ADDRESS: Eighth Anniversary of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (September 17, 1836)
Ezra Weston, Jr.


ANOTHER recurrence of the seasons has taken place,—the seed has been sown,—the leaf has again been put forth, and flowers and the fruits are at our hand, and we meet to celebrate the eighth anniversary of this Society. We have many things upon which to congratulate ourselves—many things in which the sensible observer and the interested cultivator may both rejoice. Our weekly exhibitions during the past year have been of a kind truly attractive and worthy of the Society,—surpassing, as they reasonably should, those of every former year, showing a manifest extension of the science and practice of Horticulture, and at the same time necessarily, an increasing taste and refinement

I feel tempted to say something of these exhibitions; of their effect, not alone upon those who contribute, but upon those who frequent as casual spectators. They have a good moral effect, and deserve, on that account to be well supported and attended. There are few things more refreshing to the man of business, or to any man, that will so recruit the senses and charm the spirit as to step aside a moment from the confusion and anxiety of the street, and look upon the beauty and bounty of nature, upon the splendid array of "mingled blossoms." It is like the breeze that meets the wave tost sailor, upon the Indian Ocean, when

"Off at sea northeast winds blow
Sabean odors from the spicy shore
Of Araby the blest."

To the man of leisure and taste, what more pure pleasure could catch his taste than a rare and choice exhibition of flowers—with their wonderful economy, texture and colors,: perhaps in the course of his search for amusement he may find none that shall so rouse and cheer his languid attention. What more graceful and delicate sight can meet the eyes of the young—in what school of the philosophers, in what gallery of art can they learn more of that which ameliorates and refines? I should therefore wish that in all cities, but more especially in ours, a hall of good proportions and accommodation, not remote from the paths of business, might be open, where the public could weekly visit an exhibition of flowers and fruits. I believe it would have an elevating effect upon the public mind, and be as attractive and worthy of support as a gallery of statuary or paintings. These remarks concerning our weekly exhibitions seem not inappropriate or beneath the dignity of the occasion, that those who contribute, may feel that it is not a selfish or narrow office they discharge, but one of generosity and high public service.

It is said that in speaking of Horticulture as an innocent amusement, we have said much in its favor: but I think we can recommend and urge its claims much stronger, by saying that it is as positive a duty that a man should cultivate some of his powers to this exercise as it is to possess a knowledge of politics. He who cultivates a garden and brings to perfection flowers and fruits, cultivates and advances at the same time his own nature.

Horticulture as a science applies as well to fruits as flowers, and it loses none of its attractions when contemplated or practised in regard to the former productions. It is a branch of the art of the highest use.

During the past year, the Society has received an accession in the numbers of its members both subscription and honorary, but perhaps there is no name upon the catalogue that is more worthy of a place there, than that of the aged and eminent Dr Van Mons, of Belgium, and I shall occupy the few moments I may call mine here, in presenting some remarks upon his services and theory, at the risk of stating some things already well known and of adding but little or nothing to the knowledge of some present.

The causes of the decay of fruit trees has for a long time occupied the attention of horticulturists, and it has been allowed that disease, the consequence of old age, has caused and does cause this decay, and will gradually work the extinction of some of the best varieties.

Some of the variety of fruit that were formerly in high reputation, have now become so deteriorated as scarce to be worth propagation, and others are fast hastening to the same fate, though they stand upon the catalogues, and are often purchased, perhaps oftener purchased and cultivated by those who are ignorant of this characteristic, than a newer variety.

The graft is but an extension of the parent stock, and therefore liable to all the diseases and defects of its original, and when we consider that most of our fruits have been propagated in this manner many years, we may well desire, that some certain method might he discovered by which new varieties, and those of a delicious and if possible improving stamp, might take the place of the old and failing.

Practical and skilful horticulturists recommended that the seeds should be planted, and that then we would be supplied with a different variety of fruit, but with a healthy tree and perhaps better fruit.

Those who thought that by sowing the seed they might obtain more healthy trees and more improved varieties were correct in their opinion, for in the seed is the germ of improvement, but it was necessary to observe other facts, and dive deeper into the laws of nature before it could be taken advantage of.

