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.
While on the subject of public parks, it may be as well to cross the English Channel, and look at some of the French ones, though we shall have to come back to Old England for other matters before we return to America. We have to cross the sea to get to Erance, as most of the readers know, and as I like the sea I naturally chose the longest way of going across. I may say I love the sea. She and I were always bosom friends. Once when in the darkness around me, I had to swim for life on her broad waters, with no knowledge of the compass points, and I was as likely to go away as toward the shore, she brought me though insensible to land; and on another occasion, when in the cabin and our vessel sunk to the bottom, she kindly helped me out of ray little prison, and favored me over other unfortunates in aiding me to swim to shore. There are few things so sweet to me as to be rocked to sleep by my good old friend; so instead of the hour or so required for a toss over the Straits of Dover. I got on a steamboat at New Haven about dark, went at once to my berth, and, after a sound sleep, woke at eight o'clock next morning to find the boat at Dieppe, in France. But I must skip some days of observations in the fields and forests, gardens and orchards, and go at once to my task of describing the public gardens of Paris. I have been told, and no doubt the reader has often been told, that Paris is France; but I can say that whoever takes this saying in an universal sense, will miss something if he does not see France for himself as well as Paris. Most travelers make a fatal mistake here.
They go to a few large cities, or to some special points, as perhaps picture galleries, churches, nurseries, and the public gardens, the grand stores, the Boulevards and the Royal Palaces, and they have"seen France." But the France of the guide books and guides in general, is very different from France as one may find it if he will only use his own judgment and go poking about for himself. He may find at first, as I did, that the French language he thought he knew, may do to make himself fairly understood, but it will take a few days to understand the rapid, lightning-like sounds you hear in reply to your questions. Still it is well worth trying by one who wants to see France. It is probable that the reason why foreigners keep to the large cities is on account of the difficulties of the language. In all the large cities people who speak English are common. It is remarkable that so few English people though so near France know French. Once our train stopped for some reason some fifteen minutes in a long, dark tunnel. It was not long before noisy shouts and jokes came out all along the line from the numerous coaches forming the train, but not a word of French did I hear. I suppose this"Who's afraid?" way of shouting, under these circumstances, is not a French characteristic.
However it showed me there were many English people on the train, but, though for some reason we were detained at our journey's end, and I had a chance to mix with this crowd of English-speaking people, I did not find one who knew French. Such people cannot see France.
As to the Public Gardens of Paris, a beautiful little one is that called the garden of the city of Paris, in the Rue d'Anjou. It is well worth visiting by those who wish to see how beautiful a little piece of ground can be made. The spot was the place where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded and buried during the Revolutionary troubles. The bodies were afterwards removed to the Cathedral of St. Denis, and a memorial chapel built by Louis XVIII on the ground, and the little plot about it laid out for the public. Immediately around the building the ground is arranged in parallelograms, well in accord with the style, and the only plants used in the decorations are green grass, borders of evergreen ivy, box edging, and standard roses, which come from among the trailing ivy up to three or four feet from the ground, and furnish all the sweet flowers that tell the bees the story of the dead.
The little square forms the entrance, as it were, to the Memorial Grounds. The peculiar feature of the landscape gardening is the raising and lowering of the ground so as to produce an undulating surface, on what would otherwise be naturally a level piece of ground. It requires an immense amount of true art to conceal the fact that these undulations were made by the hand of man, yet it is just here that the art is successful. It strikes the eye as a naturally rolling piece of ground, and which man has simply polished and put in order. In such a small place all the room possible is required, hence very little planting had to be indulged in, and the effect is obtained by very thick masses of shrubs, judiciously placed. They have, of course, an advantage in this sort of work over us in the kind of plants they can use. These masess were of Aucubas, Hollies, Privet, Euonymus, Yews and similar things which are not suitable to our gardens, and we have no substitutes. The most common trees in the little park were the Plane and the false Plane or Sycamore Maple, Horse Chestnuts, and I was pleased to note a very pretty specimen of our own Kentucky Coffee-tree - pleased because our American trees are astonishingly rare in these foreign countries.
