Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/108

This page has been validated.

Before the year 1868, the abbey was entirely deserted. It is true that a haggard-looking monk was to be found there, who acted as cicerone to visitors to the churches; but even he was obliged to sleep each night in Rome. The place attained so evil a reputation that it was locally known as "The Tomb." There are now twenty-nine Brothers attached to the monastery, all of whom sleep there each night. This remarkable result, though no doubt to a great extent due to the drainage and alteration of the character of the soil by cultivation, is unquestionably mainly owing to the planting of the eucalyptus. It would take long to tell of the heroic perseverance of these monks; of the frequent discouragements, of the labor interrupted by sickness, of the gaps made in their number by the fatal malaria, and the undaunted courage in overcoming obstacles which has culminated in the result now achieved. Let us pass to the consideration of the actual means by which so happy a change in their immediate surroundings has been brought about. At Tre Fontane are cultivated at least eleven varieties of eucalyptus. Some of these, as E. viminalis and E. botryoïdes, flourish best where the ground is naturally humid; E. resinifera and E. meliodora love best a drier soil. The variety Globulus (blue gum-tree) possesses a happy adaptability to nearly any possible condition of growth. At the monastery, as in most elevated parts of the Campagna, the soil is of volcanic origin, and there is not much even of that; often only eight, and rarely more than sixteen inches overlying the compact tufa. But, with the aid of very simple machinery, the Trappists bore into the subsoil, blast it with dynamite, and find, in the admixture of its débris with the arable earth, the most suitable soil for the reception of the young plants.

The seeds are sown in autumn, in a mixture of ordinary garden-earth, the soil of the country, and a little thoroughly decomposed manure. This is done in wooden boxes, which, with the object of keeping the seeds damp, are lightly covered until germination has taken place. When the young plants have attained to about two inches, they are transferred to very small flower-pots, where they remain until the time arrives for their final transplantation. The best time for this operation is in spring, because the seedlings have then quite eight months in which to gather strength against the winter cold. One precaution taken in planting is worth notice. Each plant is placed in a hole of like depth and diameter. In this way, no individual rootlet is more favored than its fellow, and, as each absorbs its soil-nutriment equally, the regularity of growth and of the final form of the tree is assured. A space of three feet is left between each seedling; but so rapid is the growth, that in the following year it is found necessary to uproot nearly one half of the plants, which finally find themselves at a distance from each other of about five feet. From this time, much care is required in weeding and particularly in sheltering from the wind, for the stem of the eucalyptus is particularly fragile, and violent storms