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.
The writer took " a few hours to himself, " recently, by a trip to Rochester to visit the Nurserymens' Convention, and we can say that it feels good to be once in awhile " out of office, " and to be not an editor, but a mere nurseryman - one among many, like the rest of the folks. People often wonder how so much can be done now-a-days, as compared with what our fathers did; but in truth, the conveniences at our command are so much greater that it would be to our shame if we made no additional use of them. So, long after the sun went down, the steam cars take the writer twelve miles; he presides at a meeting; the meeting closes, and again the cars take him to the Pennsylvania Railroad depot, where the Pullman car is in waiting, and where he goes pleasantly to sleep. But the car does not go on its journey till midnight, and the sound sleeper knows nothing till the porter wakes him to know if he desires breakfast at Williamsport, and by telegraph the breakfast is ordered, and just ready to order when Williamsport is reached.
I mention this little matter here for two reasons: first, because it shows how easy it is to do a great deal of work as compared with old times, and, secondly, because I am conscious that this letter is following some European sketches, and I cannot but feel the immense advantages we, in this country, enjoy in comforts and facilities over the people of the Old World. I do not know that the average duration of life in our country shows a less figure than Europe shows, but our facilities for doing things easily are so much more freely scattered amongst the multitude, that an average American lives double as long as an European does, if what he can see and know in his life, be the measure thereof; and it is, perhaps, the consciousness of this fact, which in the pride of that knowledge makes so many Americans over-do their work, and become so much the slave to their occupation, that in another sense they do not live at all.
Having breakfasted at Williamsport, I took notes of my fellow-travelers. Here are the usual set, who " took the Northern Central route to enjoy the magnificent scenery, you know, " busily engaged in a discussion about public affairs at Washington, and for all the beauty, might as well have been blind. I should not like to have to be a witness before their friends as to how much beauty they saw ! Then there was the novel reader, the devourer of the police news, the regular daily paper scanner, the usual proportion of pillowed heads, and the inevitable couple just on a bridal tour, and whom I always forgive for not rinding anything more lovely and beautiful outside of the Pullman coach than they •can see within.
But the book I love to read, when I travel, is not in any library, so I eagerly scan its broad pages while I may.
How strange is the waking up in the morning among these cloud-capped hills ! Down where I live, near the level of the sea, the Spring violets had scarcely gone; but here the Golden Rod, the special favorites of Autumn, were already in blossom. Summer was, however, still lingering as we could see by the gorgeous masses of "Wood Laurel, " Kalmia latifolia, which, by-the-way, are only "Wood " Laurels. At places lower down, the little seeds, fine as dust, would never make a successful sprout in the open ground of a sunny plain, so they have to take to the woods to get even a taste of the pleasures of life; but here in the mountain mists they take to the naked exposed rocks and open places, and those who have seen them only in the shelter of some friendly wood can have no idea of their magnificence as seen up here. I shall never forget the impression made on me once in the past, when awakening from my bed of branches in a deep cleft on a high mountain, I saw the rising sun reflected from a snow-cap in the long distance. I have seen nothing since that recalled this pleasure so vividly as these Kalmia-covered mountain tops, with their rosy morning hue.
Then here and there were bushes of the Red-berried Elder, with fruit as if made into bunches out of Red Currants, and the beautiful flowering bramble, Rubus odoratus, and many other handsome native flowers, which if I were writing now as an editor, and was answering the question why these pretty things are not in our pretty gardens, I should have to say " we do not know".
And there are pretty gardens among these hills too. I was particularly struck on this little trip, more so than I was ever before, that the houses of our farmers, and the surroundings of the poorer classes, are not so florally destitute as we have been in the habit of regarding them. Over and over again have I heard the great admiration expressed for the Roses and Honeysuckles of English cottages, and the regret that our own are not like them. But they are; and a ride over the Northern Central will prove it. I cannot say that the walls of the buildings are covered, as the Europeans are. The dwellings are not as nicely embowered in blooming foliage, nor are the window-sills filled with pot plants from ground-floor to attic - our climate is scarcely suited to this sort of thing - but the hardy garden flowers, and more especially the care for fruit trees and trees for shade, and shrubs for flowers, were fully as wisely planted around these humble dwellings as they are elsewhere. Was it always so in these wild, out-of-the-way parts of our country ? I think not. I believe it is a progressive growth, and I could not but think the much-abused "tree peddler" had some hand in this progress.
