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.
Progression is the great idea of this era and this community, and we move so rapidly that it becomes us occasionally to stand for a moment and look back, so that we may note the extent of our progress.
The social and political ordeal through which we have passed, the terrors and achievements of which continue to surprise us, has made the history of the past decade quite exceptional in all its bearings. A peaceful art like that of horticulture, which has no attractions for the warrior or revolutionist, can not hope to flourish at a period when military activity is the order of the day, and warlike prowess the first recommendation to distinction. Yet grateful as we should be that our Northern fields and gardens were not actually devastated by war, but preserved by loyalty for the continued practice of peaceful arts and occupations, we have still to regret the loss of much of that happy spirit of improvement and progress which marked the first half of the past twenty-five years.
"While we can congratulate ourselves that we have not lost any material portion of the horticultural riches accumulated, we must regret the circumstances which prevented our having achieved much more. The suspension of that mutual intercourse among those devoted to rural pursuits over the entire national domain is not the least of the disadvantages experienced; the suspension of experimental culture in its various departments, and the recording of the results of the same, are material losses to the period through which we have passed. But we are again on the track. This year is the opening of a new era in which horticulture is destined to make rapid strides toward the amelioration of the social condition of many of our suffering countrymen. And our horticulture, to effect this, must differ, as it has done, from that of older nations; it must have the utilitarian aspect; its aim must be still more, as it has partially been in the past, to produce the fruits and esculents in greater abundance, so that the masses may cheaply partake of them. The financial condition of the country demands this. Every acre or rood of ground hitherto lying waste or unappropriated to the uses of its proprietor, should be made to bear some crop of small fruits or esculents.
How many thousands of acres of lots are to-day barren wastes, or but partially cultivated, even in the vicinity of our great cities, which by the expenditure of a little capital judiciously might be made to bear tenfold 1
But we must not enter on this portion of the subject until we have taken a retrospective glance at our progress in the department to which the Horticulturist is devoted, and to which it has lent efficient aid for over twenty years.
When first we became acquainted with the Horticulturist, it was full of the life and vigor of its energetic and hopeful editor; it had been fully inaugurated, and was the medium for every fact, and even fancy, that enthusiastic amateurs and practical gardeners might offer. Such a liberal policy, if at times it encourages prolixity and the dissemination of vague ideas, supposed to be elaborate theories, also encourages novices to greater knowledge and proficiency, and in the end lays the foundation of a sound horticultural literature, and promotes that skillful cultivation which is the great desideratum. And it would seem that, after a long interval, the Horticulturist has again returned to its original design: that of a free and liberal exponent of practice and theory.
But the presiding genius that ushered it into favor has long since passed away; nay, is almost forgotten in the strife of competition among grape growers and grape writers. Periodically we must return to the tomb, and declare that here rests "one who feared not the truth".
At the time that Andrew Jackson Downing took his place as the presiding genius of American horticulture, we had not advanced very far in comparison with our present position. We do not pretend that horticulture had not made a fair start, but as the history of that time and its antecedent quarter of a century is permanently recorded in the life of Downing and the transactions of societies then established, we shall leave it there. How great an impetus was given to the improved landscape gardening of the country by Downing's writings and personal efforts we leave others to record; to us, his great work was the recognition which he compelled the jealous and overbearing leaders of the irt abroad to give to the growing taste evinced here, and the rapid progress which the united efforts of liberal amateurs, skillful practitioners, and enterprising nurserymen had effected.
The recognition of Downing's works by the leading horticultural writers of Europe was the first step to the inauguration of a mutual good feeling between those of whom it was necessary that we should learn and borrow - and ourselves.
Our horticultural literature was then European. Our practice in the more difficult and advanced branches of the art was little else. Our plants and seeds were to a great extent derived from the same sources. And our workers, our gardeners, or, if you will, our "professional horticulturists," were they not received by the same ships as our books, tools, and plants ? To-day, what is our position ? Look at our literature ; volume after volume is thrown from the press, so rapidly that it would seem as if no thought was required to write and no skill to print horticultural works. Look at our commercial establishments; their extent is unknown, even to the best informed among us. Look at the mansions built, each decorated with choice and rare arboricultural gems and specimens ; the conservatories filled with well-grown specimens of the most extensive exotic flora.
Now let us pass to the more pleasing point of view. Look at our achievements in fruit culture; at the immense value of the most insignificant fruit - the strawberry. The working man can no longer enjoy his summer evening meal without his dish of strawberries on the table. We could wish they were cheapened for his use at least one half.
But we shall take occasion at another time to point out more minutely how these things have been achieved, provided always that the editor of the Horticulturist considers our reminiscences worth laying before his readers. Duns Scotus, Jr.