour in the garden where they are. Both are old flowers in Holland, they were certainly there by the middle of the sixteenth century; we in England had anemones from thence somewhere about 1596, ranunculi probably not much later. Both have been much cultivated and varied; but the one, Ranunculus asiaticus, is curiously out of favour, especially in England. Fifty or sixty years ago there were as many as eight or nine hundred varieties catalogued, now there are not as many dozen. In England we know that the early Victorians approved the ranunculus; indeed, in the old Language of Flowers the scentless rosette blossoms are given an honourable place. An admirer giving a bunch (we do not conceive of anyone giving them now, unless it is one grower to another similarly interested) an admirer giving them in 1840 could convey the compliment, "You are radiant with charms." In the opinion of those times "the dazzling Ranunculus adorns our gardens with its brilliant flowers, glowing with a thousand colours, resplendent with a thousand charms. Scarcely any plant affords so rich a view." Now we think quite otherwise.
Anemones at that same time stood for the melancholy word "Forsaken"; this probably on account of the Greek legend of their origin, -- a legend of the order not unfamiliar in Greek mythology, the loves of the gods, the jealousies of the goddesses, the metamorphosis of the object, and the desertion of the lover. In this ease Zephyr, who abandoned the nymph, thus transformed by Flora, to the rude caresses of Boreas, who, unable to gain her love, shakes her afresh every spring. This legend probably belonged, in the first instance, to the earlier blooming Star Anemones and Hepaticas, those flowers at whose opening old gardeners used to say, "the earth is in love, now is the time to sow." These, too, are grown in Holland, and have been since the day when Clusius first brought there the yellow anemone he found at the "foot of St. Bernard's Hill near unto the Canton of the Switzers." Since the days, too, when the old herbalists used the leaves of some sorts in "the ointment called Marciatum, which is composed of many other hot herbes, and is used in cold griefs, to warme and comfort the parts." And even if they and the Anemone coronaria do not now fetch the high prices they did when they were among the collector's fancies, they are still a good deal in demand.
Among the flowers grown in the bulb gardens of to-day which
favour has treated somewhat strangely the Fritillaria family should
certainly be mentioned. The Crown Imperial, king and chief of the
Fritillarias, is grown now as it was in the early days of the bulb
industry; the big lily-like bulbs are treated in much the same way, and
the old varieties are there with comparatively few new ones added to
them. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Crown Imperials ranked
high among flowers. Parkinson gives them the place of honour in his Garden of Pleasant Flowers,
and, in the pretty way of the old writers speaking of a loved or
admired object, lifts them from the neuter to the gendered class: "The
Crowne Imperial for his stately beautifulness, deserveth the first
place in this our garden of delights." And judging from some of the
legends that have gathered about the flower, one imagines it was
cultivated and admired even earlier. But during the nineteenth century
it went out of favour, for some reason the "refined and elegant" ceased
to admire it and gardeners to cultivate it, other flowers filling the
place in popular favour.
wrote a drawing-room poet of the early nineteenth century; and though the beautifully banal -- also botanically and every other way incorrect -- lines must not be regarded as exactly expressing the minds of his compeers, yet the fact that they were written and quoted shows favour was not then for the Crown Imperial. It is coming back to the present generation; possibly, in England at least, because a certain number of the old bulbs were preserved in cottage gardens, and so acquired the reputation of simplicity and old-fashionedness, now so frequently a passport to favour.
But though the Crown Imperial is being grown in Holland and coming again into favour in England, it is the smaller members of the Fritillaria family that are more really popular, -- the little Snake's-head Fritillary, which in some of its duller colours is native to Oxfordshire, the red Recurva, the golden yellow Aurea, and other expensive varieties of the somewhat insignificant flower. They may all be seen in Holland, and are regarded with considerable admiration, even by some of the old and conservative growers. I remember to have seen one dear old man kneeling before a Fritillaria aurea gently dusting off the sand which had blown upon its fluffy inside.
