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.
I am afraid your readers are getting too much of this subject; but you will bear me out in saying that I did not start the controversy in your columns, and only now refer to it in defence of my position, which one, at least, of your correspondents (J. B.) very unfairly assails, when he quotes me as having said that John Bull did not know how to pulverize the soil until I told him in 1872.
Nothing is more annoying in a controversy of this kind than to be misquoted and misrepresented. What I did say in this matter, and which undoubtedly most readers well knew, was, that in 1872 these particular John Bulls, of the Fulham Market Gardens, that I then visited, had not yet found out that the plough and harrow were better pulverizers than the spade and rake. If I was wrong in believing which is the best method of pulverizing the soil, that is another matter; but it was and is my honest belief, as an extensive and exclusive practice of this method for thirty years well attests.
Your other correspondent, John Gunn, thinks that one reason why vegetables sell higher in London than in New York is, that rents are higher, and quotes £7, ($35) per acre as being paid for gardens supplying the London market. The price paid as rent per acre for the gardens that grow for New York markets will, I think, average higher. In Hudson Co., N. J., the average is probably $40 per acre. Some of them nearest the city pay twice that, and that, too, in quite a, number of cases only from year to year, as the grounds are held as too valuable to give a lease; and yet not a few of them have made good sized fortunes even when selling in a market averaging 25 per cent, less than that of London, while the price paid for labor was 50 per cent. more. Now I can tell your correspondents, who so quickly fly to the defence of John Bull at home, that by far the most successful market gardeners in this vicinity are Englishmen ; but Englishmen whose necessities, on coming here, forced them to adopt common sense methods; Englishmen who were shrewd enough to take a better idea than that they had previously had from any man, whether black or white; Englishmen who were far too sensible to let their conceit stand in the way of their interests.
Englishmen, also, in the vicinity of New York in the flower department of horticulture, have reason to be proud of their eminence. A majority of those managing the Rosaries at Madison, N. J., where roses are perhaps better handled than in any part of this country or Europe, are Englishmen. The proprietors of the best collection of plants for commercial purposes are all Englishmen. Our largest grower of winter flowers is an Englishman; one who, a few years ago, on his return from a European trip, was so impressed with the slow methods in use there, that he said that, had he been a younger man, he would want no better field for business than London after his ten years of American experience.
A few years ago, I received an order from a well-known nurseryman at Clapton, England, for a hundred of a general assortment of bedding plants, such a Verbenas, Petunias, etc, of varieties that he wanted to try. I packed them by wrapping the balls in paper in the usual way, and packed them in an ordinary chip basket, such as cost us about ten cents, and which weighs about one (1) pound. The packing was done with no more care than if they were to be shipped to Philadelphia. Their arrival was reported to be in perfect order, without the loss of a single plant. In ordering plants from him in exchange, I implored him to pack in a light basket as near as possible as we had done, so as to save us expense. His basket duly arrived, containing less weight of plants than I had sent to him, and weighed, when empty, exactly twenty-two (22) pounds. It was the usual round hamper affair, made of willows nearly as thick as one's finger, for which I was charged, with the packing, four shillings sterling. Now I have no doubt my English friend made as little on the transaction as I did, though his prices were fully twice what I had charged him.
He certainly made nothing on his four shillings for packing:, for his graceful basket must have cost two shillings; and as every plant was mossed up and wound around with string, some of which, by actual measurement, were sixty feet in length, the other two shillings charged were certainly well earned.
I wrote, bitterly complaining, asking him why he could not pack as we had done, and save us cost of freight and cost of packing. His reply was. "It is no use attempting it. I might as well try to change the current of the Thames as to break my old packers into your Yankee ways, though I frankly acknowledge that your method is light and simple, and that the plants arrived in excellent order."
Every florist who has received plants from England knows that there is no exaggeration in these statements of how packing is done; and if these cumbersome, costly and elaborate methods are still used in packing, is it not fair to assume that many similar methods are used in culture? In plants annually received from a large London house, we find that the labels and stakes are yet made by hand, and the mysterious number is almost invariably used instead of a name, giving an immensity of extra work in invoicing; as, instead of aggregating a score of plants sold at one price, each number and name has to be written separately, instead of printing or writing 500 or 1000 at once, as is done here. Is it any wonder, then, that we have to pay a guinea for a new plant whose progeny of the same size here we gladly sell for a dollar? Fine plants of roses of all the leading kinds are now sold here for $60 per 1000, three pence sterling apiece. I have yet to see any English catalogue, where any but a few kinds they may have in surplus are offered at any such price; and when it comes to retail prices, the discrepancy is even greater; for it is safe to say that the prices named in their retail lists are at least one-third greater than in our retail lists.
In the matter of new plants, the American florist has to take a far back seat. John Bull here towers over him with a vengeance. Last season the American-raised new Coleus were, without doubt, more than equal to the European; yet they were sold by half a dozen growers here at an average of 75 cents each, while the London sets were offered at an average of $1.25 each, and some extra ones at the favorite half guinea.
This is a digression from the text started with, but it is nevertheless somewhat germain to the subject, whether or not the methods of commercial horticulture are not more practical here than there I certainly believe they are, and no better proof need be adduced than the simple fact that we can and do undersell them while paying at least one-third higher for labor.