This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
A brief visit to the Bussey Institute, with which the Arnold Arboretum is connected, gave me great pleasure. The gardener in charge is Mr. Jackson Dawson, whom I found to be a lithe, active, middle-sized man, but apparently very much on the younger side of middle age, and whose whole heart and soul seem bent on the successful exercise of his professional duties. It is rare to find a man who knows all about everything he handles; who is alive to everything that may add to his knowledge, and desirous to make his knowledge serve the purposes of those who employ him, and at the same time give pleasure to himself. This is just the person I take Mr. Dawson to be, and I could not help congratulating the Institution on its good fortune in having such a one. Understanding his business well, almost everything committed to his care is a success; and this is encouraging to those who send things there.
Among the instructors in Horticulture and the kindred branches here, is Mr. Watson, son of the well known nurseryman of Plymouth, Mass., whom I did not have the good fortune to meet, but of whose success as a teacher I was pleased to hear of from several quarters.
My chief point here was to see the grounds of what is to be in future the great Arnold Arboretum, which has hitherto been under the eye of Prof. Sargent, of Cambridge, and who is to have henceforth the Professorship of Arboriculture here to occupy his sole attention. The collection of hardy trees and shrubs for the future arboretum has already been going on for a few years past, and an immense number have been gathered together, leaving very few desiderata able to endure Boston winters. These are arranged for the present in what might be called rather wide nursery rows, each having room enough for four or five years growth.
The grounds for the future arboretum have been left by will for the purpose, but if a committee had been appointed by some learned body to select a site, it is doubtful whether one could be found better suited to the purpose. There is level land, and again land so steep that to my certain knowledge it took 210 lbs of human flesh and bones an "awful" while to ascend it. There are rocks and hills and streams, open places and deep shaded woods, grand old trees already there, and vigorous young saplings. Only that my cup is already full, I could envy Professor Sargent the sweet draught of pleasure that in his Professorship here lies before him. In some hands I should fear the great natural beauties might be spoiled by some fancied demands of science. The water lily and the tulip tree, the swamp tree and the tree from the high and exposed rocky hill, - all would have to be brought into close association, for behold, are they not found so on some herbarium shelves! But I hope that here they will be put where they will flourish best, and where they will look best; where they will add to the beauty already here, and to the pleasure of thousands in that beauty; and that scientific arrangement will be left to the scientific works which, at any rate, the student must study, merely numbering and mapping all, that with guide book in hand, the student may readily find the thing he wants.
Professor Sargent's beautiful grounds come next in order. These are at Brookline, about four miles from the heart of Boston. It is difficult to realize this fact while walking over the nicely kept lawns or sitting under the shade of the beechen trees. There is no one so happy as the person who can be alone with his own thoughts at any time he chooses to be, and then at once mix in the busy world if he will. One does not want to be always alone, nor always under other people's eyes. My idea of a garden is something to retire to and enjoy by one's self, or with one's personal friends; with the whole world, for the time being, out of sight and out of mind. Seldom have I visited a place so near my own ideal - the perfect rus in urbe - to be alone with nature and art as long as you desire, and to be again amongst men almost at will.
But though I sit and enjoy the cool of the woods and the lovely landscapes which, over this tract of 150 acres, meet the eye and attract the senses at every view, and watch the evening shadows as they are reflected on the beautiful lakes or deepen behind clumps and masses of trees in the wake of the setting sun, I am not left to believe that I have been transported by some fairy hands to distant Elysian fields and bowers, among which only the very few who are perfectly virtuous are destined to live; for hundreds of carriages, driving around the graceful curves of the beautiful roads, tell me that their occupants cannot be far away from some large place in which weak and weary human nature is doomed to dwell. They are returning home from a visit to the beautiful Azaleas and Rhododendrons, which the excellent proprietor and the estimable lady his wife are only too happy should be enjoyed by all as well as themselves. It was like a country fair, only with this difference, that here all who were visitors were of that class who had traveled; who had seen all the sights; who had come to believe that there was nothing more in nature or art for them to know, - and yet were they here amazed and pleased beyond measure with what Horticulture placed before them.
As I sat in the shadows of that summer evening, and saw these hundreds wending their way homewards chatting with a pleasant animation over the gorgeous beauties they had seen, I could not help but look into the future and imagine the many beautiful gardens and grounds which the example of these generous people would inspire into existence; and I turned then to the past, where I saw nurserymen in the shadows wondering and lamenting that no visitors came to their grounds, and that for the tree peddler only did the modern planter care. And again I saw Horticultural societies with loads of debt, with exhibitions made up of mere husks of swine, with the absolute refuse of florists' greenhouses, depending on a flourish of trumpets and mountebank shows in order to give the public the full worth of the entrance fees. I have never lost faith that Horticultural excellence will ever attract intelligent people. If my faith had ever weakened, it would have sprung into as strong life as ever after what I had seen here that day. And it is a very simple matter to stow and arrange Rhododendrons and Azaleas as Mr. Sargent has done. The Chinese Azaleas are nearly hardy, and the Rhododendrons entirely so; yet they are benefited by some slight protection.
Here pits are sunk in the ground and covered with boards, and in these pits the smaller plants are kept. The larger ones are preserved in a sort of room, partly under ground, and which keeps out nearly all the frost. They are put into pots or boxes, and kept under these slight protections. When in flower they are planted in masses on the lawn to suit then-sizes and colors, and those kept in pots sunk in the ground, pots and all, the turf being neatly re-laid over them. They are arranged in graceful forms of beds, with smooth pathways threading through them, and the beds edged with half circular sticks, plaited and forced into the ground for the occasion. A canvas tent, costing about $100, and which will do over and over again for many years, finishes the whole, and the exhibit is complete. All the world went and admired the arrangements and the exhibit of the Rhododendrons at the Centennial, but this of one American gentleman was finer than that - not in numbers, but in beauty; because the plants were larger.
And then there were the Azaleas, beautifully as well as wonderfully grown.
I should like to take the reader with me through these beautiful grounds, with their successive beds of lilies and roses, and many things as sweet and fair; by their ponds and streams and arbors and bridges, with their sunlight gleams by day and moonlight shades by night. In amongst the fruits and vegetables in the well-kept garden, and over the lawns and by the shrubbery belts, where an indefinite variety of beautiful trees and shrubs and flowers are to be found. And above all, I should like to have them go through the houses where grapes and fruits are forced, where the agaves and succulents are cared for, and where ferns and flowers and colored-leaved plants are made to grow with a vigor and freedom they scarcely knew of even in their native lands. Further, if the veil which divides from the outside world the sacred-ness of an intelligent and. happy home might dare be lifted, I should like to tell the reader how pleasant American country life might be when two of kindred tastes meet and join in the journey of life together. But the good reader must be satisfied with a mere letter, and be content with the remark that a visit to these delightful grounds makes one wonder more than ever that so comparatively few American gentlemen at the present time incline to country life.
After all, mere seaside and watering place show and fashion, like any other "rage," must have their day.
It would not do justice to these beautiful grounds without a word in compliment to Mr. Charles Saunders, Mr. Sargent's gardener. By what we could see here, he gives to an excellent practical knowledge of his business the rarer ability to manage men and proceed methodically to work, and it gave me much pleasure to hear him so well spoken of by his employer. Half the pleasure of gardening consists in a good understanding between employer and employed, and in the gardener endeavoring to meet his employer's reasonable views.