Works in the Herald 1934

My interest in the cultivation of flowers is, I admit, spasmodic (said my little bald monologist at dinner the other evening). But, to atone for lamentable lapses in my attendance and worship at the shrine of Beauty, as exemplified in the realm of horticulture, when my interest does awaken it assumes all the attributes of an ardent enthusiasm.

I trust I make myself clear. Clarity of diction with me has ever been something of a passion, and the avoidance of pedantry is my constant care.

As I was saying, my periodic passion for the care and cultivation of beautiful blooms - this recurrent efflorescent urge, so to speak - moves me to a strongly earnest - not to say ardent - desire to be thorough in all things that have to do with the enthusiasm of the moment.

I am meticulous, for example, in having the names of my varieties exactly right, and memorised so precisely that I can identify any given bloom at a moment's notice - not so much the botanical labels, mark you, as the popular names which are understood by everyone and lay no enthusiast open to the charge of vulgar ostentation when mentioned glibly in conversation.

In my wooing of the blooms I fear, however, that I am rather a fickle lover. One time it is roses, at another carnations, at another, tulips.

But it was not until the summer before last that I suddenly discovered the rare beauty of the dahlia; and I fell a ready victim of that versatile blossom's infinite variety of charms.

But here my passion for correct nomenclature leads me into the performance of prodigious feats of memory. In my rosarian days, indeed, I had been able to name off-hand some seven or eight hundred varieties. I regarded this as something of a record; but my new love, the dahlia, now threatened to test my powers of memory even more severely.

I had already inspected blooms and ordered bulbs in various nursery gardens, and had committed scores of names to memory, when I heard one day of a rather unlettered gardener - but a born son of Adam and a past master at his trade - whose success with dahlias was traditional amongst the elite.

Now, this man not only had a remarkable variety of rare dahlias, but he was able to recite the name of each with a readiness rather astonishing in one so uncouth in other respects.

I had ordered many bulbs when I was suddenly attracted by a bloom of a peculiar red shade of which I asked the name. It was the "Sea-Rise," the gardener informed me.

The name seemed somewhat strange, but so are many other dahlia names, such as "Moon-rise," "Sun-set," "Canary," "Bacchus," and so on. So, committing this name carefully to memory I ordered a dozen bulbs.

Next summer my dahlia bed was a glory; but Queen of them all way my remarkable "sea-rise." I was inordinately proud of it; and when a noted botanist, hearing of its fame, came to inspect my display I was flattered beyond words. The "Sea-rise," I told him, was my pride. I called his attention to it. I named it repeatedly, begging him to admire my "Sea-rise" above all other blooms.

He was polite and admiring, yet looked at me, I thought, a little strangely. But when he flattered me still further by asking for some of my bulbs, I was quite overcome, and asked him to name his choice.

First of all, he said, he would certainly like a bulb of my beautiful "Cerise." I looked at him blankly, saying I had no such variety; but he assured me I had. Pronunciation, he said, was a matter of choice and it was still a beautiful bloom whether one called it "Sea-rise" or "Cerise."

"Well," said the monologist," human nature is like that. From that moment my enthusiasm for dahlias evaporated completely!"

His eye sought my sympathy, when, suddenly his eye was attracted to a small vase of flowers that decorated our table.

I knew the blooms to be single chrysanthemums of daisy-like appearance, and rather recently introduced.

Suddenly my bald friend's interest quickened, and he beckoned the table waiter.

"George," he said, "those flowers are quite new to me. What is their name?"

"Them, sir?" said George, with ready compliance. "Why they're a new sort of Gizanthrum."

"Gizanthrum?" murmured the little man. "Why I never - How do you spell it?"

He hastily produced a notebook while George hesitated. But, today the monologist had bored me to tears, and I knew no conscience. I spelt it for him.

"Ah, thanks," said he. "Gizanthrum. Why, I feel a new enthusiasm stirring already. I must order some for my garden."

"Do," I said. "You will have quite a new thrill."

Herald, 15 May 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003