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.
This distinguished horticulturist died on the 9th of May last. Next to the late Prof. Lindley, we regard Mr. Van Houtte as having exercised more influence on the elevation of horticulture than any man of the past age; and anxious to show our appreciation of his services, we sent to Europe for a portrait before making any note of his decease. Having now secured an engraving especially for our readers, we give it with the following account of his life and services, and for which we are indebted to the London Journal of Horticulture. We have selected this account to go with our engraving, as it seems to us one of the fullest accounts that we have seen:
"A giant in horticulture is gone - Van Houtte is dead. On the 30th ult. we held converse with him at the Brussels Show, and on the 3rd inst. we shared the hospitalities of his table in his home at Ghent, regretting his sinking frame, but admiring his energetic horticultural spirit, and enjoying his sparkling wit over the social meal. We know somewhat of the habits of this remarkable man, having sojourned with him in response to the following invitation: - ' Come and see me. You dine with us, you sleep with us; you go into my nursery and into my house when you like; you have all you want; vou stay as long as you like;' and then with definite earnestness - ' you stay a month.' That is an example of the heartiness of the welcome which he gave to strangers - a specimen of the hospitality for which he was proverbial. Of that visit which occurred three years ago the following was written: - M. Van Houtte is a gentleman of robust physique and vigorous intellect, and subjected to his penetrating vision a nervous man might feel himself the subject of stock-taking and being read all through.' He has not much time for polished ceremony or to press courtesy to an unpleasant extreme." Like many another eminent man he is a great listener, and seems content for the friends around him to do the conventional talk, himself sitting and speaking only to the point, His characteristic is soon seen to be matter-of-fact exactitude, which is one of the greatest acquisitions any man can inherit or acquire, and which in the end will serve him the best.
Van Houtte's is a house of work. Each one has his or her duties in conducting this great business. Even the daughters of the household - of charming manners and genial - have their share in foreign correspondence, their maternal parent being chief cashier. Van Houtte spends his whole time in his business bureau. He has not been all round his nursery for three years, yet is cognizant of everything in every part of it. From five to eight every morning is occupied in arrangements with different foremen, and if it is never seen, still the governing head is felt in every corner of the establishment. Surrounded by a large staff of clerks every detail of management is arranged in the bureau, the chief himself commencing work between one and two o'clock every morning, and working inbessantly until 8 P. M. with less than one hour's intermission, and this not in any particular season, but constantly from one year's end to another. What a lesson it teaches, that there is no royal road to success, and is one more example that those who have won have worked - worked with rare zeal and perseverance irresistible in pressing to the goal of success.
That is a brief sketch of his character and position then, but now he is dead.
This excellent man and highly skilled horticulturist died at his residence in Gendbrugge-lez-Gand on the 9th of May. He was nearly sixty-six, being born at Ypres in the June of 1810. The mere enumeration of the offices and honors conferred upon him are a sufficient testimony to his great merits. He was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Brussels; Director and Founder of the Horticultural School at Gendbrugge; Administrative Member of tne Royal Agricultural and Botanical Society of Ghent; Member of the Royal Botanic Society of Belgium, and of a great number other horticultural and scientific societies, &c; Mayor of Gendbrugge; Knight of the Royal Order of Leopold of Belgium; of the Imperial Order of Saint Anne of Russia; of the Royal Order of Portugal; of the Imperial Order of the Rose of Brazil; Commander of the Spanish Order of Charles III., etc. At the recommendation M Alexandre Verschaffelt, M. Van Houtte settled at Ghent in 1839, and commenced the publication of the "Flore des Serres" in 1845, and continued without any interval its editor as well as proprietor until the time of his death.
He was the son of a military engineer who was engaged on the fortifications of Antwerp, and dying when his son was young the training of the latter was confided to his mother, but, as is very usual, had an inclination for studies very different from those of his father. He was devoted to floriculture, and being a good botanist was engaged as a botanical traveller to search for new plants worthy of cultivation in South America, the coast of Central Africa, and elsewhere. He was subsequently Curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Brussels, and afterwards joined an Englishmen with a view of establishing a business in Britain. To this enterprise he was too confiding, entrusting his capital to his colleague with the result as expressed in his own (Van Houtte's) words - 'I have not seen that man or that money ever since.' In continuation of the narrative of his life and business he further remarked - ' I came back to Belgium to start clear. I had little money but plenty of health. I bought the little plot of ground where you saw my porter's lodge. That was all I had thirty-five years ago, and now you have seen my place. It has all been done by hard work. But,' continued the man who had so much respect for his assistants. ' I did not make it all myself; my men did it, my good men.
