This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I lately gave voice through the Monthly to sanguine hopes of better asparagus. I fondly thought that, like other joyous helps which the garden gives the table, asparagus might look for a future of stoutness and stature, born of chosen seed as well as heavy feeding. I dreamed of fat shoots, pushing not only out of the deep richness of the bed, but swelling from crowns, fathered by seed, the offspring of careful crosses and choice.
But alas, these were but the fancies of an inexpert and parvenu. The horticultural heavyweights, high priests and judges have crushed out my fond hopes. The Monthly's editor and its British namesake have sat down hard upon my little theory and flattened out its life. Me-thinks I see their heads, full of judicial lore and complacent dignity, nodding to each other over this question of better asparagus. The elder discoverer of the separate sexuality of asparagus, speaks the opinion of the bench over its " ways that are dark and peculiar." I reprint it pretty closely:
"' If the Court understand herself, and we think he do,' we cannot uphold the plan put forward, to better this vegetable through its seedlings. Neither in the books, nor in the nature of things, do we find any warrant for such hope of better asparagus. The plant seems to have reached its highest development in the preadamite gardens. In fact, if we might borrow an illustration from another field of nature, asparagus, like the bumble-bee, never gains much on the bigness of its first hatching. This comes from its sexual nature, first shown by the members of this court. The asparagus is dioecious, its sexes stand apart in different foot-stalks. They are not in its, as in most vegetable life, found in close mating on the same flower, or on different flowers on the same plant. We therefore counsel the sanguine pleader for better asparagus to waste no thought on the morrow of trial for its improvement by seed. It cannot thus be bettered. We very well know, as claimed in the argument, that through all nature choice mating of the sexes leads to better kinds of breeds. That the very fact of separate sexual growth has brought to skillful men a vast advance in almost all that grows for man's food or comfort. But the comparison is a cheat, if not odious.
Separate vegetable sexuality, follows Dot its laws in animal life. Conover's asparagus, or a Rose potato, can be divided by its root-buds, but not a Grand Turk or an Alderney heifer. Therefore we counsel against the likelihood of better asparagus crossings from choice seedlings. We are sorry to refuse our assent to the method presented to us for improving this vegetable, but we are reluctantly compelled to declare it helpless." - Gardener's Monthly, English Gardener's Magazine.
Now this " is an opinion as is an opinion." Its reasoning has only been equaled by the massive logic, so much admired by Capt. Cuttle in the great Bunsby, - that mental profundity thus utters these opinions which so filled the Captain with awe, - "For why, which way, if so, why not? therefore, What I says I stands to. Whereby, why not. If so, what odds. Can any man say otherwise. No, awast then !" I tremble before this august court and that profound opinion; I hardly dare to doubt, much less to lift my voice against this array of brains and logic. But, I timidly ask, what barriers has nature put against better kinds of asparagus through thoughtful sexual mating? Why is this plant shut out from the sure methods of advance open to most others? Wherein does the monoecious or monogamous or polygamous plant hold out higher chances through seedtime and har-vest? Why deny to asparagus the hopes and methods that have became fruition amongst the fruits? Has she no right through happy chance or utmost skill or patient trial, to all gained by other growing things? When, by planting or chance, there comes to either of its sexes, plants more stalwart and thrifty, why not plant these apart, and await bigger, quicker and tenderer growths in their progeny?
See how the pear, - sometimes by lucky self-seeding, sometimes by studious trial, - has slowly gained through the ages, till Van Mons or Knight, by wise plan or forecast lifted it into the front rank of fruits. Let us hope that asparagus, so healthful, so widely liked, so delicious a vegetable, so holding, carried its excellence through the seasons, may, in its lower level, greet some Van Mons or Knight.
What has the growth methods of the potato or asparagus, from division of its underground body, to do with the betterment of either through seeding? The Summer Rose, or Hebron, or Peachblow were never born out of any root division, or underground; or tuber-bred of the old styles of this vegetable. Neither Goodrich nor any other potato - Van Mons ever got beyond the tuber he planted, by the replanting of its produce.
Such trial brings every time a Summer Rose, a Peach-blow or a Mercer. You reap the harvest that you sow. Better kinds come only through seed-planting and choice, and this routine many times repeated, before a kind of lasting excellence rewards. So it must be with the asparagus. I close with the memorable words of the immortal Bunsby: "The bearings of this observation lies in the application of it".
[Neither the Gardener's Monthly nor the Gardener's Magazine, has ever thought of saying that the asparagus could not be improved by seed. - Ed. G. M].