The New England Farmer 12(10): 73-74 (Sept 18, 1833)

J.-B. Van Mons

THE following observations are prefatory to an abridged Descriptive Catalogue of the Fruit Trees in the Collection of J. B. Van Mons, a celebrated Cultivator of Fruit Trees in Belgium, Europe. We were favored with the manuscript by R. MANNING, Esq. of Salem, Mass. for whom it was translated from the French by Miss ELIZABETH C. HATHORNE, of that place. We think the remarks cannot but prove useful to all persons engaged in the raising of Fruits, and especially to those who wish to create or introduce new and improved varieties of Apples, Pears, &c.—


Being unwilling to leave my correspondents in ignorance of the fruits which I have sent them, designated by numbers alone, I have caused the materials for this catalogue to be collected during a severe illness. There may be omissions in it, but there are no errors; and the repetitions refer to the parent stocks, and to their grafts, but are not unnecessarily employed.

In so vast an establishment, containing not less than 86,000 trees, it was impossible to inscribe at length on tickets the names of all the fruits of which we distributed grafts; and we found it at once more simple and more expeditious to mark on a slip of paper the No. attached to the tree, and to point out afterwards the variety to which the No. belonged.

We attached a No. in lead, suspended by a wire of the same metal, to every tree and graft in the garden, as well as to every Sauvageon (ungrafted tree, raised from seed,) from which we gathered fruit, and we noted in catalogues the names or the qualities of the fruits to which these Nos. referred. We have thought it expedient to have those Catalogues printed.

There are in the first series many Nos. to which no descriptions are annexed, because they are occupied by old varieties generally known. The vacant Nos, in the second and third series belong to new varieties which have not answered the expectations formed respecting them. Some vacancies are also left by duplicates and triplicates of the same variety, which we had received under the same names.

We have, as far as possible, given the names the Authors of the Fruits. By its Patrons, signifies that it was found by the Cultivator whose name it bears. By ourselves, that it is the result of our endeavors. The articles designated by Nos. alone, are necessarily products of our culture.

I have added in my Catalogues the approximative forms of my new fruits, though nothing can be more uncertain than this characteristic, for the form of a pear varies during 12 or 15 years before it is definitively fixed; and there are some which never attain a fixed form, as the Ben Chretien d'hiver, the Beurre Rance, &c. I have compared them to known varieties. I might here compare them to the wild fruits of the same species (sous especes des bois), but in countries where the kind does not grow spontaneously, there would have been no point of comparison.

We admit into this Catalogue only the species which we have been able to send to our correspondents, under the form of Grafts, such as the Pear, Apple, Plum and Cherry Tree. We have, however, discovered a method of conveying under the same form the Peach and the Apricot Tree. It consists in grafting them on the summit, or on the bourgeons (bud's eyes) of the Plum Tree, and sending the grafted branch before or after the developement of the eye, to be grafted en feute (or cleft or slit-grafting) on another Plum Tree. We have never yet found this method to fail.

There are many numbers which have not yet received names, because we thought it right to name only the varieties, which in our judgment merited the title of tres a propager (eminently worthy to be propagated), which expressed the highest excellence that a fruit can attain, and requires it to be superior to a St Germain, a Beurre Gris, a Chaumentelle, a Colmar, a Cressane, &c. Respect to the persons to whom we offer the homage of our fortunate acquisitions by bestowing their names upon the fruits, exacts from us this extreme reserve.

This distinction between Fruits a propager (to be propagated) and those tres a propager, is solely for ourselves, who are so rich in this last quality of fruits, which unites elegance of form, and amplitude of size, to the utmost delicacy of flesh and of juice, while we are so poor in subjects for grafting. The words Excellent, Exquisite, Delicious, annexed to a great number of our new fruits, are equivalent to the declaration that they are as good as the best old varieties.

In another position than that in which we are placed, we might enlarge on the origin, the form, the qualities, I will say the defects, the epoch of maturity, and other particulars of the Fruits bearing names, in the next supplement, if it be ever published, we may, perhaps, revert to these details; but at present I can only cause to be transcribed the judgments pronounced upon each variety, and consigned to my notes.

It may be asked, how we have been able to obtain from our seed-plots so many Fruits, so extra-ordinary in all respects? We answer that our method has been to renew incessantly the old varieties, acknowledged as exquisite. By renewing we mean planting always the kernels and stones of the last produced, regenerating thus from father to son. We said to ourselves once for all, that the more a species, being propagated from seed, and at the same time by shoots or suckers, is removed by being repeatedly sown, from a state of nature, the more it must approach a state of art. We have since acted in conformity to this principle, and already at the third renewing, the fruit of the Peach and Apricot tree is no longer of ordinary merit, and, at its fourth sowing the apple is reproduced constantly exquisite. This has not been the case with the Pear tree, which still produces ordinary fruit, though no longer bad. But for this characteristic of the Pear, and especially that of the incessant variation of its form, pomological researches would be already without an object, and the study of fruits would consist only in a dry acquisition of names.

