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 difficult to conceive of a system that would be better adapted to impart information to the botanical student, than the one adopted by the above named society in its very beautiful grounds.
A system of planting, to be perfect, must combine not only accuracy in nomenclature and arrangement into orders and classes, but it must at the same time conform to the recognized rules of modern landscape gardening, so as to avoid an air of artificial regularity, and this I believe has been accomplished in these gardens.
Upon entering the gate our party was met by the superintendent, Mr.-McNabb, who has had charge of the collection for very many years, and to whose discriminating judgment and good taste much of the credit is due.
Proceeding at once to the evergreen department, where the conifers of the world are worthily represented, we noticed specimens of disputed species, raised from seeds sent home by the lamented Douglas and other well known collectors. Two very distinct forms of what we in America term Pima conlorta, but which the British authority called Pinus Mur-rayana, strike us at first glance as two species. We recognized, however, in the erect conical outline of one, the common form that is peculiar to the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada of California, as well as in many of the passes of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The other, and very straggling form, we had never before seen. Our Rocky Mountain pines were represented by good specimens for the most part, although we must regret the poor representatives of a few really beautiful species. The portion occupied by the Pinus genus, was well planted, and the arrangement according to form and color was certainly striking. We noticed, however, that the terrible scourge of American pines had reached the old world, and was leaving its mark upon the foliage of their trees as well.
This pestilent fungi had in some instances almost entirely defoliated rare specimens.
We now approach the Abies or Spruce family proper, and I could not express the feeling of sadness that crossed my mind as I viewed the specimens of our well known evergreens. The Norway Spruce and common Hemlock, two of the most valuable trees in American gardens, are here almost worthless. Why it is so, I leave others to conjecture, but the fact is beyond dispute - they are not worth ground-room in Scotland. The collection of dwarf as well as of grotesque forms of the A. excelsa is excellent, but as they increase in size, the disease peculiar to the parent may destroy the beauty of these as well.
We noticed three large trees belonging to the hemlock section of the spruces, labelled respectively A. merlensiana, A, albertiana, and A. bridgesii which appear precisely alike, and are so considered by Mr. McNabb. A. Hookeriana and A. Pattoniana are dissimilar in appearance, and may prove to be merely forms of the same species, as the cones are almost undistinguishable in the collection at this place: they are, however, charming trees for this climate. The crowning feature of this whole collection in my opinion is the superb group of Firs. Here may be seen all the rare species in cultivation, introduced not only from our Pacific coast, but from the Crimea and elsewhere. Fine old specimens of A bies grandis, A. Nardman-niana, A, nobilis, A, Cephalonica, A. pin-sapOy were in robust health, and the numerous forms of our well marked conifers were exceedingly attractive. Our attention was especially directed to a variety of the A. grandis, marked A. lowii, which combined more excellencies of an ornamental tree, than any of the other forms in the group. Abies Douglasii was ably represented in an old specimen some fifty feet high. I was very much pleased with a large group of the Law-son's Cypress, in which were shown over forty distinct forms of this remarkably variable tree.
Opposite this as a companion picture, waa a large bed of Yews, where the curious, and in many instances beautiful, forms were almost endless in number. Of the variegated varieties, I was most pleased with the "Washington" Yew, a rich golden tinted form already introduced into American collections. The practice of grafting a golden top on the Irish Yew, is certainly more curious than elegant, and I decidedly prefer seeing a tall pyramid of yellow foliage from the ground to the summit.
A large bed of the Deodar Cedar, to represent the many systems of pruning, was quite interesting, from the fact that I saw here for the first time the thickening-up process carried out perfectly: whilst some plants were made into weepers, others again trained into erect dense columns, and still others into compact spherical bushes.
