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.
One of the most striking contrasts between what may be termed the average crowd in England and America, is a certain respectful tone mingled with considerable familiarity on the part of the former. The typical Yankee of the story-books comes at you at once with the air of an old acquaintance. He acts as if he thought that in this world one man is about as good as another, if not a little better; and he sticks his questions right into you without any compunction or apology whatever, as if no one you know has any better right to do it. Not so with the Englishman. He goes in pretty closely at first, but lands a long way off in a sort of cat and mousical way that leaves little room to be offended by the time he brings up. It was in Wiltshire, and he had a tolerably nice beaver at the summit, and a "La Reine" rose (about four inches over) on the lappel of his coat. We had just emerged from the station, and with hand towards his hat, he very politely remarked, "American, I observe, sir. A great many Americans call here, sir." Of course you can only reply, "Indeed!" and he at once responds "Yes, sir; and we likes' em, too.
They is gentlemen who never bothers about odd sixpences".
We found in the long run that our friend was the owner of"flys," and we made up our minds that we knew a thing or two, and that there should be no occasion for any"bother about sixpences." To think you can see this beautiful country by railroad, is a fraud. I found the best plan was to take a "fly" for the day, and go your own road, and suit yourself to your own time. This was my first experiment at "flying".
I found our friend of the beaver hat in due time.
"How much," said I,"will you charge to take us to the Marquis of Salisbury's? As you remarked, we are Americans, and are perhaps liberal, but we like to know beforehand just what we are to pay." It was twelve miles out, and the bargain was made that for eighteen shillings we should have that"fly" for the whole day, and "we could pay it to the driver "on return.
We hand the driver the money when back, who takes it very thankfully, and we close our pocketbook, but are brought up with, "You have not remembered the tiger, sir." "Remembered the tiger!""Yes, sir; every gentleman remembers the tiger, sir, and I was sure you would like me to tell you, sir, what the gentlemens here does." It is no use, of course, and we half surrender with, "Well, how much is it ?" "We allays leaves that to the gentleman hisself, sir; but they never thinks, sir, the tiger worth less than five shillings." And the five shillings go, for you cannot forget that an"American never bothers about sixpences." But it is over, you think, and you feel relieved. But not yet, my friend. " There was four puts up, you know, sir, and these cost a shilling each - four shillings." It begins to be rather warm, and you say, "We enquired first what we had to pay, and was told just eighteen shillings.""Yes, sir; its all right, sir; that was for the horse and fly, sir; but every gentleman, sir, pays for his horse when he is fed." It is all done so genteelly, and so politely, that I think the American man comes rather to like these extras at last, and never feels so happy as when he has a "bob "between his fingers just ready to bestow on the first appeal to his"gentlemanship".
But that"fly ride" to Lord Salisbury's was worth all we paid. We passed the monument which told of one of the bloodiest battles between the adherents of the Red and White Roses. Far behind us, towards the great city, we could just see in the horizon the glass domes of the great Alexandra Palace twinkling like a hundred stars in the morning sun. In the fields in every direction were hundreds of mowers at the hay, swinging the old scythes one after another as unconcernedly as if there never was a Yankee mowing machine in the world. Men with forks were turning, and girls and women with hand rakes gathering hay together, just as it used to be in the olden time. It brought up all the poetry of hay-making, and seemed to put our plain matter-of-fact way of disposing of the crop at a sad discount. But of course farming is for money; we were out for a pleasure ride, and had but the poetry to see. All around were country seats, some small and full of art. others immense estates glorious with the touch of nature. But no matter how large or how small the gardens might be, they were always well cared for. We go through our country, and we see where people have built great houses, and laid out large grounds when they were well off but now in neglect and weeds.
It is still the "style" to keep the house, but no one seem to think he has gone down in society because he lets his garden go down. But here the sign of his status hangs from his garden, and when he lets that go down, he may bid good-bye to his rank, and take"apartments" somewhere. It was certainly among the most remarkable of all our English and French experiences, that a neglected garden, in the sense in which we should understand it, never came once before my eyes Once I thought I had this unique sight. The gate entered from the public highway. For many rods the gardener took us through rank weeds higher than our heads - much to our surprise, till the old gardener explained that "it be a notion of master's. He think the thieves be fooled, and won't bother themselves to come in after the fruit." And we must say that the garden proper, when we got there, was a model of cleanliness. The currants and gooseberries especially, which thrive so well in the English climate, being sights to see. We ride along the-smooth turnpike road.
