The illustrations in the centrefold have been reproduced from Cuthbertsons "Pansies, Violas and Violets". This was first published in 1898, and so I thought it worthwhile to review a little of what was grown a hundred years ago. The plan of the Regent's Park bedding scheme is interesting, especially in the light of Colin Andrews' excellent account of his own experiment. There is no record of just how many violas were bedded out, but as the scale is 24 feet to one inch, it is clear that this was a major undertaking. Thus we are unlikely to see such displays again in public parks; but quite possibly a few members might be inspired by Colin's account to attempt something on a less grand scale. I for one will look at my regimental plot and think again.
I wrote some while ago on Show Pansies as the cinderellas of the pansy world. Those shown here I believe are typical of their time; I looked through some old catalogues just to remind myself. The dark self is no longer with us, although I do believe that it could be reintroduced. The majority of the remaining Show Pansies are in the white or in the yellow self group; 'Tom', 'Wendy', 'Anne', 'Jessie' etc, and just the one white self that is at present unidentified. The yellow and white grounds have 'Blackfaulds Gem' and 'John Rodger', although their margin colours are both purple. I do not include 'Lynn' as the margins of this variety have the serious fault of "skipping". That is a tendency to break up and show the ground colour. This also happens on feathered tulips and laced pinks. There is work being done to improve the colour range and perhaps in the not too distant future we may have a better choice of what we grow and show in this class.
Now to violas. If we look at the page 1 page 2 eight examples it is quite easy to name several varieties, both garden and exhibition, in six of the groups. We are well blessed with edged flowers, which always seem to catch the eye. In fact, so striking is the margin of 'Catherine Williams' that many overlook the lack of a clear-cut eye. 'Winifred Jones', 'Etain' and 'Zara' are just as stunning in the garden border. White and yellow selfs are legion in bedding varieties, both with and without rays. Here my choice would be 'David Weldon' and 'Woodlands White'. On the show bench, 'Helen Cochrane' is the best white but we do lack a good deep yellow self. The dark selfs likewise favour the garden with a wide choice, 'Alma', 'Admiration' and 'Lord Plunkett' to name but three. Exhibitors are really limited to 'Jimmie's Dark'; a hint here for any would-be hybridists. Striped blooms appear to have been in short supply, and the varieties shown would easily pass as 'Sarah Binnie' for the garden, 'Elaine Quinn' or the slightly larger flowered 'Winifred Wargent' , both draw comment from visitors. Finally the Fancies, we really do not have anything approaching the markings of either 'Countess of Kintore' or 'The Mearns', both listed as garden varieties. Roy Genders describes 'The Mearns' as "plum with white top petals", suggesting that it was still in cultivation as late as 1958. The Exhibition Fancies are all of purple hue with splashes of lighter colour, 'Agnes Cochrane', 'Glenroyd Fancy', 'Ann Robb' and 'Mrs. M. B. Wallace' have all been on the bench in recent years. Perhaps the nearest garden variety we have is 'Gladys Finlay'; again there is scope here for those who would wield the pollen brush.
In terms of host cultivars the last hundred years would appear to have been catastrophic. Of all the varieties listed in Cuthbertsons book, only two varieties remain in cultivation; 'Bullion', however, it is very easy to look back and grieve the losses and perhaps we should rather consider what we now have that was unavailable in 1898. 'Irish Molly' springs to mind at once, along with 'Molly Sanderson' . Here are two colours not seen in the Victorian borders. The violettas were without 'Rebecca' and consider the range of cornuta hybrids now available. On the show bench I am sure that 'Elizabeth Christie' and 'Peggy Brookes' would have raised a florist eyebrow or two. For the next hundred years? Read through the lists in Rodney Fuller's Complete Guide; which varieties do you think will survive the test of time. In the meantime we really should be conserving the best and attempting to breed better varieties for garden and show bench.
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