The American Garden 110-111 (Mar 1888)

YESTERDAY, as Mr. Velhausen was showing me a bed of roses purchased last year, which was turning out to be rather badly mixed as to names, who should drive along in his new dog-cart but Mr. Hyde, gardener to the Hon. Mr. Southerland, the rich banker, of Claremont. Mr. Hyde is one of the most competent gardeners in the Dominion, having received a thorough professional training in the old country, whence he was brought a few years ago by Mr. Southerland when on one of his annual trips to Europe. The banker cares nothing for expense and gives his gardener carte blanche as regards outlay, so that Beauclerc Park. near Claremont, is lavishly adorned with the rarest and costliest trees, shrubs and flowers. The well-kept grounds are laid out in princely style, and under the expert management of Mr. Hyde, Beauclerc Park has become the loveliest of modern Edens. Every appliance that wealth can command is brought into play to render it a model country seat, a happy result entirely due to the rare skill, faultless taste and remarkable professional ability of Mr. Hyde. We, a little group of village amateurs, look up with a certain amount of awe to this man of varied knowledge. Still, we are on good terms with him, and are often invited out to Beauclerc whenever any extraordinary orchid or other floral gem of the first water is in bloom. He is slightly arbitrary in his opinions, terse and dogmatic in expressing them; but the most striking characteristic, which renders him a formidable adversary in disputation, is a keen, pitiless and unerring logic; hence, as may be readily conceived, prudence teaches us to studiously avoid discussions likely to excite his impetuous character or to bring his pugnacious instincts into play. I fancy, sometimes, that he looks down with an incipient contempt upon our pottering little nondescript gardens and our primitive, unprofessional expedients in the way of culture, and perhaps it's no wonder that a man who can order the choicest and most expensive plants by the thousand whenever he chooses should look a little superciliously upon our puny makeshifts, carnation layers and our rude holes for storing roses; but, on the whole, he is exceedingly gentlemanly, well educated and thoroughly devoted to his art. As a matter of course he receives a round salary, quite in keeping with his exceptional abilities. Just as he drove up, Velhausen, in bad humor that his roses should have turned out so badly, was gesticulating violently, as is his wont when excited. Mr. Hyde exclaimed in a brusque manner, "Why, what's all this fuss about?" Detecting an aggressive gleam in his eye, I saw he was in a warlike mood and that his query distinctly implied that there wasn't the slightest occasion for any "fuss." Intimidated by his imperious manner, I could only succeed in giving a faltering explanation of the situation.

"Why, bless my stars, is the man a consummate fool? He needn't pay for what he didn't order."

With increasing timidity I managed to reply: "But you should remember, Mr. Hyde, that these roses were purchased last year; they are now in bloom for the first time, consequently Mr. Velhausen could not possibly have known sooner that they were the 'sorts he didn't order.' Furthermore, florists as a rule do not offer unlimited credit, at least not to humble amateurs, whose purchases are insignificant; hence he was perforce obliged to pay for what he didn't order." Then, pointing to a plant in full bloom, I said:

"This rose was received as Queen of Queens, which, as you know, was introduced a couple of years ago at a pretty high price. It was so attractively described that Mr. Velhausen quite set his heart on possessing it; but, as you can plainly see, it proves to be Achille Gonod, a result somewhat provoking, to say the least, and justifies the display of a little bad humor on his part." His dogmatic rejoinder was absolutely stunning, and came near annihilating my remaining remnant of self-possession. "If he has been misled by a glowing account of a rarity he was unacquainted with, then it's his own fault."

"Why, my dear Mr. Hyde, you astonish me. I fear I do not catch your meaning correctly, for it seems to me that a literal application of such an extraordinary floricultural apothegm would lead to the unreasonable conclusion that whenever a florist chooses to give a tempting description of a novelty, for instance, that we have never seen, and the plant turns out to be a totally different and inferior variety, it is not the florist, but the amateur who is to blame! The only possible sense in which he could be to blame would perhaps be from having confided in such a florist; but as that hypothesis is rather damaging to the dealer, whose cause you advocate, you doubtless wish to convey some other meaning which, I must confess, is hidden to me."