The hawthorns are out of flower, but the Dog rose, which, in spite of the assertion of the books - which give the name to the sweet briar - we look on as the real"Eglantine "of the poets, was in full bloom everywhere by the wayside, and filled the air with a perfume we doubt not fully equaled any that ever floated over"Araby the blest." The colors vary from white to deep rose, and the plants make huge-bushes by the wayside, often four or five feet through. Near these are the blackberries.
" That fruit full well the schoolboy knows, Wild bramble and the brake," the brake especially, or bracken fern as it is sometimes called, which grows in the parks where there is game, in immense profusion, for which it makes a good cover.
We knew at once when we came to the estate of the Marquis, not only by the profusion of this fern, under the huge old oaks, but by the immense quantities of Rhododendrons then in bloom, Laurels (or kind of cherry with huge evergreen leaves) and other things betokening the large landed estates. Besides this a wall of concrete lined the main road for miles along the estate. These walls are cheaply made of gravel mixed with the slacking lime, and then is put on as so much mortar between a frame of boards. This was a great failure, probably from the fact of the lime not having been properly slacked in the operation, or of too much clay being in the gravel, and the weather had eaten large quantities away, requiring, evidently, constant patching to keep it up. Those with me thought it an evidence that concrete walls were a failure; but in other parts of England I saw them"solid as a rock" after thirty years of use. It strikes an American strangely, after being accustomed to so much forest variety in his own country, to see so much sameness here.
In almost all the woodland you come to it is the same old tree - beautiful enough in itself, but when continually repeated, as it is, causes us to exclaim, that "everlasting oak!"
With so vast a field to choose from, the absence of variety in English planting is very remarkable. That I am not alone in this opinion, I may be pardoned, I hope, for quoting from a private letter from Sir Joseph Hooker, written since his return from America, and who says," It seems strange to me that your beautiful American trees are not more appreciated by our people. I believe they in time will be, though I may not live to see them grown up in grandeur as they are with you".
But our '"Tiger" announces that we are at Hatfield, and we are set down at the ponderous old oak gate. After a ring from a bell which might serve for one of our churches, a sort of port-hole flies open, and we hand our cards to the stately porter, with an inquiry for our old friend, the gardener, whom we knew among our associates; it did not seem so very, very long ago. But it was the same old story, "dead or missing;" and after the good old man had gone back over about a dozen names, we gave it up for a bad job, and not without some wonder at the many changes, for we had looked on a gardener's situation in England as one to be held according to the strict interpretation of the "tenure of office act." However, we were directed to "Mr. Norman," whom we found a comparatively young man, and, as it is a pleasure to say, with a full share of that intelligence which gives such a charm to the best Old World gardeners, and makes their company appreciated by what is called in the Old World"the highest in the land." The vegetable garden comprised about seven acres, had been but newly laid out, and had no box as yet; and in its unfinished condition it would perhaps be unfair to say that we in America can grow vegetables far better than can be grown in England and at half the cost; for no doubt much better results will follow when things are put to rights; but when we get to the forcing houses we see sights that make an American look out of all the corners of his eyes at once.
Of course, with our thousands of miles of territory, where, as I have seen, almost zero in Chicago, with oranges and scarlet sages two days after along the Gulf, there is not the same necessity for forced fruit; but this does not take from the merit due to the wonderful skill of the English gardener in forcing house fruit. Here-there were strawberries - not by the single one sliced to go all round, as one might suppose, but hundreds on hundreds, of a size which would not disgrace the fine fellows our Dr. Knox used to raise, hanging from the sides of the pots on the shelves or lovingly reclining on the earth in the pots in every direction. Strange, very strange, it seemed to me from a country where we are not satisfied unless we have a new kind of strawberry every year or two, to hear Mr. Norman avow that the best kind he had yet was the "Keen's Seedling," a variety which may soon advertise its "centennial show." But there were "Sir Charles Napiers', very large and handsome too, but not to be depended on like the Keen."' The grape houses occupied perhaps 300 feet of length of glass; and though the fruit was good for so early a time of the year, they were not superior to what we have seen among our own June fruit crops under glass.
The Foster's Seedling Mr. Norman considers the best white for early forcing. He also praises highly the Mad-resfield Court, a long purple-berried variety, which he regards as quite as good as Black Hamburg, and which ought to be high praise. The plants were also very interesting. There may have been about two dozen houses in all; everything good, but nothing so superb as the perfect pot strawberry culture. The park and grounds embrace about 1,500 acres, and under the gardener about thirty hands are regularly employed.
