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.
It is said that republics are ungrateful to their benefactors; but according to the Gardener's Chronicle, it is the same story all round. It says: " In this great country, where the arts and sciences flourish, not because of imperial patronage, but rather in spite of it, it would doubtless seem incongruous were any illustrious worker in horticultural pursuits to receive any special notice at the hands of the powers that be, or any of those honors that are so eagerly sought for by the fighting services of the country and so freely bestowed; yet it is difficult to repress a feeling of humiliation that so little national recognition is given to the services rendered to the nation in general by other than Government servants, and to horticultural science and practice in particular, by such men, for instance, as Robert Fortune, a record of whose introductions from the far-off countries of China and Japan appeared in these pages before. It is not possible to calculate the benefits the country has received from Mr. Fortune's labors; they were quiet, plodding and unpretentious, carried on too often perchance under great privation and possible danger to life.
None of the clash and pomp of war shed a halo over his work; there was no wading through slaughter, or records of thousands and tens of thousands of dead defenders of their hearths and countries to chronicle. It is the men who can boast of these trophies of civilization, that get the popular cheer, the national welcome, and the imperial honors, whilst the unpretentious seeker after good, like Fortune, finds his reward only in the almost utter forgetfulness of the nation that such a man ever was its benefactor. Yet Fortune's testimonials, silent but impressive, are found amongst us in their thousands: they exist in abundance in every garden, and are found now almost throughout the whole civilized world. Wherever a love for flowers and trees is, there also are the abundant evidences of his labors. Not to carry into aboriginal homes death and desolation was his mission, but rather to give comfort, beauty and life to all humanity. Bye-and-bye, perchance, when the grave has closed over his earthly career, the world will realize how much it owes to Robert Fortune".
We recently took occasion to refer to the brilliant but almost unrequited services of Mr. Fortune, who, as our readers know, is one of that highly intelligent class of gardeners which has done so much to bring honor to the whole profession. We are sorry now to have to say who was, instead of who is, for the telegraph brings news of his decease at the age of 67. Selecting horticulture as his occupation, at an early age, he obtained employment in the Botanical Gardens of the Scottish capitol. Having in that position made the most of the opportunities afforded for acquiring knowledge, he was promoted to a post in the Gardens of Chiswick, and in his new sphere acquitted himself with so much credit that in 1842, when news of the peace with the Celestial Empire reached England, the Botanical Society of London appointed him its collector of plants in Northern China. Setting sail in that capacity, Mr. Fortune, besides sending home some of the finest plants that ever reached that country, became familiar with the varieties of Chinese life.
His adventures by laud and sea were full of romance, and his "Three Years' Wanderings in China," in 1847, attracted such attention that its author, whilst curator of the Physic Garden at Chelesa, was, in the summer of 1848, intrusted by the East India Company with a mission to make investigations respecting the tea-plant. After an absence of more than three years, Mr. Fortune returned to England, and having published his valuable work, entitled " Two Visits to the Tea Countries of China," started once more to pursue his adventurous career, and prosecute his scientific researches. The results of this last journey are embodied in " Residence Among the Chinese, Inland, on the Coast, at Sea; being the third visit, from 1853 to 1867." In 1857 Mr. Fortune was employed by the United States Patent Office to collect in China, the seeds of the tea-shrub and other plants, a duty which occupied him two years, and which he discharged with considerable success.