This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Few things in the gardening world are so ill adapted for the purposes to which they are applied as Russian mats. They are expensive in the first instance, and they last but a few months; they are troublesome to put on and remove, very far from being efficient when on; and whenever they are employed, there unavoidably occurs a large quantity of broken glass; for it is all but impossible to obviate this, especially in the case of old thin crown-glass. I tried various substitutes for this evil, but with little satisfaction, until I happened to meet with a person fond of introducing novelties. I mentioned my difficulty to him; he prepared to set about removing it, and in the course of a few days shewed me a waterproof cloth, and informed me that he could supply it at 9d. per square yard. It appeared to me too slight a cloth to last long, but he assured me that he had had a piece in constant use for three years. I therefore gave him an order for as much as would cover a pit in which I stored bedding-plants; and finding it uninjured by a twelvemonths' wear, I was anxious to procure a further stock; but my friend was no where to be found; he had removed. I was therefore obliged to try my own hand at preparing the cloth.
The following is the plan which I adopted; and the material I produced answers the purpose perfectly, although not so well as that prepared by my chemical friend.
I purchased the cloth, a strong, coarse calico, and 5 ft. 10 in. wide, for 6d. per yard. I had this made into convenient sizes, as required, and bound round with a cheap tape in order to strengthen it. I stretched it to a piece of wood under an open shade, and tacked the under side to a 4-inch batten, when it was ready to receive the composition. I was aware that my chemical friend used a "black varnish" got up by a chemist in Bristol; but this cost '2s. 4d. per gallon, and I judged that it was composed principally of gas-tar. I was anxious on that account to substitute the latter, and so save my 2s. I therefore used one gallon of gas-tar from the gas works, to which I added four pints of boiled oil, one pint of turpentine, and one pound of kitchen-dripping: the last should be dissolved, to cause it to mix with the others. It will also be found necessary, or rather convenient, to apply the composition at a temperature of about 90° or 100°, which is easily effected by placing the can containing it in warm water. In applying it, I use a white-wash brush which has been worn rather short. The cloth being properly stretched, as directed above, it may be easily and speedily covered with the composition, and will be fit for use when dry.
I may state, however, that it does not dry very soon; and on this account I am not satisfied with my composition, which I hope to improve when I require its use again. I cannot state exactly what the cost per yard was when finished, but I know that I was supplied with covering for less than mats for the same purpose had annually cost; and after two years' service, it is but little the worse, and will last a third. I consider that it will cost about one-third the price of mats. In regard to convenience and comfort, it is every thing that could be desired; and mats occasion a continual litter, which this will be found to entirely obviate.
Florists and amateurs do not require to be informed that a light, pliable, waterproof cloth, which can be procured for one-third the price of mats, is exactly what they want. I wish, however, that cloth-makers could he induced to turn their attention to the matter, and furnish us with a suitable article at a moderate price; for I must admit that I am not partial to the smell of my workshop while the cloth is drying. Alpha.