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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 12. How The Fruit Perils Were Met...
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Our Italy - Chapter 12. How The Fruit Perils Were Met... Post by :jamesc96 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2720

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Our Italy - Chapter 12. How The Fruit Perils Were Met...


In the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere I saw evidence of the perils that attend the culture of the vine and the fruit-tree in all other countries, and from which California in the early days thought it was exempt. Within the past three or four years there has prevailed a sickness of the vine, the cause of which is unknown, and for which no remedy has been discovered. No blight was apparent, but the vine sickened and failed. The disease was called consumption of the vine. I saw many vineyards subject to it, and hundreds of acres of old vines had been rooted up as useless. I was told by a fruit-buyer in Los Angeles that he thought the raisin industry below Fresno was ended unless new planting recovered the vines, and that the great wine fields were about "played out." The truth I believe to be that the disease is confined to the vineyards of Old Mission grapes. Whether these had attained the limit of their active life, and sickened, I do not know. The trouble for a time was alarming; but new plantings of other varieties of grapes have been successful, the vineyards look healthful, and the growers expect no further difficulty. The planting, which was for a time suspended, has been more vigorously renewed.

The insect pests attacking the orange were even more serious, and in 1887-88, though little was published about it, there was something like a panic, in the fear that the orange and lemon culture in Southern California would be a failure. The enemies were the black, the red, and the white scale. The latter, the _icerya purchasi_, or cottony cushion scale, was especially loathsome and destructive; whole orchards were enfeebled, and no way was discovered of staying its progress, which threatened also the olive and every other tree, shrub, and flower. Science was called on to discover its parasite. This was found to be the Australian lady-bug (_vedolia cardinalis_), and in 1888-89 quantities of this insect were imported and spread throughout Los Angeles County, and sent to Santa Barbara and other afflicted districts. The effect was magical. The _vedolia attacked the cottony scale with intense vigor, and everywhere killed it. The orchards revived as if they had been recreated, and the danger was over. The enemies of the black and the red scale have not yet been discovered, but they probably will be. Meantime the growers have recovered courage, and are fertilizing and fumigating. In Santa Ana I found that the red scale was fought successfully by fumigating the trees. The operation is performed at night under a movable tent, which covers the tree. The cost is about twenty cents a tree. One lesson of all this is that trees must be fed in order to be kept vigorous to resist such attacks, and that fruit-raising, considering the number of enemies that all fruits have in all climates, is not an idle occupation. The clean, handsome English walnut is about the only tree in the State that thus far has no enemy.

One cannot take anywhere else a more exhilarating, delightful drive than about the rolling, highly cultivated, many-villaed Pasadena, and out to the foot-hills and the Sierra Madre Villa. He is constantly exclaiming at the varied loveliness of the scene--oranges, palms, formal gardens, hedges of Monterey cypress. It is very Italy-like. The Sierra Madre furnishes abundant water for all the valley, and the swift irrigating stream from Eaton Canon waters the Sierra Madre Villa. Among the peaks above it rises Mt. Wilson, a thousand feet above the plain, the site selected for the Harvard Observatory with its 40-inch glass. The clearness of the air at this elevation, and the absence of clouds night and day the greater portion of the year, make this a most advantageous position, it is said, to use the glass in dissolving nebulae. The Sierra Madre Villa, once the most favorite resort in this region, was closed. In its sheltered situation, its luxuriant and half-neglected gardens, its wide plantations and irrigating streams, it reminds one of some secularized monastery on the promontory of Sorrento. It only needs good management to make the hotel very attractive and especially agreeable in the months of winter.


