The Landscape Guide


It is interesting to speculate on the principal causes for the change in English gardening which began about the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the most influential was undoubtedly the appearance of raisers of great genius, who had the foresight to turn their attention to hardy plants. The present writer can remember when the introduction to commerce of a new variety of zonal “geranium “—one of the principal components of the old “ribbon border”—still created a furore. But that memory of childhood was fleeting. Superimposed upon it, and growing yearly stronger and stronger, was the recollection of displays of new roses, new gladioli, new peonies, new carnations, new phloxes, new sweet peas, new Michaelmas daisies, new delphiniums, new irises. Such names as Paul, Bennett, Keiway, Burrell, Martin-Smith, Douglas, Eckford and Michael Foster became increasingly prominent, as did those of Barr and Engleheart with daffodils.

We might take the gladiolus as an example of a garden plant which sustained great development. As a bedding plant far superior to any “geranium,“ as a flower for cutting I beyond comparison with any old bedder, as a border plant almost perfect, the rise of the gladiolus is one of the romances of modern gardening. There were probably hybrid gladioli in the seventeenth century, for there are several varieties illustrated in Besler‘s Hortus eystettensis, which was published in 1613, but it is improbable that they played a prominent part in the famous gardens of that epoch. We have to take a leap of nearly two centuries to find gladioli exciting the least attention. Then in 1810 we find Dean Herbert raising new varieties, and not only so, but twenty-four years later telling of seedlings raised by one Bidwill, an Englishman, from parents that were destined to become more famous through their offspring than they had ever been of themselves. One of these parents was certainly a species called psittacinus, a native of South Africa. The other has been variously stated as cardinalis, fioribundus, and oppositiflorus. Under the name of gandavensis, so called because the hybrids, obtained from the garden at Enghien in Belgium, were distributed by a Ghent (Gand) nurseryman, the progeny of this cross, in the hands of Kelway, Standish, Burrell and other English raisers, as well as in those of the Frenchman Souchet, made the gladiolus one of the greatest of garden flowers.

This is not the place to pursue the subject of flower-creation, important and fascinating though it is; it must suffice to say that what happened with gladioli happened also with other great garden flowers. The English banker Martin-Smith and the Scots gardener Douglas did for the carnation, Eckford did for the sweet pea, and Michael Foster, Dykes and Bliss did for the iris, what the florists already named had done for the gladiolus. James Kelway improved the peony and the delphinium as much as he had improved the gladiolus; and these two splendid flowers in themselves had an immense influence on the extension of herbaceous borders. It is one thing to have a conception, it is another to have the material with which to develop it. Had there been hundreds of magnificent gladioli, peonies, delphiniums and irises in 1650 there might have been no Versailles, for “Le Roi Soleil” might have become enamoured of herbaceous borders. [Editors Note: "!!!!!"]