This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Read before the New York Horticultural Society.
My few words will not consist of compliments to woman. However deserved, they belong to the social rather than the horticultural circle, to the drawing-room rather than the platform. Mine will be simply an appeal to the women of New York to aid this society by the charm of their presence and the influence of their example.
The true, the well-balanced, the perfect woman is an embodiment of taste and skill and culture, with the addition of those other graces of mind and sentiment and form which influence fathers, husbands and brothers. This influence is potent, and every true man, loving some true woman, delights in nothing so much as the gratification of her wishes.
Men are immersed in business - in the many engrossing cares of life. They have little time to give to its pleasures. A rise in stocks, an advance in sheetings, a corner in wheat, will give them a sensation which the fairest flowers can never furnish. But when the cares of the day are over, and in the quiet evening a man becomes the centre of his home circle - of daughter and sister and wife - he realizes the breathing of a new atmosphere.
In the gentle nature which is then uppermost, he responds gracefully to all intimations. If Edith describes that love of a bonnet which she saw in Broadway, a few tens are quietly slipped into her hand, and an arm stealing around his neck with a pat on the cheek tells him that he is a very nice sort of a father; if sister Sue has seen at Stewart's a new silk, the shimmer of which is like sunlight, a piece of paper with two ciphers upon it finds its way between the leaves of her book; and when the crown of the household, with her shining eyes, describes the beauty of Moran's Holy Cross, a check is found next morning upon her toilet table.
Now, this is all as it should be, only, for a little while, we would urge that in place of the bonnet and the silk and the picture, they would describe the rich scarlet of the Jacqueminot, the pure white of the Niphetos, the delicate fawn of the Safrano roses, with all the richness of the various flowers which they have seen during the day at the monthly exhibition of the New York Horticultural Society; and impress upon him how much more worthy of a permanent home - of a hall of their own - are these pictures of nature's painting than all the products of the genius of man. The last are limited by the narrow bounds of human skill and power; the former are limitless in their shades of color and variations of form. Nature never copies. Every shade of a color, every curl of a leaf, every droop of a stem, is its own and has no fellow. The waves of the ocean, the clouds of the air, the fleeting expressions on a human face, are not more varied than are the colors and forms of plants and flowers.
With her own speaking eyes and lips let her tell this to her charmed listener; let her describe to him how great a pleasure it would be to her, on parting from him each morning, to go to a flower market which he has assisted to build, and there to feast on the gathered treasures, bringing home with her all she needs to give a charm and fragrace to her diningtable or drawing-room. While she is speaking, his eyes may prefer to dwell upon her face, but let her direct their attention to the check-book at his elbow and suggest that the check for ten thousand dollars be made payable to the treasurer of the New York Horticultural Society. Here would lie her legitimate influence; why should she not exert it?
Woman has always been the patroness of horticulture.
In the beginning of the world all things were pronounced good, and among them was a garden. Man was placed in it to care for and to dress it. He soon found that for this, as well as for many other things, he needed more taste and a finer sense than any he possessed; so woman was given him as a help-meet for him. May we not suppose that this was in an especial manner horticultural help?
Among all the pictures which imagination paints upon the human brain, I think there is none which has a greater charm than that of our first mother, with her graceful form and perfect face, illumined with the soul which had come direct from the Almighty, wandering in the garden which we may well suppose to have been the most beautiful ever known, because in it grew, as the Scriptures tell us, "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." Under her skillful hands, divinely guided, every plant flourished, every tree developed its most graceful forms. She walked over the yielding turf, by the side of the running brooks, and sportively wreathing on her hair or gathering in her hands the varied flowers whose fragrance burdened the perfect air, she wondered if any other being had been created for such enjoyment as was now her daily lot.
So she appeared, until that sad day when she made her first pomological experiment, and, frightened at the result, hid herself among the trees of the garden, from which she came out to minister, through her descendants in the coming ages, to the unfortunate admiration of man for millinery.
As the ages have passed woman has been gradually arousing herself from this thraldom. May we not ask her now to throw it off entirely, to go back to the old love which our mother had for her garden, to show that she is a true daughter by every means at her command, and to encourage, as one of her instruments, the New York Horticultural Society?
In the short time that I have allowed myself to-day, I cannot go over the whole field of ancient and modern biography, to show the connection of woman with horticulture. It is apparent in Grecian history and mythology, in the latter especially, because the mythology of a people is the outgrowth of their daily life.
In the garden of Hesperides was found the golden apple which Atalanta's lover threw. Daphne, in her flight was changed into the beautiful shrub which bears her name, and recalls her memory by its fragrance and beauty. With the hanging gardens of Babylon, Xenophon has made us familiar. Their unique magnificence has not since been equaled. Their builder was Semiramis, and, I am sorry to say, that her true love for flowers did not prevent her seeking for the most certain mode of divorcement in killing her husband.
We have so little record of the pursuits of women in early days, that we scarcely know of their devotion to any one interest. It is not to be doubted, however, that noted women, like the queen of Sheba, Zenobia, Cleopatra, and others, in their effort to surround themselves with everything beautiful, gave a true place to plants and flowers. Coming down to a later period, we find that in the sixth century, Ultrogothe, the first wife of the first king of Paris, was devoted to her gardens. They were worthy of the splendor of her palace, and the roses in them were especially famous. Equally noted were those of Galiana, the favorite daughter of King Galafrfe, near Toledo in Spain. At a later period there were gardens of great beauty at Sceaux, made by a duchess.
The Grand Trianon at Versailles, built by Louis XIV., was the favorite garden of Madame de Maintenon; and the Petit Trianon, in its walks and groves, witnessed the enjoyment of that unfortunate queen, Marie Antoinette.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the Empress Catharine of Prussia was a liberal patroness of botanical collectors, and gathered under glass many rare and beautiful plants.
