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.
In the March number of the Horticulturist is an article from German-town, Ohio, headed " Imposition." Whether or not that movement is a part of the following described system of fraud we do not know, but we have fall information that a most villainous plan of fraudulent dealings in the way of fruits and flowers, has been carried on in the West for a number of years. Cleveland, or its immediate vicinity, is the place where it is arranged. Foreigners, mostly, if not all of them, Germans, collect together, during summer and autumn, the vilest rubbish of roots, shrubs, and seeds, from the forests and fields, and also the refuse seed of culinary gardens, and the garbage of nurseries and flower gardens. These are carefully packed and labelled with either known and popular names, or with hard botanical names, and are all represented to be either something new and very extraordinary, or of the greatest value.
As a bait to catch " green ones," books of colored plates of fruits, and especially flowers, are shown; also spurious catalogues, of noted foreign nurserymen. For instance, they exhibit catalogues of bulbous plants for sale by the Harlem (Holland) gardens, purporting to be the catalogues of the gardeners, yet printed in English and evidently the work of a Cleveland printing press. Whenever a " green one " gets into their clutches, the plates and cataloges are exhibited to illustrate the beauty, value and cost of their select articles. They deal only in superlatives and superlative prices.
In the years 1847-8 they perambulated extensively the Muskingum Valley and the south-eastern borders of Ohio. Then their books looked old and worn from use. The present season they have been renovated by new and fine binding, done, evidently, by a Cleveland bindery. In those years they were engaged in disseminating seeds, bulbs, roots, and plants, of new species, just introduced by the labors of Mr. Fortune, in China. One instance will illustrate their mode of dealing: A large and showy plate of a flower, bearing a long and hard name, was exhibited. It was recently from China, and they, by mere chance, and good luck, had obtained one solitary tuber, which, as a special favor, they would sell for $5 to no one except him who would purchase $10 worth of their other articles. A customer at length swallowed the bait, hook and all, The seeds vegetated in due time, producing a long list of weeds and worthless articles, from a Jamestown weed to the common Poppy and Onion. At length the five dollar tuber put forth its foliage, flower and fruit, and was no other than the Poke-root of the highway.
We have happened to witness their different modes of dealing with both the " green ones " and " know somethings." With the former they are all volubility, free to illustrate and instruct, in ecstasies with fruits and flowers, full of horticultural and Agricultural incidents gathered during their recent visits to the Harlem, Sawbridge, Angers, and other European establishments. Botanical names roll out of their months as freely as water from a pitcher - Amaryllis regina, vit-Utai Wegelia rosea, Forsythia viridissima, etc. Their well stocked boxes and packages can readily furnish these, and everything else imagination can name. Like the enchanted bottle of the juggler,which will turn out rum, brandy, gin, or any other kind of spirits called for, their bundles will yield as readily every species of vegetation customers may require. Of course such accommodating facilities render it proper that round prices should be demanded.
In contact with a " know something," the scene is changed; all is mum or moroseness - " otherwise engaged, can't wait upon you at this time, you want only to look over our valuable things without making a purchase." Happening to fall in their way, and unknown to them, they mistook me for a " green one," their books of plates, catalogues, and whole paraphernalia of imposition, were rapidly displayed - "just arrived, sir, from Holland, - splendid bulb, from Harlem- a now and beautiful blue Amaryllis - Amaryllis caerulea" - the daubed plate was exhibited -"price $3 to $5" - roots exhibited, evidently common garden Daffodills. On expressing doubts as to the existence of a blue Amaryllis, and making a few inquiries as to some details about the Harlem nurseries, the scene changed from farce to tragedy. Whew ! whew ! out flew a volume of eurses, aimed at me for being an impudent nurseryman who was endeavoring to injure their business.
The best of the joke is, that hundreds of individuals in northern Ohio, and particularly in the neighborhood of Cleveland, have been cajolled to buy of them a new, delicate, and very large Grape - the Excelsior - at the moderate sum of from $2 to $5 per plant, and the foliage of the last season's growth has already disclosed the fact that is is no other than our common Fox Grape. These same purchasers would have grudged the payment of fifty cents to a regular and responsible nurseryman for the best Grape which was ever produced.
You observe in the article from Germantown, Ohio, that "this fellow undoubtedly believes the fools are not all dead yet." He knows they are not; and furthermore, in common with all classes of shrewd impostors, he is aware that mankind are more willing to sustain impostors and quacks in all pursuits in life, than upright, responsible, and Well-qualified proficients in the same calling.
At the time these traveling horticulturists had just commenced their winter's campaign of imposition, the police was informed of them - of their then locality, their plans, etc. - but paid no more attention to the report than a tabby-cat would, while sleeping by the side of the cooking stove, to your report that a colony of rats were depredating on the grain in the barn. It is full time their impositions were broken up. Will not Editors throughout the country put their readers on their guard! M. - Maumee, Ohio