This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol1", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
The business of the market gardener and the market grower is different in a technical sense. The market gardener proper, as a rule, grows fruits and vegetables on a large scale in the same way that the farmer grows corn and root crops. If he indulges in glass at all it is a few frames at the most to raise early supplies of seedlings to put out at the first favourable opportunity in spring; or he may use bell glasses or cloches to protect his early cauliflowers and marrows, much in the same way as the French cultivators do.
Market gardening has been a great industry in the Thames valley for generations, and notwithstanding the operations of the builder, and the enormous growth of the London suburbs, there is still a large area around the metropolis devoted to market gardening. Of course the market gardener is being pushed farther and farther out, but with improved methods of transit, and better roads, the man twenty or thirty miles from London is probably in as good a position as his predecessor was fifty or sixty years ago, when only a dozen miles from Covent Garden. Old market-garden districts like Deptford, Fulham, and Chelsea have been wiped out by the builder, and buildings and roads now take the place of cabbages, rhubarb, fruit trees and bushes that not so many years ago made those neighbourhoods truly rural. This pressure from the centre has naturally driven the market gardener farther out, and such places as Feltham, Ashford, Sipson, Staines, West Drayton, Harmonds-worth, Bedfont, Shepperton, Stanwell, and Cranford, in Middlesex, are becoming covered with fruit and vegetable gardens. Kent, Surrey, and Essex are being invaded in much the same way, and there seems to be a tendency to increase the acreage under these crops. From Mortlake to Richmond and Petersham, on the south side of the Thames, market gardens still exist, but it will probably not be for very long. Chiswick, on the north bank, still contains some of its ancient market gardens, and these extend to Brentford, Isleworth, Heston, and Hounslow; but in these famous market-garden areas the builder is rapidly covering the ground with bricks and mortar. The vale of Evesham in Worcestershire has become famous as a centre, not only for the market culture of fruits and vegetables, but also as the first place in the British Islands where "intensive cultivation " as practised around Paris was established. For particulars of this system the reader is referred to Vol. IV.
While the market gardener is seeking fresh fields for his labours, the market grower who brings his crops to maturity under glass has come very much to the front during the past thirty or forty years.
There are now enormous areas of glasshouses erected all round the metropolis, but more especially to the north in such places as Edmonton, Ponder's End, Enfield, Waltham Cross; in the north-west round Finchley, Whetstone, and Potter's Bar; and to the west at Isleworth, Feltham, Hillingdon, Uxbridge, Sipson, and West Drayton. In other parts of the kingdom, notably Worthing and the Channel Islands (principally Guernsey), large areas of ground have also been covered with glass. This has naturally led to the development of other businesses, such as the timber trade and the iron trade. Glasshouses are now built on quite different principles from what they were twenty or thirty years ago, and growers are at last beginning to realize the great value of light to their crops, and to appreciate structures that will allow the maximum amount of sunshine through the glass. Less wood and more glass is now the rule. In the iron trade, enormous quantities of material are used for the manufacture of boilers and pipes; while the manufacturers of paint, putty, and other materials also do a brisk trade with market growers. To these must be added the various gas companies and colliery merchants, who provide thousands of tons of coke or anthracite coal to feed the furnaces attached to the glasshouses.
The crops grown under glass are naturally of a quite different nature from those grown in the open air. They require greater care and skill in cultivation, and frequent changes are made in accordance with the alterations in fashion or the fluctuations of the market. Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Grapes, Ferns, Palms, Aspidistras, Chrysanthemums, bedding plants, Melons, Peaches, constitute some of the chief crops grown extensively under glass, and they are all dealt with in their proper places in Vols. II, III, and IV of this work. Such outdoor crops, however, as Cabbages, Lettuces, Radishes, Mint, Rhubarb, Sea Kale, Dwarf and Runner Beans, Marrows, etc, are also now grown extensively under glass by many to supply the early markets and thus pander to the fashion of having everything in as early as possible before its natural period.
Notwithstanding the numbers of market growers who now send produce to the London and provincial markets, it is astonishing to see the enormous quantities of fruits, flowers, and vegetables that are imported from the Continent and the Colonies. The increased speed of trains and steamboats now renders it possible to bring supplies to market that a few years ago would have been considered impossible. The introduction of the refrigerating system on trains and steamboats has still further aided the introduction of colonial and foreign produce to British markets - one of the surest signs that they are the most lucrative in the world. If they were not, supplies would soon cease, and trade would flow to the markets where the "biggest penny" was to be secured.