I will digress a little here to say that there is a great exception to this in the Yellow Locust or"Acacia," as they call it here. It is all over France, and grows with a luxuriance and blooms with a beauty we never see in our own land. It was a new instance of a fact not new, that nature does not arrange things over the earth for their own good so far as vigorous growth may be to their good, though it is, doubtless, to the ultimate good of these respective races, that they grow where they are found.
The leading streets of Paris are in a measure public gardens, by the care taken of their street trees. That is to say in their leading or wide streets, known as Boulevards. These trees are generally the Plane or Sycamore, or But-tonwood, as our people would say. They are set three feet from the curb, which prevents destruction by horses. The pavements are of broad flag stones, under which trees would not grow in ordinary cases; but here they have a circle of six feet wide exposed around each tree, but covered with an iron grating, so that the rain can get in, and the roots come up to have the advantage of the air. Men are employed to water the trees during the Summer season, small hose on wheels are drawn about and the nozzle applied to the circle at evening when the trees are watered. I was told in Paris that it cost the city about $16 a tree a year to look after them. It seemed to me a great price, and I still do not think my informant can have had the figures right; but they certainly do cost something, and deservedly so, for these streets would be nothing without them, and I am sure the Parisians would not lose them for double the cost."We have heard a great deal about the wonderfully large trees they move in Paris, and the delicate machinery used in the operations.
I took the trouble to hunt up some of these famous illustrations and found they were, as a rule, not half the size of the large trees which are continually being moved about Germantown, and perhaps near large American cities generally, at not a tithe of the expense, and I was forced to the conclusion, that though in a great many old arts in gardening we are a long way behind the French, in the art of moving large trees, they might take good lessens from us instead of our learning from them.
In the gardens of the Tuileries a large number of these trees had been moved last year, and the expense of the machinery was heavy. A gardener told me the cost was near 200 francs per tree or about $40 of our money, which would be heavy even for us. I sought out the largest, which was only twenty-four inches round, most of them only fifteen inches. These were chiefly of Horsechestnut and Elm trees, not at all hard to transplant, and men were then in the early part of July daily watering them. The Elms of the public parks of Chicago, moved under Mr. Cleveland's direction, would astonish the French gardeners. The gardens of the Tuileries were not up to the idea I had formed of them. The most striking feature, and this in contrast with English, and still more American gardening, was the great number of men employed in doing a very little work. The flower beds are frequently watered, and this, of course, cakes the ground a little. Early in the morning, before the watering, men are employed cracking the ground with finger and thumb, breaking up the surface. Around the grounds are huge orange trees in tubs, brought annually from Versailles, and two men to a tree were employed in pruning and picking the leaves so that one tree did not extend an inch more out of line than another.
Under this pruning and pinching system the gardener in charge informed me they never bore fruit, plenty of flowers being the only aim. They were then being syringed with tobacco water, to keep down insects. It shows that even in these favored regions, as we suppose, it is only hard labor that keeps down insects and disease.
The Luxembourg Palace gardens are, on the whole, more interesting than those of the Tuileries. Sunk gardens, grass, and box-edging are brought into good company with architeetural ornaments, which abound. Our Virginian creeper is more used in these gardens than I have seen anywhere. In some cases it is led from tree to tree along straight avenues, sweeping down to the ground and up again, making a living drapery of wreaths and festoons in connection with vases and statues, that was particularly pleasing. A leading feature of the Luxembourg gardens is the statuary, all in historic connection with events in French history. There is St. Genevieve, the Saint Patroness of Paris, her hair, though braided, extending to within a foot of her toes; and with such beautiful features that, if a true representative of the lady, an artist might have canonized her for her beauty alone; though the Holy See had neglected to reward her virtues. Then there is Marie Stuart,"Reine de France 1549-1587" - as the inscription tells us - and many other celebrities, especially of the female sex.
