The instance just recorded of horticulture playing a prominent part in the breaking up of friendships is by no means unique. When one comes to think of it, one cannot be surprised that as the earliest serious quarrel recorded in the history of the world was over a purely horticultural question—namely, whether or not the qualities of beneficent nutrition attributed to a certain fruit had been accurately analysed—there should be many differences of opinion among the best of friends on the same subject.

It was my old gardener—not-the oldest of all, but the second oldest—who told me how it was that the annual prize given by the Moated Manor House people for the best floral display of the cottage order was very nearly withdrawn for ever, owing to the bad blood that was made by the award, no matter in what direction it was made. It seemed that the prize-winner invariably found himself compelled to accept the challenge to fight of all the disappointed aspirants to the prize, and before nightfall there was a general distribution of black eyes and front teeth; in some cases both got inextricably mixed up, and this was no pleasure to anybody, my informant assured me, and the wives of the men who were keen to compete for the prize discouraged them from it, with the warning that if they continued to spend their time over the cultivation of the blooms they might some day actually find themselves awarded the prize. That warning, founded as it was upon sound sense and reason, was beginning to produce its effects upon the better class of flower growers; but there were still a number of young fellows who went into training at the punch ball at the Church Institute club-room the day they sowed their flower seeds, and so were at the top of their form when the award was made in the early autumn, so that if one of them got the prize he thought if a pity that his training and practice at the punch ball should be wasted, and thus he was ready to prove to all disputants that the prize had gone to the best man; while it was only to be expected that those who had only had the cold consolation of honorary mention were only too ready to dispute his ability to maintain such an attitude for any length of time.

The result of this joint cultivation of bulbs and biceps was not just what the givers of the prize intended to achieve, and twice, when there had been arrests and summonses to petty sessions, a formal warning was issued to all whom it might concern that if the connection between the two cultures were not severed, the prize, which was only meant for success in the one, would be withdrawn.

Happily, however, it was not found necessary to enforce this ultimatum, and a modus vivendi, founded upon one which had been understood to work very satisfactorily in the case of the Chrysanthemum Society of Mallingham, was adopted, and up to the present this had made for peace. The annual Battle of Flowers at Thurswell has become a thing of the past, and “Midge” Purcell, the ex-lightweight champion of the county, who rents the Lion and Lamb Inn, and to whom the candidates for the prize applied for advice on the biceps side of the joint contest, affirms with regret that Englishmen are becoming degenerate.

It was a peace-loving florist at Mallingham, the honorary secretary to the Chrysanthemum Society, who explained the system upon which his committee had agreed to make their awards, and urged its adoption by the Thurswell people. Its operation was not intricate. Its fundamental principle may best be defined on the analogy of the rotation of crops as the rotation of awards. Like the award of the Garter, merit had nothing to do with its scheme. The prizes were awarded strictly in turn to the professional competitors—the others did not matter. Mr. Johnson got the chrysanthemum cup one year, Mr. Thompson the medal for the best twelve cut lilies, Mr. Cardwell the Malmaison salver, and Mr. Prior the vase for the best display of greenhouse ferns. The next year it was arranged that the vase should go to Mr. Johnson, the salver to Mr. Thompson, and so forth. By the adoption of this admirable plan the judges were saved a large amount of trouble, and there never was any friction between the competitors, for it was understood that if it was Prior's year for the lily medal, but he had a liking for any other prize, he could nearly always negotiate an exchange with the man whose turn had come for the award that he fancied. This principle of give and take, live and let live, had made the Mallingham Society one of the most popular floricultural organisations in the country, and its adoption by the Thurswell Committee of the Manor House prize brought about, as has been said, an entire cessation of that ill-feeling which led to the use of language that was certainly not the language of flowers, and to many-discreditable scenes even when there were no arrests made. The cause of peace has triumphed, though some people say that floriculture languishes through the lack of heal thy rivalry; for when every man is certain of the prize when his turn comes for it, he does not trouble about the flowers. There may be something in this suggestion.

Taking one consideration with another, it really does seem a pity that the rotation system is not more widely accepted by those societies which have been established for the encouragement of sundry excellent objects, such as the breeding of bull-dogs (for symbolic purposes), of pugs (of no use to any one when they are bred), of pigs (of which the prize-winner is invariably the most uneatable), and of pets (in various forms). In our neighbourhood such organisations are to be numbered by the dozen, and after every prize distribution the air is murmurous with the complaints of disappointed competitors. It was a shrewd farmer who suggested to me the principle on which the awards are made at our local dog show. “The reason why there's so much grumbling, sir, is because the judges look at the wrong end of the leash,” he said, and I understood what he meant.


I know that the impression is very general that the pedigree of the exhibitor rather than that of the exhibit influences the local judges.

But I must confess that I could not bring myself to sympathise with one of our new residents who, after living in London all his life, bought Harley Croft House, a 40 h.p. motor-car and six pairs of gaiters, and set up as a country gentleman. It must be acknowledged that at times he looked a colourable imitation of one. He hoped that his starting of the breeding of cattle and fowl would consolidate his position. But his researches in the literature of both subjects at the same time resulted in some confusion. Of course his pointing out some drab-tinted cows to the steward of the Manor and alluding to them definitely as Buff Orpingtons was a slip that any one might make; but to hope to win sympathy for a wrong done to him by the judges at the poultry show by affirming that his bantam cock was really twice the size of the one to which the prize had been awarded was, I think, a strategical mistake of a flagrant character.

Much more in the spirit of the country gentleman was the remark made to me by a neighbour who hunts five days a week in winter and talks about hunting seven days a week in the summer, on a purely literary subject. He had been at the Military Tournament in London the year that The Merchant of Venice was being played at Her Majesty's Theatre, and he confided in me that he thought on the whole it was very fine indeed, though for his part he enjoyed The Runaway Girl at the Gaiety more fully. He could not quite understand the point of some of the jokes in The Merchant of Venice, he said. For instance, he should like to know what there was to laugh at in the chap's saying to the Jew that some one had shown him a turquoise which he had bought from the Jew's daughter for a monkey. Any one who knew anything about precious stones knew that to pay a monkey for a single turquoise, even though set in an 18-carat ring, was to pay a fair price. Of course you couldn't get much of a diamond ring for twenty-five pounds; but you could get a first-rate turquoise for half the money. But there were some people, he knew, who would laugh at any joke if they were only told it was in a play of Shakespeare's. I agreed with him, and laughed.

That was not the sort of man who would make a fool of himself over Buff Orpingtons or cherish his bantams in proportion to their size and weight.

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