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Experiments with tea-seeds Best method of sending them to distant countries How oaks and chestnuts might be transported Arrive at Calcutta Condition of the collections East India Company's botanic garden Amherstia and other plants in bloom Proceed onwards The Sunderbunds Arrive at Allahabad Land journey Reach Saharunpore State of the tea-plants Saharunpore garden Mussooree garden Its trees and other productions Its value to the country and to Europe.
IN the autumn of 1848 I sent large quantities of tea-seeds to India. Some were packed in loose canvas bags, others were mixed with dry earth and put into boxes, and others again were put up in very small packages, in order to be quickly forwarded by post; but none of these methods were attended with much success. Tea-seeds retain their vitality for a very short period if they are out of the ground. It is the same with oaks and chestnuts, and hence the great difficulty of introducing these valuable trees into distant countries by seeds.
In 1849, however, I succeeded in finding a sure and certain method of transporting tea-seeds to foreign countries in full life; and as this method will apply to all short-lived seeds as well as to those of the tea-plant, it is important that it should be generally known. It is simply to sow the seeds in Ward's cases soon after they are gathered.
My first experiment was tried in the following manner. Having procured some fine mulberry-plants from the district where the best Chinese silk is produced, I planted them in a Ward's case in the usual way, and watered them well. In two or three days, when the soil was sufficiently dry, a large quantity of tea-seeds were scattered over its surface, and covered with earth about half an inch deep. The whole was now sprinkled with water, and fastened down with a few crossbars to keep the earth in its place. The case was then screwed down in the usual way, and made as tight as possible.
When the case reached Calcutta the mulberry-plants were found to be in good condition, and the tea-seeds had germinated during the voyage, and were now covering the surface of the soil. Dr. Falconer, writing to me upon the receipt of this case, says, "The young tea-plants were sprouting around the mulberries as thick as they could come up."
During this year (1849) large quantities of seeds were sown in other cases between the rows of young tea-plants. These also germinated on their way to India, and reached their destination in the Himalayas in good condition.
When the news of the success of these experiments reached me from India, I determined to adopt the same plan when I packed the cases which I was now taking round under my own care. Tea-seeds were therefore sown in all the cases between the rows of young plants.
Fourteen cases having been packed and prepared in this manner, I had still a large quantity of seeds about a bushel remaining on hand. These I determined to dispose of in the following manner. Two glazed cases had been prepared to take a collection of camellias from China to the Botanic Garden at Calcutta. The tea-seeds were emptied out in front of these cases and a small portion of earth thrown in amongst them. A layer of this mixture, which now consisted of about one part earth and two parts seeds, was laid in the bottom of each case, and the camellia-plants were lifted gently out of their pots and placed upon it. The spaces between the plants were then filled up to the proper height with this mixture of tea-seeds and earth, and a little soil was sprinkled upon the surface to cover the uppermost seeds. The whole was then well watered, bars were nailed across to keep the earth in its place, and the lids of the cases were fastened down in the usual manner.
My collections of plants and seeds, which now filled sixteen glazed cases, were in this state when I left Shanghae with the Chinese manufacturers and implements, as described in the last chapter. This was on the 16th of February, 1851. The north-east monsoon was now blowing steadily along the coast of China. This being a fair wind, all sail was set, and in four days we anchored in the bay of Hong-kong, having run little less than one thousand miles. We at once went onwards in the steam-ship "Lady Mary Wood," and arrived at Calcutta on the 15th of March. Here we took up our abode with Dr. Falconer, the superintendent of the H.C. Botanic Garden, and it was at this time that the counterfeit tea was made from the leaves of Pongamia glabra, the account of which I have given in a former chapter. All the glass cases were taken to the garden to be examined and put in order for the next part of the journey.
When the cases were opened in Calcutta the young tea-plants were found to be in good condition. The seeds which had been sown between the rows were also just beginning to germinate. These, of course, were left undisturbed, as there was room enough for them to grow; but it was necessary to take other measures with those in the camellia cases. On opening the latter, the whole mass of seeds, from the bottom to the top, was swelling, and germination had just commenced. The camellias, which had now arrived at their destination, were lifted gently out and potted, and appeared as if they had never left their native country. Fourteen new cases were got ready, filled with earth, and these germinating seeds were sown thickly over the surface, and covered with soil in the usual way. In a few days the young plants came sprouting through the soil; every seed seemed to have grown; and by this simple plan about twelve thousand plants were added to the Himalayan plantations.
Many attempts are yearly made by persons in Europe to send out seeds of our oaks and chestnuts to distant parts of the world, and these attempts generally end in disappointment. Let them sow the seeds in Ward's cases as I have described, and they are almost sure of success. If they are to be sent to a great distance, they should be sown thinly, not in masses.
