This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
It is not always easy rightly to adjust the claims of use and beauty. Tastes differ, and circumstances alter cases. Most men, however, are utilitarian in their views and feelings. Must we not eat and drink and sleep, they inquire, and can anything be better than stocks and mortgages, and instruments that arc sure to pay? This is the governing principle. This speeds the plough, drives railway-trains, makes steamboat paddles revolve, the looms of factories rattle, and is the grand motor of that mighty and universal machine which men call "business." It is .to gain physical enjoyment and material prosperity.
The same principle steals into our gardens. We plant and prune and water and weed, chiefly with an eye on the market. Beets and onions and strawberries and radishes fetch so much solid cash; and peas, peaches, pumpkins, pears, cabbages, grapes and squashes command so much. They are all likewise good to eat. Out with the useless flowers! They cumber the ground; and the time wasted in cultivating and admiring them might be spent in raising fruits and vegetables. Throw them over the fence! These amateurs, who give so much of their land and of their thoughts to fancy gardening, are visionary characters, who don't know what is really worth having, and are seen to come to want in the end.
Has not the reader heard words like these? The grounds of my friend are about equally divided between the useful and ornamental. His lawn contains fine specimens of the Norway Spruce, Hemlock, European Linden, Larch, Dutch Elm, and other trees on which the eye of cultivated taste always loves to repose; and yet, we have heard many men wonder why that lawn was not planted with cherry-trees, pear-trees, plum-trees, and other useful things. One man, in walking through it, paused by a group of Altheas, Euonymus and flowering Hawthorns, and asked what sort of fruit these bushes bore; and learning that they were ornamental shrubs, his countenance fell, and he could not repress his amazement and disgust. When he was taken to the rear of the premises, and shown the fruit trees and vegetables, he began to breathe more freely. His eyes brightened over the rows of carrots, and early potatoes, and he could not help saying, as he rubbed his hands together, "Now this looks like living; here is something to keep one from starving".
* A would-be Sydney Smith says, with some terseness, that "we know everything in America before it happens, and when it happens it ain't true!".
So much for a specimen. Now we pity, more than we despise, this material spirit. It robs its possessors of high enjoyment. They ought to know that money-making and physical gratification are not the chief end of man. Is a tree worth nothing save for bearing fruit or making lumber? A stream, except for turning a wheel? A cloud, save as it waters one's potato-patch? A flower, save as it belongs to a pumpkin-vine? If the aesthetic part of our nature is not to be gratified, why has God endowed us with it, and why has He adapted the world we live in to this part of our constitution? Alas for the man who cannot see the beautiful side of nature, or who disparages those who strive to do so!
"A river or a sea, Is to him a dish of tea, And a kingdom, bread and butter".
Apply this thought to the pursuits of horticulture. We would not speak lightly of gardening as carried on for pecuniary profit. If it were possible, we would deter no one from devoting a suitable portion of his grouud to fruits and vegetables. Our bodies must be fed, as well as our tastes gratified. And, moreover, one finds greater enjoyment in the beautiful itself, when the useful also is allowed a proper share of his attention. A well arranged garden will always show a due regard to each. What that due estimate is, it may not be easy to determine with great exactness. It will vary with each person's means, and the size of his premises. Nor can we always draw a distinct line between the useful and the ornamental. In fruit culture, for instance, there is an incidental appeal to the sense of beauty, as well as a direct one to that of pecuniary profit; strawberries, cherries, apples, pears, grapes - do not these please the eye, as well as tickle the palate, and fill the pocket? Few persons, it may be, cultivate fruit for its beauty; yet we would by no means see it excluded from our grounds, nor would we fail to give the homely kitchen garden its due appreciation.
Having now guarded our orthodoxy, let us say a few heretical words. Fruit trees are well enough, and should be planted; but they arc, after all, the least important part of an amateur's plantation. How long are many of them in coming into bearing, and for how small a portion of the year, at best, do they afford gratification 1 To what innumerable ills are they subject 1 Slugs, aphides, borers, worms, curculios, caterpillars, mildew, sap-blight, black-knot, cracking of the fruit, bursting of the bark, etc., etc. - what an array of obstacles, what a multitude of disappointments I And if it so happens, that after one has spent many years in planting and nursing, his patient labor is about being rewarded by a specimen of new and choice fruit, how often do thieves snatch the dainty morsel from his very lips.
