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 March 9, 1880. (Concluded from page 132).
It is estimated that there are 500 florist's establishments within a radius of ten miles of the City Hall, New York, and that the capital invested in land, structures, and stock is not less than $8,000,000, the product of which is mainly for New York City alone, and when we consider that New York contains only about one-fortieth part of the population of the United States, and that horticultural taste is certainly not higher here than the average of the country, it will be seen that the business of floriculture alone, without taking into consideration that of fruit and vegetables is one of imposing dimensions. There is but little doubt that in nearly all the manual operations necessary in horticulture, we are in advance of Europe, and no better evidence can be had in proof of this assertion than the fact that the cultivator gets one-third less for his products in the markets of New York or Philadelphia, than the same products bring in London or Paris, though the price paid for labor is one-third higher here than there. Nor does it follow that the cultivator here works at less profit, for he does not; so that the only solution of the anomaly is that our necessities have compelled us to make such progress in our operations that our products are produced with less labor.
For instance, when in London, in 1872, I saw twenty men in one squad, digging the ground in one of their market gardens with spades. For the past thirty years there is not a market gardener on Long Island or New Jersey who would allow his ground to be dug with a spade, even if done for nothing, for he knows that the plow and harrow will pulverize the soil better; but John Bull, in the neighborhood of London, at least, had not found that out in 1872, and it is no doubt the tenacious adherence to such primitive methods that is making Europe in many of the industries of the day, play second to the United States. Yet it must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. "We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made of the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds.
Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.
We can excuse the wife of a day laborer planting her seeds of Morning Glorys or Lady's Slipper in the potato or corn patch; but when the owner of a $10,000 cottage has the vulgarity to invade his flower beds with beets or tomatoes, he is carrying his utilitarian principles beyond the bounds of ordinary good taste. But against these instances of coarse taste, happily getting less each year, we have hundreds of cases where the decoration of private grounds by flower beds, not only shows the refinement of the owner, but at the same time gives pleasure to thousands of the people, to whom the adornments of the parlor are as a sealed book.
Within the past ten years the style of decoration known as ribbon lines, or massing in colors, has made great progress, and is well done in the public parks of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Albany, and is a never failing attraction to strangers on a visit to these cities, and to none more than those from New York: for the feeble attempts at flower decoration made by our Central Park, or Prospect Park, Brooklyn, has hardly ever been such as to make them aware that the thing had been attempted. But if our commissioners are so far behind those of our sister cities in making our public parks attractive, - private enterprise is not. Lewellyn Park, Orange, N. J., owned by private gentlemen, is unequalled in decorative planting; and the extensive grounds of Mr. Hoey, at Long Branch, N. J., Mr. Sargent, of Fishkill, and Mr. Dinsmore, of Staatsburg, N. Y., and others less publicly known, are models of gorgeous beauty during our summer months, and offset to some extent the inefficiency of those in charge of our public parks, who so poorly appreciate the public wants.
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Albany, have not only left us behind in the decoration of our public parks, but the two former have advanced far ahead of New York in matters connected with societies for the advancement of horticulture: although as I have before stated, our first New York Horticultural Society was started in 1818, it can hardly ever be said to have been a long continued success; it was for many years past out of existence, until resurrected again as our present Society in 1876.
The Boston Horticultural Society was started in 1829. Its hall costing about $250,000 was built in 1865. The Society had almost unvarying success from the start, and particularly since the erection of the hall in 1865. The Horticultural Society of Philadelphia was begun in 1828; its first President was the well known Horace Binney, and among the members of the excutive committee in 1829, we find the names of Nicholas Biddle, Robert Patterson, Caleb Cope, and David S. Brown, who were at that time the leading citizens of Philadelphia. Their Horticultural Hall was completed in 1866, it covers a plot 75x200 feet, and cost $221,000; as in Boston, the erection of a building for the special use of the Horticultural Society, gave a great impulse to the work in Philadelphia. There is no question that the successful condition so long continued of the Horticultural Societies of Boston and Philadelphia has had much to do in accounting for the more general taste displayed both in the public parks and private grounds, in and about both those cities than at New York. Without some centering point where new or rare products can be exhibited for comparison or competition, no individual effort by advertising or otherwise, can bring them before the public.
Thus, the finest or rarest specimens of fruits or flowers may be hidden for years, or even completely lost to the community: or, on the other hand, articles without merit may be offered for sale either through the ignorance or dishonesty of the sender. This in places where there is a live horticultural society, can never be done to any extent, for without the society's stamp of merit, the sale must ever be limited. Our New York Society is now in a fair way to emulate Boston and Philadelphia, and before long, it is to be hoped, we will be in a condition where our influence will be so felt, that we no longer will be ashamed of comparison with these, or with any other cities in the Union.
The first botanic garden of which we can obtain record was established in Philadelphia by John Bartram in 1728, which gave an impetus to horticultural taste in that city that enabled it for many years, probably up to 1850, to claim as possessing the finest collections of plants both private and commercial, of any city in the Union. New York started later, although we find that as early as 1750, places were advertised for sale on Long Island, and among the inducements offered to purchasers, it was mentioned that they had flower gardens attached; and in 1756 others were offered as having greenhouses filled with tropical plants: and to show indisputably that there was some general taste for horticulture, at that early period, we find that in 1751 a pottery at Whitestone, L. I., is under way and advertises "that any person desirous may be supplied with urns and flower pots to adorn gardens." In 1767, William Prince, of Flushing, offered a great variety of fruit trees, such as Pear, Apple, Peach and Plum, packed so they can be safely sent to Europe! And later in 1774 in the New York Mercury of that year, this enterprising horticulturist has added ornamental trees to his grounds, and offers the magnolias of the Caro-linas, and other rare trees and shrubs.
