This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the decoration of our gardens, we may often find abundant material close at hand. When in Europe, a few years ago, I found the Heracleum lanatum, one of the most conspicuous ornaments in Battersea Park. The name Heracleum is derived from Hercules. He was a giant among men, and this plant is a giant among herbaceous plants. It is near the parsnip in its natural connections, but the head of flowers is white like the carrot, but as wide across under favorable conditions as an ordinary sized parasol. It is no unusual circumstance to find plants with stems seven or eight feet high. In Battersea Park they skirted the edge of the lake on the opposite side from whence the observer stood, and the effect in the distance was grand. In a recent ride up the Schuylkill river, from Philadelphia to Williamsport, I was particularly struck with the charming scenery, in which this grand plant was a prominent feature. It surely deserves garden culture. In proper places nothing could produce so grand an effect. Whether it was that I took this trip at a particularly favorable time or not I cannot say, but the beauty of the scenery over this line of road never before impressed me so strongly as now.
It is common to say that if we want to see flowers that are flowers, we must go among the Pentstemons of Colorado. But here on the railroad banks, and in half-shaded woods everywhere, was the grand parent of all the Pentstemons, the first one found and described, Pentstemon pubescens, in a role of beauty it seemed never to have attempted before. It seems to me that when we talk of natural selection, and of one plant getting the better of another in the great struggle for life, we should not forget the influence of an occasional good season. There may be years when the plant does not seed well, or if seeding well the seeds do not grow, or if the seeds grow freely the plants have no great encouragement; but when the good time comes that all these conditions are favorable, the particular plant it favors runs riot in the luxury of the time. Pentstemon pubescens had its jubilee this year, for perhaps a decade or more it may barely be able to hold its own, or perhaps be almost crowded out, and other kinds of plants will have their good time in turn.
Another pretty plant which I never saw so abundant as this year was the pretty blue-shaded fern Pellaea atropurpurea, one of the prettiest of all the cliff-brakes. Wherever there was a partially shaded mortared wall along the line, it was doing its best to freely ornament it. On one railroad wall a remarkably beautiful effect was produced by one of the European bind weeds, Calystegia sepium, which by some means had found for itself a home among the crevices of the huge square blocks of stone. The branches hung down like drapery for many feet, and was profusely dotted with its rosy-white wine-glass formed flowers. It is a dangerous plaything, however, for its white wiry roots are almost indestructible, while at the same time they are the most infinitely divisible of all the living particles of matter.
The Rhododendron maximum, which begins to be abundant at Port Clinton, was not yet in flower, but its twin sister, the beautiful Kalmia, was in partial bloom in many places. As we ascended to higher elevations the pretty white-berried dogwood, Cornus paniculata, was found in full flower. At this season it is quite the equal of the famed Laurustinus of British gardens. Oh, if it were like it, an evergreen! Of coniferous evergreens the white pine is most abundant, but, strange to say, is seldom the sole occupant of the forest, but shares its bed and board with oaks and maples in about equal quantities. This mixture of various shades of green is very interesting at this season of the year, but is particularly so in the autumn when the deciduous trees take on their autumn tints, while the white pine keeps its blue green all the year through. The most prevalent species of oak is the scarlet and the chestnut. I have never before found the former so abundant. The Schuylkill region might almost be called the home of the scarlet oak. Many of these woods have had their timber cut away, but are all growing up to forest vegetation. It is a great struggle, however, for the best kinds to succeed.
There is, of course, a continual tendency of the soil at the top of a steep hill to roll to the bottom with every melting snow or shower of rain. The soil will always be thinner and poorer on the top for a second crop than for the first; while the immense mass of crowded material which dies in the struggle for life is the most glorious food for the forest fire. I am more than ever convinced that forestry must be taken out of the hands of nature and placed in the intelligent hands of man beforelong. New plantations must be made and tended with all the skill that art can bring It is little use trying to save the old forests. With the immense amount of rotten brush and undergrowth under them, we cannot save them from the forest fire. Let us plant out thousands of acres of new woods, with no underbrush - fireproof forests - then let the old woods go, the sooner perhaps the better.
