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.
At Combe Wood, in Surrey, is the tree nursery of Messrs. J. Veitch & Sons, of London. It is a pretty rolling piece of ground, with hills for those trees that love to be above others, and deep peat beds in the lower parts for "American" shrubs, and such as love the shelter and rich soil of the valleys. It is remarkable how much better the plants of our country do here than at home; but I should not say plants, for it is only the evergreens. The deciduous trees do better here than in England, though most of them do well enough on the whole. It was a great treat to find here many of our own plants, but which we seldom see, because so few nurserymen in comparatively new countries have the encouragement to keep novelties as they have in older ones. Here for the first time I saw living plants under culture of the Fremontia Californica, a very beautiful shrub with orange colored flowers. When I say that this is allied to the Althaea, it is botanically true, but yet it will give no correct idea of the real appearance of the plant. Of the many things new or old that I saw here, I think few things were more beautiful than the blood leaved Beech, trained as pyramids. Clothed with branches to the ground,, few trees could surpass it.
Here are some newer colored leaved things, however, that will make their way. A blood-leaved Norway Maple, Acer Schweidleri, and the Golden Cottonwood, are surely of this number. Much attention is given to variegated, silver and gold, coniferae especially of cypress, arbor vitae, and allies. To my taste they are not remarkable, but in England there seems to be quite a"rage" for these sort of novelties, and the nurserymen have therefore to keep immense stocks of them. I fancy, however, that it is the terribly long Latin names given to these varieties that chiefly attract. Roses were immensely grown. They were then in the budding season, and expected to finish 60,000 before the season closed. Most of the stocks are of the Dog Rose, though I saw a block of about 4,000 Mannettis waiting to be manipulated. The part more exclusively devoted to evergreens occupied about 56 acres. Here, as in most first-class places, much attention is given to making fine specimens by trimming, and in keeping them in honest condition for customers by frequent transplanting. Some of the rarer kinds were especially beautiful to behold.
What would our readers think to see in an American nursery numerous specimens of Sciadopitys six feet high, Retinospora lycopodoides five feet, and a beau-tiful thing it is, every inch of it! Retinospora filicoides five feet; Juniperus chinensis aurea, four feet; Picea Alcoquiana, five feet; Prumn-optys elegans, the new Japan yew, three feet; the Washington yew, six feet; and so on of numerous others."But how about the prices ?"
Well, away up in the guineas; but we will not talk about that to-day. I had the pleasure here of Mr. Court's company, who is the well-known American traveler for the firm, and it seemed like being with some one from home.
It is not my purpose to go into detail in these hasty sketches. I will only say that I found a much greater trade in hardy perennial, rock, and permanent flowers, generally, than I supposed; a much larger trade in Orchids and rarer palms and leaf plants; a very great trade in Evergreens; a comparatively limited sale for deciduous trees, except of the few English native trees, as Oak, Elm, and Ash; and in comparison with what we in America do, very little business in the beautiful flowering shrubs. Once in awhile there seems a run on some few items. In improved Clematises thousands on thousands are sold. In fruit trees our people would say that there was nothing done. The most showy articles in this line would generally be peaches for growing on walls or in houses. These seem always grafted on plum stocks; and as they grow in the nurseries, light sticks are placed to make the trees grow fan-shaped. A peach tree nursery here looks more like one of our vineyards with these stakes in every direction. Apples and pears, however, are often met with in orchards of an acre or two; but I must say that in no instance did I see trees which on the average were near equal to the average of our American trees in health and beauty.
And this was true also of the orchards of the northwest of France; and I have no hesitation in saying that while we are far behind the people of these two countries in the knowledge of many branches of gardening; in all that pertains to fruit culture we are a very long way ahead. The cherry seems to be much more popular in France than I supposed. Orchards of immense extent abound in every direction within a hundred miles of Paris; but I was surprised to find very few of what we suppose to be "fine French varieties" at all extensively grown.
But I will again step back to London once more, for I was anxious to spend a day or two in wandering about alone over the spot where I was born, and about which the first four years of my life were spent. I traveled along the same road over which Johnny Gilpin in times long gone took his famous ride. I went from town to town - for here in this miniature world of England you can get through a dozen of them in a day, - trying to recall some one spot. But the great one, the deepest seated in my childhood's memory, I once thought I had found. I had been toddling along the road side of a market-garden, and the raspberries hung temptingly from their prickly boughs. The hawthorn hedge had no terrors for me. I crawled through, but the ogre in charge saw me and gave chase, but alas! a stump caught my apron string, and I was held fast until justice caught me; and I was made to "remember coming in there as long as I lived".
As I thought I recognized this spot, I inquired whose that quaint old house might be ? and was told Mr. Shirley Hibberd lived there. It was near the" Seven Sisters," and though this revealed to me that I was a good long distance from the location of my early adventure, it was just as well with me, for Mr. Hibberd is a brother editor, as every one who reads the Gardener's Magazine, as many in America do, very well know Mr. Hibberd is well known for his devotion to hollies and ivies; and as I entered the carriage gate the profusion of these two beautiful evergreens testified that I was truly informed as to who their owner was. But the front steps told as well that I was at the house of the author of"Homes of Taste;" for a more beautiful sight I never beheld. Quite, a number of steps lead to the front door, but on each side was a bank of zonale geraniums, scarlet, white, pink, all in full flower. They were grown in pots, and so arranged on each side that they seemed living balustrades. I was fortunate enough to find Mr. Hibberd at home, and we had a right good"old" time for it was to Mr. Hibberd's magazine, then the Floricultural Cabinet, that I paid my first horticultural subscription to forty years ago, and to whose pages I made my first horticultural contribution, showing how to raise"double stock gillies,"' nearly as long back as my subscription dated.
Mr. Hibberd's strong point seems to be a thorough love of the beautiful in nature, and a taste for that more cultivated intelligence which can throw a charm around the common things. In my wanderings among the horticulturists I found his Magazine almost everywhere, showing that it was very extensively read. The few hours I spent with Mr. Hibberd ended a very pleasant day. The Horticultural, or as they are justly more proud of saying, the Gardening press of England, is a great power. On the tables of the most intelligent, although you might not anticipate any gardening proclivities, you may not be surprised to see the Gardener's Chronicle, of which Dr. M. T. Masters is the editor-in-chief. Being somewhat of an"onrestless person," as a good darkey in Mississippi once told me, I was always out when the good doctor did me the honor to call at my hotel, while it was my misfortune never to catch him in; and I am sorry to feel that I failed to master all the ins and outs of London, but I hope for better success another time. The Journal of Horticulture, another excellent paper, edited by Dr. Hogg, is also doing good work, but this also I failed to get a chance to hear of by word of mouth.
I was more fortunate with the Garden, for in my determination to study Covent Garden Market to perfection, I had taken my hotel almost over it, so that I could see all from my bed-chamber, and it chanced to be right near the Garden office. This is a large three story building, occupied wholly by the business of the Magazine, and, if I remember rightly, owned by the editor Robinson. The success of the Garden has been wonderful. It was started at a time when it was thought there was no room for more; but it had its own specialty, and kept to its own path, and has more than fulfilled its projector's desires. The colored plates in connection with a weekly work, is an effort of great magnitude. One hundred have already been issued. But besides the great labor attendant on editing the Garden, Mr. Robinson is continually at work preparing new matter for new editions of"Parks and Pleasure Gardens," "Hardy Flowers,""Alpine Plants" and other books of which he is the author. All these papers have excellent assistant editors attached to them,whose acquaintance it was a pleasure to make.
Indeed I do not know of greater profit to me on my whole jaunt than the little time I was able to enjoy with my newspaper friends.