Pasadena, which exhibits everywhere evidences of wealth and culture, and claims a permanent population of 12,000, has the air of a winter resort; the great Hotel Raymond is closed in May, the boarding-houses want occupants, the shops and livery-stables customers, and the streets lack movement. This is easily explained. It is not because Pasadena is not an agreeable summer residence, but because the visitors are drawn there in the winter principally to escape the inclement climate of the North and East, and because special efforts have been made for their entertainment in the winter. We found the atmosphere delightful in the middle of May. The mean summer heat is 67 deg., and the nights are always cool. The hills near by may be resorted to with the certainty of finding as decided a change as one desires in the summer season. I must repeat that the Southern California summer is not at all understood in the East. The statement of the general equability of the temperature the year through must be insisted on. We lunched one day in a typical California house, in the midst of a garden of fruits, flowers, and tropical shrubs; in a house that might be described as half roses and half tent, for added to the wooden structure were rooms of canvas, which are used as sleeping apartments winter and summer.

This attractive region, so lovely in its cultivation, with so many charming drives, offering good shooting on the plains and in the hills, and centrally placed for excursions, is only eight miles from the busy city of Los Angeles. An excellent point of view of the country is from the graded hill on which stands the Raymond Hotel, a hill isolated but easy of access, which is in itself a mountain of bloom, color, and fragrance. From all the broad verandas and from every window the prospect is charming, whether the eye rests upon cultivated orchards and gardens and pretty villas, or upon the purple foot-hills and the snowy ranges. It enjoys a daily ocean breeze, and the air is always exhilarating. This noble hill is a study in landscape-gardening. It is a mass of brilliant color, and the hospitality of the region generally to foreign growths may be estimated by the trees acclimated on these slopes. They are the pepper, eucalyptus, pine, cypress, sycamore, red-wood, olive, date and fan palms, banana, pomegranate, guava, Japanese persimmon, umbrella, maple, elm, locust, English walnut, birch, ailantus, poplar, willow, and more ornamental shrubs than one can well name.

I can indulge in few locality details except those which are illustrative of the general character of the country. In passing into Orange County, which was recently set off from Los Angeles, we come into a region of less "fashion," but one that for many reasons is attractive to people of moderate means who are content with independent simplicity. The country about the thriving village of Santa Ana is very rich, being abundantly watered by the Santa Ana River and by artesian-wells. The town is nine miles from the ocean. On the ocean side the land is mainly agricultural; on the inland side it is specially adapted to fruit. We drove about it, and in Tustin City, which has many pleasant residences and a vacant "boom" hotel, through endless plantations of oranges. On the road towards Los Angeles we passed large herds of cattle and sheep, and fine groves of the English walnut, which thrives especially well in this soil and the neighborhood of the sea. There is comparatively little waste land in this valley district, as one may see by driving through the country about Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Tustin City, etc. Anaheim is a prosperous German colony. It was here that Madame Modjeska and her husband, Count Bozenta, first settled in California. They own and occupy now a picturesque ranch in the Santiago Canon of the Santa Ana range, twenty-two miles from Santa Ana. This is one of the richest regions in the State, and with its fair quota of working population, it will be one of the most productive.

From Newport, on the coast, or from San Pedro, one may visit the island of Santa Catalina. Want of time prevented our going there. Sportsmen enjoy there the exciting pastime of hunting the wild goat. From the photographs I saw, and from all I heard of it, it must be as picturesque a resort in natural beauty as the British Channel islands.

Los Angeles is the metropolitan centre of all this region. A handsome, solid, thriving city, environed by gardens, gay everywhere with flowers, it is too well known to require any description from me. To the traveller from the East it will always be a surprise. Its growth has been phenomenal, and although it may not equal the expectations of the crazy excitement of 1886-87, 50,000 people is a great assemblage for a new city which numbered only about 11,000 in 1880. It of course felt the subsidence of the "boom," but while I missed the feverish crowds of 1887, I was struck with its substantial progress in fine, solid buildings, pavements, sewerage, railways, educational facilities, and ornamental grounds. It has a secure hold on the commerce of the region. The assessment roll of the city increased from $7,627,632 in 1881 to $44,871,073 in 1889. Its bank business, public buildings, school-houses, and street improvements are in accord with this increase, and show solid, vigorous growth. It is altogether an attractive city, whether seen on a drive through its well-planted and bright avenues, or looked down on from the hills which are climbed by the cable roads. A curious social note was the effect of the "boom" excitement upon the birth rate. The report of children under the age of one year was in 1887, 271 boy babies and 264 girl babies; from 1887 to 1888 there were only 176 boy babies and 162 girl babies. The return at the end of 1889 was 465 boy babies, and 500 girl babies.