But I started to speak of beauty. It is perhaps unfortunate that the road is known only by its baby name of" Reading." It is a man now, and stretches out its arms in earnest work over hundreds of miles of lines. Here it winds up along the whole length of the beautiful Schuylkill, and, with me, to-day, crosses the Beaver, and lands me at Williamsport beyond the Susquehanna. Now the waters are as smooth as glass - immense lakes, caused by some dam thrown across the river, and which have turned the wild waste of waters into industrial pursuits; now it is again the wild child of nature, rushing madly over the rugged rocks into the peaceful little lake below; now it is as narrow as a race, cutting its way through some hills, whose walls of many hundreds of feet high seem to give but grudgingly the right of way to the imperious water course; and now, again, it is wide and has given the red birch a chance to fight for the land, and often inch by inch to contest with the waters, holding the gathered soil for a season till sedges and sub-aquatic grasses come in turn to secure the victory the red birches gained for them. Few things are more attractive than these islands in the midst of the waters, gained by the industry of these persevering water soldiers, the red birch trees.
I think none of the altitudes on this line are over 2,000 feet. The highest point in the pass through which the railroad passes is but 1,500 feet. But every traveler knows how deceptive heights are. Often we may as well be near a level with the sea, so blocked are we by hills on every side. I once went on Round Top to see from there the whole battle-field of Gettysburg, but the pines and cedars and oaks shut in the view from every side, and I had to climb a large walnut tree and look out from among its upper branches before I could see that for which I had toiled so high. But the Schuylkill river line is a succession of broken hills, around which the road continually winds, and gives us innumerable glimpses of the country for miles below and beyond. There is one particularly beautiful scene beyond Tama-qua. We have all heard of the grand horseshoe bend of the Pennsylvania Railroad as it crosses the Alleghanies. The bend on this road here is just as fine a piece of engineering, while the varied beauty connected with the surrounding scenery has charms that I have never experienced in any similar scene. As a rule, the traveler likes the fast lines.
If he has any love for the beautiful in nature, he will love to linger rather than hasten over his journey here.
Williamsport is the head centre of the lumber trade. One mill which I had the pleasure of examining is owned chiefly by W. E. Dodge, the well-known wealthy and generous merchant of New York. This mill turns out about 196,000 square feet of boards per day, besides laths and other economic workings from the lumber waste. Two hundred and four men were at work at this time, and is about the number employed usually in the mill. White pine is chiefly cut up. They feel secure in having all they need of this for the next ten years, and say there are "exhaustless" supplies of hemlock when these are done. I suppose they know. At least I was surprised to find how little of the public anxiety about the future timber supply exhibited by the public generally, was shared by these people who would have countless thousands of dollars of capital destroyed if the supply of logs should give out.
The great beauty of the town of Williamsport, and the tasteful culture exhibited in its suburban houses and gardens, pleased me. I remarked last year of Cleveland that there was a singular lack of variety in the ornamental vines used in gardening. Here there was a profusion of kinds, but after all few more beautiful than our own native Virginia Creeper. In the former home of the celebrated Peter Herdic, who did so much to make Williamsport famous, the masses of foliage seemed to grow down from the top in pendents of inverted cones, like huge icicles on Niagara, or immense stalactites in some grand old cave. I have never noticed such effects from the use of this plant before, beautiful as they so often are. Another garden had an avenue of sugar maples along the winding carriage road which led to the front door. Just as I saw them four years ago in the Palace Garden of Luxemburg, planted by the fair hands of the Empress Josephine now long ago, here also the Virginia Creeper had been taken up the trunks of the tree, and then brought down to near the ground as a festoon, and then led up to the tree adjoining. The beautiful curves of green formed by these living festoons of foliage are so pleasing to the cultivated eye, that it is a wonder the device has not been more frequently imitated.
This is the first instance I have seen outside of the famous Paris Garden.
Few people who see charming city suburbs stop to think how much is due to the enterprise of intelligent florists and nurserymen. They not only ply for custom, but they are the great educators of public taste. There may be more florists about Williamsport than we know of, but this we are sure of, that very much of the credit of the beauty we saw is due to Thomas Even-den, the pioneer, and Henry Chaapel, a younger venturer on the fields of floriculture.
Every line of travel has its especial advantages. The writer seldom passes over any but he finds much to learn and enjoy; but in the line of pure and simple beauty, seldom has he enjoyed so luxurious a feast as this short trip over the Reading, from Williamsport to Philadelphia.