Almost all these old places are laid out on the same general plan - straight avenues of trees, often a mile or more in length, down which you look through the vista from the windows of the house. These trees were of Linden, and with the peculiarity which struck me strangely in many trees of England of having huge bulbous bases. Our trees swell a little at the ground, but here they commence four or five feet from the ground to swell, and in these the lower parts of the trunks were double the size, in many cases, of the upper portion. As already noted, the trees in England do not grow near so tall as ours, but they spread more; and I should judge these Lindens were not more than from forty to sixty feet high. I measured an oak here which proved 18 feet round, and yet could not be more that 50 feet high. There is nothing more interesting about these old places than their associations with remarkable events in history. It was here that Elizabeth, afterward Queen of England, was kept a sort of prisoner during her sister Mary's reign. She was very fond of gardening, and during her residence here she gave her taste free scope.
There is a walk lined with Lindens which have been sheared and clipped into arches and alcoves, planted by her direction, and which is still called Queen Elizabeth's Walk. But their comparatively youthful age seems to me to indi-date that they may have been set out in much later times. A tree which she did plant, an oak, is guarded with zealous care by a fence around it, though but an old stump now. Prince Albert set out two near it, one for himself and one for the Queen, which are thriving, and also are pro-protected by a fence. There is also on the ground a queer old maze, in which it is said the Princess Elizabeth loved to wander. This is of Yew, while the one I saw at Hampton Court was •of Beech. I should think after one journey through such a place the novelty would wear off. At least, on this occasion I was willing to sit on the grass and admire the"gowans fine," while my companion amused herself in the tangled paths; and I cheerfully submitted to her decision that I only remained outside for fear of being lost, and had not as much courage as she had.
It is said that in these grounds, while in her favorite garden walk, Elizabeth received the news of her sister's death, by which she walked out one step from this pretty prison to the heavenly throne.
It is one of the pleasant characteristics of the English aristocracy, that they take pleasure in sharing with the rest of the world the treasures of history and of art that they may possess, and it is rarely that a respectable person fails to gain admittance to any part of the establishment when the family is not at home. On the present occasion the only requirement was that we should leave our cards for the inspection of the Marquis, and enter our names in a book in the grand hall.
As everywhere we went, so here we found traces of America; for in the attendant's hand were cards from one of our Philadelphia neighbors, and of Mr. Munn - we supposed of the Scientific American - New York. Everything that may remind one of the past is religiously preserved, even to Queen Elizabeth's silk stockings - the first pair ever known in England - and her old garden hat. If I mistake not, the Marquisate was created early in the seventeenth century; and as the portraits of the gay lords and fair ladies hang everywhere on the castle walls, and there are mementoes of innumerable descriptions in every direction of all these distinguished people for these past three hundred years, the only regret one feels at seeing them is that he cannot have a few weeks instead of a few hours to study them.
Hatfield House makes no pretension to any superb gardening. There are many places far superior in these respects; but it is an average of the general run of these comfortable old homes, and so we selected it.
It was my purpose to take about three or so of these old mansions as a type of the grounds of the older section of England's nobility; but what can I do in a little magazine which comes out but once a month, and Methuselah's experience not likely to be repeated in any case. I cannot close the chapter on this branch without a brief sketch of the home of the Jenkinsons - a name historical in connection with English politics, and of which family the late Earl of Liverpool was so widely known; Buxted Park, in Sussex, and now in the possession of Colonel and Lady Catharine Harcourt - Lady Catharine being the daughter of the late Earl.
I have already noted how far away from school I was in my boyhood days, and how many difficulties were in the way of obtaining an education in the higher branches of intelligence. I often look back gratefully to the friends who kindly aided me under these difficult circumstances, and there are few whom, in after life, I felt so much indebted to for their warm and substantial encouragement, as to Colonel and Lady Harcourt. The last letter of good wishes, when a boy I resolved to leave my native land, was from them, and it was naturally grateful to find, on my landing in England now, a letter awaiting me. inviting me to spend a few days at Buxted Park. Lady C. had for some time been an invalid, and even intimate friends had rarely been admitted to her presence of late, and I thus felt it the more an honor to be allowed to see and talk with my early benefactress and friend.
