Patrick Neill

Professor Van Mons.New Pears.

*Dr Murray has since died; in June 1820.

Sept. 11.—M. Van Mons is well known as a chemist, and he has likewise distinguished himself by his labours in horticulture, particularly in raising new varieties of fruits from the seed. Since the establishment of the present Government, he has been appointed to a professorship in the University of Louvain. At this time, however, he still had his principal residence at Brussels; and to-day when we called at his laboratory, we found him busied in some pharmaceutical operations. He received us very kindly; passed a eulogium on Edinburgh as a seat of learning, and was particularly warm in the praises of Dr John Murray, both as an analyst and as an expounder of the theoretical doctrines of chemistry. He was much pleased, therefore, to find, that we were intimately acquainted with this distinguished chemist*, and that one of us had even been his schoolfellow.

He mentioned, that horticulture had been the favourite employment of his hours of relaxation for fourteen years past, and that he had, during that period, raised several hundreds of new pears, besides a good many apples, plums, cherries, and peaches,—all possessed of qualities so good or so promising, as to make it desirable to preserve the varieties. Of new seedling varieties of good pears, raised chiefly by himself and by M. DUQUESNE of Mons, he considers his present collection as extending to about 800! This number so greatly startled us, that at first we imagined he meant that he possessed 800 specimens, or young plants, of the new kinds deemed worthy of being propagated by grafting. These new kinds, we supposed, might perhaps amount to two or three dozen. But on putting the question distinctly, we found his meaning to be, that about 800 out of perhaps as many thousands of the new varieties raised by him and others from the seed, have proved worthy of preservation.

*It is scarcely necessary perhaps to mention, that the Knight pear is so denominated as a mark of respect to the distinguished President of the London Horticultural Society; and the Salisbury, in honour of the botanist of that name. The Diel celebrates a voluminous German writer on apples and pears. The Bosc is named after the director of the Royal Nurseries at the Luxembourg; and the Coloma, after a botanical cultivator at Malines, whose collection excels in succulent plants.

We had an opportunity of tasting the fruit of a few of these new pears; and, making allowance for their being late pears, and consequently not exactly in season, they seemed to us excellent, superior indeed to any we had seen on the Continent, scarcely excepting the Poire Madame and the Jut. The former of these, it may be noticed, is a summer or early autumn pear, and the latter may be eaten directly from the tree: we had therefore met with both of these in perfection. The new pears, however, ought not to have been eaten for a month, at least, to come. We admitted, therefore, the justness of a remark of M. Van Mons, that we had tasted them to disadvantage. When we had expressed our approbation, qualified in this way, he signified to us his belief that very many of the new pears were equal in quality to those we had tried, and not a few superior. He particularly praised the Napoleon, the Marie-Louise, and the Beurré d'hiver de Mons, raised by M. Duquesne; and the Bosc, the Thouin, the Duquesne, the Diel, the Coloma, the Knight, and the Salisbury, raised by himself. He mentioned likewise the Sabine (named in honour of the Secretary of the Horticultural Society of London) as a fine new kind; and told us that he had given to a very large and excellent dessert pear the name of Sinclair, in honour of the great English agricultural improver*. He hinted his intention to publish a Carpologie (or rather Pomologie), in two volumes octavo; but the numerous and various duties of his new professorship at Louvain will probably occupy him exclusively for some years. Although the session is short, continuing little more than two months, yet both teachers and students are kept exceedingly busy: during the last session, M. Van Mons told us, he commonly lectured five or six hours a-day, and the subjects were not only chemistry, but medicine, agriculture, horticulture, and still other branches of knowledge.

Highly interested by his lively conversation, we very readily accepted an invitation to meet him at his nursery-garden in the afternoon.

Van Mons's Seedling Fruit-tree Garden

Accompanied by Mr Gillet (whose attentions were unremitting), we set off at the appointed hour, for the garden and nurseries of M. Van Mons. Over the door we found inscribed Pepiniere de la Fidelité. Before the proprietor joined us, we had an opportunity of viewing the garden generally, the state of the young trees, the soil, and the mode in which the cultivation of the nursery is conducted. It forms altogether an uncommon and interesting scene to the horticulturist. Many of the fruit-trees are evidently new varieties, both the foliage and bark being unknown to the practised eyes of Messrs Hay and Macdonald. In many cases, the trees have been cut in, and trained to the pyramidal shape; but being much crowded together, and having made strong shoots, they have, even where untouched by the knife, been in some measure compelled to assume the pyramidal form. A few of the trees were affected with canker, but many were quite clean and vigorous. The walks through the garden are mere foot-paths; the surface of the ground between the trees was at this time almost matted with weeds; and the whole place seems to be carelessly kept, only a simple Flemish lad being employed as gardener. The soil is light, yet rich, and, upon the whole, extremely favourable. The situation is perfectly sheltered; and young trees,—without the risk of wind-waving, or being nipped by easterly haars or nocturnal frosts, but enjoying an uninterrupted summer of six months, resembling the climate of a Scottish green-house,—must here advance in growth, with a rapidity and certainty almost inconceivable to those whose experience is limited to the neighbourhood of Edinburgh.

*In the autumn of 1817, Messrs Thomas and Robert McKen of Troquhair sent to the Horticultural Society specimens of the fruit of a seedling pear-tree, raised from pips sown in 1810. This was the first season of fruit being produced, yet it was of a large size, nearly equal in that respect to the Epergne, or the Chaumontelle. If, in the comparatively bleak and stormy climate of Scotland, a pear-tree, in the seventh year from the seed, can yield such fruit, we need the less to wonder at Mr Van Mons's success in the coune of fdur or five years at Brussels, where the climate is so much more genial.

