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.
A recent visit to this beautiful public resort was among the pleasures of the past month. As our readers mostly know, it comprises nearly 3000 acres, including the part of the Schuylkill river which flows through the grounds. The large extent was however a provision for the future, and except as far as forming some drives through pretty natural scenery, but a comparatively small part has been developed to the extent garden art is capable of accomplishing. The more elaborate gardenesque portion is confined to a few acres around the grand conservatory and a portion of the east side; other portions have groups of the more ornamental shrubs in groups or scattered over the natural surface; the rest is occupied by acres of wild carrots, rank herbage, or the natural sod. The Park is managed by a commission established by the legislature, the members of which are elected for life by the Judges of the courts, with the addition of the Mayor, Presidents of Select and Common Councils, and the heads of some of the city departments whoever they may be for the time being. Just why these were added to the commission is not apparent; these heads have just as much as they can attend to in their several departments. Nor is the system of appointment by the Judges of courts to be commended.
These Judges also have all they can properly attend to; and, as a general thing, have no knowledge whatever of the needs of an affair of this character. Nor is a life tenure wise, though it is desirable to continue to re-elect those who show, by experience, peculiar fitness for the position. We make these remarks for the benefit of those cities which may be in the humor to establish public parks. A commission of five, elected by the people, each commissioner to serve five years, would be the best arrangement. There is more chance of the best people being elected by this method than any other - though by the best methods any but the best selections are often made. For all its cumbersome commission, and unfortunate tenures and methods of creation, Fairmount Park has been fortunate in having some very superior men connected with its management. Its leading paid officers are, a chief engineer, a consulting landscape gardener and a captain of the guard. Two hundred and twenty thousand dollars were appropriated for its maintenance and improvement last year. It is proper, however, to say that this large sum does not represent legitimate garden matters; no less than one-third of the whole being singularly enough applied to police purposes.
Another heavy draft on the enormous sums devoted to Park purposes, comes from the effects of the Centennial Exhib:tion. Much done then was for temporary purposes, and useless for truly Park uses, and this has either to be removed or repaired, or maintained at great expense; and thus the money spent does not show to good advantage. The grand conservatory, for instance, was not built for the permanent growth of plants, but as an imposing structure for the temporary occasion, and the chief use it can be put to now is to shelter a few huge palms, aroids and bamboos, which, interesting enough in themselves, are not worth the enormous first cost of the structure and the heavy sum which the repair of so much "gingerbread" must increasingly entail from year to year. The side wings, however, are very well adapted to their purposes, and these now contain fine collections of ferns and rare tropical plants. For the actual work of legitimate horticulture, Philadelphia gets probably more for her money in Fairmount Park than many other cities can boast of in connection with their public grounds.
The greatest attractions at the time of this visit were the Mosaic flower beds in the Sunk Garden, the Floral Jungle in the front of the Conservatory, the tanks for aquatic plants, and the very full collections of coniferous and other trees. The Mosaic, or carpet bedding, is particularly beautiful, though suffering, in the eyes of persons of taste, from the fact that it is a sort of cart before the horse. Good taste demands that ornamentation should be subservient to something to be ornamented. Here a long canal was made expressly to show off the flower beds, and it is so apparent that the canal has not and never had any other use, that it detracts very much from the real beauty such attempts at ornamental gardening usually present. The Jungle is a very large bed made up of sub-tropical and other plants, with a gradual transition to the strictly artificial features of modern gardening. It is a style of garden beauty becoming yearly more popular. Hardy aquatics have been very popular since the efforts of Mr. E. D. Sturtevant to bring them into notice a few years ago. The Victoria, the Lotos, and numberless forms of the regular water lilies, grow and bloom from day to day to the astonishment of the denizens of a large city.
A popular public garden has to be very much like a popular theatre, and "new pieces" have to be continually brought out to please its patrons. Mr. Miller, the landscape gardener, made a good hit, a few years ago, by his great Chrysanthemum show; this season the water plants seem to be the leading talk of the town. It requires considerable genius to look ahead for, plan out, and successfully prosecute these novel features, especially in public grounds where so many changes are liable to occur between inception and success.
The botanists who will visit Philadelphia during the present imonth will miss a rare treat if they fail to visit Fairmount Park. The collection of trees and shrubs is the finest near Philadelphia, and many of the specimens are very rare. Of the Asiatic coniferae there are many beautiful specimens. They are all labelled and with remarkable accuracy for public grounds. A recent walk through with the consulting landscape gardener, Miller, was a particularly pleasurable one. We hope to give some notes of special matter of interest in our next.