Although Los Angeles County still produces a considerable quantity of wine and brandy, I have an impression that the raising of raisins will supplant wine-making largely in Southern California, and that the principal wine producing will be in the northern portions of the State. It is certain that the best quality is grown in the foot-hills. The reputation of "California wines" has been much injured by placing upon the market crude juice that was in no sense wine. Great improvement has been made in the past three to five years, not only in the vine and knowledge of the soil adapted to it, but in the handling and the curing of the wine. One can now find without much difficulty excellent table wines--sound claret, good white Reisling, and sauterne. None of these wines are exactly like the foreign wines, and it may be some time before the taste accustomed to foreign wines is educated to like them. But in Eastern markets some of the best brands are already much called for, and I think it only a question of time and a little more experience when the best California wines will be popular. I found in the San Francisco market excellent red wines at $3.50 the case, and what was still more remarkable, at some of the best hotels sound, agreeable claret at from fifteen to twenty cents the pint bottle.

It is quite unnecessary to emphasize the attractions of Santa Barbara, or the productiveness of the valleys in the counties of Santa Barbara and Ventura. There is no more poetic region on the continent than the bay south of Point Conception, and the pen and the camera have made the world tolerably familiar with it. There is a graciousness, a softness, a color in the sea, the canons, the mountains there that dwell in the memory. It is capable of inspiring the same love that the Greek colonists felt for the region between the bays of Salerno and Naples. It is as fruitful as the Italian shores, and can support as dense a population. The figures that have been given as to productiveness and variety of productions apply to it. Having more winter rainfall than the counties south of it, agriculture is profitable in most years. Since the railway was made down the valley of the Santa Clara River and along the coast to Santa Barbara, a great impulse has been given to farming. Orange and other fruit orchards have increased. Near Buenaventura I saw hundreds of acres of lima beans. The yield is about one ton to the acre. With good farming the valleys yield crops of corn, barley, and wheat much above the average. Still it is a fruit region, and no variety has yet been tried that does not produce very well there. The rapid growth of all trees has enabled the region to demonstrate in a short time that there is scarcely any that it cannot naturalize. The curious growths of tropical lands, the trees of aromatic and medicinal gums, the trees of exquisite foliage and wealth of fragrant blossoms, the sturdy forest natives, and the bearers of edible nuts are all to be found in the gardens and by the road-side, from New England, from the Southern States, from Europe, from North and South Africa, Southern Asia, China, Japan, from Australia and New Zealand and South America. The region is an arboreal and botanical garden on an immense scale, and full of surprises. The floriculture is even more astonishing. Every land is represented. The profusion and vigor are as wonderful as the variety. At a flower show in Santa Barbara were exhibited 160 varieties of roses all cut from one garden the same morning. The open garden rivals the Eastern conservatory. The country is new and many of the conditions of life may be primitive and rude, but it is impossible that any region shall not be beautiful, clothed with such a profusion of bloom and color.

I have spoken of the rapid growth. The practical advantage of this as to fruit-trees is that one begins to have an income from them here sooner than in the East. No one need be under the delusion that he can live in California without work, or thrive without incessant and intelligent industry, but the distinction of the country for the fruit-grower is the rapidity with which trees and vines mature to the extent of being profitable. But nothing thrives without care, and kindly as the climate is to the weak, it cannot be too much insisted on that this is no place for confirmed invalids who have not money enough to live without work.

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