With a spasmodic dissolution of continuity that would have done infinite credit to "Dr. J.'s aunt," he suddenly opened up a fresh bewildering vista in floricultural ethics by doggedly saying: "I have dealt with home and foreign firms, and do considerable buying in a year, and am always treated fair and square, and have no grounds whatever for complaint."

*Shakespeare would have bluntly called them "damning."

I actually shivered with suppressed emotion at this impressive oracular utterance, but fortunately had the tact to jauntily assume a courage I was far from feeling, and made more or less successful attempts to appear as cool as a cucumber. With a deprecating smile and a marked conciliating tone, I timidly ventured to reply: "Although the significance of your remark is slightly veiled, still it is pretty evident that you wish me to infer from it that since you, Mr. Hyde, are perfectly satisfied with your transactions with the trade, substitution must in consequence be a pure myth, an 'airy nothing;' in fact, ' 'tis a bubble, 'tis a dream' of noisy and unreasonable amateurs. But really you must pardon me for saying that it does not by any means follow that we shall be obliged to draw such a general conclusion from your particular experience, no matter how extensive it may have been; nor shall we arbitrarily lay down therefrom that no amateur has ever been fooled by a florist. Although you have neither distinctly nor openly declared it, still your remarks embody a very well defined insinuation that the matter is beneath notice; therefore, if you will kindly permit me, I shall attempt to show that you are quite mistaken; and that you may 'have no ground for complaint,' I shall present strictly professional testimony, of a character so unbiased, and from sources so unquestionable, that it cannot be gainsaid. Mr. E. G. Hill, president of the Society of American Florists, says that it is folly to ignore the existence of the practice, and that it must be stamped out. Mr. John Thorpe, ex-president of the S. A. F., has said that the prevalence of substitution and the uncertainty of procuring plants true to name were prominent among the potent reasons which led to the foundation of the society, and that proper means would be taken to correct the abuses. Mr. Robert Craig, eat-president of the S. A. F., says that, from evidence in his possession, he knows that the evil exists, and will continue to exist, unless means are taken to extirpate it. He himself had been a victim, and met heavy losses in consequence of deceptions. The firm of Lonsdale & Burton, of Philadelphia, lost heavily through a rose that was palmed off on them as Duke of Connaught when that variety first came out; they grew it a year or two, worked up a heavy stock and finally found out that it was Triomphe d'Angers. Mr. Craig relates an incident that came under his notice of a firm that advertised The Bride very extensively, yet had not a single plant of it on their place, but instead were working up an immense stock of Cornelia Cook. The circumstances were more than suspicious.* Mr. J. N. May, vice-president of the S. A. F., spoke warmly in favor of the efforts the society was making to suppress the abuse, an abuse that was bringing discredit upon the whole profession. Mr. M. A. Hunt, treasurer of the S. A. F., says it is well known that there are gentlemen in this business against whom these accusations are made who do not make mistakes. They are wilfully culpable, and the odium of their misdeeds is visited upon men doing an honest business. Mr. W. Langstaff, member of the S. A. F., has had personal experience, having on one occasion purchased $25 worth of roses and received but one variety that he had ordered. Miss A. M. Milliken, member of the S. A. F., ordered White Bon Silene from three different dealers, and was deceived in each case. Mr. Pentland, member of the S. A. F., ordered a rose from three different firms which in each case was untrue to name. This discussion does not strictly concern other countries, but as you have referred to foreign firms I will quote a single instance from Mr. Peter Henderson's experience, who lost about one thousand dollars from handling a spurious Madame Pollock geranium. It is but just to add that Mr. Henderson, with a fellow-feeling which does him infinite honor, charitably ascribed the unfortunate circumstance to involuntary error.