Mr. Prince was an enthusiast in all departments of horticulture, and by the beginning of the present century, had added to his nursery of fruit and ornamental trees, a greenhouse department, which contained a very full collection for that time; and in a Short Treatise on Horticulture which he published in 1828, he describes 37 varieties of Camellias, 13 species of Amaryllis, 90 varieties of Dahlias, and 67 species and varieties of Pelargoniums, as being a portion of his collection at that time. The Prince Nursery at Flushing was then known as the Linnsean Botanic Garden, and had by the wonderful energy of its proprietor a rare and interesting collection of trees and plants, some of which were eventually lost to cultivation until again introduced here from Japan by Mr. Thomas Hogg, notably among which was the Japanese Persimmon, now creating considerable attention as a new fruit for our Southern States. Another botanist, Dr. David Hosack, started the Elgin Botanic Garden in this city in 1801, and in his catalogue for 1811, appear nearly 3000 species of plants, of which 500 were greenhouse exotics.
The Curator of the Elgin Botanic Garden, at that time was a Mr. Denni-son, who began business as a florist in this city in 1814, at a point near where the Fifth Avenue Hotel now stands; and which at his death in 1822, was leased to Thomas Hogg, father of the present Thomas Hogg, to whom the world is so much indebted for his valuable introductions of Japan plants. A Mr. William Wilson, a cotem-porary of Thomas Hogg, was the author of a book on Kitchen Gardening, and was also the originator of the first Horticultural Society in New York, in 1818. Another prominent horticulturist of that day was Mr. Thomas Bridgeman, who kept a seed store at 17th street and Broadway, which is still managed by his descendants.
Mr. Bridgeman was the author of the Gardener's Assistant, a work having a large sale, and to which hundreds of European Gardeners on coming here, and unused to the American climate and plants, are much indebted. By 1840 commercial horticulture had come to be liberally patronized, and nurseries, greenhouses, and market gardens, of considerable extent had been established in Long Island, New Jersey, and New York Island, so that the markets were fairly supplied with fruits, flowers and vegetables; but meagre indeed to what they are to-day. The advancement in floriculture has been much the greatest. In those days the gorgeous designs formed by cut flowers, now such a feature in all our large cities, had no existence, and the wonderful plants of the tropics now seen in such profusion and variety, embellishing public or private entertainments were almost unknown. In nothing, perhaps, has horticulture advanced so much as in the beautiful designs that cut flowers are made to form, and which in New York to-day is perhaps unsurpassed by any city in the world.
In 1844 I was an assistant in one of the then largest floral establishments in New York City. If a wreath was to be made, its base was usually a piece of willow or a barrel hoop; if a cross, two pieces of lath formed the groundwork, and the work when done was usually such as reflected but little credit on the artist. Bouquets were then about the only style of design in cut flowers; these were usually made flat or one-sided, the ground work being arbor vitse, through which the stems of the flowers were drawn. Bouquets made round were rare, for floral art had yet developed but few fitted to cope with such an undertaking, and the few who did, made poor work indeed. Our sales of flowers at that establishment for New Year's Day, in 1844, hardly amounted to $200, and probably for the whole city of New York, it did not exceed $1000. Now, it would probably be no exaggeration to say that New York pays $50,000 for its flowers on that day, and that the amount paid yearly for these perishable commodities run into the millions.
The following extracts from the annual address of Col. Wilder at the fortieth year of the Massachusetts Agricultural Club, shows how wonderfully we have progressed. It is not often that it is permitted to one man to live to see such progress, especially one who has done so much himself to make "progress" move on:
"My friends, I have lived to see great advances and improvements in the agricultural and horticultural world. When I commenced the cultivation of the sod, there were very few agricultural societies in our land, and not one horticultural society on our continent. Now they are spread over our country, and there are on record in the Department of Agriculture at Washington the names of fourteen hundred such associations. Fifty years ago the products of our soil were scarcely thought worthy of a place in the statistics of our industry; now our exports of these amount to nearly six hundred millions of dollars annually, and our Western granaries are treasure houses upon which the world may draw to make up their deficiencies. Then the supplies of fruits weie limited to a few varieties and to a few weeks in use. Now our markets abound with fruits for all seasons of the year. Then the only strawberry in our market was the wild strawberry from the field, and for only a short time. Now we have this delicious fruit, by the facilities of transportation, for two or three months, and in such quantities that we have received from the city of Norfolk, Va., 16,000 bushels in a single season, and so great has been the interest in this fruit, that my register contains the names of more than three hundred and fifty kinds of strawberries which have been under cultivation in my day.
Then there were no American grapes cultivated in our gardens, except here and there a vine of the Catawba and Isabella. Now there are nearly a hundred varieties of American grapes under cultivation in our land, and the grape may be had for six months in the year; and so extensive are our vineyards that an order for our American wines for 100,000 gallons has been recently received from Europe. Then the cultivation of the pear was limited to a few varieties. Since then the gardens of Manning, Hovey and Wilder have embraced more than 800 varieties of this noble fruit. Then no exports of fruit of any note had been made. Now Boston alone has shipped to other places half a million barrels of fruit in a year, and the export of apples from this country has amounted to nearly $3,000,000 in a year".