He has his black sheep in the flock - and we strongly suspect in his dealings with customers he is not much better than other men - but there can be no denying that he has carried a love for tree-planting, and a taste for flowers into many a hundred out-of-the-way places that the ordinary stream of trade would have never reached. The fruits especially were a sight to see; the cherries particularly. I never saw trees so loaded, and strikingly so in the vicinity of Elmira.
But I must say a few words of Rochester. The Nurserymen's Meeting is of the National Organization which meets once a year to discuss matters of interest to the business. It was a surprise to me to find so many of the best men in the trade there. What might be regarded as " crooked sticks " were extremely scarce among them; and the whole discussion turned on how the public might be protected against fraud, and how all that is right and proper as between the buyer and seller should be advanced. Of course they wanted to know how to make money out of their trade; but I never met a body of men where the desire that the great public should get the full worth of all they bought was so pointedly kept in mind. The Rochester Nurserymen behaved very handsomely, and no trouble or expense seemed to be too much to make their visitors remember the week. Points of Horticultural interest were visited, and we had a good chance to see how the people enjoyed Horticulture, and in what condition was the nursery trade. As I could only spare a few hours there, I had not the chance to see all the others saw; but I looked through the nurseries of Gould Brothers, and found them largely engaged in Rose culture, besides the usual items of a general nursery stock.
A beautiful grove of natural timber, just before their " cottage door, " makes a call there particularly attractive to the lover of cool breezes, on a hot Summer's day.
Mr. Little's nursery struckme as being particularly rich in ornamental trees and shrubs. Whitney's Tree Digger, a machine for taking up, entire, large trees, was tried for our benefit, on some six-feet Balsam Firs, and ten-year old Maples. It would have been no defeat if Whitney had been overcome in such a test as this, but the machine went right through.
Mr. Hooker's nurseries are strong in specialties. He is working up the Early Dawn Grape, which pleased so many last year at Baltimore. His connection with the Brighton Grape is also well-known. He also has extensive trial-grounds of Gooseberries, and is working up great quantities of some of the most approved kinds. The grafted Gooseberries and Currants which was so attractive at the Centennial Exhibition, were also growing here; and besides this there was the usual variety of nursery stock.
Mr. Vick's grounds abounded with flowers. I never saw so many pansies in one lot together, and scores of hands were collecting the seeds.
Ellwanger & Barry's grounds always charm, by the " Specimen " and " Home-grounds, " which are so highly kept, and very instructive. The lawn is beautiful; and a story is told of one of the visitors who shook the ashes, and finally the stump of his cigar into his hat, rather than soil the elegant green carpet he was walking on. An excellent tribute to Western good manners! for I have not always found smokers as careful of a real good carpet as my friend was of this beautiful lawn. E. & B's strong point seemed to me to be in fruit trees. Hundreds of acres of these were in capital condition, the Pears especially so.
Of the private grounds, Mr. Ellwanger's is charming. I never saw a small place more beautifully designed, and the design more capitally executed. It would not do to say that a good landscape gardener was spoiled to make a nurseryman, for Mr. E.'s success in the one has been as great as in the other.
The love of flowers, trees, grass, etc, is very general about Rochester, but, perhaps the misfortune of my hasty run, I saw no remarkable garden designs. I should judge there are but few such specimens of true garden art, as is seen at Mr. Ellwanger's. But the evident general love of being "nice" in the floral way, is a good foundation to build real garden art upon.
And the people are quite liberal with their gardens. I was shown, by the kindness Mr. W. C. Barry, through many private grounds of from five to twenty acres, which were freely open to all well-conducted persons. Indeed this community of garden pleasures is a marked feature of Rochester. The houses are mostly set back from the street, and there being no fences, the lawns run down to the side-walks. I cannot say that I admire the plan. The generosity which makes one's grounds aid in the general beauty of a city is highly creditable to public spirit; but our idea of a garden is something to retire into, and enjoy in quiet contemplation; and to have instead all this in the full public glare, where you cannot even cut a rose bud, have a quiet game of croquet, or even sit in a hammock and swing with your wife or sweetheart, without being a target for public gaze, is not our idea of a garden, whatever it may be of a public park. Those who carefully exclude every vestige of their inner life from the public in their garden work, are not to my taste either; but then there is a great difference between this and showing everything for nothing.