The splendors of the tropical vegetation of her early home dwelt in the memory of Josephine, when she came to Malmaison and added to the graceful vivacity of her manners the charms of beautiful gardens. Her collection of plants was large, many of them being obtained in this country, by a collector kept here at the joint ex- pense of herself and some English gentlemen-In England there has been more than in any other country, a fondness for plants shown by: women of all classes, from the noble and cultured to the simple peasant's wife. In the eighteenth century, the Duchess of Beaufort collected a large quantity of rare plants in the famous gardens of Badmington, where they were maintained in great beauty. At a later period in the same century, the Princess Dowager of Wales established the Arboretum at Kew, which thus became the nucleus of a still larger collection now unsurpassed.
Still earlier - in 1706 - the Countess of Haddington was a great lover of trees. She sold her jewels to enable her to plant Binning Wood. Will the ladies of New York sell their jewels to build a horticultural hall and flower market? One of the most beautiful places of England was formed, partly by the influence and partly by the pique of a woman.
The former Earl of Harrington married an actress, and the gentry of the neighborhood refused to recognize her. He therefore resolved that he would have something which they should not see while he lived So to Elvas-ton Castle he brought, at great expense, large cedars of Lebanon, yews and other trees. Some of the yews were over six hundred years old. The result was a place of wonderful beauty, which was rigorously closed against visitors until after his death, when it was thrown open to the public. I shall not soon forget my first sight of it, and no words of mine can do it justice. A hollow hedge of yew seemed like the sinuous folds of a boa constrictor,with windows in its sides, and all around were golden yews trimmed in various forms - of columns and pedestals and vases and birds and crowns and footstools and arm chairs, all bright as burnished gold, while dark green upright Irish yews stood on guard like sable sentinels in a golden palace.
At Binstead, in the Isle of Wight, the skill and taste of Lady Downs has formed grounds of much beauty. Lady Pembroke is the author of the well-known garden at Wilton House; and the Countess of Cowper designed the remarkable Box garden at Panshanger. These are but few of many instances. All England is one vast garden, and an English lady who does not take an interest in her own part of it, is an exception. In some instances the result of this interest is very remarkable. I once stumbled upon a curious piece of rock landscape near the quaint old town of Chester, and found that it belonged to Lady Hamilton, owing its creation to her taste and skill. From the seclusion of a hedge we opened suddenly upon the lawn. The illusion was perfect. There was scarcely two acres of ground, and yet there appeared a broad valley with Alpine mountains. Rockwork formed the mountains, with gentle slopes and occasional pockets, while the crowning forests were small pyramidal evergreens, so arranged that it was difficult to realize that the foreground did not cover miles of plain, - that the rocks were not truly Alpine heights, crowned by Alpine forests. I have spoken of the interest in horticulture shown by English women. We are not entirely deficient in this country.
I know many American women who take more interest in their grounds and know more of horticulture than do their husbands. I was once walking with an accomplished lady through her grounds near Baltimore, and found that she was familiar with all processes of culture, and had the true business capability, in that she paid all the expenses of her lawn and gardens by the cultivation and sale of mushrooms.
The genius of American society is, however, against country homes and their resulting gardens. The attractions of watering places and of foreign and domestic travel, are such that American women prefer to move about, to avoid the cares of a country house and the annoyances of domestic service. Thus it is doubtful if our country will ever contain the numerous charming country homes which are found in England. If such country homes are few and exceptional, there is the more reason to have the city homes adorned by all that is beautiful in plants and flowers.
It is possible to have gardens upon the housetops, into which all beautiful and rare plants can be gathered. It is possible to have a horticultural hall in which will be exhibited every variety of plant or flower which American enterprise can furnish. It is possible to have therein a library, which will give all the horticultural information which has ever been printed. It is possible to have a flower market, where every woman will find a daily exhibition, and on which she will every morning feast her eyes as certainly as she takes her daily bread. It is possible to create such a demand for plants and flowers, that both commercial and private growers will keep such a market filled with the most varied and choice productions. A lady walking through this market will not be confined to the few roses already known to her, but all Roseland will be before her. She will not be limited to the stereotyped flowers of the shops, but her eye will feast on a varied richness of which she had never dreamed.
Her knowledge of plants and her taste alike will be cultivated, and the desire of possession, with transfer to her own rooms, will come, as it does with the sight of a beautiful picture.
Our subject is a fertile one, but time will not allow me to pursue it farther. I will conclude with a chapter in the world's history hitherto unwritten.
When Eve first realized the terrible consequence of her daring experiment, she cried out, in the very agony of her soul, " What shall I do? All men will curse my name forever. How can I and my daughters bear this burden through all the coming ages?"
And then from out the cloud, came the voice of infinite compassion:
" I know thy weakness, and that thou wert deluded by one more powerful than thou. In my own immutable justice I cannot release the penalty, but in compensation for thy sufferings, I will give in abundance to thee and to thy daughters after thee, that which is given only in a limited degree to man. I will give to thee and them a voice soft, low and persuasive, like the music of birds, a beauty of face, a grace of manner, a refinement of taste, a quick sense of the beautiful, and a capability of unselfish affection which shall charm all who are near you; and in the charm men shall forget the sin. And if you obey me, I will give you an abounding sense of my presence and the ability to love me always".
The voice ceased, and Eve rose up comforted, with a face like the face of an angel.
May we not confidently appeal to this grace and taste and sense of beauty in the women of New York, to come forward and help us now; to give their presence at all our exhibitions and assemblies; to use their influence with those whom these qualities can charm, and through that influence to build a hall and flower market for the New York Horticultural Society.