I have foremen on my place who have been here from twenty to thirty years. My plan has been this: mark it - When I have a good man I keep him, I do not part with him for any money. When I have a bad man I will not keep him if he will pay me, for a good man makes other men good; a bad man makes other men bad.' Those are true words worthy of being reproduced. In them is embodied a policy which has proved to be a sound policy and successful, and which in the third part of a century has resulted in one of the most extensive businesses in the world. In the conduct of that business - 'this,' once said M. Van Houtte, ' is my plan: I do the best I can for my friends abroad, and the best I can do for my friends at home and my men in my nursery, and when I do the best I can for all these I do the best for myself.' These are 'words of wisdom,' uttered by a man who had proved their worth - a man who was a ' tower of strength ' in his generation, and whose memory will be cherished in all civilized countries where it has so long been a ' household word.'
The funeral took place at Gendbrugge on the 12th inst., attended by a large concourse of the population. Among those who were present were Comte de T'serclaes, Governor of the Province; Comte de Kerchove, Bergomaster .of Ghent; General Baltia; M. Dumont, Counsellor at the Cour de Cassation; Professor Morren of Liege, M. Crepin of Brussels, M. Yobert, Director of the State Railways; M. Oswald de Kerchove, M. Kickx, M. Rodigas, M. Pynaert, M. Ambroise Verschaffelt, M. J. Verschaffelt, M. Charles Van Geert, many public functionaries, and about two hundred workmen connected with M. Van Houtte's establishment. This vast crowd could not be accommodated in the house, and they therefore congregated outside in the nursery, surrounded by the brilliant achievements of their departed friend; and here Comte de Kerchove took the opportunity of addressing those assembled in feeling terms on the brilliant career of the renowned horticulturist. After an address from M. Pynaert the funeral cortege moved off in the following order: - The Corps d'Harmonie of Gendbrugge, a detachment of infantry, the clergy, the coffin covered with the burgomaster's uniform and the decorations of the deceased.
The workmen of the establishment placed upon it a magnificent crown, and immediately behind was a deputation from workmen not connected with the deceased, who carried another crown as their last homage to their patron. The pallbearers were Prof. Morren, M. Ambroise Verschaffelt, M. Seymortier, Alderman of Gendbrugge, and M. Gust, Guilmot. The funeral service was celebrated at the church of Gendbrugge, which was far too small to admit the crowd, consisting of 1500 persons.
At the grave three Hoges were delivered; the first in Flemish by M. Guchteneire, the two others in French by Professor Morren and M. Aug. Van Geert.
A notice of M. Van Houtte would be incomplete without some reference to his nursery, even if it embraces but an outline glance and includes but its salient points. The business connections of the establishment extend not only to every nation in Europe, but also to North and South America, China and Japan. The nursery, which we recently visited, is situated about two miles from Ghent. There is no external show of grandeur, no parade of wealth which those who are truly rich and great - the aristocracy of nature - never display. Yet if men of great acquirements and substantial resources do not revel in show, they work with perseverance in every honorable and legitimate way to achieve success; and above all they take care that what they have for the world the world shall know about.
M. Van Houtte not only availed himself of the agency of the press, but his catalogues were distributed with a liberal hand. These catalogues were not merely trade lists, but have long been manuals of reference and guides to many readers. The correctness of the several issues is generally admitted, and both the information and the manner in which it has been conveyed have been instructive and entertaining. But numerous and extensive as have been these issues, they are small in comparison with the great work published periodically of the " Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l'Europe." This work is a monument of its late proprietor's and editor's taste and industry. It has reached its twenty-second volume, and contains 2261 colored plates, 2300 woodcuts, and 4500 articles relating to horticulture. Specimens of these plates adorned one of the walls at the late centenary exhibition at Brussels, and were awarded the first prize for horticultural publications - the large silver-gilt medal. M. Van Houtte also published a serial work on fruits - the "Pomona " - also with colored illustrations. In the issue of these works, and the energy displayed in producing the colored plates as truthful and as perfect as possible, the art of chromo-lithography was considerably advanced.
