Bearded Irises as Florist Flower!
ON SEEING A .JUNE-FLOWERING BEARDED IRIS CALLED A FLORISTS' FLOWER. ( in The Garden vol.84; p28-29, 1920
In The Garden
for December 20. 1919. Mr, Bliss speaks of the Iris as a " florists' flower."
What does he mean by that expression ? Does he claim that it is on a level with those K.G.'s of the kingdom of flowers the Auricula, the Carnation, the Ranunculus, the Polyanthus and the Tulip ': or even with the Dahlia, the Daffodil, the Pansy and the Chrysanthemum ? Does he mean to say that it is knocking for admission into this charmed circle of democracy and exclusiveness, of classical feeling and concentrated refinement. Should it not be on page 602, at the bottom of the first column, " Let us consider what are the essential qualifications of an ideal classification for a garden flower," not " for a florists' flower " ?
To me there is a great gulf between the two, for their primary purposes in life are so very different.
The one is used primarily for the ornamentation of a garden, while the other exists to show forth its own intrinsic loveliness without reference to either position or surroundings. A Tulip show, to take an extreme case, does not even necessitate the adventitious aid of greenery of any kind. The beauty of the individual flower is all in all to those who have eyes to see, for its appreciation is a something patiently acquired, and there are many eyes that cannot see.
The beautiful creations of Mr. Bliss, which I regret I have never as yet seen, have been made with the very excellent object of making our gardens more beautiful, hence I think we ought to speak of them as garden flowers. On the other hand, the patient and careful work of Sir A. D. Hall among Tulips has been done with a view of producing a bloom which will be an object of beauty in the Tulip " pan," or may I say in the Tulip ' bottle," for I have an example in my cupboard of the quaint, rough, bottle-shaped receptacles which have done duty at Wakefield in the shows there for very nearly, if not quite, a hundred years. .As I occasionally take it out and look at it. I never can help thinking of the past and of the immense pleasure which the blooms it has held have given to their growers. Florists' flowers are out of fashion now. Avowed florists are looked upon as human beings devoid of taste, to like what they like : as turners of beauty into ugliness; as corruptors of correct taste. It has ever been so. This is why I have penned these lines. If I understand the feelings of a true florist, the last thing he wants is to have a flower called a florists' flower when it is not one. As he has made his bed so he wishes it to be when he lies down upon it.
The old order changeth, yielding place to new. The contents of Vol 11 (1850) of "The Florist" could no more be written to-day than a cow could jump over the moon, but to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers it all seemed quite right. We have different ideals of both garden and flower beauty, and this is why I am so jealous of the old name, which I fear is often taken in vain and occasionally wrongly used. By the way, it may seem a mere haphazard choice to pick out that particular volume of " The Florist." Not so however. It was done with a purpose, because if anyone is interested enough to turn it up he will find there a remarkable series of articles entitled " On the Philosophy of Florists' Flowers," by the Rev. Mr. Jeans, which are heralded with a reprint of a famous essay from the Tattler
(No. 218) full of the happiest pleasantry, conveyed in the purest and most elegant language." The editor tells us that the objections there raised will be fully disposed of in what Mr. Jeans will have to say, and that it is a bit unfair to carp at improvements in flowers when similar improvements in fruits and vegetables are welcomed because they touch the Englishman's most vulnerable spot his stomach. Readers know those famous lines on Lord Curzon, composed, I believe, by some undergraduate wit when he was a young man at college :
" My name is George Nathaniel Curzon ; I am a most superior purzon,"
They do so remind one of the passage in Addison's Essay " I have often looked upon it as a piece of happiness that I have never fallen into any of these fantastical tastes, nor esteemed anything the more for its being uncommon and hard to be met with." Of course, I have put the cart before the horse, for it was the Addison bit that reminded me of the Curzon bit ; but no matter, I am getting off the line, and there will soon be a smash. Anything " uncommon and hard to be met with " is a very wide-spreading small-meshed net that must catch " a many " besides the poor florists. And this will never do. I will return to my house from whence I started before any serious damage is done, and once more ask after this terribly long digression, " Ought we to call the Iris a ' florists' flower ' ? " Is not the expression already, as it were, a long appropriated trade mark ? Has the time limit of the patent run out ? (See the Gardencrs' Chronicle for December 20, 1919.) The answer that will be given necessarily involves the asking and the answering a further question, " What is a florists' flower ? " or, put rather differently, " What is a florist ? "
The difference between a florist and a non-florist is something like this : the taking of nourishment by means of a spoonful of Valentine's Extract of Meat and a good plateful of roast beef and potatoes. Each is good in its way, but they are not the same, although their purpose is the same providing oil for the lamp of life. Sir Daniel's Tulips and Mr. Bliss' Irises are not the same in either substance or intention, but the ultimate purpose may be the same, the provision of suitable refreshment in the Baconian sense to flower-loving mankind each one, sui generis. J. J.
For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at