National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Mexican Love of Flowers NOT so long ago I climbed to the top of the great pyramid shown in the lower corner of the opposite plate and looked out across that great mountain-rimmed plain on which are strewn the relics of what certainly was a most remarkable civilization. Standing there, one could but wonder what the appearance of those temples and palaces really was when peopled by their proud build ers. Did they stand there resplendent, but bare, beneath a burnished sun? Probably not. Historians seeking to reconstruct the past so often are prone to interpret life in terms of dated battles that they sometimes forget what must have been the everyday items of living. It is no accident that, today, one finds the average Mexican patio filled with potted plants or cluttered with hanging baskets drool ing startling assemblages of ferns, trailing vines, or succulents. And it is a mean hut indeed which does not have some sort of cher ished decorative plant, even if grown in noth ing more than an old tin can. This love of plants is so widespread and goes so deeply into the lives of the Mexican people that it certainly must be a heritage out of the antique past. I have watched Mexican gardeners tending their plants. There was no fumbling as if it were something new to them; theirs was a deftness such as is not to be acquired in one man's lifetime-theirs was an understanding of plants stemming from cen turies of accumulated garden lore passed from father to son in a long chain of generations. We know that the ancient Mexicans had ex tensive gardens, even before the coming of the Conquistadores, for Cortes encountered veritable botanical gardens and stood in awe before their floral splendors. And so I should like to think that those old Aztecan warriors, cruel as they must have been, had the wide avenues of their cities lined with trees and that their temple and palace grounds were planted to pleasant shrubs and flowering herbs. It must have been so; otherwise the love of green growing things would not have persisted so strongly in their descendants. Gone now are the crested war riors, gone are the pompous ceremonies of the ancient priests and kings, gone are their ter raced gardens-all turned to dust and rubble. Out of this ancient way of life the only thing that really lasted was the love of beauty and of flowers, cherished through all the bitter years in the hearts of the Mexican people. There surely must be a moral somewhere here, but I am not philosopher enough to point it out and so can only light my pipe and go about my business. DAHLIA: Unlike so many plants, the first Dahlia introduced into European gardens was not of the wild or "single" type, one example of which is shown in the opposite picture. Already the old Aztecan gardeners had so hybridized and selected the garden Dahlia for unusual forms that, even today, we are unde cided which of the various wild species were its ancestors. More recently, hybridists have made available a wide variety of forms, and it can be truly said that the Dahlia is King of our late summer gardens. Grown in large quantity, the winter storage of the tubers is sometimes a problem if one is not properly equipped. However, many gardeners have learned that certain types of Dahlia can be grown from seed each year. Seed sown in a sunny window in late February or in March will produce plants for setting out at the usual time; if "pinched back" several times to make them branch, these will grow into quite sizable bushes by midsummer and produce a wealth of bloom. The flowers prob ably will not be of the massive "double deco rative" type but will abound in interesting shades and forms, usually being of the "single" or "semiwild" type. Dahlia seed is now being offered by commer cial seedsmen. Should some individual seed ling plant prove particularly interesting, its tubers can be lifted and stored in the usual manner, to be planted out the next year. The genus Dahlia was named in honor of Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist and pupil of the great Linnaeus. Decorative as they are, Dahlias first were used by the ancient Mexicans as a source of food. The tubers contain a healthful starch like substance called inulin. TIGER-FLOWER (TigridiaPavonia): Gaud ily spotted, the Tiger-Flower must have been common in Aztecan gardens, for it was sacred to the jaguar ("tigre") cult. The lower of the two examples shown is nearest the wild type in color; garden forms now also come in vary ing shades and patterns of lilac, yellow, and even white. It is a mystery to me why this unusual and striking member of the Iris Family is not more often seen in gardens, for it is not difficult to grow. There is no reason why any gardener, even with limited space, cannot make his own hybrids and select those color forms he likes best. Grown from seed, Tigridia plants flower freely about the third year. The corms are lifted in the autumn and stored; in fact, Tigridia culture is so similar to that of the Gladiolus that it should cause no trouble.