This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
As we walk through the streets of our leading American cities in these, our times, it is not unusual to read that Hong Wing, or Hang Lee has a " Laundry," and you may enjoy from the street the sight of a pig-tailed head, placed on the top of a sort of nether garment, squirting water from its mouth on the whitened linen before it. In Paris you read it as " M.Blanc, blanchiseuse" and the frequency of these"Blan-chisseries" is suggestive of a very cleanly set of people. What struck me as singular was that what I took to be the "washer-woman" was always a big,burly man, who seemed to be lazily sitting in the street door, while a dozen or so of delicate girls plied the implements of their trade within. It did not look right to see the " washer-woman" having so easy a life; but when I saw him arranging a little bouquet, and placing some pretty flower pots in one of the windows, I felt sure there must be some good in his heart, and I finally found that he was not the"woman," but the one who took the heavy goods home, and did other unwieldly work. It was a lesson how easily one who goes hurriedly through a strange land, may be mistaken in his impressions, and it makes me very careful how I put down my experiences.
But I think there can be no mistaking that the love of the French people - Parisians at least, for flowers is a very universal one, pervading all classes, from the highest to the lowest alike. The roofs, the windows, the backyards - wherever it is possible to stow away a flower, a flower is found. I was interested in a small shoe-mending shop. It was so small there seemed scarcely room to '"turn round." A narrow cot bed at the end, indicated that the shop was his " castle" as well. He was sitting on its edge drinking coffee with a crust - the bread, by the way, being all crust in Paris. It was evident that all the room possible was needed in his little business, but he spared of this treasure for his flowers. He was willing to spend even his alabaster box of ointment on that which he loved, and thus his little window and shelves were full of floral beauty. Of course we can see instances of this pure devotion in other lands, once in a while, but I give it here because it is not exceptional. It is rather the rule in Paris.
It is on account of this universal love for dowers that the flower markets are so great a success; and those who go to Paris without seeing the flower markets lose a great treat. There are a large number of them in different parts of the city. They are given up wholly to flowers. The one I have just now in my mind is in the '"Place Madeleine." The broad square is paved with artificial stone, and very neat iron pillars support as neat slate roofs, so as to make shelter from sun and protection from rain, but open on every side. Familiar names showed that the stands were occupied by the best classes of French florists, but the rare and choice plants themselves told an intelligent story, endorsed, as we might say. by the attendants, whom I found to have a much more correct knowledge of the plants they were handling than is usual among the sellers of plants on the. street corners, or ordinary markets of other lands. The classes of buyers, too, were evidently high. Ladies, elegantly attired, and attended by their servants, were making purchases as freely as those, of more limited means, whose sou was as much to them as the Napoleon to their neighbors. And it seemed to me that good and choice flowers brought higher prices than such do in our country.
Of course the poorer class of articles are cheap - very cheap. A bouquet, tolerably well made up of ordinary flowers, I was asked 35 centimes for; and as I walked away the saleswoman called after me, " then what will you give me for it?" as if I had thought the eight or nine cents of our money too much. But then there were plenty of bouquets that would have taken a dollar and a half or two dollars of our money to buy. Five francs, or a dollar, buy very fair bouquets of half-blown roses. Palms and rare ferns were very common among the higher priced plants, and were found, I was told, to do much better as room-plants than the ordinary flowering things. The most common articles were (it was July) small India rubber plants, Aralia papyrifera, Forget-me-not, Carnations, Fuchsias, Camellias, Marigolds, Geraniums, Jasmines, and among pretty things in great abundance not so often seen with us, the Fueharidium,a Clarkia-like plant; Convolvulus minor, grafted Mesembryanthemums, Veronicas, Viscaria oculata, and the true double white Oleander. In many cases the growth of the plants would do no discredit to some of our horticultural exhibitions. On one pot of scarlet Verbena 1 noticed twenty heads of flowers, all in beautiful bloom.
Candytufts and Venus' Look-ing-Glass, and a hosts of common plants, made up the general view. Cactuses and succulents generally seemed very popular; our old friend, Rochea falcata, with its beautiful crimson flowers, was quite common, and the Crassula coccinea was a very common plant indeed. The pretty way in which the plants are offered, sets the market off. Many of the pots are washed clean, and enveloped in pure white paper, the leaves and flowers peeping out of the top like the fabled fruits from the mouth of the cornucopia, gilding even the Lily, and adding fresh beauty to the handsomest flowers. The market is thickly planted with the Pawlownin, our Blue Trumpet tree, and is an agreeable change from the everlasting Sycamore and Plane, beautiful as in themselves they are.
