This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Mr William Robinson, the author of ' The Parks, Promenades, and Gardens of Paris,' is at present making a tour through the United States of America. He has written home some communications of a very interesting character, and the following extract from one of them will not fail to interest many of our readers: -
"No doubt many among the least fortunate gardeners in England look over here with curious eyes, and may perhaps be interested in a few remarks on the prospects of gardeners in this country. Of course I cannot pretend to know as much about their chances here as persons who have been much longer in the country, but I have perhaps seen as much of the gardening of the country since coming here, as many who have been for years rooted in the spot. Of the capacities of the country for gardening I have no manner of doubt, notwithstanding the complaints of many who have to do with it. To find a country or climate without drawbacks, is not given to gardening men. In England, we often complain of our cloudy skies, but here a brighter climate brings a murderous host of insects, and the gardener finds a new source of grief and grumbling. But when I reflect that in this country most things can be grown that we grow in England, and that, on the other hand, not a few important products that with us require a high artificial heat (Melons, for example) may be grown to perfection by merely sowing them in the open air like common annuals, I have no hesitation in saying that eventually this country will be found much more favourable for gardening than our own.
But to the professional gardener other things are of vital importance. Of what avail to him are fertile soils, and fine and varied climates, if employers are not to be had? Now, in America there is a very large class who make money freely - make it sometimes so rapidly as to astonish even Manchester - but it is a fact that a very small proportion of these take anything like the interest in gardens that corresponding classes do in England. Sundry reasons might be given for this. Perhaps a good many of the new-rich are not sufficiently refined; perhaps all the money which they can devote to aesthetic purposes goes for the absurdly large rings which decorate the fingers of themselves and their wives; perhaps the amount of Nicotiana Virginica smoked and chewed may remove the necessity for any other joys which the vegetable kingdom can afford - but there is little need to inquire. There are in America numbers of persons of highly-refined taste, who delight in country and suburban life, and among these some have good gardens, and are most agreeable masters; but let it not be supposed that even with these the life of a gardener is anything like what it is in England. There is probably not a place in the country where a gardener has the same stand-iug or the same comforts which fall to the lot of the first-class gardener in England. Labour is so very expensive that no man can afford to keep a bevy of workmen; so manual labour from the head-gardener is indispensable.
Thus places for what are called first-class gardeners in England may be said not to exist! I have met young men who had been foremen in good places in England, and who had got as good places as could be obtained here, who considered they had made a mistake in leaving the old country. The rule here is, a small place with one man or two to help; and the master is usually master of the situation in the garden, as well as in other departments, which we know is not always the case in England. There he generally orders his own seeds and plants, which will at once suggest a difference. Then, again, the pay, even in the best places, does not leave a gardener better if so well off as he would be in England. But healthy, hardy, young gardeners ought to be able to adapt themselves to the wants of a new country, and, if so, they will find sundry openings not obtainable in the old country. There is not by any means so great an improvement in the pay of the gardener as of the labourer. Men satisfied with second or third class places, or single-handed ones, may find their expectations answered - others not. If, however, there is less high gardening here, there are more chances in other ways.
The nursery business is fairly profitable, and in nurseries young men may find good places from time to time; and the cut-flower business - that is to say, the growing of plants for the flowers they yield in winter - is still more so. The best course of all for a young gardener is, after he has succeeded in saving a few hundred dollars, to try and secure some ground of his own - not difficult in this country - and establish himself as a nurseryman, grower of cut flowers, or market-gardener. The two first may be, and often are, combined. The difficulty is, of course, to get the means to start with, but the well-to-do florists round the large cities came without a dozen dollars, and the coming men can win with the same weight. But all should understand that success must be preceded by years of patient labour; therefore it should be attempted by no man who is not young. Unless engaged for good situations previously, it is folly for gardeners past their youthful prime to come here. Botanic gardens may be said not to exist in this country, so there are but few chances for the budding curator.
The finest gardens in the country are the great public parks, such as the Central Park at New York, and Fairmount Park at Philadelphia, - vast and beautifully diversified pieces of ground, happily not yet overdone with flower-beds. But parks of this kind are of necessity so few that they are scarcely worth alluding to in this connection. In distant parts of this country, as most people know, grants of land are to be had for the asking, or for a very low price; but it need hardly be added that to commence life on such, some little capital is required, but not more than could be accumulated after a few years' work here. But the hardships, loneliness, and inconvenience of out-settlement life are not such as should be willingly encountered by any but the hardy, vigorous, and young. Life in the backwoods or back-prairies may seem very nice in books, but it means hard work and scant reward for a good many years. It is the second generation that reaps the benefit of it. Yet with all its difficulties numbers of young men from the long-settled and populous New England States go out west, and say they like their lot there very well. Sometimes, too, town-bred men go forth to break the virgin sod, and the young gardeners of England and Scotland ought to be able to compete with any of these.
The one charm among all the difficulties encountered here is, that they lead to independence at last; but that life may not be thrown away in the attempt, it is necessary to begin young. Briefly, then, the advice to gardeners thinking of coming here should be: If you have a good or even a middling place at home, or even a good prospect, be content, and make the most of things as you find them around you. But if you are young and strong, and poor and friendless, come and fear not, for no matter what you turn your hand to here, you are almost certain to arrive at a better end than the many poor gardeners at home, who are as dependent for their precarious living at the end of a long life of hard work as at its commencement".