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.
During a visit to Boston last autumn, about the time the grapes were ripe, I made a hurried visit to the home of Mr. Wilder, and was pleased to find him in as excellent health and spirits as if it were a dozen years ago, excepting, perhaps, a somewhat slower and more careful movement, resulting from his severe accident several years since. He was full of enthusiasm over the prospective meeting of the Pomological Society in Boston, next autumn, and there is no doubt but the members generally will have a gay and happy time. Mr. Wilder had just left for my company the shade of a magnificent beech tree, on the trunk of which he had engraved his name, as boys are wont to do. I could not help wishing that he would be there in ten years' time, to add another postscript to the chapter he recorded there that day. With so much to look forward and hope for, there was still much to recall what had passed. It is now nearly thirty years ago since I had pointed out to me in the upper part of New York city the old greenhouses of Michael Floy. All some of us now know of him is that he was one of that famous set which made America celebrated for improved camellias. Camellia Floyii was at that time a standard sort,- and here I had the whole story brought back to mind by the veritable original plant.
It cost Colonel Wilder $250 to get that original plant forty years ago; and it seemed quite contented to remain in its present comfortable quarters as many more. The original of the famous Mrs. Abby Wilder is also still here,- a splendid pyramidal plant. The Colonel is still busy at work in raising improved seedlings; two very fine whites bloomed this year.
His chief delight, however, seemed to be in his azalea and lily seedlings, - on the latter, especially, he was enthusiastic. It was then about the flowering time. Boasting of his fondness for work, I happened to ask him where were his tools, and he at once took from his pocket his camel's hair brush for administering foreign pollen, lead pencil, note-book, threads of different colors labels, etc, with which he carried out his hybridizing plans. We can all "live and learn," and I felt very much the force of it here amidst these successes. Here were some kinds producing seed vessels that I could never induce to seed at all. Of course, I was only too glad to express my profound ignorance, for one who goes through the world knowing everything, seldom gets the chance to learn much. The Colonel kindly told me how he did it. Before the flowers opened, the flower-stems had strings tied round them tightly in order to check the supply of nutrition, and this brought them to the fruiting stage. How strange it is that after something is told to us, we seem to have known about it long ago.
Here was I, who had written chapters on chapters showing the antagonism between the vegetative and the reproductive forces in plants - who knew well enough that ringing the branches of a vigorous but unfruitful tree would throw it into fruit; and yet I never had the sense to reflect that the same law which made barren branch flower, ought to make a barren flower seed. The subject brought up a little talk about Darwin and clover, Spenser and change, by development, - and while we do not feel free to say that Colonel Wilder is an ad vocate of evolution, we feel sure he is an earnest believer in progression.
Most greenhouses in summer time are among the things we never talk about in the presence of ears polite, - but here I could go through without a ruffled temper, for everything was neat and clean, - and indeed it was a real pleasure. Gloxineas and other gesneraceous plants encouraged us charmingly.
Here also hybridization was going on, and I was much interested in a plant raised between a Plectopoma and an Achimenes. Crossing and hybridizing and the raising of new and improved varieties, seemed indeed to be among the chief pleasures in the daily life of the veteran horicul-turist. Out in the garden, among the strawberries and grapes, it was the same thing. Either something to watch for its prospects, or something which told a tale of success already won. But among the greatest of all pleasures was it to halt every once in a while and listen to his tales of his contemporaries. He would now have a word of praise for this one for what he had done, or some sort of commendation for another. Now he would start to show how this one had scarcely had enough credit for this, or that he should always be remembered for something else. What a pleasure it is to be with one who brims over with good will to all and malice towards none ! I could not help asking myself whether it was horticulture or the man that deserved the credit of the kindly heart? In this case I fancy both may claim a share. There is one point in these little garden corner chats I must repeat and endorse. He thought Rogers, the Salem grape-improver, had scarcely received the thanks he was entitled to.
He was the first to show that grapes could be really crossed, and this he showed amidst much unbelief, - yet to the successful stand made by Rogers we owe much of the great gratification the numberless good grapes now give us. Marble monuments have been erected to men who have done far less for their country than Rogers has.
The famous pear orchard of 3,000 trees was not bearing well this year, and for the first time in its history some little fire blight appeared. I should like to write more of this interesting place, of its kindly owner, and the charming hospitality of Mrs. Wilder and daughters, but the pressure on the editorial pen warns me that I must not dwell too long on my own pleasures, but close this letter for other work.