"As you perceive, I advance no testimony from amateurs and have confined myself strictly to men in the trade, leading florists, gentlemen of the highest standing and character, and although the material is by no means exhausted, still sufficient has been shown to prove the existence of ample reasons for persistent warfare against the abuse, and no amount of bluster or contemptuous pooh-poohing will deter any amateur from exercising a perfect right to ‘face the bear ' whenever he may deem it expedient or necessary. I am aware of but two firms in the trade that hold views similar to yours: Sphagnum & Co. and Lycopodium & Co. The latter gentlemen even took the trouble to write me that in their opinions there were no grounds for such a discussion; that the few errors which occurred from time to time, at immense intervals, were entirely due to unavoidable mistakes. I have since been told that these amiable gentlemen have personal reasons of an extremely private nature for entertaining such indulgent views. Under such circumstances it would, as a matter of course, be highly indelicate on my part to attempt to fathom or analyze the motives which prompt them to smother the discussion; hence I shall prudently drop that part of the subject. Now, in conclusion, I shall take the liberty to cite one more name.

"As there is an intimate connection between seedsmen and florists, I shall not apologize for here pointing out that even seeds are occasionally unreliable. A writer not long since remarked, in speaking of primulas, that the 'kinds depend on who is your seedsman. The several growers have strains named after themselves, and each of which is likely to be the "finest in cultivation." I have grown most of the prominent strains in the market, and now conclude I cannot tell one from the other. Aren't they named? Oh, yes, they have names enough, and long ones enough, too. For instance, Primula Sinensis fimbriata, punctata, elegantissima; still, like Buttercup's babies, they seem pretty well mixed up. Chiswick Red, from another firm, has not turned out to be one-third of Chiswick Red'. There is a pertinent significance in the words "kinds depend on who is your seedsman.' They plainly say between the lines that there are seedsmen and seedsmen, and should you not fall on a good one you may expect your primulas with grandiose names to be no better than they should be, and as badly mixed up as Buttercup's babies.

"The above extracts are taken from one of the most able, attractive and prolific writers of the present day on horticultural matters. He is a man of wide experience and varied knowledge; his writings have a peculiar charm and a practical value, from the fact that he handles nearly everything in the shape of trees, shrubs, plants and flowers, whose habits and culture he so graphically describes. He discreetly adheres to the line of work in the horticultural province he has selected, and scrupulously abstains from unnecessarily poaching 0n the chosen domain of other writers. He is not only an accomplished gardener, but also is a versatile writer, who imparts a vast fund of information, from a seemingly inexhaustible store, in a graceful and pleasing style. I may even add that at times he is singularly genial and pleasing. The writer from whom I have quoted is Dr. Jekyll. I dare say, however, that his experience in regard to primulas will carry little weight with you, and may seem a very trifling manner, for I know how generous Mr. Southerland is, and how little he cares for expense, provided Beauclerc be furnished with rarest flowers in abundance; hence, to insure fine plants, you can, if you choose, purchase the choicest strains from every available source; but I plead the cause of the impecunious, struggling amateur who, like Velhausen and myself, can make but one venture with a costly packet in a season; and when our seed turns out badly we, of course, feel the disappointment more keenly than a man who is exempt from footing the bills. Furthermore, Mr. Hyde, I have a firm conviction that had you imprudently stepped up to Dr. Jekyll in his greenhouse at the precise moment the true inwardness of his spurious Chiswick Reds was revealed to him and in your blandest and most ingratiating manner assured him that 'your Chiswick Reds invariably came out as red as turkey cocks, and that the seedsmen of both hemispheres were, without a solitary exception, the most immaculate and truthful class of men in existence,‘ would he, think you, have drawn much consolation from your unsolicited opinion?

This was the longest speech I had ever made, and breathless from the excitement and unwonted exertion I awaited Mr. Hyde's reply. Without vouchsafing a word he turned his horse's head in the direction of Beauclerc Park, and began to lash the animal furiously. Then to see the sorrel-tailed filly spank along the reverberating macadamized road; to see the clouds of dust, to see the dazzling glitter of the new dog-cart in the noonday sun, as it spun along in ever-increasing rapidity, was a sight so highly diverting that Velhausen threw himself prone on the ground, until, rolling over in his hilarity, he crushed the brittle stalks of a clump of choice carnations, whereupon he suddenly sprang to his feet and made an incoherent remark in German. "Poor Velhausen," I said to him, "Odontoglossum pescatoria [pescatorei] is expected to bloom in Beauclerc Park conservatory next week, but I greatly fear we shan't be there to see; so the next best thing will be to read Kingsley's description of it in 'Westward Ho!' "