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.
In our efforts to do justice to those who, still living, have been prominent as authors in American Horticulture, we meet with many difficulties; not by any means the least being the modesty which prevents some excellent persons from saying anything about themselves. They forget that the public has a right to know something of those who come forward to instruct them. People will know, and it is much better for the one who alone knows the facts, to give them himself, than to have all sorts of nonsense guessed at about him after he is gone.
In the case of the gentleman whose portrait does honor on this occasion to our annual volume, we have the author of the "Ferns of the Wilkes' Exploring Expedition," and the many years' horticultural editor of the American Farmer, of Baltimore; but the effort to get direct information of anything about him has signally failed. We received the portrait from a friend, without any suspicion that the use we are making of it would not be agreeable; and it was not until too late to retreat, that we found we could not get the information we desired. When, however, we consider the unblushing efforts of many to get "notices from the press," it is not to be wondered that modest men go to the opposite extreme; and we may say of this one, as his own fellow-townsman, the great poet, Burns, said of his own father: "His failings leaned to Virtue's side".
From such outside sources as we could reach, we venture to give the following brief account of this estimable gentleman, without, however, vouching for its correctness in every particular.
We believe he came to America in somewhere about his twenty-seventh year, when he entered into the service of the late Robert Buist of Philadelphia. We believe he had been one of the assistants to Prof. Otto, in the Botanic Gardens at Berlin, from whence it is easy to understand how he may have obtained the critical knowledge of ferns for which he has long been eminent in this country. Previous to this, though comparatively young, he was quite distinguished as a landscape gardener, having laid out the famous gardens of Count Ebors, in Poland, and was also in charge of Dr. Neill's garden, at Edinburgh, where so many of Tweedie's new Brazilian plants were raised. By the recommendation of his friend Buist, who was always ready in helping along true merit, he became one of the naturalists attached to the exploring expedition of Lieutenant Wilkes. On the Pacific, they entered California from the northward, passing down by Mount Shasta to the Bay of California, and, on this excursion, discovered the now famous Darlingtonia or California pitcher plant; and almost by an accident, as it were. The collecting party had orders to get nearer camp, for fear of Indians. Mr. Brackenridge, attracted by an unusual number of varieties, lingered till some surprise caused him to run rapidly towards safety.
On the instant of starting he grabbed something that seemed strange, and with the handful reached camp, and then found he had this singular plant. To him was committed the preparation of the ferns of the expedition. On this he spent three years of hard work. It was published by the Government. A small number of copies had been sent out, when the whole of the balance was destroyed by fire. The owner, in these days, of a copy of this magnificent work, is among the most envied of scientific book lovers. On his return from this expedition he married, in Philadelphia, an estimable lady a countrywoman of his own whom he had well known before leaving the old world; and finally settled in Washington, where the seeds and plants collected on the expedition finally formed what is now the United States Botanic Garden.
His love of landscape gardening, to which some of the finest work in Washington is indebted, led him to settle in Baltimore a few years before the rebellion came to a head, where he established a nursery and followed his tastes as an improver of grounds, meeting with wonderful success. Many of the most beautiful of the country seats in the charming suburbs of the Monumental City are indebted for their loveliness to the intelligent taste of W. D. Brackenridge. He is one of those men who carry sunshine wherever they go, and for whom those who love horticulture for its intellectual pursuits and the genuine happiness it brings' offer up their most earnest prayers.
He was born not far from the same spot which gave to Scotland its greatest poet, Burns, and is> we believe, now in his seventy-fourth year. His long and still-continued work as Horticultural Editor of the American Farmer, outside of his work on Ferns, justly entitles him to a foremost place in our list of living horticultural authors.