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.
My own early conception of Florida would correspond, I fancy, very nearly with that popularly held, and which, if given in a few words would agree nearly with this: That it is a great sandy-surfaced peninsula, covered more or less with semi-tropical forest, and with natural gardens, or parks of flowers, through which there flows one great river, the broad, silent, lake-like St. Johns.
Of course the idea taken in, and held by anyone, of a region that has been described to him as a land of flowers, would not be very distinct, nor easily put into words. Descriptions that he had read of various other localities which bear a similar reputation, such for instance as portions of South or Central America; the valley of the Amazon, or that bordering the upper reaches of the Orinoco, or perhaps of the De La Plata, would furnish him with an abundance of materials with which he might build an imaginary flowery land in his own mind, and these he would doubtless use in that way whenever Florida was spoken of, or he had especial occasion to think of it, the picture being modified slightly by the several facts he may have casually picked up in conversation.
There is quite a large number of persons who though they have never obtained a glimpse of Florida, still are aware that a great arenaceous tract starting from a point just below the harbor of New York, continues indefinitely southward, with an apparent broadening of its area as it advances in the direction of the Gulf. This they would very naturally infer would reach the shores of the latter, and consequently constitute the superficial covering of the Peninsular State. To these people Florida must exist as nothing more enlivening than a vast sandy plain covered and shaded with dark, ever continuing forests of pine and scrub oak.
Having myself passed through various portions of the State, by boat, by rail, and by stage, I can confidently say that neither of the above conceptions of it are perfectly correct, though the latter view makes the nearer approach to the reality. Florida is truly speaking a brighter and cheerier edition of East and South New Jersey.
It is too, mostly a plain, and is largely covered with pine forest; but the plain occasionally rises, and breaks into a waved surface and the pines are often tall noble trees that standing widely apart, allow an abundance of sunlight to reach the flower carpeted ground beneath them, producing on an early spring day a wonderfully happy scene, and equally happy effects on the observer. Along the borders of streams, encircling lakes, marshes and innumerable dark pools of water where the ground is slightly depressed, a richer vegetation obtains, which is mostly deciduous, although the magnolia, the wild orange, the evergreen oak, and the palmetto, together with many species of tall shrubs mostly belonging to the order Ericaceae, are well represented.
These last - the shrubs - during the months of March, April and May, are covered with exquisite bell-shaped flowers, which, however, excepting in one or two instances, are not especially conspicuous. The adjective that I have used to describe the appearance of these higher heathers says a good deal, but it wants squeezing a bit, or strongly emphasizing, to bring it up to the point of fairly covering the delicious sensations the writer sometimes experienced in coming upon extra fine specimen plants, growing probably upon the banks of a forest rivulet, with their drooping wand-like branches densely covered with white or pale pink blossoms.
An instance as against a somber aspect being a conspicuous characteristic of Florida scenery, I will mention the brilliant coloring of the stream-bordering forest, as seen along the Saint Johns during the early part of the year, which though paler in the tints exhibited is similar to that witnessed at the North during the late Fall, the colors being made effectively conspicuous by contrast with the evergreen foliage everywhere present.
There are other more substantial ways in which the Southern State differs from the Northern one with which I have likened it.
These are all to be found at the surface, or below it, and so out of sight. One hardly anticipates finding rocks amongst sand, and yet in a number of places, a limestone rock is seen in detached blocks, or fragments scattered over the ground, or solidly bedded and apparently resting on an inexhaustible store below.
This rock bears considerable resemblance to similar rock quarried in another peninsula, that of Italy, and there employed for higher architectural purposes.
Along the coast, shell rock is a product, occur-ing in strata which may be seen bent out of their original horizontal position. Bearing the Spanish or Indian name of coquina (ko-kee-na); many specimens of this have been carried away by visitors and destributed widely over the country. Though seemingly very loosely held together the coquina proves a very durable building material as may be witnessed by an inspection of the very old walls of dwellings and those of the fortress, still occupied in the antique and very picturesque city of St. Augustine. Some portions of the State appear to be underlaid with oyster shells in great beds, the shells being in so nearly perfect a condition that one might easily suppose them to have been but recently placed where found. I have seen these shell beds six or eight feet below the surface of a perfectly level plain, and where they could only have been deposited when the entire land was at a lower horizon.
(To be concluded.)