M. Van Mons having arrived, we examined the collection in his presence, and heard his explanations and remarks. Although we were prepared for something extraordinary, still our surprize was great, when we were told, that only seven years had passed since this garden was originally formed, and that some of the finest and largest trees were only between five and six years old. Many of the new pear-trees are ungrafted, or remain on their own bottoms; the more vigorous of these are from twelve to fifteen, or even eighteen feet in height, and yet they have sprung from seed sown in 1812 or 1813. We measured the largest ungrafted tree raised from the sowing made in spring 1812; it was fully twenty-five feet high, and the stem, about three or four inches above the soil, was a foot and a half in circumference*. Many of the pear-trees were now in fruit. The pears were of good size and appearance, especially considering that the trees were standards, and placed close together. The crowded state of the trees has been already noticed; even the larger are often not more than four feet apart, and it not unfrequently happens, that very small trees are placed between these, filling up every interstice. This must be very prejudicial, not only in robbing the soil, but in depriving the principal trees of the little room and air which they would otherwise enjoy. Those which are free from these subsidiary plants, form much finer trees.

The experience of Mr Van Mons confirms what has been observed by British horticulturists,—that the fruit produced by a seedling tree in the first year of bearing, affords by no means a fair criterion of its future merit. If a pear or an apple possess promising qualities, a white and heavy pulp, with juice of rather pungent acidity, it may be expected, in the second, third and subsequent years, greatly to improve, in size and flavour; particularly if the buds, leaves, bark and wood, possess the characteristics of approved bearing trees. Mr Van Mons added a remark, which we do not recollect to have met with in horticultural writings, —That by sowing the seeds of new varieties of fruits, we may expect with much greater probability to obtain other new kinds of good quality, than by employing the seeds even of the best old established sorts. Thus, if he wished to raise still more new pears, he would sow the kernels of the Sinclair, the Marie Louise, or the Diel, in preference to those of the Chaumontelle, the Colmar, or the St Germain. He likewise gave it as his opinion, that if the kernels of old varieties were to be sown, it would be better to employ those from other countries, similar in climate; to sow, for example, the seeds of English and of American apples in Brabant, or those of the north of Germany in Scotland, and vice versa. He mentioned, that he seldom failed in procuring valuable apples from the seed; for, those which were not adapted to the garden as dessert fruit, were probably suited for the orchard, and fit for baking or cyder-making. With pears the case was different; many proving so bad, as to be unfit for any purpose. He has chiefly applied himself to the more difficult department; for he has many more new pears than apples. We saw several beds of young seedling pear-trees, only in the second year from the pip, but all possessing promising characters.

Besides numerous seedling trees on their own roots, Mr Van Mons has many new kinds grafted on older stocks. Whenever a seedling indicated, by the blunt shape, thickness and woolliness of its leaves, or by the softness of its bark and fulness of its buds, the promise of future good qualities as a fruit-bearing tree, a graft was taken from it, and placed on a well-established stock: the value of its fruit was thus much sooner ascertained. These make comparatively dwarfish trees, when viewed beside those that are ungrafted.

In a few cases, we perceived, what had not escaped Mr Van Mons, that where the new seedling kinds had been grafted on branches of trees of well-known old varieties, in place of young stocks, the engrafted branches were healthy and clean, while the other branches of the same trees were cankered and foul; facts which seem to illustrate and confirm Mr Knight's doctrine as to the limited duration of the vigour of fruit-trees.

We here saw one of the most uncommon efforts in the art of grafting, that of inserting an entire tree on the stump (souche) of another. A neighbour having, in the spring season, cut down an apple-tree, about fifteen feet high, which Mr Van Mons considered as a desirable kind and a good healthy tree, he immediately selected a stock of similar dimensions, and, cutting it over near the ground, placed on it, by the mode of peg-grafting, the foster-tree; supported the tree by stakes; and excluded the air from the place of junction, by plastering it with clay, and afterwards heaping earth around it. The experiment succeeded perfectly; the tree becoming, in the course of the second summer, nearly as vigorous as ever.

The garden is bounded on one side by the buildings belonging to some kind of manufactory. One of the favourite new varieties of pear-trees, the Diel, is here trained against the wall: it has borne, for several years past, about a hundred fine large fruit every season; and it now looks extremely well. While we were admiring this tree, some girls, with their work-baskets, passed through the garden; and we learned, that all the people belonging to the manufactory actually use it as a thoroughfare; yet Mr Van Mons assured us, that neither his fruit nor his flowers are ever touched by the passengers. Fruit is here no great prize; but in our own country, we fear, a garden so circumstanced, would soon be destroyed, from the sheer love of mischief.

Mr Van Mons attends to other branches of horticulture besides the raising of fruit-trees. He shewed us a low frame adapted to receive glass covers, from which three crops of celery have this year been already procured; and a fourth is in progress. The celery however is small, and scarcely in any degree blanched, being intended only for soups.—Nor has he been altogether inattentive to the raising of ornamental plants, particularly roses. Of these he possesses a very considerable variety; and in this favourable situation, they spring up so readily, that he enjoys every advantage for prosecuting their culture. He pointed out to us some seedling rose-bushes, many of them with the leading shoots nearly a foot high, which had sprung from seeds sown in March last (1817), after the heps had lain in his repositories for more than a dozen of years.

*According to promise, Mr Van Mons sent to Edinburgh, early in April 1818, a very considerable collection of cions from his favourite pear, trees, including those the fruit of which we had tasted and approved, and several others which he had mentioned to us as yielding fruit of still superior quality.

Before we parted with this enthusiastic horticulturist, he obligingly and readily yielded to our request that he would send some cions of the new and approved varieties into Scotland, at the proper season of the year *.