In another part of the city, up by the Bois de Boulogue,are the gardens of the Acclimatisation Society, which are well worth seeing, as it is thought to be a model by many for imitation here. It is a sort of stock affair; but is nearly or quite self-sustaining by low admission fees, 50 centimes. It is really not much more than a zoological garden. The " Acclimations" we fancy, do not go for much. In some particular departments, the collections are tolerably full. Imagine a vineyard for " testing" varieties, in which were growing fifteen hundred and eighty-four kinds of grapes! The large glass house was prettily laid out with winding walks, rockeries, ferneries, and with most of the plants, such as Camellias, Araucarias, Acacias, planted in the open ground. It would no doubt be a charming Winter garden; but imagine a climate where a large house like this needs no heating apparatus and then do not wonder why we " do not see such things so often in America;" so with the flower markets. People who go to Paris, come back surprised at the lukewarmness of the American people, and large " flower markets as in Paris," in all our large cities are being continually urged.
But it is not that Americans are not as fond of flowers as the French, but with our houses closed from the frost in"Winter, and the sun in Summer, window and house gardens, as we see in Paris, is impossible.
I must, however, leave all the nice gardens and parks, public and private, to take the readers to the Jardin desPlantes, before we say good-bye to this fairyland. After a grasp of the hand of good old Mons. Houllet, whose name in connection with many new plants, the cultivator so well knows, I was fortunate in finding in Mons. Neumann, assistant Director, one of my early companions, who, not like so many of whom I inquired in my travels, had not yet gone to " the Spiritland." It was a treat to him to have to scour up his rusty English, and me once more to hear my mother tongue. The gardens are full of celebrated trees - historical in their botanical relations, accounts of which are neatly painted and attached to them. Here is a"Judas tree," 7 feet round, which the plate tells us was planted by Buffon in 1775. There is the first Robinia - our Yellow Locust - nine feet two inches, round, " planted by Jean Robin, in 1C01." Connected with the gardens are museums of science, and in them rare horticultural remains find a place.
Here there is preserved a piece of the celebrated Beech tree which lived six years after being completely girdled, to the dismay of vegetable Physiologists, who were sure it ought to have died within twelve months after; and then there is the trunk of a Date Palm, sown in 1810, and died in 1872, having in that time made a stem of nine feet high. Many things, alas! died in 1872, for the Siege of Paris was hard on the gardens. The shells of the Germans had no respect for glass, and the tenderest plant fell into the arms of the frost king, as the whole city did into the arms of the German emperor. Of course, the gardens, grounds, and museum buildings are not what they have been. Military troubles can do in a day what it takes weeks to restore, but the French government is doing a great deal to revive the ancient glory of the gardens, and large numbers of workmen were digging foundations, for new buildings and repairing the old ones. In the Botanical department, large letters told of the"Herbier Durand," the gift of the former Philadelphia Botanist as a sign of his patriotic love for the land of his birth. Here encased was the chief work of a lifetime.
I may be wrong, but I have an impression that it has been but little used, and it led me to think whether it would not often be better to donate these scientific remains to active workers, but whose means may be limited, than to load down public institutions which perhaps regard it as a favor to you to receive them. I know of a Philadelphian who took this view. He wished before his death to arrange his effects. His scientific material did go to a public institution, but the books went to a worker. There will be little future"renown" perhaps, in this case to the benevolent Quaker who took this course; but he has the satisfaction of knowing that his act is being made such use of now, that thousands are being benefited by his good deeds, when not a score perhaps would, had his books been buried under the dust of some public library shelves. The arrangement of the grounds is much more in view of Botanical science than are those of many similar establishments in England; yet the many beautiful specimens in the plant houses, the shaded avenues 0f Linden and other trees, the nicely ornamented grounds in connection with the zoological department, make the gardens a very popular place of resort.
At the time of my visit, the houses were gay with orchideae, and the aquarium drew large numbers of visitors by reason of the blooming of a beautiful rose-color variety of the sweet water Lily. It was marked Nym-phsea dentata. The botanic garden proper is divided into sections for the testing of various things. There is a vegetable testing ground. Lettuce, cabbages and such things, were growing together in great variety, all neatly labelled for the instruction of whomsoever might look on. Then there were all sorts of plants used in the arts, in commerce, in medicine, and in the various pursuits of man, all neatly labelled. These labels are of different colors so as to indicate the different uses of the plant. A green color may indicate a poisonous plant, a yellow an edible one, and so forth; and charts explaining the color are freely placed about the grounds.
It was pleasant to notice in Paris how her horticulturists and agriculturists and her men of science generally, are honored. Streets, squares, public buildings are named for them; and thus, while you may be drinking from the Fountain Cuvier, you are reminded of how great were the benefits which the science of these great men conferred on the people at large.
I have no disposition to underrate America. Indeed, after careful comparison of all sorts of things, I feel that in very many things we are far superior to Europe, and in many things, too, an which we are very apt to underrate ourselves; but in this matter of honoring science and the useful arts by public respect to its professors, I must say we are a very long way behind the French people.