No more than yesterday morning, while I was admiring a lot of conifers (pines, firs, etc.) exhibited by M. Deseine of Bougival, a very well dressed young man stopped behind me and said to his companion:
"Trees in an industrial exhibition, why is that? What do plants and industry have in common? When by chance a flower is chic, it is the good Lord who should be decorated; I wonder. "
Discretion forbade me to answer this pretty little man; but as he is perhaps not alone in his opinion, I will say what there is in common between plants and industry.
Nature has given each country only a small number of plants. Our trees, our vegetables, our flowers, ninety-nine hundredths of the French flora represent ancient or recent imports. I am not sure that Lucullus brought the first cherry pits to Borne, but everyone knows how the acacia vulgaris and the horse chestnut came to us; if we had woken up earlier, we would have witnessed the importation of the dahlia and the camellia by Dahl and Camelli. But isn't importing industry?
Another matter. The workman who turns a copper disc into a hunting button with a swing of the pendulum is acting as an industry. And the gardener who transforms a hedge rose into General Jacqueminot's rose?
In his native country, fishing was hardly skin deep, although it had probably been cultivated there for a long time. The industry of the gardeners of Montreuil has made of it the beautiful and tasty fruit that you know. Is it industry or not?
The processes that turn a single flower into a double one, the ingenious manoeuvres that multiply the varieties of flowers and fruits ad infinitum, are industry in the first place, and even the most useful and the most pleasant of industries.
But is not the mere fact of transforming an exotic seed into a beautiful and vigorous tree like the wellingtonia, with no other aids than sun, soil and water, as remarkable as the transformation of a kilogram of wool into a cod-tail suit?
So our horticulturists are industrialists of the most distinguished and deserving class.
I say our... I am wrong, it should be horticulturists. The time has passed, unfortunately, when we were the first in the world in this respect. Is it because our distant colonies have been reduced to almost nothing? Or is it because the spirit of adventure is not as strong among us as among others? Or that the incentives are less extensive? It is too positive that Belgium, Holland, Germany and especially England exceed us in the importation of exotic plants.
If by chance you notice in a corner, three or four collections of small, delicate, green trees, suffering in appearance, do not despise them: they are new plants, newly imported, and introduced into Europe by the English. Who knows if one of these runts does not have an immense future?
Our culture is beautiful, ingenious and skilful; but it is no longer out of line as it was in the last century; it may well redeem the poverty of our imports.
Does this mean that we lack eminent horticulturists? No, of course not: we have not gone backwards, we have even made good progress; but our competitors were galloping behind us, and we let ourselves be caught up. Absolutely, we are making progress. In relation to the neighbouring peoples, it is easy to see that we could have kept our distance a little better.
But melancholic reflections are not in order in such a cheerful and beautiful place.
In addition to M. Deseine from Bougival, Messrs Croux, Moreau, Defresne and Oudin exhibited beautiful collections of conifers. The holly trees of M. Saunier, the rhododendrons of M. Morlet and Cauchois are also remarkable. M. Louis Leroy has sent from Angers a group of splendid magnolias; M. Denis from the Var has generously donated to the garden his date palms, his dwarf palms, his agace trees, and the gigantic cereus (candle cactus) which lean against the two aquariums. All of these were born and bred on the islands of Hyères. We should also mention a basket of araucaria imbricata and some beautiful araucaria excelsa.
As isolated subjects, we have the abies pinsapo of M. Cochet, the abies normanniana of M. Krelage, the pinsapo of M. Oudin, the thuya gigantea and the icellingtonia, or sequoia, or eucalyptus of M. Cochet, the last two outside of the islands. Cochet's icellingtonia, or sequoia, or eucalyptus, the last two of which are offline.
About wellingtoma gigantea, I ask to speak. Our economists and politicians will take advantage of the Exhibition to invite all Europeans to agree once and for all on currencies, weights and measures. I would like the botanists who have been drawn in droves to the Champ de Mars to come to some sort of agreement, at the same time, on the nomenclature of plants. We give them Latin names, because Latin is a universal language for educated minds. But what is the point of speaking Latin if the Americans call sequoia what the English call wellingtonia and the French call eucalyptus? I could mention several hundred plants, each of which has three or four different names in Latin. Let's agree, what the hell! Latin nomenclature has a thousand disadvantages and only one advantage, which is being lost day by day. If we do not want to agree and give each plant a unique name, we will have every advantage in using the old popular, familiar and picturesque names: wolf's mouth, larkspur, bear's ear!
It was Mr. Lechevalier, the manager of the large plantations, who brought the large plane tree here. The tree is as remarkable for its shape as for its size; certainly Xerxes would give it the golden necklace. An eloquent orator, who is himself named after a tree, recently told us in a soulful speech that the kings of Persia used to decorate the veterans of the vegetable kingdom. Let me reform this ingenious but erroneous interpretation of history. Xerxes was a big kid, a jaded sultan and a fool. A young, blue plane tree met him on his way: the king of Persia fell in love with it; he kissed it, he gave it jewels, he treated it like a mistress. The human heart was subject to all sorts of aberrations among the Persians, and among the Greeks too: Xerxes' caprice for a tree has been noted by historians, because it went a little beyond measure. The Greeks did not tell us this anecdote to make us esteem their enemy; on the contrary.
I apologise for the digression; I will not digress any further.
M. Lechevalier, already named, is the author of a fruit garden that I recommend to you. You will see there the most beautiful specimens of an admirable art: it is precision arboriculture. The gardener guides the sap through the branches like a skilled smelter directs the casting of metal; he can fix in advance the exact place where each fruit will be moulded.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée