Introduction to the
Victorian Flower Garden
From the 'Handy Book of the Flower-Garden' (1868) by David Thomson
The practice of horticulture has been regarded as the most healthy employment and most delightful recreation in which human beings can be engaged. This remark holds good of all its branches, unless it be the forcing of flowers and fruits under glass, which is adverse to physical well-being. it is true that in the departments of culinary vegetables and fruits the important element of utility is of first importance; but even they are not without their pleasures of a satisfactory nature. The retired Roman emperor Diocletian was so pleased with watching the growth of the cabbages which he had planted with his own hand, that he refused to leave them in order to esume the reins of power. Doubtless, the originators of new fruits, such as the late Mr. T. A. Knight and Tan Mons, not to speak of more modern instances, enjoyed the most exquisite delight in cultivating and matching the progress of their seedlings, in realizing their gains, and in imparting them to the world at large. It is pleasing to enjoy the consciousness of skill applied, of diligence and power exercised, and of cherished expectation gratified at length.
Flower-gardening - the subject of this little work - less of material utility than the departments just referred to. It does not contribute to the substantials of the table, but it does to its elegances, and has numerous other and more refining attractions, which have always made it a favourite pursuit. If the late distinguished Prince Consort was right in calling horticulture one of the fine arts, it is this department of it which especially vindicates the name. It gives scope to the arts of design, and works with the most beautiful materials; it affords pleasure both to the artist and the observer; it exhibits to the greatest advantage beautiful flowers, which are amongst the most admirable objects of nature, and it presents them arranged, harmonized, and contrasted in the most favourable circumstances; it adds a grace to the magnificent country residence, the moderate villa, and the more humble cottage home; it imparts an interest to the oft-revisited flower-patch in the vicinity of large towns, where perhaps the pale mechanic or little shopkeeper, tending a few flowers, realizes the truth of Keats' celebrated line -
'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever'
Much sentiment might be expended in the pleasures derivable from flower-gardening, and much might be written on the elevating tendency of the study, culture, and arrangement of flowers, and of the joys that the sight of them is capable of raising in the hearts of the sorrowful and afflicted, and more than enough said to justify the exclamation, ' Give me a fine day and a flower-garden, and I will make ridiculous the pomps and pageants of emperors and kings.' They mistake the use of flowers who regard them as a mere luxury. Theirs is something akin to the office and power of the simple melody, which often fills the eye with tears and softens the heart. The love of flowers is co-existent with the infant's dawn of consciousness, and lasting as life; and surely there was intention in the formation of the teeming multitude of flowers which meet the eye at almost every step. Science informs us, that though there were gigantic Club-mosses and Ferns in the earliest periods of the earth, there were no bright nor fragrant flowers till the era of humanity. They formed part of the preparation in that Eden home, where a delicately sensitive human organism and an emotional mind were to vibrate like a well-strung harp of a thousand strings to every influence from without. Reflecting the colours which stream in light from the centre of worlds, the influence of flowers cannot be regarded as anything less than one of the gifts bestowed by Providence to make the sweets of life outweigh its evils. Philanthropists are now more than ever recognising the moral influence of flowers as an auxiliary in raising the masses of our pent-up cities - only as an auxiliary, however; for potent though that influence be, it falls short of stirring the profoundest depths and touching the highest chords of our nature.
Having taken a glimpse within the threshold of the temple, and half bent the knee at the shrine where only poets and philosophers can acquit themselves, we retire to the less dreamy and chosen sphere of the practical.
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