Among the new favourites begonias should perhaps be mentioned, although they are not grown in Holland to anything like the extent they are in Belgium, where they are raised literally by the million; or in England, where the great florists, Laing and Veitch, have done so much to popularise and improve them. They were introduced into Europe about 1776, from Jamaica in the first instance, though subsequently from other places too; but they do not appear to have been much cultivated and developed until comparatively lately. Certainly it was not until quite recently they were to be seen in the bulb fields of Holland; now they are, and they make very gorgeous patches of colour in the middle and late summer, when there are few other flowers to be seen. The treatment they require is unlike that of the Dutch bulb proper. To begin with, they are tubers not bulbs; to go on with, they are not planted out till May; and to conclude, they must be stored in dry and frost-proof houses during the winter months. New varieties are raised from seed, and in Holland time and attention is being bestowed on them, so that it is possible they, too, may rank among important Dutch flowers, though at present they can hardly be said to do so, popular as they are in this country.
But perhaps of all bulbs grown in Holland the ones which have least felt the variation of favour for the past three hundred years are Narcissi. Doubtless they have not always been grown in quite such quantity as they are now, but they have for very long been grown to a considerable extent. They have never had the immense vogue that tulips and hyacinths had at one time, but they have always been well appreciated. It is true that in Holland to-day amateurs, though they think well of them, do not as a rule specialise in them, as do many English; one has to go to England to find discriminating appreciation of a finely-formed flower among amateurs. But the growers in Holland know their business, as they have for very many years, and splendid Narcissi are raised there for the English market.
Early in the seventeenth century we hear of the "Men of the Lowe Countries" growing "iohnquills" and calling them "trompetts." Even before that the still popular Narcissus maximus was a favourite flower in Dutch gardens, and we know that the great botanists of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were eager in their search for and raising of new varieties. We have record of "the Lady Mattenesse Daffodil" named of Clusius, the first gallant Low Countryman to name a new variety after a lady. This flower would seem to have borne more resemblance to some of the ordinary yellow sorts than to the choice N. Clusii, which later generations have named in honour of the great man himself. There are records, too, of that which was first had from Vincent Sion, native of Flanders, "an industrious and worthy lover of fair flowers," who, however, did not name his flower after himself or a lady, but grew it and at some time gave offsets to "Mr. George Wilmer of Stratford Bowe, Esquire, who would need appropriate it to himself, as if he were the first founder thereof, and call it by his own name, Wilmer's double daffodil," -- a proceeding justly condemned by the botanists and avenged by time; for whereas to-day one looks in vain for Wilmer in the ordinary catalogue, Van-Sion, whether or no named after the "industrious lover of fair flowers," is a household word with daffodil growers.
In seventeenth-century England, as well as Holland, they would seem to have been interested in the raising of Narcissi and the varying of the sorts. We have Gerrard's Daffodil, and Parkinson's Daffodil, and the Great Rose Daffodil of one John Tradecant. It should be remembered that narcissus and daffodil were synonymous terms with the old writers, the one being regarded as the Latin, the other as the English name of the family. It must also be admitted that they classed as Narcissi things that we do not reckon as such, for instance, the Strange Sea Daffodil of Parkinson's list, a plant which, from picture and description, one is inclined to identify as a dark-coloured Agapanthus. Also the White Sea Bastard Daffodil, which Clusius tells us is so poisonous that it was "deadly to him that did but cut his meat with that knife which had immediately before cut this root." Another narcissus unknown to us now is the red flower, native to the West Indies, mentioned by Parkinson. It is true he classes it reluctantly in accordance with the then taste for classifying rather than with his own conviction, and with the remark, "Even so until some other can direct his place more fitly, I shall require you to accept of him in this, with this description which followeth." And the description certainly does not apply to our idea of a red narcissus, that desideratum of all modern growers. The growers of the past do not seem to have been so anxious to produce a red variety, but to-day it is the ambition of all professionals and many amateurs. So far one cannot say they have been successful, the variety Will Scarlet, a short-crowned flower belonging to the incomparabilis section, is the nearest, but it is not satisfactory, and is of a very poor shape.
