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.
Owing to the call of business, I have been spending the greater part of the past two months (May and June, 1876) in the northern counties of Texas. It is possible that a short sketch of the horticulture of this region as it appeared to a Kansan may be somewhat interesting to the readers of the Monthly. The soil is principally of two classes called "black land" and "sandy land." The black land is a composition of the richest alluvium, and lies in hills partly prairie and partly timbered. Since the wild fires have been checked by settlements, the timber growth is greatly increasing and will soon obliterate many of the smaller prairies. This black land is the natural home of the Osage orange or Bois d'Arc, pronounced Bo-dark by the natives. This tree furnishes the most durable wood that I have seen. Even the oldest trees lying dead in the forest are not decayed. The elements slowly wear away the particles of wood, but there are no signs of rot as in most kinds of timber. Fence rails made 30 years ago show no signs of even rotten splinters. Another species of elm called there the Cork Elm grows on both black and sandy lands, and extends north quite half-way through the Indian Territory. The leaves are only one to one-and-a-half inches long, and of the usual shape of the other elms.
This foliage is very neat, and with the graceful weeping habit of the branches makes a charming ornament. There are two narrow ridges of corky bark 1/4-inch high, opposite each other on the two-year-old branches that look very odd and give it the name Cork Elm.
The almost exclusive timber growth of the sandy land is the Post Oak.
In no country have I seen the Pear growing with such vigor and freedom from blight, except the "grand traverse region" of Michigan. It is true that I saw slight indications of blight on both pear and apple, but in such small degree that nothing serious may be looked for. Pear trees 30 years old are sound as a silver dollar, and (although this year prevented from bearing by a spring frost) since coming into bearing have not failed to produce abundant crops of fruit. Upon the black land the apple does not seem to flourish. The cause is not apparent to me; some say it is excess of lime in the soil. There is a great abundance of this mineral in the soil in places where the apple does poorly, but whether or not the lime hurts the tree is a puzzle to me. I might have stated before that the whole area covered with this black land is underlain with a sort of magnesia limestone (?) that is sawed into blocks for chimney building, etc, as easily as if it were wood. Exposure hardens it, and by heating gradually will stand in fire-places for a lifetime. Its color is gray, and in some quarries almost white. Where this rock is nearest the surface, and in decomposing fragments in the soil the apple seems to prove the most unsuitable. Some of the geologists and chemists ought to look up this matter.
The farmer and fruit-grower may have very mistaken ideas of the causes of failure. Some that have tried it say that by digging large holes and putting sandy soil in them, brought from some neighboring sandy country, the apple will grow, if planted therein, although the surrounding soil be ever so black. Another character of the black soil is that it is very waxy, and when dry weather comes on, in August and later, great cracks appear that will admit of a fence rail being thrust in endwise its entire length. It is dangerous to ride a horse across the country then, they tell me. Under such circumstances, the soil dries in some cases to the depth of ten feet. And yet these same persons tell me that crops on this same soil withstand the drouth two weeks later than on the sandy land.
Although the sandy land seems' far better for the apple than the other, yet the pear, peach, quince, grape and all the berries seem to do equally as well as on the former, in fact, excluding the apple and the currant, I never saw a batter soil and climate for fruit-raising than the counties of Texas along the Red River.
Oh, such roses as they grow in Texas! The old-fashioned town of Bonham, in Fannin Co., has been one grand rose garden all the month of May, and the perpetuals were yet in bloom when I left, the last of June. The tender Tea roses, like Marechal Neil, glory in the balmy air, and with common treatment yield a profusion of flowers almost the whole year. The carnation thrives admirably. A gentleman there (Mr. Peters) has growing some splendid seedling carnations that would grace Horticultural Hall at the Centennial, were he able to show them there.
The delicate passion flower adorns the old fences and waste fields, and is a great pest as a weed, being hard to exterminate. Perhaps I have found a novelty; if not, I will expose my ignorance (which is real) by saying that near an old fence I found growing wild the passion flower of the purest white and much larger than the common purple species. Old citizens said they had never seen another of like character. Another beautiful flower that grows wild in abundance on the black land only, is the Ipomopsis elegans or standing cypress of common fame. Its brilliant scarlet spikes glow in many a grassy, weedy nook, where the sun finds ready access. Taking it all in all the people of north, ern Texas have a glorious country in which to grow fruit and flowers.