It has been therefore a desirable thing to discover the law by which to obtain new good varieties. The celebrated Mr Knight, of very extensive experience in the propagation of fruit trees, attempted, though as we may believe on a very limited scale, to produce new varieties of the pear by introducing the pollen of one variety into the prepared blossom of another and raising trees from the seeds of the fruit thus obtained. But the method is complicated, and he never appears to have carried the experiment to much length,—and it is also a method somewhat uncertain. It is still by means of the wonderful virtue that is contained in the seed by which a new variety is to be produced.

The best fruits it was well known were those raised from the stone or the seed. At the village of Montreuil, near Paris, as it is stated by Sir J. Banks, where formerly the whole inhabitants were maintained by the raising of peaches, the best fruits were never budded or grafted, but always reared from the stone.

There seems to be a very wonderful quality in the seed, and it is well known in the cultivation of annuals introduced from a warm climate, that if the season be of sufficient length for them to ripen their seeds, they (the seeds) become of such a virtue as to be able to resist the severest frosts with impunity. So speedily does nature strive to adapt herself to the new situations and exposures she may meet.

It is also well known that plants and perennial shrubs do not grow hardier by time, when placed in a new exposure, that the suckers or cuttings from them also do not, but take with them the same quality possessed by the stock from which they have been separated. But that the true method of inuring tender plants to colder climates, is by planting the seed perfected in such climate. In this way, many of the more beautiful plants of the South have been and more still may be made to perfect their seeds here, and others raised from their seed might be made to endure our winter and adorn our grounds.

This method was pointed out by Sir Joseph Banks twenty years since, and he felt assured that though some plants of peculiar delicacy and tenderness might require many generations to inure them to colder climates, yet these wonderful though simple powers of the seed would produce finally the change. But the planting of seed is often of so prospective a benefit that few have the courage to plant.

*Lon Hor. Trans. vol. 1. p. 24.    

"Old as I am," says Sir Joseph Banks, in his communication to the London Horticultural Society,* "I certainly intend this year to commence experiments on the Myrtle and Laurel," and at the same time with great modesty but in a cheering tone, "I trust, therefore, it will not be thought presumptuous in me to invite those of my brethren who are younger than I am, and who of course will see the effect of more generations than I shall do, to take measures for bringing to the test the theory I have ventured to bring forward." Possibly by these means the Magnolia Glauca at some later time may adorn our woods more generally, and ornament the grounds of every residence in our vicinity.

†Columella and Virgil.

It was known to the ancient cultivators, and perhaps it required no great experience to discover the fact that cuttings from the bearing branches did not afford durable trees.†

Mr Knight recommended as a method of perpetuating a variety with vigor, to obtain plants from some detached part of the extremity of the roots.

By sowing a large number of seeds at hazard, doubtless some good variety might be obtained, but the process might prove one of perplexity and disappointment instead of pleasure or profit.

These facts being known, that nature required to be refreshed in the seed, it was necessary that there should be some principle discovered concerning it.

"In all things," says M. Poiteau, "it is necessary to have recourse to science, which is composed of reasonings deduced from particular facts and whence we deduce what is called a principle."

The following remarks concerning M. Van Mons, are gathered from "Theorie Van Mons, ou Notice Historique sur a moyens qu'emploie M. Van Mens pour obtenir d'excellent fruit de semis; par A. Poiteau"—and from conversations with M. Emilien de Wael, a friend of both named distinguished gentlemen. The "Notice Historique" has been published in translation by the former President of the Society.

M. Van Mons turned his attention to the discovery of the causes of variation in fruits and flowers. He commenced his experiments at the early age of fifteen years in his father's garden at Brussels, with the seeds of roses and shrubs, and proceeded in the planting of successive generations, with a view to observe the changes and variations. Afterwards, he began with the seeds and stones of fruits. From his repeated sowings of annual flowers and perennial shrubs which bore fruit or perfected their seeds in a short time and by his accurate observations upon the results developed, and by his already extended knowledge of the experience of others he arrived at this conclusion concerning varieties or variation.

