This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I was much pleased with Mr. Stauffer's remarks, in the March number of last year, on our native Pyrus coronaria, the American or Garland Crab Apple. He, Mr. S., is an excellent writer, - good, sound logic always seems to flow from his pen, - and, that he loves the beautiful, is also evident. He lets us know his heart is where it ought to be, and feels "as happy as a king "when beholding a crab tree.
It occurs to me, that when a boy, and reading of a traveler (Waterton, I think), returning home, after a long absence, observing, that "of all the beautiful or wonderful sights he had seen, at home or abroad, nothing pleased him so much as the sight of an old crab tree, blossoming in a hedgerow at the margin of a wood."
"happiness, our being's end and aim, Good, pleasure, ease, content, whate'er thy name." I endorse every word the genial Stauffer and other aesthetic writers say about the crab apple. To quote his language, "A more beautiful object cannot be found when in full bloom, together with its delightful fragrance (early in spring)." He may well ask, "Why is it that we do not find it in cultivation?" "There's the rub." His description of its merits, I assure the reader, is no exaggeration, and it ought to be in every garden or lawn. It would be the glory of the greenhouse in winter, and would seem, either in groups or as isolated bushes, the loveliest of the lawn. In many respects it far surpasses the favorite Cydonia japonica as an ornamental shrub. It flowers more freely, and is as sweet as a Bon Siline rose. In the Southern forests, the blending odors of the Carolina jasmine Gelsem-ium sempervirens, and Pyrus coronaria. are as exquisite as any floral perfumes can possibly be, and are far more refreshing to inhale than frankincense and myrrh.
I think the reader, ere this, will have discovered the writer loves pretty things, and they may feel assured that he would willingly sign a round robbin, vote in person or by proxy, hold up his right hand, or both hands, in favor of doing justice to the Garland Crab Apple.
Before, and during the war, it grew abundantly in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. I met with it in the neighborhood of Columbia, Beaufort, Daufuskie Island, Savannah, Saint Augustine, Fernandina, and Knoxville. I presume it grows there still, unless the indignant people living in those parts grubbed them all up when it was suggested to "hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree." Why "a sour apple tree" instead of any other, I cannot imagine. I shall never forgive Mr. Doggerel, who first hinted at putting such a beautiful tree as Pyrus coronaria to so base a purpose as to make a gibbet for any one. It would have been equally as consistent to have advised smothering the unfortunate man with flowers.
As Mr. Meehan observes, "It is singular that in all the botanical excursions of the editor, he has never ran against this tree." No doubt he will some of these days, and (providing he does not break his shins when doing so), will say something pleasant about it. In the meanwhile, I will tell the editor how I "ran against this tree."
When in charge of Wade Hampton's estate, in South Carolina, during "the piping times of peace," I was often amused with the exciting narrative of a coon hunt, one of the chief delights of a darkey. So, "just for the fun of the thing," I proposed to join the sable "Nimrods" in the hunt about to take place that night. About nine o'clock I heard a negro quartette approaching, and as they advanced from a copse of magnolias and evergreen oaks, I heard them singing lustily the celebrated coon-catching epic, "Sittin' on a Rail." The hero of the poem, it seems, was a daring darkey, who fearlessly, bravely, and stealthily, regardless of consequences, crept up to "De raccoon sittin' on a rail, an' sleepin' berry sound, Den he cotch him by de tail, an' pull him to de ground."
But, as the sequel will show, in this instance, he was not "sleepin'berry sound." He was "a wide-awake coon." The night was more than usually pleasant, so calm and cool, and almost as light as day. Nature seemed to be at rest all serenely.
"The moon was bright, 'twas a shiny night, In the season of the year."
I honestly believe we all felt as merry, if not as brave, as did either Earl Percy or Douglass, of "Chevy Chase" renown, as we filed off along the forest path. " With axe or brand, no braver band, advanced to face " - a coon.
The chief hunter rejoiced in the name of Long John, while his henchman was equally proud of Bogus. The next name on the roll was Festus -"most noble Festus" - followed consecutively by the valiant Soger; then, yours respectfully, W. T. H., and lastly, though not less famous, Vinegar, and whom all acknowledged to be "de best dog dat eber treed a coon."
