The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Floristry in Holland

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182. Florists' flowers began to be objects of commerce in Holland about the beginning of the seventeenth century. Double flowers were then first noticed, or brought into repute, which may be said to have created a new era in gardening, and certainly laid the foundation in Holland of a considerable commerce; the more valuable, as it is totally independent of political or civil changes, and founded on the peculiar qualities of the soil and climate for growing bulbous roots. The florimania, as it is termed by the French, existed in the highest degree among the Dutch, from the beginning to the middle of the seventeenth century. Many noted instances are on record, of the extravagant sums given for flowers possessing certain qualities agreed on by florists as desiderata, and established about this time as canons of beauty. Hirschfeld states, that in the register of the city of Alkmaar, in the year 1637, they sold publicly, for the benefit of the Orphan Hospital, 120 tulips, with their offsets, for 9000 florins; and that one of those flowers, named the Viceroy, was sold for 4203 florins. When we consider the value of money at this remote period, these sums appear enormous; a florin at that time in Holland (Anderson's Hist. of Com.) being the representative of nearly an English bushel of wheat. The practice of the commercial bulb growers at Haarlem has been thus given at length in the Verhand-lungen des Vereins, under the title of �A Year's Culture of the Hyacinth at Haarlem.� It begins with October, which is the season for planting, and directs that the soil should be very sandy, fine, and light, without any appearance of stones or gravel, and consequently should look as though it had been passed through a sieve. All kinds of loam or stiff soil, which bind so closely together that, when dry, the wind cannot separate the particles as it does sand, must be avoided. No kind of red, bluish, or blackish soil will produce perfect hyacinths; but one is considered particularly good, which is light grey, and which resembles fine, very sandy, and light garden mould. This sand, which is very light of itself, is made still lighter by the addition of the thin sand of the Dutch downs, which is very fine and of a pale yellow. The bed is then prepared by putting into it a layer of cowdung, one inch thick, five or six inches below the bulbs, and filling the space between with the prepared soil. This cowdung must be quite pure, and not mixed with straw or any other substance. As the soil, in consequence of the annual dunging, becomes by degrees too rich, fresh sand must be added every year; and if the beds get too high, a portion of the and may be occasionally taken out, and its place supplied by fresh sand. With regard to the space between the bulbs, eight of those capable of producing flowers are planted on a bed three feet and a half long, but they may be put nearer or farther apart, according to the strength of the bulbs. The kinds which grow high and strong should be planted five or six inches deep; as, for example, I'Amie du C�ar; but the smaller kinds, such as the Duchess of Parma and the Emperor Alexander, are not planted more than four inches deep. Dry weather is always chosen for planting; �because as the germ prevents the bulb from being completely closed, the water finds its way in and causes the bulb to rot.� In December, a covering of reeds is put over each bed, �the covering which was used for the former year being put under the new one, so that the whole becomes several inches thick. There is a covering also on the sides of the trenches, fastened down by means of pegs. When there is a continuance of rain, the trenches are filled with water, which must be immediately removed.� In March, when frost is no longer apprehended, the covering of the beds is taken off; �and after they have been cleaned and raked, they are watered with a mixture of cowdung and water, which forms a slight crust on the surface, and prevents the wind from causing any irregularity in the beds.� In some gardens the ground which is intended for hyacinths the following year is dug in March, and manured with four wheel-barrowfuls of pure cowdung to the square yard. April is the time of flowering, and the plants are then carefully examined, to see if by any accident, one or two of a different kind have been mixed with those that are pure, and to pick them out. After the bulbs have flowered, the flower-stalks are cut off, to make the leaves grow stronger, and laid in a place where they can do no injury; because, if they were left to decay upon the hyacinth beds, they would cause all the bulbs to rot. They cannot even be used as manure for trees, &c., because, if they are not poisonous, they at least always contain a corrosive property, and to such a degree, that in the month of October the labourers, after working five or six hours among them, become red and fiery all over, and are in very great pain till this labour terminates. The pain even prevents sleep. The bulbs are taken up towards the end of June; all the leaves being pulled out first, and then the bulb is taken up immediately, as, if it is left in the ground even for a few hours after the leaves are removed, the moisture from the earth penetrates into the bulb and does it serious injury. When the bed is empty, it is raked smooth, and a strip in the centre, about a foot and a half broad, is made quite flat and firm, either with the back of the spade or by a board being pressed upon it. On this smooth part the bulbs are laid in rows, and great care is taken that they do not touch each other, and that the root ends all lie the same way, and are turned to the south. Every particle of leaf is also removed, in case any of the leaves should have broken, and not come off entirely before the bulb was taken up. When the bulbs are placed on the strip of ground along the middle of the bed, the earth from both sides is thrown over them two or three inches thick. The Dutch expression for this is, lying in the kauil (cool). The length of time they lie in the kauil depends on circumstances. If the bulbs are large and well grown, they lie only about a fortnight, because if they are kept longer, they are in danger of having the rot (rotz); but, if they are of a moderate size, they are suffered to remain in the kauil three or four weeks. A good deal also depends upon the weather; because if it is at all damp and warm, the bulbs are much sooner injured than when the weather is dry.