The Pillar Roses, trained to iron rods and arches, were particularly good; but the Pear trees, of which we had heard so much in the past, were yellowish to my eyes, and not near equal to the good looks of the Pear trees of our own country. On inquiring for M. Hardy, in the hope of a good old French Pear talk, we found, as in so many cases in our travels, nothing but the name and memory remained. He also had passed away.
We must pass the Champs d' Elysees, the Bois. du Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Versailles, and other places, to have a special notice of one very particularly pretty spot - the Pare Mon-ceaux. It is rather hard for a stranger to find, though not far from the beautiful Boulevards. I think I inquired a half dozen times in a walk of half a mile; for the fondness of a Frenchman for a long name, and the way he rattles it off for you is"a caution." So as to be near the great center of these parks, I had taken up my residence at the " Hotel de la ville de Paris, Place Lavelavec, Rue Cambaceres;" but a Frenchman would get this out in less time than you could say " nonsense." But we keep on in faith, and find at last, by an unpretending iron gate, that our kind directors had told us to"keep on to avenue Velasquez." Said avenue is but a few hundred feet long, but it lands us at once into the pretty morceau of landscape gardening, the Pare Monceaux. The superintendent, loaded down with medals which made a perfect showcase of his breast, we found, as in England, apparently delighted with the word " American," and kindly gave me all the information I desired. The Park contained, according to his statement, "neuf hectares." I should judge, by appearances, about twenty acres.
But the art I have before referred to, of throwing up and depressing the surface, made it appear very much larger. In fact I do not know that I have ever seen in the world the art of making a small place look large, carried out better than here. Prepared as I was for this art, and certain that 1 could not be deceived, I was somewhat astonished to find, on crossing a rustic bridge of not over fifty feet long, I was on a popular drive along which I had walked a half hour before, and within reach of which by a stone's throw I had been all the while. Yet, by judicious planting and elevating the earth here and there, views are so arranged that you continually see something fresh. Art is strained to the utmost to bring in this continual variety. Of course, some of these efforts fail. There are some views intended to represent some old Grecian buildings of three thousand years ago. The work is very natural. It is precisely as we see it in pictures. The evergreen ivy has covered the whole, and done its part well. Still you don't believe in its antiquity. You miss the Date Palms. The tumbled columns are not there.
You could not, under the wildest stretch-of the imagination, believe yourself to be"Ma-rius sitting among the ruins of Carthage;" not even can you think Carthage has been brought there for you. Even the masses of the classical Acanthus growing near the wall, as naturally as it grew in the first instance on the fair maidens' Grecian grave, does not deceive. You mutter,"Pretty, but humbug," and pass on.
But there is enough in genuine art here to please even the critical. There seems nothing at least untried. Imagine a clump of crooked trees - large trees - and then you come to another ground where they are mostly straight; groups of our Yuccas among rocks, and masses of our variegated Negundo on a closely shaven lawn. So we go on in variety - now a lot of India Rubber trees - then a bed of our garden Egg Plants - and pretty indeed their leaves did look - and perhaps next a bed of common Petunias. Perhaps it may be a group of the rare but beautiful leaf plant Carolina princeps - scarce Begonias; and then perhaps the common Ivy or Spider wort. Nothing is too common, but it is turned to excellent use; nothing is too rare to give richness and character. It is indeed a model park.
I thought I would finish here, and get back to England; but one who was with me says, " The flower markets and the artisans' windows are public gardens - the Champ de Mars, with its Exposition Grounds are public gardens - the Botanic Gardens are public gardens - tell something of what we saw of these." But I cannot tell much in a few letters at any rate. I might as well stop as continue with so little; but to please her I will go on with at least one more; and if, gentle reader, you are in haste to get this out of the way, so as to be ready for planting your potatoes and beans, please don't blame me for detaining you.