The Cedrus Argentea is one of the most valuable trees the Scotch can employ, whilst on the other hand, its near relative the Cedar of Lebanon is comparatively worthless in these grounds, and yet I saw as perfect specimens of the latter at the Mertown Gardens, near Melrose Abbey, as I have ever seen elsewhere. I cannot say much in praise of the American Arbor Vitae and its numerous varieties as seen at this place, but the Thuja gigantea from the Northwest coast of America thrives with astonishing vigor. The Biota or family of Chinese Arbor Vitaes seem to succeed much better, and I wish to particularise as especially fine Rollinson's elegantisima. This really golden gem succeeds so well in America, that I think every well-kept place should possess at least one specimen. In the newer Japanese Retinospora genus, the Scotch are decidedly behind us, not only in fine plants, but in the number of varieties. I suppose that Mr. Hunnewell, near Boston, owns more fine specimens than all the collectors of Scotland together.
The beautiful plants of Araucaria to be seen here, however, fully compensate for many deficiencies in other genera, for they stand like living masses, of green coral on every hand. The Junipers are not unusually fine, in fact rather below the average of common collections - something in the soil appears to stunt their growth, excepting in a few rare instances. Good specimens of Torreya are seen, and Podocarpus Japonicus and P. an-dina. Cryptomerias do well, especially the newer C. elegans, which is a gem I am afraid Americans will never be fully able to enjoy.
But I have tarried so long with the conifers that I shall not be able to devote sufficient space to all the other beautiful things in these extensive grounds. The shrubbery is well represented by all the choicest species and varieties in cultivation, and as I wandered through the masses devoted to this class of plants, I noticed very many interesting sights that I long to particularize. In deciduous trees as well, this collection is exceedingly rich, notwithstanding the limited area as devoted to the collection. All the choice varieties of Beech, Ash, Maple, Linden, Oak, Poplar, etc., were well grown, and in many instances of large size.
I noticed with pleasure a small garden filled with specimens of grasses all neatly labeled, and giving evidence that here we might find a valuable auxiliary to our landscape art. Close beside was a very pretty collection of hardy ferns also neatly labeled.
One of the most pleasing features of the place, however, and one which attracts more notice perhaps than any other from the casual visitor, is the large rock-work covered with Alpines and other hardy herbaceous plants. Here may be seen Sempervivums and Sedums so numerous, that one becomes confused with the multiplicity of names: and some of them are delicately tinted with yellow and violet as to rival the beautiful petals of many a popular flower. Interspersed among the tiny little alpines are the taller flowering stems of choice bulbs and feathery ferns; and all about are the grotesque white stones that form the rock-work and which supply the needs of this class of plants. Many of the terrestrial orchids were growing in profusion and full of bloom. The Succulents were fine, particularly the Eckeverias, just showing their flowers. ' An inspection of the museum, hasty though it was, was a useful lesson. Here we saw the cones of very many species of the coniferae.
Besides seed vessels of a large number of curious plants; specimens of woods, bark, and fibres also contributed to our instruction.
We were shown into the lecture room where a large class of botanical students weekly meet to gain practical knowledge from the best qualified professors of botany, and where the lessons they are taught may be illustrated by the living plants. The walls were covered with large sketches, and on the desk were many excellent models of flowers and leaves.
Our visit closed with a rather hasty glance through the glass structure devoted to the tropical plants. The palms, many of which were very old showed evidence of unusual care. The orchids, ferns,, cacti, and in fect all the various classes were very pleasing and instructive. Even the so-called "florist's-flowers" were not neglected, and excellent examples of geraniums, fuschias, roses, etc., showed that skill was required to grow them in such perfection. I could not help envying this people, such a school for the rising generation. Why can we not in America secure something of the kind for the masses who thirst for botanical knowledge, without the means to gratify it? Parks and beautiful gardening are all very well, and are refining in their influences, but we need something more - a collection where we may compare and study the nature of every plant that grows. The idea is feasible, and I sincerely hope may be attempted in America at no distant day. If I mistake not, the Cambridge Bo-_ tanic Garden aims at this, and all lovers of botanical science heartily prays for its success.