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.
How we all admire a beautiful lawn, during summer, with a well selected collection of ornamental trees, shrubs and vines, properly trimmed and otherwise cared for, but how desolate and dreary this same lawn usually looks, for at least four months of the year, especially if not well supplied with evergreens. Now we all know that nearly or quite all the so-called evergreen trees and shrubs, not included in the class of Coniferae, in this latitude (40° North), wil retain their foliage but a short time after the cold and freezing weather of autumn and early winter has fairly set in ; and that the true evergreen of our temperate zone must, almost exclusively, be a Conifera, which is not, as a rule, a popular or even desirable tree or shrub to plant on the lawn, with the majority of our people, whose idea of a fine tree or shrub is one that produces "lots of flowers" during spring. As a rule, the existence of the lawn during the winter is perfectly ignored, except possibly to tie up a favorite and tender rose and shrub with a big bundle of straw or some other equally unsightly object.
Now it is a well known fact that our native trees, shrubs and to a large extent our native vines are not considered worth the time and trouble of transplanting, by the majority of our people, consequently, not being saleable, our nurserymen devote very little time and attention to their culture and improvement. But there certainly are among our native forest trees, many that are worthy a place on any lawn, and equal, if not superior, to many foreign and unacclimated species for which we are all often only too glad to pay an exorbitant price to secure even a poor, sickly specimen. Among the number of worthy native trees - and the last whose foliage seems to defy the conquering elements with its great power of endurance - is the oak; and, as if to add additional beauty to its majestic form in the last days of autumn, it is clothed with the most gorgeous dress of crimson, bronze and green, which makes it the glory of our autumn forest. However, their foliage is in time seared and browned from the effects of the continuous frosts and crisping autumn winds, and although often attached to the tree for a long time, still, by the middle of November or first of December their beauty is gone for the season.
Were it not for an insignificant, and (by the landscape gardener) rejected native vine, our forests would be entirely devoid of green foliage after the first of December. This despised vine, our native Smilax, or as it is popularly called by the country people, the Bramble or Greenbrier, comes nearer being a true evergreen than any of our native deciduous plants. Holding as it does its large glossy green leaves until late in the winter, it forms a very conspicuous feature in many a thicket and grove, especially if it be in a warm and sheltered position. In our enquiry among those living near its native habitat, no one seems to know it by the names of cat brier China brier, rough-bindweed, or even sarsaparilla as the popular name is sometimes said to be applied to it in some botanical works.
Our standard botanies enumerate fifteen species as natives of the United States; all of which are found growing wild in the great Mississippi Valley, and all of which are worth cultivating; but I do not remember to have ever seen a single specimen under cultivation. I very much doubt there being a half dozen plants so grown in the country. All portions of the world furnish a proportionate number of species, many of which are of great economic value in their contributions to medicine; while a few foreign tropical species are among our choicest greenhouse plants. Perhaps it would not be amiss to say that Sir Joseph Paxton, in his Botanical Dictionary, reduces the whole species of Smilax to six, four of which are found in North America and two in China, while the remaining forty species he classes as varieties or synonyms of valid species. This is without doubt too conservative a view of the subject to meet the ideas of the botanical 6tudent of to-day.
As Smilax rotundifolia, or the large round leaf Bramble would be to our notion the handsomest and most desirable of all our native species for cultivation, we will call particular attention to its-many good qualities, with the hope that it may stimulate a desire on the part of those wanting plants of actual merit for ornamental purposes, to make a trial of this native vine; for the effort certainly will repay all cost and trouble. As seen in its uncultivated condition, we find this species growing in moist, rich ground, usually in a thicket of underbrush, where its long and flexible stem often reaches the length of thirty feet; not usually, however, growing more than ten or fifteen feet high, but creeping from branch to branch, holding fast to each one by its wire-like tendrils thrown out from the base of each leaf-stem. While the whole upper portion of the stem is thickly covered with large round-ovate or heart-shaped leaves. Sometimes it prefers a location in a neglected fence corner, when it trails along the fence, occasionally grasping a stray weed or shrub for additional support;: and rarely it is seen climbing to the height of twenty or twenty-five feet from limb to limb on a thorn-apple bush or something of similar habit, where its glossy foliage makes it an object of great beauty after the tree has dropped all its leaves and fruit.
Now, if we only follow nature's instruction and plant in deep rich soil and grow them to cover a fence, frame, or even on a low-growing tree, and to make up for their natural lack of branches, plant a number of specimens near together, we have from our own fields what we cannot procure from the nurseryman, i. e., an evergreen vine, hardy, and most certainly adapted to our climate. One serious objection to its popularity with many will be its inconspicuous greenish flowers, but its bunches of bluish black fruit in autumn will more than compensate for the loss of flowers in spring when all nature seems to be alive with flowers.