This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
When we review the different countries, in which modern gardening is practiced, comparing the chances and the social position of gardeners with what they have to expect here in the land of the free, the result is not altogether encouraging nor flattering.
A man who indulged for a number of years, perhaps the best of his life, in the belief that gardening is an inseparable companion of civilization and is sure to become everywhere, after the first necessities of society have been supplied, an honorable and remunerative calling, worthy of an intelligent man's devotion, may finally find out that this belief was somewhat delusive. Examining the majority of the class he is supposed to belong to, their social rank and average compensation, he will find that he has got amongst the order of minorum gentium, and he must be a philosopher if he can take himself by the nose, thinking: serves you right; otherwise he must feel bitterly disappointed, nay miserable. Why is it, that so great a number, perhaps the majority of "hired" gardeners are so dissatisfied with their lot? Should the blame indeed justly be laid all to them? I think not. There are undoubtedly many who are gardeners only in name and really know, as Downing said, "little beyond the mysteries of cultivating that excellent plant, the Solanum tuberosum." But there are also employers, who are gentlemen only in name, whose gardeners in every respect, apart from money, are their equals, if not their superiors, taking their moral and intellectual qualities all together.
It is just this class of gardeners' which has less chance here than the former. Why this is so may be found out. but it is yet a public secret. No one dares to divulge it openly and publicly; it is whispered over the fence into the ear of the discreet neighbor, who with a significant twinkling of the eye says, that he always thought so.
We have meters for everything, chronometers, lactometers, dynamometers, alcoholometers; - the latter invented by Tralles, a clever Frenchman, who after inventing a meter for the spirit of distillers ought to have invented a little machine, which gardeners might carry in their pocket, when going after a situation, to ascertain the true spirit of gentlemen or those who wish to pass themselves for such. A cheap little apparatus of that description might be found very useful by a good many others than gardeners, who have to work for a living. For without it, whether or not the article be " proof," can only be found out after some experience has been gained by tasting. Both the genuine and the spurious article, are embaled alike and ride in the same carriage, with the same labels stuck on.
A good deal derogatory to gardeners has been said by both gentlemen and others, but justice demands that audiatur et altera pars!
As little as a man of bone and muscle, willing to work, is therefore able to perform the higher duties of a gardener, so little is a man of property and money, willing to pay for what he gets, therefore able to perform the higher duties of a gentleman. It is not he, a gentleman, who knows how to exact of others everything he deems due to himself, but he, who never forgets what he owes to others. And this is not always money for " value received," but it is paying respect, where respect has not yet been forfeited. By what right, for instance, do employers call the gardener by his Christian name, like a boy? It is this, an offensive familiarity, which is only permitted to relatives and special friends after a long and intimate intercourse. That planters adopted that custom with their slaves may, like many other things appertaining to slavery, have been proper and natural, but even in the land of liberty it is making a little too free.
One who wishes to secure a respectable and intelligent man's faithful services exclusively to himself must be both able and ready to situate and treat such a man in a manner calculated to win his attachment. The chilling question " Don't I pay you?" often addressed to gardeners, disapproving of a foolish notion to be carried out, may be excusable with a menial, hired for an occasion, but it is certainly maladressed, when offered to a man who is expected to manage faithfully a considerable portion of the property, and not only to minister to, but to anticipate, his employer's comforts and pleasures, which are of a more refined and superior character than those derived from a cook or coachman; - two important dignitaries on every place, whom the gardener must avoid to offend, by not cultivating their acquaintance.
I have also read and heard a great deal, especially at meetings of horticultural societies and in periodicals, about what men should all do to make themselves desirable gardeners, but of what men should do to make themselves desirable employers, I never saw anything in print, nor ever heard it intimated in any remarks upon the "State and Prospects of Horticulture;" "Hints for Young Gardeners;" "On the Improvement of Gardeners, or "Scarcity of Good Gardeners." All of which have appeared in the magazines.
Having frequently taken especial pains to ascertain the causes of gardeners leaving places, where I supposed a good man had a fair chance, judging from the known wealth and the social position of the proprietor, I found upon close investigation, in most cases, that the original, the fundamental fault, was the employers'. Some of these had even succeeded in getting themselves and their places into such bad odor, that no gardener would advise another to go there, and so the place went from bad to worse. Visiting occasionally florist and nursery establishments, when looking over a space and stock, the small-ness of which indicated small income, close economy and slow progress, I find the fable of the wolf and the dog illustrated; for none of these men were ever found disposed to swap horse with any gentleman's gardener in the country. And is it not a significant fact too, that no Americans present themselves as candidates for such situations, which in many cases are only sought for by foreigners of inferior quality, or such as have, through adverse circumstances, no other choice left to them? There seems indeed to be something like degradation connected with the position of a "hired" gardener, for when there is a farmer on the place his position is invariably above that of the gardener, who is generally looked upon by the domestic servants as one of them.
Why gardeners should not be competent to direct here in America, as they do in other countries, both the farming and the gardening on a place, consisting of but a few hundred acres at best, I never could understand; and it must be clear to every intelligent mind, that the two-headed system is no more an economical than it is a necessary one; because the places are mostly too small to actually require and to cover the expense of an extra farming force; and when the gardener is not competent to manage it economically he is certainly not a head gardener.
How many gardeners get as much as a hundred dollars a month - the average earning of a good mechanic? As far as I know, very few. Do then gentlemen, entertaining such a high opinion of their own smartness, dignity and knowledge of human nature, really imagine that a man, capable of performing and carrying through the various and multitudinous details of operations in any establishment, where fruit, flowers and vegetables are required, both in and out of season, to say nothing of other affairs which he often has to take charge of, would come; and if he does, stay for the monthly pittance, held out as an inducement, to forsake the chances, commodities and general agree-ableness of a town and a neighborhood, for a life of drudgery in the country, which has not even the advantage of being cheaper? And, when the man is married, as he is sometimes especially desired to be, what chances has he for his children, if he is permitted to have any? We know it to be a fact, that employers want married men, but no "encumbrance".
It would perhaps do no harm to the state and prospects of horticulture, if some one competent would write a series of essays on "The Improve, ment of Employers," "Scarcity of Good Employers, or "Hints for Employers;" for one of which we would suggest that, if gentlemen will have better gardeners they must do, as we all have to, if we want better teachers for young America, that is, hold out better inducements.