The H. C. Botanic Garden at Calcutta is situated on the right bank of the river Hooghly, a little below the "City of Palaces." From the time of Dr. Wallich's retirement until the appointment of Dr. Falconer extensive alterations appear to have been made. It must be confessed, however, that some of these alterations have been most injurious to the garden. For example, many valuable specimens and groups of trees have been cut down, which cannot be replaced in one generation. We look in vain for those noble specimens of palm-trees which must have been planted in the days of Roxburgh and Wallich, while in their places we find spine small "botanical arrangements" which cannot be carried out, and which are never likely to answer the purposes for which they were intended.
The alterations now in progress appear to be of a very different kind, and are the first results of a well-digested plan. It is proposed to form a large Arboretum in one portion of the grounds, to contain specimens of all the exogenous trees and shrubs which grow in the climate of Bengal; in another part of the garden the endogens, such as palms, Dracζnas, &c., are to be placed; and no doubt other classifications of herbaceous and medical plants will also be formed. If this plan is carried out as it has been commenced, this noble establishment will present a very different appearance in a few years.
During my stay here I saw two remarkable plants in full bloom. The one was Amherstia nobilis, and the other Jonesia Asoca. The former was considered rather difficult to manage, but it is now succeeding admirably under the treatment of Mr. Scott, the head gardener. Its long racemes of scarlet flowers were certainly most graceful and pretty. The Jonesia, however, in my opinion is the more beautiful of the two. I had frequently seen it in our stoves at home, but I had no idea of its beauty until I saw it in the Calcutta garden. It was now literally loaded with its fine orange blossoms, which contrasted so well with the dark-green leaves. Were the shrub better known at home, I am sure we should see finer specimens produced at our metropolitan flower-shows.
The collections under my care being ready, I received orders from the Indian Government to proceed onwards on the 25th of March in one of the small river steamers as far as Allahabad. The Hooghly was shallow at this time of the year, it being the dry season in India. We were, therefore, obliged to go down the river to its mouth, and across amongst the Sunderbunds. This vast country stretches from the river Hooghly on the western side of the bay of Bengal, to Chittagong on the east, and is upwards of two hundred miles across. It is cut up into hundreds of islands, some having the appearance of being surrounded by arms of the sea, while others are formed by rivers which intersect the land in all directions. These are the many mouths of the Ganges by which that mighty river empties itself into the bay of Bengal.
I was much struck with the dense vegetation of the Sunderbunds. The trees are low and shrubby in appearance; they grow close to the water's edge, and many dip their branches into the stream. The ground is so low in many places as to be nearly covered at high water or during spring-tides.
A great portion of the Sunderbunds is uninhabited by man. Here the Bengal tiger roams unmolested in his native wilds. I was told that the poor woodcutters who come here in boats to cut wood are frequently carried off by this animal, notwithstanding all the charms which are used to keep him away. A priest is often brought in the boat, whose duty it is to land on the spot where the wood is to be cut, and to go through certain forms which are supposed to act as a spell upon the tigers. This, however, is frequently of little use, as the following anecdote will show. A short time since a small river steamer, in passing through the Sunderbunds, was in want of fuel. Her chief officer boarded one of these wood-boats in order to get some wood to enable her to proceed to the nearest coaling station. The poor woodman begged and prayed to be allowed to keep the wood which he had been some weeks in procuring, and in obtaining which he had lost six of his crew, who had been all carried off by tigers. "How is that," said the officer; "had you no priest with you to charm the tigers?" "Alas! that was of no use," replied the woodman, "for the priest was the first man the tigers took away."
As we steamed along through these narrow passages, numerous herds of deer were observed quietly feeding on the edges of the jungle. They appeared very tame, and often allowed us to get quite close to them before they took any notice of the steamer.
On the fifth day after leaving Calcutta we entered the main stream of the Ganges. All the towns on its banks have already been frequently described in accounts of India. I may, therefore, simply state that we passed in succession the large towns of Patna, Dinapoor, Ghazepoor, Benares, and Mirzapoor, and reached Allahabad on the 14th of April. Here the river Jumna joins the Ganges, neither of which is navigable for steamers above the fortress of Allahabad; we had, therefore, to continue our journey to Saharunpore by land. All the tea-plants were brought on shore and put in an open shed until arrangements could be made for sending them onward. Mr. Lowther, the Commissioner, who had received instructions from the Government concerning us, appeared most anxious that everything should be done to ensure the speedy and safe arrival of the men, plants, &c., at their destination. My thanks are also due to Mr. Waddington, the Government agent, for the kind manner in which he attended to my suggestions.
The Chinese and their effects, with the tea-plants and implements for manufacture, filled nine waggons. As it was not possible to get bullocks for more than three waggons a day, it was determined to send three on the 16th, three on the 17th, and the remainder on the 18th of the month. I left Allahabad on the evening of the 19th in a Government carriage, and by quick travelling I was enabled to inspect the different parties several times on the road between Allahabad and Saharunpore.