No more striking sight is afforded in the nursery than the preparation of these plates. In a long corridor-like building are fourteen or fifteen presses, and the entire process from the first sketching of plants to the final coloring by hand of the several plates is conducted. That may be termed the fine art department of the nursery, and has long given employment to several workers. It is a wonderful feature of a wonderful place, and is probably - in connection with the nursery - unequalled by any establishment of the same nature in the world.
M. Van Houtte was not only a manufacturer but also a raiser of plants, and he is worthily commemorated in one of the sections of the genus Gesnera. Houttea includes the species of which G. pardina is a type. Of this family of plants, in their various sections, more new and valuable varieties have been raised here than in any other establishment; and when the collections are flowering their rich velvety foliage, elegant habits, and variously colored flowers demonstrate how superior they are, and how effective for summer, also winter decoration. The Gloxinias are worthy of especial mention. We have seen fifty thousand of these plants flowering in the nursery, seedlings planted in leaf mould and protected by glass lights. Of this number raised annually it is seldom that more than a dozen are selected to add to the catalogue list, the remaining corms being classed iu categories and sent by the hundred to different parts of the world.
It was in this nursery that the splendid Ber-tolonia Van Houttei was raised, which caused such a flutter of sensation by the wonderful combination of glistening colors playing on the foliage - a plant which won gold medals wherever it was exhibited. It is impossible, however, to enumerate a tithe of what has been raised here, but we must not pass silently the Azaleas, of which many of the finest varieties extant of A. indica have been raised in this nursery. Some of these were noticed in our report of the Brussels Show, but one, a charming semi-double white C. Van Eckhaute, was omitted. It was from this nursery that A. mollis was first distributed, and nowhere else can such fine and striking varieties be found. Azaleas of all sections are planted out during the summer, and are potted or mossed in the autumn, and sent by thousands to all countries.
Camellias, too, are another staple of this nursery, and in the autumn of last year probably 500,000 plants might be seen and all grown in pots, some being plunged in brick pits and others placed in the avenues formed by Lombardy Pop-ars where the plants could enjoy shade without drip. Tuberous Begonias are here seen in brilliant array and in the foremost varieties of the day; they are also planted out in leaf soil during the summer.
The glass department is very extensive, the structures being mostly plain brick pits with span roofs. There are also some very large houses, one being about 100 yards in length, resembling a railway tunnel; another is quite circular, having been originally erected for the Victoria regia and other aquatics, but now occupied with Palms. Altogether there are upwards of forty houses, with pits and frames innumerable. These are all filled with plants of almost every genus usually cultivated under glass, which are propagated and sold in a wholesale manner.
The nursery grounds are also very extensive, and are now intersected by a line of railway. The different quarters are divided by hedges of evergreens, the enclosures forming bulb gardens; gardens of herbaceous plants, in which the establishment is very rich; hardy fruit gardens, Rose gardens, enclosures for deciduous trees, and evergreens. Such is an outline of this great nursery.
Shall we enter the large white family dwelling? No need to speak of the hospitable welcome which has been so long accorded to all and every wandering horticulturist. But we may briefly sketch the business bureau where its owner for so many years labored with indomitable energy and herculean strength. Alas! that the central point of interest should be now the "empty chair!" There the great man sat, spurning a coat, even a vest, when in the discharge of his duties. Without rising from his chair he could by a system of wire communication summon whom he wanted from any part of his nursery. There he sat with his several clerks before him engaged in correspondence in every European language, himself guiding, directing and transacting his large business, and conducting his literary work. There he was surrounded by his fine library of horticultural books, amongst which, of course, a long series of volumes of the Journal of Horticulture and Gardeners' Chronicle were arranged and referred to. But now he is gone.
An united family have lost an honored head, and horticulture has lost one of its best ornaments.
As the best biography and greatest memorial of a man is written in his work, we have given this sketch as faintly shadowing the character of him whom "many friends of many nations mourn. M. Van Houtte has left behind him a rare example of industry; he was a man of great botanical and literary ability, and his memory will be cherished at home and abroad, and his name will be mentioned as one both honored and illustrious.
He has left a widow, two daughters and a son, who will continue the management of his nursery. This son, M. Louis A. Van Houtte, has attained to manhood. He is a gentleman of activity and an accomplished linguist."