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.
An esteemed friend, writing from England, says: "On July 4th I went to Lichfield, and was sorry to find Dr. Johnson's Willow had been destroyed by a storm. It is so twisted and torn into fragments, and I don't know if they will be able to get a shoot of it to grow." And thus reads the sad story of the noted tree I visited when in England in 1881. At that time the noble scion from the original and "favorite tree of the Doctor" was one of the most majestic specimens of Salix Russelliana to be found. Its remarkable and venerable predecessor, the grand old tree under which the celebrated Dr. Johnson would often sit and meditate, met with a similar fate in 1829. The handsome tree recently destroyed was raised from a branch a neighbor stuck in his garden for a pea-stick. Tenacious of life as the willow is known to be, it there, fortunately, took root, and was afterwards transplanted, with much ceremony by the citizens, in the exact spot where the old one previously stood. The last time the learned philologist enjoyed its grateful shade was in 1781, and, from a drawing of the same, it appears to have been a very picturesque old tree.
From a personal knowledge the writer has of how much the people of Lichfield regarded the arboreal reminder of the most distinguished literary man of his time, he feels assured they will succeed in perpetuating the famous tree from a cutting, as was the case with the one under notice. Possibly, from the fact of its being a vigorous and sturdy tree at the time of its prostration - from adventitious buds about its base another tree will spring up, and will, as Pope has it, "flourish there when those are passed away," for future generations to admire.
The same correspondent who furnishes the above unwelcome news, also laments at the change of scene and circumstance surrounding the princely estate of the late Mr. Bass (of Burton ale renown), at Rangemore, in Needwood Forest. And thus spoke my friend: "Now that old Mr. Bass is dead, there are to be great alterations at Range-more - not for the better, I regret to say. They have begun to pull down already" (the immense glass structures about the garden, I presume is meant), "and I understand that almost all will have to come down in the spring." Now, this is not a striking case of " such a father, such a son," in this instance. No doubt the present proprietor Sir Michael Bass, would prefer seeing fine fields of barley growing for brewing purposes, where now spreads one of the most beautiful green lawns in England.
The old gentleman, whose great wealth was acquired from the brewing of ale and beer, was, anomalous as it may seem, one of the most generous and philanthropic men in the world. His heart seemed as large as his purse, which never failed to open at the tale of distress. And, as a legacy to the people, he built, furnished and endowed churches, public schools, libraries, museums, free baths, and laid out recreation grounds, etc., for the good of those less fortunate than himself. As a member of Parliament, he had repre. sented Derby for many years, and, although a man of business, his tastes for rural scenes and the quietude of country life outweighed his love for the bustling town; and, in order to gratify his desires, sought seclusion in the beautiful and extensive grounds which surround the large and elegant mansion at Rangemore, in the ancient forest of Needwood. This charming retreat owes much of its present renown to the skill and intelligence of Mr. Bennett, whose artistic and scientific attainments are so well known to the lovers of horticulture. Under his supervision the many hothouses, greenhouses, conservatories, forcing-houses, pits, frames, etc., were erected, and successfully managed.
Fully confiding in his integrity and ability, Mr. Bass gave the whole charge of this unique establishment to Mr. Bennett's care, and with the assistance of eleven well-trained hands constantly employed under glass, and twenty others in the gardens and pleasure grounds, with any number of extra men when required, the whole of this well-ordered place was satisfactorily conducted.
Without entering into minute particulars, I will instance a few examples of how advanced horticulture was carried out. There was an excellent peach house, two hundred feet long, in which enormous quantities of ruddy-cheeked, delicious fruit were produced before those on the handsomely-trained trees on the garden walls are ripe, of which there must be many acres of wall surface covered. Besides these there are vast ranges of early and late vineries in which hung some excellent, well-colored Black Hamburgs, Lady Down's Seedling, Gros Colman, etc., the bunches of which were unusually large. Then follow a number of orchard houses for various kinds of other fruits, with long stretches of melon, cucumber, and pineapple houses, which were principally stocked with healthy-looking Queens, Envilles, Ripley Queens, and Black Jamaicas. On the north side of the dividing walls were the fruit and seed rooms, mushroom houses, offices, etc.