In due time all arrived at their destination in perfect safety, and were handed over to Dr. Jameson, the Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens in the North-West Provinces and of the Government tea-plantations. When the cases were opened, the tea-plants were found to be in a very healthy state. No fewer than 12,838 plants were counted in the cases, and many more were germinating. Notwithstanding their long voyage from the north of China, and the frequent transshipment and changes by the way, they seemed as green and vigorous as if they had been all the while growing on the Chinese hills.
Saharunpore is about thirty miles from the foot of the Himalayas. Its botanical garden is well known. It contains a large collection of ornamental and useful plants suited to the climate of this part of India, and they are propagated and distributed in the most liberal manner to all applicants. Medical plants are also cultivated upon an extensive scale, particularly the Hyoscyamus or Henbane. Upon the whole, this seems a valuable establishment, and exceedingly well managed by Dr. Jameson and the excellent head gardener, Mr. Milner.
But the climate of Saharunpore is too hot in summer for such plants as are commonly found in the open air in England, or which are indigenous to the higher elevations of the Himalayas. Hence the Indian Government, at the suggestion of Dr. Royle, established in 1826 another nursery near the well-known stations of Mussooree and Landour, and from six to seven thousand feet above the level of the sea.
As the garden at Mussooree is of more interest to the English reader than those at Calcutta and Saharunpore, I shall endeavour to give a description of it. It is situated on the northern side of the first range of the Himalayas, and extends a considerable way down a romantic-looking glen. A public road or bridle-path leads along the brow of the hill above the garden, and it was from this road that I had the first view of this pretty and interesting place. A single glance was sufficient to convince me that this was the celebrated garden from which so many interesting Himalayan trees and shrubs had found their way to Europe. Many of the hill pines were most conspicuous. The beautiful Deodar was seen towering above the other trees, and, although all the specimens were comparatively young, they were yet striking and graceful. Near it was the Abies Smithiana. It had a dark and sombre appearance, yet it was peculiarly graceful, owing to its symmetrical form and somewhat pendulous habit. Then there was the Cupressus torulosa, which stood prominently out from amongst the other trees, and a distinct variety of the same species said to be from Cashmere.
On entering the garden I commenced a minute inspection of its interesting and varied productions. It has no pretensions to be considered an ornamental garden, in so far as its walks and arrangements are concerned. Narrow footpaths winding about in all directions amongst the trees, and little terraced patches for the cultivation of the different plants, are all that is to be seen in the way of arrangement. To introduce the useful and ornamental plants of other countries to the northern provinces of India, and to gather together the productions of the Himalayas and send them out in all directions with a liberal hand, seem to be the principal objects for which this garden is maintained. And very noble objects these undoubtedly are, and well worthy of the enlightened and liberal Government that supports it.
Our common garden-flowers seemed almost as abundant here as they are in our English nurseries. Pelargoniums, fuchsias, pinks, dahlias, violets, mimuluses, &c., were met with in great profusion, and at the time of my visit nearly all were in bloom. Many of our English fruit trees and bushes had also been imported, such as apples, pears, plums, raspberries, &c. A quantity of apple and pear trees had just been received from America in a novel manner. They had been sent out to Calcutta in ice by one of the vessels freighted with that article; about one-fourth of the original number had reached the Himalayas in good condition.
Amongst Indian fruit-trees I observed a number of Cashmere kinds, which had been introduced here by Drs. Royle and Falconer. Dr. Jameson had also introduced apples, pears, plums, almonds, &c., from Cabul. All these things will one day find their way to Europe, and some of them may prove of great value.
As may be expected this little spot is particularly rich in the vegetable productions of the Himalayas. Besides those I have already noticed, I might add A. Webbiana and Pinus excelsa. Less known than these was a fine horse-chestnut called Pavia indica, a noble poplar (Populus ciliata), a species of Buxus the box-tree of the hills, Andromeda ovalifolia, and Ilex dipyrena. Two fine species of evergreen oaks were also observed, named Quercus dilatata and Q. semecarpifolia. Amongst herbaceous plants I noticed some pretty primroses, Lilium giganteum and Wallichianum, and Fritillaria polyphylla. Here also was the once famous Prangos plant in full bloom.
But this establishment is of great value in another point of view. Connected with it are a number of native gardeners, who are out in the hills for months every autumn, collecting seeds of ornamental and useful trees and shrubs for distribution all over the world where such plants will grow. If we consider the thousands of the Deodar and other Himalayan pine-trees which are now to be found in every English nursery, we must perceive the vast amount of benefit which an establishment of this kind, small as it is, confers upon England.
In these days, when our Indian empire has become so greatly extended that it embraces every variety of climate and soil, one regrets that a place of this kind should be so small. Perhaps the Mussooree garden could not be much extended, but other places might be found even more suitable to carry out the purposes for which it was designed. It may be very true that we have nearly all the productions of the Himalayas which are of value growing plentifully in our gardens at home, but the inhabitants of India cannot say as much with reference to the valuable productions with which our gardens abound. In my opinion, one of the great objects of having a Government garden in these hills should be to introduce from Europe trees of a useful kind for the benefit of the natives of this country.