"That so long as plants remain in their natural situations, they do not vary sensibly and their seeds always produce the same—but changing their climate and territory, they more or less vary, and that when they have once departed from their natural state (or commenced varying) they never return to it again, but are removed more and more therefrom by successive generations—and that finally if their varieties are even carried back to the territory of their ancestors, they will neither represent the character of their parents or even return to the species from whence they sprung."

He also established that so long as plants in a state of nature remain in their native soil they produce seeds which do not degenerate—but that it was different with seeds of a tree in state of change—or as we say improvement, whether the variation be produced by change of climate, territory or other unknown causes, and that the bounds of this change or variation are not known, except that the last seeds from a tree in state of variation will produce a generation nearer a state of nature than those from its first seeds. Hence, the necessity of raising from the first seeds of a new variety if we wish to obtain a free far removed from a state of nature—as to that state the plant always in age by its seeds, tends, though never able quite to reach it.

Upon this basis, he established his theory of producing new varieties of fruits, viz. that when we have produced a variation by removal or cultivation in any tree, let the first seeds—be planted, and upon first production of fruit by the new generation, let its first seeds be planted, and so on without interruption as it is expressed from parent to son, and at each remove it is found that the character of the tree becomes more like those of the old known and approved variety and the fruit advancing to perfection.

He proceeded to verify his theory and for this purpose he collected in his nursery at Brussels eighty thousand plants, consisting of wild stock and trees of every variety, and sowed large quantity of seeds and stones, and upon the fructification of these plants thus obtained, he sowed the first seeds, and so forward. Observing that the pear in the production from seeds differed most from the parent tree, he turned his principal attention to that fruit, though he failed not to carry on experiments with the several kinds both stone and seed.

He was gratified to find that at each generation, the trees produced fruit in a shorter time, that the fruit nearer and nearer approached that of the several best known varieties. That the trees assume the appearance of the cultivated tree, that the thorns gradually were replaced by buds and bearing branches, and the process of change steady and certain, and that each step, variation or change seemed to be an effort to become more beautiful and grateful, thus repaying the care of man, though as we know at the cost of a short life.

The disappearance of the thorn is a beautiful instance of the effect of cultivation, changing what in a wild state seems placed upon the tree for its defence into fruit-bearing branches, for now when taken under the protection of man, having no longer any need of arms, it is willing to exert its power to adorn and repay its benefactor. Mr Southey refers to this change in his lines upon the Holly Tree.

"But when they row when nothing is to fear,
Smooth and unarmed the pointless leaves appear."

He has proceeded in his experiments as far as the ninth generation and has given to the world a large number of new delicious varieties of fruits.

At the commencement of his experiments he was aware that it would consume much time, but having counted the cost he was prepared to meet it. He met with many difficulties, such as would naturally arise to one entering upon his labors with such a great heart and on so wide a scale. He could not obtain seeds from new varieties, and he was obliged to begin with seeds already degenerated, and the trees consequently bore fruit very tardily, though in his more recent attempts and as the generations increase, he has succeeded in obtaining fruit from the pear at the eighth generation as soon as four years from the planting.

He maybe considered as having established or made known some laws concerning the processes of nature, which will be of great service to the Horticulturist of all nations, and render his name worthy perpetual remembrance.

1st. That so long as plants remain in their natural situations they do not sensibly vary and their seeds always produce the same, but on changing their climate and territory they mostly vary, some more, some less and that where they have departed from their natural state they never return to it again, but are removed more and more therefrom by successive generations and produce often distinct races, more or less durable—and finally, if the varieties are ever carried back to the territory of their ancestors, they will still continue in change and not return to the species from whence they sprang.

2d. That there cannot be a cross fecundation between a natural species and a variety.

3d. That double flowers are not a variation, but a sign of feebleness.

4th. That the varieties of the most delicate fruits are those which are the shortest lived.

5th. That the seeds of an ancient variety, though of acknowledged excellence, will produce trees of great variety, but always with poor fruit.

