This section is from the book "Flower Gardening", by H. S. Adams. Also available from Amazon: Flower gardening.
If you would add joy in the flower garden, make a hobby of some particular flower—or flowers. Here is the crowning touch that raises garden pleasure to the last degree of height. To the ordinary joy of the collector—any garden is a collection, pure and simple—it adds the joy that can come only through selection, as distinguished from mere aggregation.
The aim may be, but generally is not, the exclusion of all save the subject of specialization. The usual plan is likened fairly to the way of a man who collects books, but makes Burns his hobby; who collects paintings, but prides himself on the accumulation of Corots, or who collects postage stamps, but lays chief stress on United States issues. Certainly there is no need of exclusion; it is possible to have numerous friends and yet prefer one, or a few, above others.
A peculiarly happy note to this hobby is the fact that it is open virtually to all; rich and poor, in some way, may ride it to their heart's content. Probably none who has played the game with much money has got more real enjoyment out of this sort of specializing than some Lancashire weaver with his auriculas—the pride of what little time he could call his own. He knows well enough that so far as the sheer pleasure of playing for "points" is concerned! his "bob" is quite as good a coin as his rich neighbor's "quid".
An American prototype of the Lancashire weaver, in spirit, is a hard-working young business man. He happens to have a special liking for China asters; so, while he grows other flowers, he makes a hobby of his favorite one. The result is a really absorbing outdoor interest from May all through the summer—a little while in the morning and a little while in the evening, on week days, he potters with his China asters and on Sundays he studies his crop at leisure. He would not miss the little money that he expends for seed, but, as a matter of fact, he comes out with a profit. Living as he does, in the suburbs of the city of moderate size in which he is employed, he is able to sell to a florist at a fair price all the cut blooms that he cares to bring to town on summer mornings.
China asters, of course, are a case of making a hobby of a single species—or, more strictly, a glorified species, the form as developed through cultivation being known botanically as Calltstephus hot* tensis. It is a hobby that may be tolerably expensive if one cares to ride it to the limit. This is because there are so many strains, each with its several color divisions. The assortment offered in three American catalogues would cost from six to ten dollars for the seed alone, while one English list— the prices run higher—totals above thirty dollars.
It would be a pleasant task to grow all strains in all colors, if only the fittest were intended to survive in the end. Completeness, however, is not everything to a collection of flowers; it might be subspecialized to great advantage, even going so far as to reject, say, all save a certain strain of China asters. A hobby that gives you the reputation of growing the finest Early Market, Ostrich Plume or late branching asters for miles around is certainly something. Just now the single China aster, which is an intentional reversion toward the original species (Callistephus sinensis), offers a fascinating subject for a restricted flower hobby. This new race has a grace that the double kinds lack and, both for bedding and cutting, the pink, mauve and white kinds are exceeding beautiful acquisitions. With the bold golden center, the crimson is at least a better mixer than the unfriendly double of the same shade.
The other extreme of flowers hobbies is concentration on a genus rather than on a single species. In many cases this, taken literally, might be the despair of even the largest botanical gardens, let alone the amateur; not only do numbers sometimes mount up appallingly, but a genus may be so distributed geographically as to render it next to impossible to keep a complete representation flourishing in a given group of outdoor and indoor gardens. Fortunately it does not have to be taken literally—least of all by those to whom the growing of flowers is more a matter of recreation than of botany. Make your interpretation liberal, not literal, and just as liberal as you choose; it is your hobby, no one's else.
Look over the principal genera that have come into garden cultivation and then decide on the one that most appeals to you. Maybe that very one already is represented by a species or two. If it is not, make a start with one or more of the easiest species—which you may be sure are those most commonly catalogued—and then add others from time to time. Study, the while, this genus from the botanical point of view; see what Bailey's Cyclopaedia of Horticulture has to say, for one thing. The more you study the more you will become absorbed, and it will not be unusual if your desires show a disposition to get way ahead of your time and money conveniences. But do not let them; you can ride your hobby slowly and sanely and have just as good a time.
Perhaps it is the lily genus that is decided upon. This would be a fortunate decision indeed; for American gardens are so badly in need of more lilies that every one who makes a hobby of them is a benefactor to this and future generations. You And the genus catalogued as Lilium, the particular species being indicated by a second Latin word; thus the botanical name of the tiger lily is Lilium tigrinum.
Make a start with some of the easy species, such as L. tigrinum, L. croceum and L. speciosum. At the same time that you are learning to grow these to perfection, familiarize yourself with the way that lilies separate themselves into groups, largely according to the form of the blossom, and get a clear understanding of the reasons why some lilies are more difficult in culture than others, and to what extent such difficulties can be overcome. There are eighty or more species of lilies in culture, but with a little research—that will be a great pleasure—it will not be troublesome to separate them into zones of difficulty, through which you may care to venture farther and farther as the years go by. Very likely it will not be many years before you find yourself trying to persuade those lovely, but tender, pink lilies, L. japonicum and L. rubellum, to stay with you by guaranteeing special attention to their wants in the way of food and winter bedclothing.