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.
Perhaps there is no industry so little understood at the present time as that of selling or supplying trees and plants to the public by retail, through the medium of agents, or what are more familiarly known as tree dealers. This species of the genus homo is often looked upon with discredit and suspicion, if not actually classed among the frauds and swindlers, who go up and down the land seeking whom they may devour. That this distrust and want of confidence on the part of the public has much foundation in the unscrupulous representations and swindling practices of some who are engaged in this business is freely admitted, and the misfortune is, that they cannot seemingly be reached by the law and punished. It has come, however, to be quite the fashion among our horticul tural and agricultural magazines and papers to asperse and condemn all who prosecute this business, and to recommend to their readers to have no dealings with agents, but to send their orders directly to some respectable and responsible nursery firm.
That these denunciations are made through ignorance is apparent to one who understands the workings of the trade, because they are indiscriminate and unqualified, and because they recommend what has not, and probably will not, become the general practice; and furthermore, what is quite as likely to be as unwise as it is unjust. I propose here to briefly show that the business of supplying trees, etc, to the public through agents, is an entirely distinct and separate one from growing and wholesaling, and that the nurseryman, so called, has not-the facilities and is not the best prepared to serve the public in this way. At the outset, however, it should be understood that there are two classes of dealers; the one is an itinerant, without capital invested, with no organized business beyond what pertains to his personal canvass. He goes over his territory, takes his orders, and at the proper season betakes himself to some nursery to buy his stock. The proprietor looks over his list of wants and says, I can furnish this, that, and the other, but such and such things I cannot supply.
Having no further facilities for filling his bills, and generally but little time to spare, it usually ends in giving the nurseryman instructions to supply what he can true to name, and substitute for the balance, and thus indirectly, the public get the same treatment they would in dealing directly with the nurseryman; for many of these men are honest, and as the writer, an old nurseryman, knows, most exactr ing and clamorous for the best stock. Now, as distinguished from this class of dealers is another, and between the two, there is about as much difference as between the pack-peddler and the responsible and organized commercial house. This latter has experience, capital, system and organized facilities, and prosecutes the business with as much fidelity to detail and honesty of purpose as is found in any class of trade whatever. There are many such firms, but it is not my purpose to make distinction of any one; but having had extensive dealings with them, and not being jealous or envious of their encroachments on my special department, I propose to tell what I know of their methods and system.
If you shall visit one of these firms you will probably find spacious offices, with a large clerical force busily engaged in performing their allotted duties; a hundred, or possibly two hundred men are acting as agents or canvassers for this firm. At the end of each week all orders are required to be sent in, and from these orders a list is made of every item called for, and the number of each, the orders are aggregated, in short, and from this aggregate sheet the items are drawn off, one by one, under proper headings on to what is termed a Stock Book. These stock books are about four feet long when opened, and are divided by different headings, such as Standard Apples, Standard Pears, Cherries, Peaches, Raspberries, Currants, Grapes, Evergreens, Ornamental Trees, Ornamental Shrubs, Roses, etc, etc. The pages are ruled vertically, and at the head of each column is the name of varieties arranged alphabetically; as for instance, under the head of Standard Apples will come Alexander, Autumn Strawberry, Baldwin, and so on. Each week then, as the totals of each variety sold are obtained from the orders, they are entered under the appropriate headings, so that at any time, and at a glance it may be seen just what is sold. From this Stock Book the purchases are made.
It may be early or it may be later in the season, but at any time it is known what is wanted, and a thorough knowledge of where stock is grown, whether it is scarce or plenty, enables the firm always to secure their supply in time.
There is little or no temptation to substitute or use inferior stock. If the desired varieties and quantity are not found in one place they can be in another, and thus, by this system of keeping track of every item on every order, and a thorough knowledge of the wholesale market, and the whole season in which to obtain supplies, ninety-nine one-hundreths of the orders can be filled with precisely the varieties called for and of precisely the quality stipulated.
Of the vast detail and great amount of work necessary in "working up" these orders preparatory to packing, it is not necessary here to speak at length. Suffice it to say that it is so arranged that all small plants and everything of a tender nature are kept separate, so that when the time for packing comes all these things are carefully mossed, strawed and protected against all injury from transportation. The firm having their own packing yard, receive stock from the different nurseries where they have purchased, carefully sort it, and if anything is found inferior or not up to contract it is rejected and replaced by that which is right. Now the business of raising a general nursery stock is entirely different from this, and occupies all the time and thought of the nurseryman. He has no time for all the details and minutiae of a retail business; besides, in a business representing many thousands of dollars in these orders, no one nurseryman, or dozen nurserymen in this country could begin to furnish all the items called for. The nurseryman having grown his stock feels naturally that, in justice to himself, he must dispose of what has already cost him time and money rather than make outside purchases, and so he often fails to supply entirely, or takes the liberty of substituting.
Some of these firms of dealers of which I have been speaking, not being able to satisfy the public demands in this country, import largely of choice and rare things from Europe, and thus anticipate the nurseryman who relies upon his own productions, and must take time to get up a stock. I think, Messrs. Editors, from what I have written it is clearly demonstrated that it is not the nurseryman alone that is worthy of patronage, nor is the dealer entitled only to condemnation; both are good in their spheres and worthy of popular favor. There are unworthy men among each as in every branch of business, but I believe in the main they are doing a good work, doing it conscientiously and should be sustained.
[In addition to the above, we have a "private" from which we take the following: "Having seen the article in your February number, entitled 'Frauds,' and your comments thereon, and my attention having repeatedly been attracted to articles of this kind in other magazines and papers, and believing, as I do, that they are misleading and unjust, I have prepared an article, which, if you deem worthy, I should very much like to have published in your next issue as a reply."
A man who brings us a letter from some one we know, or has other things to show he really is the person he represents himself to be, is not a stranger any more. No one has ever objected to buying from authenticated agents. Every department of trade has its accredited travelers, and by them trade is pushed into quarters where trade would never be heard of. But this is a wholly different subject, and does not prevent us from repeating that any one who trusts money, or any valuable thing into the hands of a total stranger, unless he is able to see just what he is getting for his money, is an idiot; and if any person of this class gives a fellow two dollars for a dozen scarlet tuberose roots, on the bare assertion that he is "agent for the celebrated Achelis Nurseries," he has just the sympathy we give to idiots and nothing more. - Ed. G. M.]