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.
A Humorous scene occurred one day in April at nurseries of Ellwanger & Barry, Rochester,which is good enough to stir up a little humor among the most staid of Horticulturists. It is thus told by the Rochester Express, with the title, "A Pacific Pruning Prodigy."
In the large and beautiful laid out grounds of Messrs. EUwanger & Barry, the famous nurserymen on Mount Hope avenue, stand about a dozen large sized California trees (Sequoia gigantea) planted by these gentlemen about fifteen years ago. Some of them have already attained a height of thirty feet, while the diameter of one or two of the largest sized trees is nearly twenty-five inches. It is well known that these trees grow to an enormous size in their native State, and with proper care are also successfully grown in this section.
Last week, a fellow fresh from California who said he had had a good deal of experience with the giant trees of that State, learning that the Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry had some fine representative specimens in their grounds, applied at the office of the Mount Hope Nur-series for a situation as a pruner. Said he, "I see you have some big trees in your yard from California. I am a native of the golden State. I know all about the nature of trees. I notice some improvements that might be made in the shape and looks which will help them mightily. I came east this spring to visit some of my mother's relations, but not being able to find them, and being a little short of funds, I thought I would apply to you for a job. I can tell you something you don't know about them big trees."
By the time this fellow had finished his introductory speech, Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry, who were busily engaged in opening and reading their large volume of orders and correspondence, had thoroughly taken in, and comprehended the situation of the California adventurer.
Mr. Barry smiled when the fellow said: "I can tell you something you don't know about them big trees." However, having a good deal of the humorous in him, and seeing a chance for a little joke, Mr. Barry said, "My dear sir, those large trees you refer to, were propagated in our nurseries, and transplanted where you now see them, fifteen years ago. They were not, therefore, brought from California proper, although they are the same variety as the famous tree which grows there three hundred feet. We propagate all varieties of trees, shrubs and plants here in Rochester that are to be found in any part of the world. We have succeeded admirably with these giant trees which have made your State so famous. We think we understand all about this genus, both here and in California, for we have seen them growing in both places.*'
"Yes," said the fellow, "but don't you see they ain't shaped right." "I can prune the trees to make them grow faster and look per-tier." "How do you propose to do it?" asked Mr. Barry. "They are evergreens and don't require much pruning. We sometimes clip the ends of the lower branches, and give them, more shapeliness, but as to cutting off the larger limbs, which I understand you propose to do, is all folly, and we can't think of it." "But," said the fellow, "you don't understand how to prune a California tree. There is a certain way of cutting the limbs, and if you don't do it that way, the tree won't do well."
Mr. Ellwanger, who had till now listened, but said nothing, here facetiously remarked that there was one of the trees in the lawn the fellow might experiment on if he had anything new to introduce in the art of pruning. Now there happened to be one among the large trees, which suffered severely by the extreme cold of two years ago. As it was evident that the tree would die any way, Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry, always on the qui vive for novelties as well as a good joke, consented to let the self-constituted California pruner have a chance to display his skill. Ordering a large pruning knife, a saw, and other necessary implements, Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry, all the clerks in the office, and gardeners about the place, who by this time had their attention attracted to the strange looking fellow, proceeded to the tree, which stood but a few rods from the street fence extending along Mount Hope avenue.
"There," said one of the distinguished nurserymen, "if you wish to show your dexterity or teach us something new in pruning, you may try it on that tree. The Californian, glad for an opportunity to distinguish himself, and also of earning something to build up his depleted exchequer, stripped off his outer clothing, which revealed a soiled shirt and a pair of pants rather the worse for wear. Nothing daunted, however, he tripped up the ladder like a squirrel, and in a moment he was at work among the branches of the tree, cutting and slashing at a rapid rate. Branch after branch fell to the ground. In the meantime the rumor of the great California pruner had quickly spread among the immediate neighbors, who hastened to the spot.
Carriages passing along the avenue, attracted by the crowd gazing up into the tree, stopped immediately in front of it. Ladies and gentlemen making selections of house and garden plants, flowers and shrubs, when they saw what was going on, hastened to join the crowd. Stimulated by the presence of so many spectators, the branches and boughs fell faster than ever. Glancing rapidly over the contour of the tree, the fellow, who evidently intended to give it a globular shape, commenced at the lower limbs, close to the body, and gradually lengthing out as he ascended higher to the middle of the tree, and again tapering in toward the top. He had now reached to the height of about fifteen feet, when the tree, from the numerous stiff projecting branches which had been sawed squarely off, looked as bristling as an abattis, or the distended quills of a fretful porcupine. Despising all aid of the ladder, the fellow skipped from branch to branch with the recklessness of an old sailor aloft in a storm. Visions of the hero of Chappaqua loomed up in the minds of the eager spectators, as the chances of a misstep might prove a disaster. But our hero was not aspiring to be pressed out. He was busily engaged in the laudable occupation of earning his bread, and teaching old nurserymen a new idea.
But catastrophes will sometimes happen to mar the aspirations even of modest men. Our California hero was no exception, for just as he was in the act of springing from one large projecting branch to another, his foot slipped, the knife and saw flew out of his hands, and with a somersault that would shame an experienced equestrian, he careened to one side, the rear of his pants caught on the stub of a limb, and in a moment the champion pruner was seen dangling in mid air, held only by the fragile substance composing his pants! To all present it became evident that a catastrophe was inevitable.
Striking out in every direction for a chance to relieve himself, the fellow kicked and plunged desperately, but to no effect. His only safety lay in the stability of his pants. Gyrating one way and the other, only had a tendency to hasten the disaster.
A lusty German gardener who was present screamed out at the top of his voice, "Mem Got im Himmel, bring a ladder gwick; the man will break his neck!"
The excitement became intense. A scramble was made for the ladder. The fellow up the tree, trying to perform a new trapeze performance not laid down on the bills, struggled in vain to extricate himself, but before the* ladder could be elevated to a sufficient height to reach him, his pants gave way, taking out the whole seat, and ripping them down to the tops of his boots. There he hung with his head downward, suspended only by the heavy binding on the bottom of his pants. It is needless to add that the affair now became extremely critical. Mr. Barry drew down his hat, the ladies dropped their veils and turned to go. The carriages in the streets moved on. The giggling among the young folks was immense. The gardener ran to the rescue of the unfortunate pruner, and with a cloth used for gathering leaves, tried as well as he could to conceal his embarrassment. With the assistance of another man, he succeeded in taking the pruner down, not, however, until he had fairly scorched his shirt collar with blushes. Mr. Barry was perfectly satisfied that the fellow had earned a new pair of pants and a whole shirt, with which he was soon provided.
As to the new points of observation gained in the modus operandi of pruning a giant California tree, Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry are thoroughly satisfied that the old method of pruning is the best.
The big evergreen was ordered to be removed immediately, so that the only vestige left to mark the spot is an open space upon which the sunlight had not shed its genial rays for nearly ten years. As to the famous California pruner, with a ten-dollar note and a new pair of pants he was allowed to go on his way rejoicing.