In the plant houses were fine collections of Cape Heaths, averaging from five to ten feet in circumference, with splendid New Holland plants skilfully trained into comely forms, and, as were the heaths, they also were densely covered with exquisite flowers. Of Orchids, there was a good se-lection'of well-grown plants under a spacious span-roofed structure, and, like the curious Cacti and their singularly succulent alliances, these peculiarly interesting plants never fail to excite wonder and admiration whenever seen. There were many more houses, too numerous to mention, in which specialties flourished, such as Pelargoniums, Palms, Camellias and Azaleas, and other splendid plants. And these were all adequately heated with hot water and properly located within the large vegetable and fruit gardens, replete with abundance of everything desirable or worthy of cultivation. Around the sections and borders were some fine examples of espalier and cordon fruit trees, bearing choice fruit. This superb garden is approached from the mansion through one of the most smooth and picturesque lawns possible, along well-rolled graveled walks, which pleasantly wind under wide-spreading trees and through clumps of Laurels, Aucubas, choice Coniferae, Arbutus, Buxus, Osman-thus, Laurestinus, Tamarisk, Ilex, green and variegated, Berberis and Mahonia, Rhododendrons, etc.; and in advantageous positions stood handsome Araucaria imbricatas, Quercus Ilex, Q. pec-tinata, and Q. asplenifolia.
Speaking of lawns, nothing possibly could be more charming than the many broad acres of undulating neatly mown green sward, more soft and elastic to walk upon than any velvet carpet ever spread in palace or hall; and is judiciously, at proper intervals, relieved with either isolated specimens, or choice groups of ornamental trees or shrubs. And from among these beauty-spots, lovely glimpses of a large lucid lake may be seen glistening in the sun. This very picturesque sheet of water seemed alive with several species of handsome water fowl; conspicuous among them was the stately swan, wading and swimming among aquatic vegetation. While away from the larger lake and its pretty green isles, among the trees and bushes beyond, were some very romantic looking "bits" of landscape, the artist would be glad to sketch - in the way of purling brooks, dimpling rills and elfin pools, or cosy half hidden moss and ferny banked water nooks - mostly overlooked from rustic grottoes and bridges, in which the little Fairy folk, Driads, Nymphs and Naiads might innocently dabble or bathe, a la mode Susanna, among the lily pads and minor aquatics.
Beyond all this, yet adjoining thereto, was the noble deer park, which formed a part of one of the loveliest landscapes possible. While still further in the distance, through the trees, the graceful church spires and steeples of Burton-on-Trent were in view.
The flower garden proper, with its many attractive features, was a geometrical marvel, and a model of beauty, and occupied a large space on the lawn, near to one side of the massive stone mansion - with the grand conservatory near by. Upon this terrestrial Elysian, was lavished all the pounds, shillings and pence necessary to make the proprietor, with his family and friends, as happy as mortals could possibly be in the sylvan shades of Rangemore.
This brief and imperfect sketch is drawn mostly from memory, as the writer recollects it when last he saw it, three summers ago; and with many regrets for the impending evil which is likely to befall this delightful spot, lays it before the kind reader who "enjoys his gardens and his books in quiet".
The forest scenes around Rangemore, and extending therefrom, though they may not cover ancient classic ground - may nevertheless with much truth be termed old historic and romantic ground, on account of the exploits of " Bold Robin Hood and his merry men," who thereabouts hunted the King's fallow deer, and robbed the rich Abbots and holy Friars, on their way to Hoar Cross, Abbots Bromley, the shrine and holy well of Saint Chad, or Burton Abbey.
The greenwood shades of Sherwood and Need-wood forests, during the reign of Richard 1st, were equally well adapted for the concealment and safety of the numerous outlaws who infested them. Alluding to the lawless deeds and vagaries of Robin Hood and his companions, I quote from old ballad lore the following lines:
" In this our spacious isle I think there is not one,
But he hath heard of him and Little John;
And to the end of time the tales will ne'er be done,
Of Scarloek, George a Green, and Muck the miller's son".
Whoever has rambled through one of the deep forest roads flanked on either side with hawthorn hedges, with here and there a neat bush of broom or furze, dotted with graceful ferns and pretty wild flowers on the sloping banks, over which hang the weird looking boughs of the lichen and moss covered old oaks, from which the ancient Druids may have gathered the hanging mistletoe ages ago, will be deeply impressed with the romantic scenery around. And such is common to many forest mansions which nestle among the sturdy oaks and immense holly trees, for which Needwood forest is famous. In fact, there are more broad butted hollies, Ilex aquifolium, of the largest size, and possibly, the oldest living trees of their kind elsewhere, to be found about the enclosed parks and pleasure grounds of the wealthy proprietors, who revere and protect them; and, where they are likely to remain from generation to generation. And there are many who delight in forest scenery, where, undisturbed they enjoy the face of nature in some of its loveliest aspects, and in the leafy recesses and stilly solitudes away from the eye of the world, find happiness unalloyed.
Mount Holly, N. J., Oct. 2d, 1884.