Now, in many respects, Vinegar was a remarkable canine, and I say it advisedly; he was the leanest and mangiest pup that ever ran before a tail. Indeed, he seemed to be a "cur of low degree," and to have, as his looks indicated, a very dogged way of his own. Notwithstanding, he was, to his credit be it said, in possession of more than ordinary dog talents in circumventing rats, rabbits, 'possums, and coons, and was honored accordingly. Bogus and Vinegar were bosom friends by day and bed-fellows by night, and had for several seasons lived and loved together. Long John was considered a good man, and I believe he was; he was (what I believe they call), a Gospel expounder on the plantation. In some respects he resembled Saul, who, "from his shoulders and upwards, he was higher than any of his people." He was also a man of might in his way, having had some desperate encounters, as he described them, when "wreslin' wid de spirit, befo' he was 'ligeous." When I remarked that I thought the spirit must have been a plucky one that durst attack a man like him, he replied, "De dibble wusn't half so plucky.as he 'peer'd to be, wen he wus well tackled; he mostly got de wust of de scrimage." Just fancy Long John and the other black fellow in a tussle.
Well, he was just as good and useful on the coon-path as he was terrible when on the war-path.
After wandering about some time, through bogs and swamps, until I was weary and wet, in fact, I was in a shocking plight, Vinegar had the credit of treeing a coon. Bogus, approvingly and with much gusto, remarked, "Binegah am de most cunnin' ole man dat eber wag a tail, shuah." Then was heard such a hubbub, yelling, hooting, howling, and barking round the tree as was never heard before from four men and a dog. All the time the chips flew fast and furious, as they vigorously applied their axes to the butt of the tree. Poor blackamoor! how much they seemed to enjoy the sport, and how I laughed to hear them cracking funny jokes at "de gemman up de tree," whom they invited to comedown "an' 'zamin' massa Binegah mouf, case he got de toof-ache, shuah!" I really pitied the poor creature, and hoped he would escape. It did not seem a fair fight - five to one. The rotten tree soon yielded to their efforts, and began to lean over. The excitement seemed to increase as it fell, when to the astonishment of all hands, three coons scampered out of a hole, and together fell foul on Vinegar. Thus beset, the beleagured "Binegah" seemed to be getting the worst of it, until Festus interfered.
Aiming a blow at one of the coons, he missed it, and buried his axe in the dog's side, and disemboweled poor Binegah.
"Great Goddlemighty!" exclaimed Bogus, and looking at Festus, said, "See what you niggah fool dun, you murdid poo' Binegah shuah!" In an instant Bogus was down by the dog, vainly attempting to close up the frightful gash in his companion's side. The big tears flowed copiously from the master's eyes, and fell fast upon the face of his dog, whose life-blood was welling away.
In the mind's eye I see the picture now, and a more pitiful sight I seldom have seen, than the poor weeping negro rubbing his rugged cheek on the dog's, and sobbingly commiserating with his dying friend, and exclaiming, "Poo' Binegah! ole man, you dun fo' now! No mo' rats, no mo' possum, no mo' rabbit, no mo' coon, no mo' nuffin, - an' no mo' Binegah! Dis chile will miss de poo' fellow! Sally, miss de poo' fellow! and de chill'n miss de poo' fellow! Eberybody miss de poo'. fellow! Goddemighty, bress us all!"
After gently patting his dead friend for the last time, and throwing some leaves and grass over him, he looked steadfastly at the most ignoble Festus, and pointed at the blood-stained grass, but never a word said he. Festus only laughed, which stirred up the hot blood of the tamed savage, and ended in a passage of arms, or rather heads, or more correctly, butt and counterbutt. Quick as thought, Bogus ran his head butt into the stomach of Festus, and sent him sprawling in the grass, who, on gaining his feet, returned the compliment, and staggered Bogus. Then stepping in between, as seconds are supposed to, Long John supported Bogus, while Soger did the like service for Festus; when it was decided, according to the code duello, their wounded honors had been redressed in a chivalric and noble manner, becoming to gentlemanly combatants, they shook hands, feeling assured their fair fame was untarnished.
After all, it was a more sensible manner of deciding nothing than white fools usually take, when they run a muck at each with knives or swords, or try to shoot bullets or buckshot into each other's hides.
The raccoons had stampeded, as might be expected, while "the moon with her sober countenance " placidly looked down at the scene where the jasmines and crab apples bloomed profusely.
In conclusion, it only remains for me to say that my better half informs me that in her native State, New Jersey, she remembers when a girl, in the neighborhood of Mount Holly, seeing quantities of the Garland Crab Apple. So it is probably nearer Philadelphia than you are aware.