This section is from the book "What England Can Teach Us About Gardening", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: What England Can Teach Us About Gardening.
Perhaps my reader does not know these three types of greenhouse, and perhaps, therefore, he may not understand why they clash. Well, then, any florist's rose or carnation house is a plant factory. There is not a particle of romance in it. Every line of it means business. It exists solely for cut flowers. In this type of work America excels England, but it is no great credit to us. A few years ago the American people spent more money on cut flowers than on plants. The English love to live with plants the year round and so shall we when we learn better. Meanwhile, the first thing an American usually thinks of when he plans a range of private greenhouses is roses and carnations — the very things in which he cannot expect to compete with professionals who grow them by the hundred thousand. It is all well enough to grow a few roses and carnations, but to have no other idea of using greenhouses shows a deplorable lack of imagination.
Now a picture of the tropics is a very different thing. To step into the largest house at Kew is to enter a new wonder world. For there you will see all those great features of the tropics that have for centuries amazed the minds or stirred the hearts of mankind. You will see great palms and monkey puzzles towering up to a height of fifty feet or more, bananas bearing their fruit in huge bunches, the traveller's joy with its hidden cups of water, pitcher plants with insects drowned in their alluring cups, orchids that feed only upon the air, the bird-of-paradise plant) with its undreamt of colour scheme, the marvellous Madagascar lace leaf and such deathless forms of beauty as the papyrus plant, the sacred lotus rising above the water, gorgeous blue water-lilies like those that floated upon the Nile and the orange tree producing simultaneously its fragrant bloom and richly coloured fruit. A greenhouse of this kind is mysterious, enchanting, full of moods. Of course the illusion is not complete, but nevertheless it is the " real thing" because it presents the spirit of the tropics in forms that powerfully stimulate the imagination. (See plate 47.)
How different from all this is the conventional hot-house in America. It may have all the plants I mentioned, but the spirit is gone. Everything of natural grandeur or world-old charm is crowded by a host of modern interlopers which make no appeal to the mind — only to the lust for show. I refer to gaudy foliage plants like crotons, dracaenas, and variegated kinds of pandanus —the veriest weeds of the tropics. There is an endless feast of colour,fform, and texture in ferns alone without going outside of nature's leaf colour — green. Palms, too, would be a delight if we ever gave them room enough to show their simple majesty. But everywhere the unconscious aim is to fill a greenhouse with the showiest plants that have the longest season of showiness.
There is nothing wrong in foliage plants as such. The aspidistra, the sanseviera, the cyanophyllum, the marantas, and many of the anthuriums have something beside mere brilliancy of attire; they have some native refinement, dignity, charm, or personality. The only wrong thing is to make foliage plants the dominant feature of a greenhouse — to substitute dress for soul. If you are tired with the day's work, it will rest you to wander silently among the gigantic shapes of the tropics. But there is no spell of enchantment in a house dominated by rex begonias, for they smack of the milliner's window at its worst. There is no "universal element" in cheap variegated plants like Vinca major, wandering jew, acalyphas, coleus, abutilons and what an Englishman would describe as "all that sort of rot." They do not feed the soul.
The soul, however, cannot be soaring all the time, and for practical, every-day purposes the living-room type of greenhouse may be the best. The oldest way of satisfying the craving to live amid flowers in the winter is to have a conservatory, i. e., a living room to which plants in their perfect state are brought from a greenhouse where they have been raised and whence they return after their beauty is past. But a conservatory usually lacks the sincerity and charm of a place in which every stage of a plant's life is 6pent. And I can think of nothing duller than the respectable conservatories that one sees in America's greatest cities. There is one in New York which a friend of mine calls " the morgue." It has cold marble-walls, and contains not a solitary flower —only the regular florist's "truck," viz., rubber plants, Boston ferns, and the commonest palms. These are estimable plants in their way, but they are done to death and against walls of white marble they stand out with almost funereal blackness.
How much cheerier and inspiring is Mrs. Stewart's indoor garden at Glen Ridge, N. J.! (See plate 48.) Fancy a room about fifteen feet square, with real grass for a floor, and a border of earth out of which grow bulbs, shrubs, and even young magnolia trees as naturally as out-of-doors. There is no hot, steaming atmosphere and there are no artificial benches or narrow concrete walks. You may walk on the lawn as freely as outdoors or sit in a chair upon the grass and listen to the birds singing overhead, while you look out through the glass sides of the living room upon a world of snow! No wonder this is the most popular living room in the house! And to think that all this can be had for only $1,000 or $1,500!
THE FAMOUS COLLECTION OF ROSES AT KEW, A FAVOUPITE RESORT FOR ARTISTS. IT HAS SOMETHING MORE THAN RARITY, VIZ., PICTORIAL QUALITY. THE BIG OPPORTUNITIES FOR ROSE IMPROVEMENT ARE SKETCHED ON PAGES IOI AND 102.
"Very fine," you may say, "but what has England to do with all this?"
"Nothing at all," is my cheerful reply. England may have a great many important lessons to teach us about greenhouses. If so, I missed them all. In manners and customs and all the externals of life the two countries are steadily growing farther apart. In every department of gardening England's message to us is: "Do not copy the beauties of other countries; study your own needs and adapt your own materials to those needs".
garden, flowers, plants, England, effects, foliage, gardening