This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Although not a member I have had the pleasure of attending several of the meetings of the Germantown Horticultural Society. I was very much interested at a late meeting in the discussion which took place on the growing of so-called half hardy evergreens, and also in regard to the skill displayed by gardeners in this country and in England. I think the idea intended to be conveyed by Mr. Morris and concurred in by you, is certainly correct.
However much we are prone to judge of the skill of a workman simply by the result of his labors, we must confess that this is not strictly just; that we should take into account not only the result but the difficulties that may have been overcome in attaining that result as well. Certainly, other things being equal, the difficulties overcome are the measure of the skill displayed.
In September, 1877, daylight one bright morning found us off Cape Race, Newfoundland. Steaming rapidly along in full view of that terribly rugged coast, I gazed fascinated on those perpendicular cliffs, against which so many noble ships have beaten out their lives, leaving nothing but a few scattered planks to carry home the tale of disaster. As we neared the entrance to the harbor of St. Johns I noticed a break nearly half way down the cliff upon which the signal station stands, and on turning the glass towards it I discovered a narrow plateau, perhaps two hundred feet wide, accessable only by a ladder from the top of the rock above, and laid out in little patches separated by low stone walls. Upon a nearer approach these proved to be terraced gardens, neatly laid out and cultivated. Certainly this was gardening under difficulties, and yet perfectly protected as it was to the north-west, it was probably quite successful.
Just beyond the old town of St. Johns bursts into view through the narrow: opening in the mountains, which terminated on either side in perpendicular cliffs rising to the height of four hundred feet. Sailing into the narrow landlocked harbor our vessel was soon secured to the wharf, whilst we were busy admiring a species of zoophyte, called by the natives squid squallis, which swarmed in the water around the pier. They were as beautiful as a flower. From an almost transparent disk hung long hair-like Aliments of the most brilliant colors, crimson, pink, carmine and almost purple. As they were swayed back and forth by the swell, the effect was very beautiful.
After dinner, which we took on board the steamer, we landed, and taking a vehicle called by courtesy a carriage, of the usual John Bull type, with wheels heavy enough for a cart, we drove up "River Head" into the country. I was fearful when we started that the poor little pony would give out under his load, but he proved himself equal to the task, and took us at a rapid rate over the finest country roads I ever saw. All the roads in the neighborhood of St. Johns are covered with a sort of gravel, apparently formed by the disintegration of the highly silicious sandstone, with which this part of the island abounds.
Along both sides of the St. Johns River - which by the way we would call a brook - are country seats of the wealthy merchants of the city - their Summer homes - for in the Winter, I was told, they moved into town and lived over their shops. The grounds were so shut in by thick plantations of trees, or rather saplings, as they never attained the proportion of trees, that we could not have much idea of them. In the country agriculture seemed to be just then confined to the cutting and curing of oats for fodder, as the grains did not ripen. The trees, principally evergreens, rarely attained the height of fifteen feet unless in some sheltered ravine, and all had a decided leaning towards the south-east. The farm houses whilst two stories high in front, to the south, were but a few feet high behind, the roof extending almost to the ground in order, I imagine, to allow the wind to slide over. On our return to the city we called on the Rev. Moses Harvey, pastor of the Scotch kirk, to whom we had been referred as being the "brains carrier of the island." "We found him a very pleasant gentleman.
Next morning Mr. Harvey called at the ship, and accompanied us to all points in the town, among others the Roman Catholic church, which is on the hill immediately opposite the entrance of the harbor, and though plain, is very large and contains many works of art, some of which are very fine. The government house was also visited and then that of Mr. Murray, the gentleman in charge of the geological surveys now being made of the island. Unfortunately he was absent on an expedition into the interior, but we were very cordially received by Mrs. Murray, and shown his extensive collection of the minerals of Newfoundland; from this we formed a much higher opinion of the country than before. Copper, coal, iron, nickel and gypsum are abundant. Mr. Murray's "reports of progress" are full of information. In the grounds of the governor's house we noticed a lovely bit of lawn used as an archery ground, sheltered on the north by a thickly planted belt of trees and shrubs.
In the afternoon we drove out to the north of the city, visiting a little fishing station at the head of a narrow cove running in from Torbay. The scene here is one of desolate grandeur; a small stream comes down from the interior through a narrow valley, flowing out over a stony beach of about one hundred yards in length, at either end of which the cliffs rise perpendicularly two hundred feet. The sea in the distance was apparently motionless, its glossy surface unruffled by a single white cap, and yet, with nothing to cause them but the ocean swell which rolls in, with nothing to break its force from the western shores of Ireland; the breakers were magnifi-cient, spray dashing fully forty feet into the air. What the scene would be were a strong easterly wind blowing we left to our imagination.
On our return we called to see a young lady whose acquaintance we had made on the steamer. On our expressing a desire to see the garden, we were shown all over the place, and were astonished at the result attained. The flower garden was gay with the more hardy kinds of flowers, among which I noticed some especially fine hollyhocks, the most brilliantly colored I ever saw. The vegetable garden was as usual protected on the north and west by a belt of standard trees. In it were dwarf pear and apple trees loaded with fruit, gooseberries, currants, very fine cabbage, turnips, celery and numerous frames which had contained cucumbers and melons. I was surprised at the skill displayed in this garden, and thought it equal to anything I had seen elsewhere, even, though the only result was a lot of fine cabbage. Now this, it seems to me, displayed a much higher order of skill in gardening than the superb specimens of a fuchsia described by you as growing without protection on the Isle of Wight.
Six weeks after this I found myself in San Antonio, Texas. Here I expected to find examples of semi-tropical gardening which would throw us poor northerners completely in the shade ; instead I saw nothing. At Marshall I noticed two magnificent specimens of Gardenia, each at least three and a half feet high by eight in circumference, with flowers two inches in diameter. I however found plenty to admire in Texas, even though disappointed in her gardens. Want of time prevented my going to Galveston, where I would probably have had my expectations realized.