This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Having recently noticed in your magazine, also in the New York Weekly Sun, some remarks in regard to tree agents, it would seem, notwithstanding the ingenious letter written by a Ro Chester dealer, and which you published a short time ago, that the plain truth had not been stated.
You qualified your remarks, by stating that the public need not be afraid to purchase from the authorized agents of responsible firms; but, unfortunately, the public is not very discriminating in its treatment of tree agents; as a rule, classing them all alike, and in sections, where some man has misused them, it makes no difference how good a firm a man represents, he is classed as a fraud.
The writer of the article in the Sun, with all due respect to his literary abilities, proved, by his sweeping and ignorant abuse, that he knew as little of the manner in which nursery stock is sold, retail to the public, as the buyers know themselves; and it would have been but simple justice, on his part, to have, by proper inquiry, placed the blame and fault where they properly belong.
The majority of tree agents are employed by nurserymen and dealers, and therefore, in view of foregoing facts, it is plain to be seen that, in the present state of the case, the public are more than likely to make the many suffer for the faults of the few, and thus inflict a great and too often irreparable injustice on an honest and hard-working class of men.
The only tree agents who can swindle the public are those who sell for themselves, and they constitute a very small portion of those engaged in the business, probably not the one-hundredth part. These men, being irresponsible and having no reputation to lose, sell for just such prices as they can obtain, irrespective of the market value of nursery stock, and when they come to purchase what they have sold, often find that they cannot fill their orders with genuine trees, except at a loss, and then, perhaps, as a not unnatural consequence, they buy whatever they can obtain the cheapest, and make such as they purchase take the place' of what they have sold. The greatest, as well as the most innocent, swindler in the tree business is the harmless little label, and if it could only speak what trouble it would cause - what fraud it would expose.
The remedy for the fraud practiced in the tree business is in the hands of those who have its welfare at heart - the responsible nurserymen and dealers throughout the States, and if they would but use their influence to prevent all wrong-doing, the nursery business would be elevated to the position that its great usefulness, and the many benefits it confers, justify it in holding.
The agents who represent nurserymen and dealers cannot swindle the public, for the reason that they neither grow the stock they sell, nor pack the orders they take, and being, as a rule, when they engage in the business, inexperienced as to the values of the various varieties of fruits that they sell, tell people just what their employers instruct them to say, or what the descriptions of the various plates they have in their books, represent such fruits as they describe to be.
If there is any swindling done here the agent is certainly not the guilty party.
The public is, like nature, very cruel, and often makes assertions that it cannot sustain. As a rule, a man who buys trees, and who for want of proper care loses them, considers that he has been swindled, and consequently calls the agent who sold them a fraud. Nine-tenths of the people who purchase nursery stock give it little or no attention, and seldom if ever plant it properly, and as a very natural result lose most of what they purchase; and this accounts for nine-tenths of the so-called swindling on the part of tree agents. The other tenth may be ascribed as explained in this letter, or to the persistent resolve of the public to buy trees from those who can tell the biggest stories and sell the cheapest,irrespective of whom they are buying from ; they have yet to learn, at least in the nursery business, that the cheapest is not always the best; and as soon as our pomological societies can make the public understand that the value of a fruit is not to be measured by the size of the tree on which it grows; that all trees do not grow straight and large; that nature, and not the nurseryman, shapes them; that trees will at times die from natural or unnatural causes, such as excessive drought, cold, etc, for which the nurseryman, being but human, is not to blame, just so soon will they cease to make most of their complaints of having been swindled.
The act of delivering any tree that is not perfectly straight, to some people, is quite sufficient cause to them to complain of being swindled.
Let us be just to the tree agent, so that he may not be prevented by wrongful accusation from earning his livelihood; and let us also endeavor, through the powerful mediums of the press, that are directly connected with the business, and of which your magazine is such an able representative, to instruct the public what is best for them to plant, in their section, and also from whom they should purchase - viz., responsible men, or their authorized representatives only.
To obtain reform we must first have reformers, and the most needed reforms in the tree business are the following:
1. Education of the public, by means of the press and pomological societies, as to the nature of trees and plants; their various habits, their adaptability to different sections of country, and to the important fact that they should purchase only from responsible parties, or their authorized representatives, who can if necessary prove their responsibility.
2. Public and prompt exposure of all known frauds in the business.
3. Sufficient testing of new varieties before selling them.
4. Honest and careful discrimination in selling varieties best adapted to different localities.
We live in a practical age, and men will readily learn what it is to their advantage to know.
I ask you to publish this letter in the interest of and injustice to a vast number of men whose appellation of tree agent makes it, at present, difficult for them to reap a just return for their labor, and who I am sure will gratefully thank you, for any effort on your part to place their position properly before the public.