In Holland Narcissi are put in the ground just as summer turns to autumn. In the fields they are set from three to four inches deep, and during the severe weather protected by a straw covering some three inches thick. At least that is found sufficient for the hardier roots, the more delicate polyanthus varieties want more, many of them requiring as heavy a covering as is given to hyacinths. They begin flowering about the middle of March. Some English daffodil enthusiasts maintain one can have them in bloom out of doors from February to October, but personally I have never seen any at either extreme date. In Holland, certainly, they do not reckon to have flowers in the open much before the middle of March, when the earliest sorts, Henry Irving, Golden Spur, etc., begin to show colour. The majority are in perfection in April, and the latest sorts, such as Poeticus and Grandee, carry us on well into May; but by the end of that month Narcissi are over in the bulb gardens. In the middle of April the sight is truly magnificent, sheets of golden flowers in every shade of yellow; one feels a miser's wish to keep the living gold and put off the inevitable time of cutting. The flowers, when they are cut, are taken at the top, much as tulips are, the stalks and leaves being left to gradually wither, till in July when the bulbs are lifted they are quite dead; a sad and rather desolate sight.
Narcissi are very various in their rate of increase, some free-growing sorts, such as Emperor and Empress, Sir Watkin and Barri increase well; but others much more scantily and slowly. The polyanthus narcissi (N. Tazetta) do not in the main increase so well as most of the other kinds. The reason of this may be that they are none of them native to Western Europe, though they have been long grown and much improved there; their original home is South Europe and Western Asia, from whence it is thought they spread at some almost prehistoric time to Northern India, China, and Japan. One rather insignificant species has of recent years been introduced to Europe from Japan, and for the moment made a sensation among amateurs out of all proportion to its merits. There is a small kind very plentiful in Greece to-day; from its plentifulness some folk have decided it was the original flower of the Greek legend, but the consensus of opinion is in favour of a single-flowered one of the Poeticus family -- also still to be found in abundance in Greece. Ovid's description certainly best fits the latter, as will be seen from the following translation of his account of the flower and the metamorphosis of the boy.
He was but sixteen, according to Ovid, so his flight from the overtures of Echo and his subsequent astonishment at and passion for his own newly-discovered beauty are perhaps forgivable; at all events more forgivable than the admiration of many a subsequent poet Narcissus for himself and all his works.
It is interesting to quote, in comparison with this, the rendering that the poet Gay gives of the old tale of the transformation: --
Slightly suggestive of the boy in Struwwelpeter who took root and grew sprouts because he would not move when he was told, but eminently moral.
But whether or no the flower of "vain Narcissus" fame was a
polyanthus or a Poeticus, this is certain, varieties of both kinds grow
in Greece, and apparently have grown there as far back as anything did.
Over and over again Narcissi occur in classic literature, often with
the qualifications purpled or croceum, which suggests the dark centred
Poeticus. Sometimes they are spoken of as the flower of death, the
treacherous sweet-scented blossoms, beguiling in sweetness and
stupefying in effect. Plutarch definitely says they derived their name
= numbness, because of this effect. No such effect is known now;
narcotics in plenty we have, and most of them of vegetable origin, but
none obtained from narcissus. Still, evidently there is some such
tradition in connection with them, for more than one old writer has
regarded them as the flower of death. Milton possibly had some such
tradition in his mind when in Lycidas, his
In Memoriam, he says:
This reference is, of course, to the English wild Narcissus, the little yellow daffodil of woods and meadows, no doubt more plentiful in his day than in ours.
Then, one hopes, there had not begun the reprehensible custom (described at the close of the eighteenth century) whereby, "In the counties round London the herb-folks bring prodigious quantities in the spring of the year, when in bloom, root and all, and sell them about the streets." Still, in spite of the efforts of the "herbfolk" and others, there are wild daffodils yet to be found in parts of England and Holland. And, on good authority it is stated, all the uniflowered varieties of to-day are sprung from it; and of those varieties one may say, as Parkinson did of the Bastard Daffodils of Divers Kinds, "There is much variety in this kind; . . . but it is needless to spend a great deal of time and labour upon such .. flowers, except that in the beholding of them, we may therein admire the work of the Creator, who can frame such diversity in one thing. But this is beside the text, yet not impertinent."
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