Our seed plots were differently treated according to the species. The Pear Trees were planted in squares, and the Apple Trees were placed in one of the corners of the garden: these species were never planted together. The Peach and Apricot Trees, sown confusedly, were removed only to be placed where they were to remain. The growth of all was restrained by pruning till the moment of permanently placing them; and at transplantation the branches were slightly drawn together, and the roots forcibly so, in order to make the latter subdivide, which causes the tree to bear early. After the transplantation they were not touched. In the second year we examimed the Pear Trees, leaving only those of good appearance, and choosing the others to graft upon. This grafting could not be performed without removal, because the growth of the sauvageons would immeasurably outstrip that of the grafted trees. We therefore raised the trees, just before the frosts, and placed them en jauge [in casks or barrels], in order to graft upon them by copulation, and out of the earth at the end of February; or we grafted them in this manner before the beginning of winter. These grafts have endured with perfect safety the severity of the past winter. This method is preferable to every other for the Pear tree and the Apple tree. The suffering, which in this case is common to the tree and the graft, secures its taking and determines an equal force of developement. It might be called the graft on one's knee, or the graft at the corner of the fire. It is the only one which should be practised, except en feute (slit cleft) for the Paradise and the Quince tree, of which every piece of a trunk, branch or root only, 2 or 3 inches long and 2 or 3 lines thick, may be made useful as a subject.

This selection of subjects for grafting does not prevent our trees from being so near each other as to shoot into the air, like arrows, and to resemble Italian poplars rather than ordinary pear trees: they were not forced by the knife to take a direction contrary to nature; and these trees, so high, so straight, with branches so regular, and unapproached by any insect, were every year covered with fruit from the summit to the foot. The great art in giving to a tree au vent (not trained in any particular shape) a regular form in maintaining the equilibrium between its branches, is to make it take from its birth a right direction by attaching it to a proper support.

The new fruits have over the old the advantage of yielding a rich and constant crop, and of exemption from falling off and from alteration. They are less liable to any malady.

When a Peach tree is raised from the stone and au vent, it is as unnecessary to despoil it of its branches as to thin it of fruit; in the third year, it puts forth only short branches, which bear without intermission, and whatever be the number of the fruits, the smallest is not less savory than the largest; the flesh of the peaches of seed plots remaining long transparent and greenish. This is also the case with the Nectarine, whose fruit au vent may be preserved from insects.

I was at first in the habit of placing a graft of the most distinguished of my sauvageons on a lateral branch of a mature tree; but I have always observed that this branch and the parent-stock began to bear the same year, so that while the trees were mutilated nothing was gained in precocity of crop.

It will be perceived that in our last catalogues, the number of fruits inscribed excellent is much more considerable than in the first: this proceeds in part, it is true, from our more extended cultivation, but also from the circumstance that in proportion as we advance in renewing the varieties, the number of distinguished fruits is multiplied.

We also remark, that the more the fruits are renewed, the fewer early varieties do we obtain; for example, in the last year few of our apples and pears of the first crop ripened before winter; and even at this moment (March), I have a great number which are not ripe, and which ripen successively as they advance in merit. It is true that in the selection of Sauvageons, we remove all the pear trees that are without thorns and with stout branches and large leaves, as these are signs of precocity, and all the apple trees whose appearance resembles too much that of the early varieties.

It will be observed, that we have principally directed our endeavors to the improvement of pears. This was natural, because the pear has not hitherto been reproduced identically, but under astonishing deviations, which have hardly permitted comparisons. We have, in our thousands of results, obtained forms which resembled each other as to the fruits, but the appearance of the tree, the wood, the foliage, were entirely different; and when two trees had some resemblance in appearance, wood and foliage, the fruit was totally distinct. The following was my mode of passing judgment upon the varieties. I invited to dinner a friend, whose taste in fruit was exquisite, and we tasted together; then I made my two gardeners taste; we discussed for a moment the merit of the fruit, and I consigned the judgments to my notes, with the very expressions which are found in the Catalogue. As fruit whose period of maturity in not yet known must be gathered at different times, and at intervals of ten days, we had never less than 200 sorts to taste. The No. attached to the tree was transcribed upon each fruit. Every variety judged very good, and of the highest quality, was afterwards gathered and distributed to connoisseurs, on condition of returning the stones and the kernels: we have never sent a good new fruit to the market; we chose to allow it to rot in order to preserve the seed, rather than to sell it at a high price.

I was obliged to quit Brussels when almost all my Sauvageons of the 4th and 5th renewing were about bear: an object of public utility claimed the ground which my establishment occupied: I shall, perhaps, be compelled to leave my new gardens when nearly all my Sauvageons of the 6th and 7th renewing are covered with flower-buds. I see that the more the renewings are multiplied, the earlier the Sauvageons begin to bear: a great many of my pear trees of 3 and 4 years old will produce this year.

In the inevitable disorder attendant on the destruction of an immense cultivation, effected during the severity of winter, it was impossible not to lose some varieties, though we took grafts of all the most precious, and though of these grafts, placed double and in April and May on trees out of the earth and half dry, very few perished. To gather grafts and to abandon the trees was all that we could do at such a moment, and when we could ourselves be present only for a day and a half in the week. We are consequently obliged to request our correspondents to return us grafts of those lost varieties, which are in their possession.