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.
Editorial Letter: - It had long been my desire to see the deciduous magnolias and the many beautiful trees and shrubs of the Southern mountains in their native homes. But the country in which they grow is, in a measure, inaccessible to the hasty traveller, and the editor has but little time to spare from his pen to go jogging along for weeks over rocks and hills where the iron horse dares not set his foot. However, there is a time when all men must rest. An unusually hard year at pen work made me unusually susceptible to temptation, and when three of my associate members in the Academy of Natural Sciences said to me last May, " we purpose to take our wives for a month or two into the North Carolina mountains; cannot you make two more?" it did not take long to increase the party to eight. About the middle of June we bade good bye to the city of Brotherly Love, and started on our journey of twenty-five hundred miles, stopping a few days at all the important points along the road. In our leisurely stroll we took in Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Danville, Greensboro, Salisbury and across to the southern part of North Carolina, then northwardly through the mountains to the Ohio river, and back through the Shenandoah Valley by Harper's Ferry for home.
This outline shows that we were not in a favorable region for superior horti culture, but yet the experience in this line, as well as in the observations on native trees and plants, were interesting in the extreme.
In the way of gardening as an art, and one of the refining influences of civilization, we saw very little after crossing the Potomac, but in so far as a love of flowers and neat yards are concerned the illustrations were abuudant. In some of the larger Southern towns like Lynchburg and Staunton, small, neat, well-kept grounds were abundant. Lynchburg especially seems to be a very thriving place. The number of new houses,of what might be called the wealthier class, was greater than I noticed in any other place we visited, showing the city to be remarkably prosperous. The grounds around these newer houses all showed the owners' disposition to have something nice. In regard to the trees, shrubs and flowers, the many numerous and beautiful introductions of late years were almost wanting. Some few Cedars of Lebanon. Deodars, and similar things that were popular in their introduction years ago, and now about thirty years old, showed that progress in these lines had measurably stood still. The cheap mowing machines, which make our little places look so beautiful, and which we now find in our smallest hamlets, were very much missed. The sickle and the scythe still did duty as the lawn worker.
I have no doubt there are some about, though it was not my good luck to meet with them, and the number of places where they were not, shows at least that they are not in general use. But the number of places which exhibited a. genuine love for flowers was very gratifying to see. If there were few new kinds, the old fashioned flowers, family heirlooms, were well cared for. In many of the country districts houses would be fairly embowered in flowers, though not a flower pot could be seen. I do not remember seeing a flower pot throughout the whole mountain district between the Shenandoah and the Cumberland. The plants were grown in starch boxes, old kettles, tomato cans, shells or any thing that would hold a little earth. Some of these plants were wonderfully well grown in this primitive way. I saw Fuchsias three or four feet high, with hundreds of flowers from top to the box, and perfect in every respect that would easily take some of the twenty dollar premiums at our horticultural fairs.
In regard to vegetable growing the mountain region referred to offers remarkable advantages for what is known as the cool-country vegetables, such as peas, cabbage, parsnips, lettuce, celery and such like. Of course as to the matter of early vegetables the warmer sea-board States will have the run; but throughout the whole summer season these vegetables would grow here to perfection, and while there would be a fair trade in many of them, for seed raising purposes they would offer rich reward. At one tolerably fair hotel in the mountains we had rarely any other vegetables but potatoes, and I pointed out to the proprietor the great capabilities he had for these summer luxuries, but he insisted I was mistaken, " for," said he, " I brought salad plants from Chattanooga and set them out last spring, and they all went to seed." But every intelligent gardener would know that such plants would "go to seed." At the White Sulphur Springs, the supply of vegetables was remarkably meagre, and this was explained, that they had all to be brought chiefly from Richmond or other large sea-board centre. It has been said that the whole of the enormous interest on the English national debt is paid by her turnip crop.
These feed sheep in winter - the wool supplies the manufacturers - and so it goes on to the end. But the mountain region of North Carolina and Virginia is capable of raising turnips and maintaining sheep to an extent that would surprise old England. At present the great difficulty in the way of extending root or vegetable growing here is the ease with which cattle can be kept here after a fashion, and the distance anything raised has to be sent to market. Cattle roam the hills winter and summer, and hence there is no barn-yard manure, as the colder regions afford, where cattle must be housed the long winter. With no manure there can be few vegetables. The chief dependence through here is on artificial fertilizers, which have a tremendous sale. Then the markets are too far off. A good fellow in North Carolina told me that he raised 100 bushels to the acre of turnips, and cabbage as large as the top of a flour barrel, but the only way to dispose of them was in trade to the grocery man. His cabbages were valued at two dollars per one hundred, while the " prents " he had to take in pay for his cabbage were estimated as worth sixteen cents a yard. The opportunity, however, for building up a local trade for garden products is remarkably good.
Hundreds of streams of water run in every direction and the water power might be employed for machinery for all sorts of industrial enterprises,and the operatives be good customers to the gardener or farmer. But the power goes to waste. A few grist mills and saw mills appear once in a while, and this is about all. No one seems to think of building up home markets for their garden crops. Cotton and tobacco for Europe, early fruits and vegetables for the North, or hogs and cattle for the larger cities, with perhaps hotels for the accommodation of travellers seem to be the great objects of ambition. It seems to me that if I were interested in building up the farm and garden interests in any special degree I should begin by urging that these wasted water powers should run into mills and factories, and then look to these operatives to buy the farm and garden produce, instead of sending it hundreds of miles away.
I have little doubt, however, that all this will be perceived in time. Evidences of an increased attention to these matters strike one near many of the larger cities. It is indeed surprising that so much has already been done. Only imagine a country in which every dollar of money was swept away; houses and buildings torn down by the war; scarcely a fence left standing; all the businesses connected with the arts of peace neglected, and those of war useless with the surrender. Possibly no people ever resumed the great businesses of life under more depressing circumstances. They have had to build themselves up again out of the ground; to grow up again anew as the trees grow; and have, like the trees, to wait someyears till the harvest of wealth is ripe.
The Shenandoah valley especially shows a wonderfully revived spirit. Most of the farm buildings and fences- were absolutely destroyed here, but now new and mostly tasteful buildings and barns have been built, and scarcely a trace remains of the fearful havoc and waste of fifteen years ago. These new buildings are generally surrounded by good gardens and orchards, and one could not but feel that if so much has followed so soon after absolute ruin, there is hope for good gardening before many years roll by.