Although he has proceeded thus far, there is yet much to be discovered, and we are curious to know to what extent this amelioration can be carried, and what limit nature has set and the causes of it. These questions interest us much, and perhaps it is to be regretted that this Society has not a garden for the purpose, wherein to continue the experiments, which the age and misfortunes of this M. Van Mons prevents him from pursuing. I say misfortunes, for he is interesting to us, not only on account of his great learning and labors, but also on account of the many reverses he has met with. As I before remarked, he began his observations at Brussels, in his father's garden, at the age of fifteen years, and early became distinguished as a man of learning. He was for a short time engaged in politics, and this seems the least brilliant part of his life. At the age of twentytwo, he had established in his own mind his theory and proceeded to his labors in its behalf. During seven years, he held the office of Professor of Physic and Chemistry in the Central School of the Department of Dyle, and when Belgium became a separate sovereignty was appointed as professor of those branches in the University of Louvain. He continued his experiments at Brussels, having at this time in his nutsexy nearly eighty thousand pears raised from the seed, some of which, being of the sixth generation, produced delicious fruit. A few years subsequent, in 1819, when in the enjoyment of success and the generous pleasure of dispensing the best varieties of fruit, which he also did without remuneration, the authorities decided that the spot occupied by him as a nursery was necessary for streets. With the fate of a martyr, though with the hope of a philosopher, he was obliged to relinquish the seat of his labors, and transport what could be saved in the nursery to Louvain, and having arduous duties to discharge in his capacity as professor and unable to give his personal attention his losses were very great. At Louvain he occupied a piece of land belonging to the city. Here he was again gratified in having his labors succeed. He replaced his losses, and giving the seed into the hand of nature waited patiently for the development. But in 1831, at the siege of Antwerp, though Brussels was somewhat distant, yet his nursery was the spot of ground selected upon which to build ovens to bake bread for the soldiers, and a great part of his nursery was consequently destroyed. But hiring another piece of ground he thither transported his trees of the seventh, eighth and ninth generations, and consoled himself by saving in scions, some of the remaining fruits. Thus the sun again shone upon him, till in 1834 his nursery was decided upon as the only proper point for the establishment of a gas house for lighting the city—and, says M. Poiteau with some humor as well as asperity, "Heaven grant that these gentlemen may be enabled to see better for the future"—though he intimates that they are only lighting a torch to exhibit an act of ignorance and the grossest vandalism.

For near half a century he has been patiently pursuing his labors disseminating new and almost perfect varieties of healthful fruit. He says "his sole end has always been to multiply those which are good and enable the world to enjoy them." He has persevered through disappointments which would have broken any one not moved by high and the best motives, and with a zeal which a genuine love of his labors and a desire to benefit mankind creates. Upon being reminded that there were some omissions in his catalogues of data, which might be serviceable, he replies modestly "that his intention has not been to establish a science, but rather to do a good act, which would be immediately useful by the dissemination of good fruits."

As poorly, gentlemen, as I may have set forth the theory, and spoken upon the labors and virtues of this our friend and correspondent, yet I thought it would not be proper to allow this festival of the Society to pass without noticing them particularly, and being willing on our part to bear witness to the importance of his labors and discoveries—discoveries, showing us a process of nature directly bearing upon cultivation, as simple as it is beautiful.

The success of the past year has been such as to encourage us to proceed in our labors with fresh zeal. The service of the Society to the cause of Horticulture in this country, though it becomes us to speak of it with modesty, yet we cannot but regard with satisfaction, connecting us with eminent individuals abroad and encouraging exertions at home; producing in both relations an interchange of knowledge and friendship.

We may therefore look upon our work with delight and pleasure—feeling sure that the humblest effort is not lost, but like the seed, though small and for a time hidden, may silently take root and grow to the exhibition of beautiful flowers and delicious fruits.

By the exertions of the Horticulturist, the rich productions of the more favored climates are leaving their natural boundaries, and the world seems no longer marked by zones, but wherever man is, with science, civilization and truth, thither all things beautiful and true follow.

Downing: The Van Mons Theory (1849)