The estates are very large - I am almost afraid to say how large, for fear I have forgotten accuracy, but I believe about 15,000 acres. The large house is delightfully situated among particularly grand old trees, and it is no wonder that it was a, great favorite with the Dutchess of Kent, and the Princess - afterwards Queen Victoria - who frequently visited there. Most of the trees that I met with in England gave the impression of under size in comparison with ours, but on this estate were some of the most remarkable trees that 1 saw in all England. In the old churchyard near the mansion house, is a Yew tree which measured twenty-six feet in girth several feet from the ground. I took the trouble to make an accurate measurement of its height, which was fifty-nine feet, and the diameter or"spread" of the branches was seventy-five feet across. I have no doubt the tree was much older than the oldest of the mammoth trees of California. As in most of the old English places, a grand vista formed by a double line of trees leads from the house. In this case these were of Elms, and were perhaps -eighty feet high. I measured an average one, and found the trunk fourteen feet round. Many specimen trees on the grounds were of majestic proportions.
A Beech tree, twenty-three feet in circumference, was quite remarkable, anda measurement near the ground - as so many measure - made it forty feet! The huge head was ninety feet across. Among English Ashes, twelve feet in circumference was a common measurement; and as they had had room to develop their heads for perhaps hundreds of years (for trees live to a great age in England, as compared with ours), they were perfect models of beauty. It is strange how much the climate of England favors long life in trees. One of the earliest introductions of our Locust is here eight feet round; but its life is nearly gone. Though the tree is native to our own country, I never saw it in such wonderful beauty as it exhibits in England and France. And then the Rhododendrons! On this estate they were truly grand. Specimens sixteen feet high, and nearly as wide, were common. They are planted here in immense quantities; indeed natural sown seedlings abound. Their favorite place of germination seemed to be under the coniferous trees. I lifted the branch of a beautiful Deodar cedar, in order to measure the trunk, and found seedling Rhododendrons in thousands beneath.
On my own grounds I have an Abies Pindrow, which I have been twenty years getting up to three feet high, and I could not but so far envy a climate which gave one here twenty-five feet. What a beautiful thing it is with age! The habit is pendulous as it grows. The Turkey oak, with its beautiful spread of branches, makes a grand object. I afterwards saw larger ones on other estates in England, but these - one nearly ten feet round - were large enough to be remarkable. One of the most remarkable objects in the tree line is a Silver Fir - Abies pectinata - which was thirteen and a half feet round, as perfect in form as we generally see this beautiful tree; but at five feet from the ground a huge arm extended itself in a horizontal direction. I suppose it was an accident in its younger days; but I wonder people do not often make such accidents on purpose, so as to have such picturesque objects as the trees grow.
I have already remarked on the general scarcity of American trees in English gardening. It was a pleasure to find more than usual here. Butternuts, Catalpas, Red Oaks, and others showed that we were quite at home. An Abies nobilis, some fifty feet high, was very beautiful, and the Douglas Spruces and other representatives of the coniferae of our western coast, made me wish our Atlantic district would grow things like these.
The flower-beds here, as is generally the case in most of the old English gardens, are on a complex geometrical plan, when near the dwelling, as more in keeping with architectural design. The more natural styles are reserved for the more distant parts of the grounds. In the geometrical gardens but one, or at best a few kinds are grown in each bed, arranged according to harmonies. The plants for these are selected by Lady Harcourt, as is the usual practice with cultivated English ladies, and the gardeners see to having all the kinds ready by bedding time in Spring. Hardy ferns are a great delight to Lady H., and the Fern garden is one of the attractions of Buxted Park. It is arranged as a rockery, in a piece of wood, with walks through in every direction, affording easy access to all. Here were many hundreds of kinds, species and varieties, all plainly and accurately named. I made here the memorandum, that while there were many things so beautiful in England our climate and circumstances would deny to us, there was no reason why any one who had a piece of woods should not have a hardy fern garden; and I made a resolve when I returned to my own land that I would have one for myself at any rate.
I had thought to give three sketches of large estates in this chapter, but it is already too long. I may perhaps yet give the third; but there are public parks, botanic gardens, cemeteries, woods and forests, and numberless other things I thought I would like to give brief sketches of, and all before Spring, when I may again fly away somewhere.
Since writing the above, the papers tell of the death of the good Lady of Buxted Park. An editor's life is not his own. Twenty years of association with his readers make a history that might be personal, partly theirs. In this view, the editor of the Gardener's Monthly felt no hesitation, in the former part of this sketch, in expressing his deep sense of obligation to Colonel and Lady Catharine Harcourt for their early countenance and encouragement, and without which this Gardener's Monthly might never have been his task. He believes that in his humble way his work has given pleasure to thousands, and who will therefore share with him his sorrow at her death.