This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
If the use of suffering in the world is to teach us to take care of ourselves, horticultural sufferers ought to be very thankful for this extra severe winter. Surely some very useful lessons should come out from all the severe experience. We do not often profit by the discoveries of science. It is now many years since Lindley showed that plants which, under ordinary circumstances, can preserve their cell liquids from freezing and the cells from rupture, die from evaporation in winter when they die at all. Then Deherain, an eminent physiologist and vegetable chemist, proved some ten years ago, that the brighter the light the greater the evaporation of plant juices. The two discoveries together tell a practical tale. Yet we have writers and papers by the hundred, telling just how many degrees this plant stood, and how many that, as if mere temperature were all that worked in the destruction of plants, and we had learned nothing at all during the past half a century. This winter might confirm Lindley, Deherain, - and we might add the teaching of the Gardener's Monthly, - if people will only stop to think.
So far as the part of the world is concerned in which the writer resides, there has not been a winter within his record where the excessively low temperature was so continuous, and yet, so far as ascertained, to this date, early February, no material damage has been done at all to be compared with what has been the case when the temperature has averaged say 20° higher. And why? because the weather has been constantly cloudy, and cold, keen winds have been few. Snow makes bright light, and some things in the full snowy glare have suffered, but where trees have been tolerably thick together so as to counteract the glare somewhat, losses have been light. The great lesson from all this is to plant valuable things where they will not have great winter light, and where cold, drying winds will have no effect on them.
Another lesson has been learned of late years in the cultivation of border flowers, namely, that the reason why we do not succeed so well as we might with hardy perennial plants, and even annuals, is because the earth is too hot about them. To be successful as we might, we must carry Mr. Henderson's views of moss mulching in pot culture to open air gardening. It need not be moss, but some material to keep the earth cool is very beneficial.
Prune shrubs, roses and vines. Those which flower from young wood, cut in severely to make new growth vigorous. Tea, China, Bourbon and Noisette roses are of this class. What are called annual flowering roses, as Prairie Queen, and so on, require much of last year's wood to make a good show of flowers. Hence, with those, thin out weak wood, and leave all the stronger.
The rule for pruning at transplanting is to cut in proportion to apparent injury to roots. If not much worse for removal, cut but little of the top away. Properly pruned, a good gardener will not have the worst case of a badly dug tree to die under his hands. In nursery, where these matters are well understood, trees "never die."
Hyacinths, Tulips, Liliums, and other hardy bulbs set out in the fall, and covered through the winter, should be occasionally examined, and when they show signs of active growth, must be uncovered; in this latitude this is not safe until towards the end of the month.
The improvements that the last few years have made in the Hollyhocks, have rendered them very popular for ornamenting shrubbery borders, to which they add very great interest, and are peculiarly appropriate. They may be transplanted quite early in the season, and flower the more freely for it. They are propagated by dividing the roots in the spring, or by seeds sown as soon as ripe in the summer. The choice kinds are increased by eyes made by cutting up the flower stems. These are struck in a gentle bottom heat.
And now, having taking a look at our flowerbeds, and lawns, and trees, and shrubs, do not forget the walks and roads, which, however well kept the other parts of a garden may be, are often neglected. Nothing is so disgusting to a tasteful mind as a slovenly path.
Walks and roads are not used as much to add mere embellishment as in Europe. They are costly to make and keep in order. In American gardening they are only employed where absolutely necessary, and then turned and twisted as little as may beautify, without losing sight of their necessary duties. Old tan bark makes a cool and delightful walk under the shade of trees. It must be laid on a dry bottom, or it becomes very unpleasant in wet weather. Slag from furnaces, ground up with ashes, is the very best material for garden walks, and the color is far more agreeable in hot weather than gravel. Notwithstanding its dark color, it is not so hot, and it does not pack quite so hard as the regular road material. Sand, on the ether hand, though it does not pack at all, is very hot, on account of the very hard nature of its particles.