Article: Visits to European Gardens

by John C. Wister


John C. Wister

War: World War I, 1914-1920
Branch: Army
Unit: US Advance Ordnance Depot 4, Jonchery
Service Location: Augusta Arsenal Training School; Jonchery (Haute Marne), France
Rank: First Sergeant
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA

It was my good fortune last spring to be able to secure my discharge from the Army in France and to travel for five weeks through France and England visiting gardens and nurseries. An account of my visits to Dessert and Lemoine to see Tree Peonies has already been given in an earlier issue of this bulletin, but I timed my trip especially to see Irises, and I followed their blooming season north, beginning with the Mediterranean coast on May 19th [1919] and seeing my last irises at Kew on June 19th, the day before I sailed for home.

In the following papers I have described in detail my visits to the various gardens and the chief varieties seen, but I should like to acknowledge here the very great kindness with which I was met by everyone and to extend my thanks for all the hospitality that was offered to me.

My trip coming just at the time of the adoption of Quarantine 37 in this country made me fear that I might not be received with favor by some nurserymen, but whatever resentment they may have felt against the injustice of this law their attitude towards me was always cordial and polite. I came in this time to know most of Europe’s greatest Iris growers, and must express here as I have expressed so often in speaking to my friends, my great admiration for their courage in continuing their garden work throughout the trying times of the war. It is true that their places are not in good condition, a fact for which they one and all apologized, but when one considers what their home countries have gone through, there is certainly no occasion to apologize for weedy gardens, but rather they are entitled to step forward with pride and point out that they have kept their plants alive through the most trying period of the world’s history, and that they are now ready to go forward with their work.

Some of my articles have already appeared in “The Garden” (London) and are reprinted here by the courtesy of its editor, Mr. H. C. Cowley. I hope that the publication of them by the Peony Society will bring them before our new circle of readers, who may learn to appreciate as I do, the great debt that American gardeners owe to the plant breeders of Europe. For no matter what we may say of our own Iris and Peony breeders in this country – and we are justly proud of them – we must remember that practically all the pioneer work with these two flowers was done by Europeans. Even today their best varieties remain our best varieties; and although as gardeners we should encourage in every way our American breeders, we should not look forward to becoming independent of the very skillful men in Europe who have done so much for us in the past.