This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
It is often a matter for surprise that the English should grow what they call " American plants" better than we can. These plants form the greatest attraction of their grounds. Why should not America grow American plants? Now, what they call American plants are only those chiefly which belong to the Ericaceous family. These are Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Kalmias, Andromedas and such well-known beautiful flowering shrubs in which America abounds. But it is not generally known here that they could not grow them there if it were not for the garden art and garden skill at the back of their culture. We could grow them just as well here if we took pains to understand their wants. All these plants have delicate, hair-like roots, and require a cool, aerated soil to do well in. They hate water above all things, and yet desire a soil in which moist air abounds. In their native places in our country they are often found growing, apparently, in swamps; but when we examine carefully none of the roots, or at most only the tap roots are down in the water; all the hair-like roots are in the moss which abounds above the water in the swamp, or in the cool peaty matter which is above the water in those places.
There is moisture in this material.
It can be often squeezed out as from a wet sponge; but there is air, too, any quantity of it, and it is this combination which these plants desire. Not even England, where the atmospheric condition is so favorable from the combination of air and moisture, would the plants do well unless the same conditions were supplied to the ground. The good gardener would not think of planting these shrubs in the ordinary earth. Soil is usually provided for the purpose, and tons and tons of peat often brought from long distances in order to grow them well.
It is not necessary that we should get peat for them. Anything that will tend to lighten the soil and permit the free passage of air and water through it is sufficient. Broken bricks, stones old boots and shoes, rotten logs - anything of this kind will do, and of course the part of the grounds the least subject to drying winds should be chosen. There is no reason why, with a little study to adapt our circumstances to the wants of these plants, we should not have as good "American plants" as they have in England.
As the season for planting is approaching, it may be as well to remind the planter that there are now thousands of beautiful trees and shrubs to choose from. At one time there was some excuse for the man who planted, over and over again, soft maples and poplars. These have still their uses, but the choosing of more variety and beauty is one of the best marks of an educated taste. Those of our readers who have followed the excellent papers on new or rare trees and shrubs given in our columns last year, will have good guidance as to what to choose.
All of this in a general way. It may be as well to offer a few practical suggestions in the matter of detail work suited to the season.
Many delay pruning shrubbery until after severe weather passes, so as to see what injury may be done - but with March all should be finished - taking care not to trim severely such shrubs as flower out of last year's wood, as for instance, the Wiegela - while such as flower from the spring growth, as the Althaea, Mock Orange, etc, are benefited by cutting back vigorously.
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 these, thin out weak wood and leave all the stronger.
To make handsome, shapely specimens of shrubs, cut them now into the forms you want, and keep them so by pulling out all shoots that grow stronger than the others daring the summer season.
Graft trees or shrubs where changed sorts are desirable. Any lady can graft. Cleft grafting is the easiest. Split the stock, cut the scion like a wedge, insert in the split so that the bark of the stock and scion meet; tie a little bast bark around it, and cover with Trowbridge's grafting wax, and all is done : very simple when it is understood, and not hard to understand.
If flowers have been growing in the ground for many years, new soil does wonders. Rich manure makes plants grow, but they do not always flower well with vigorous growth. If new soil cannot be had, a wheelbarrow of manure to about every fifty square feet will be enough. If the garden earth looks grey or yellow, rotten leaves - quite rotten leaves - will improve it. If heavy, add sand. If very sandy, add salt - about half pint to fifty square feet. If very black or rich from previous year's maturings, use a little lime, about a pint, slacked, to fifty square feet.
If the garden be full of hardy perennial flowers, do not dig it, but use a fork, and that not deeply. Dig garden ground only when the soil is warm and dry. Do not be in a hurry, or you may get behind. When a clot of earth will crush to powder as you tread on it, it is time to dig - not before.
If perennial plants have stood three years in one place, separate the stools, replanting one-third, and give the balance to your neighbor who has none.
Box edgings lay well now. Make the ground firm and level, plant deep, with tops not more than two inches above ground.
Roll the grass well before the softness of a thaw goes away. It makes all smooth and level.
In planting trees remember our repeated advice to use the pruning knife freely.
We would again repeat a suggestion we recently made in regard to rustic summer houses. They can often be very cheaply made. In our country they should be open on all sides.