But suppose (and the supposition is well warranted), that when we planted our fruit garden, and arranged our vegetable quarters in the best manner, we at the same time laid off a suitable portion of ground for ornamental purposes. It was graded; roads and walks were laid out through it; it was sown with a mixture of veritable grains, and in all respects was moulded into a complete lawn. A variety of ornamental trees were set out upon it, according to the canons of correct taste. Being well cared for, they grew luxuriantly from year to year, and are now large, symmetrical trees. The velvet grass has afforded us annually a summer-long feast of pleasure. The elm has assumed that majestic, yet graceful post, which makes it the "Queen Elizabeth" among trees. The magnolias and tulip-trees, with their broad, glossy leaves have diffused the air of milder climates through our northern garden. Linden, oak, chestnut, maple, beech, birch and ash, both natives and foreigners, have grown side by side, and mingled their spray in loving companionship. Here, too, we planted evergreens of various forms and shades of color; and not only the robust denizens of our American hills, but many from across the water.
Scotland and Austria sent us pines, and so did Switzerland and the Isle of Corsica, and Siberia and the Bhotan mountains. Norway contributed the noblest of all the spruces; the Altai mountains a Fir, Siberia and China sent Arbor Vitaes, Sweden a Juniper, and England a Yew. Other nations sent us representatives, which have not yet become so well domesticated as to call for a mention of their names.
And here we might adduce the case of our friend, Professor, who is infatuated with the same disregard of pecuniary profit in his gardening. On one side of his lawn the ground falls off into a ravine, which winds down into a wild gulf or chasm, where a dashing stream and scattered rocks and overhanging boughs diffuse the charm of picturesque beauty. The sunny slopes of this ravine might have grown excellent grapes, pears, berries, currants, and the like, but he has devoted the ground to less profitable purposes. He has laid out gravelled walks, winding through its centre and along its sides. Here and there, he has made patches for flowers. All the curious trees, shrubs, vines and plants that he could get, far and near, are gathered into this spot. He has traversed the surrounding forests and swamps, and woo'd away their choicest treasures to set them here. He has taken advantage of a little spring which trickles out from the side of this ravine, and has led its waters along by the roots of certain shrubs and plants which love such conditions.
Now this ravine does not yield him a mouthful to eat or to sell, yet he and his family think it is the best part of their garden, and his visitors (whose eyes are not in their stomachs or their pockets), think so too. .
But to return. We spoke of some of the discouragements attending fruit culture. But the curculio, sap-blight, slug, borer, and black-knot, do not infest our ornamental grounds. We have not been compelled to wait many years before our trees and plants afforded us gratification: even in the second summer after planting, many of them assumed those peculiarities of form and foliage which recommend them to the eye of taste. Nor is it a slight consideration that our evergreen trees and shrubs are nearly as beautiful in winter as in summer, and so make our grounds cheerful and warm throughout the year. And who ever heard of thieves plundering ornamental trees and plants? Their taste runs in the line of peaches, pears, and melons. For many years have we planted lindens, magnolias, junipers, Japan lilies and geraniums, without any fear that prowling ragamuffins would break through our hedges and steal them.
And who can estimate the value of the associations connected with such trees and plants! These associations whisper in every leaf, they exhale from every flower, they nestle in the shady branches above our heads, they rise up from the walks beneath our feet. As we traverse our shaded avenues, other men and other times surround us. The patriarch meets us under "the dark, gnarled, centennial tree" he so much loved. Sages discourse philosophy under the revolving shade of our plane-trees. Orators and poets sweep past us in their robes, meditating themes of eloquence and song. The great and good, the pure and the beautiful of every age and clime, are here, and repeat before us the words and actions of their daily lives. We hear "the voice of the Lord walking in the garden," reminding us of his continual presence and fatherly care. We find a new charm added to domestic and social life, a charm which grows stronger with every passing year, and makes home the full realization of its sacred name.
But we need not pursue this thought further. There is little danger that ornamental gardening will anywhere lead to the neglect of gardening for profit. Man loves to make money and to eat, too well, for one to indulge fears on that score. And we sincerely hope that the practical will maintain its due share of the garden. But we also hope that ornamental planters will never apologise for their tastes, that the pleasure-grounds of our country will become larger instead of smaller, and that those men who now see no value in anything which does not bear fruit, may soon come to a better mind.