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.
I notice in the September number of the Gardener's Monthly that the subject of the French fertilizing moss is again discussed, more claims being made for its utility ; and as my name has again been drawn into the matter allow me to briefly state what is known about it. No doubt many of the readers of the Gardener's Monthly may remember that a Mr. Chamberlain, a gardener of Newport, R. I., and subsequently of Brooklyn, L. I., made some twenty or twenty-five years ago a considerable sensation by growing and fruiting grapes and peaches and growing many flowering and ornamental plants in baskets in prepared fertilized moss. The subject was thoroughly discussed at that time in the New York Horticulturist and I think also in the Gardener's Monthly, but was soon dropped as it was found that it was not practical to shift plants so grown, so that when the supply of plant food became exhausted a fresh supply could not be as conveniently given as when the plants were grown in soil in the usual way. Mr. Chamberlain like the Frenchman was very mysterious about the ingredients he mixed with the moss and talked glibly about the "chemical combinations" he had discovered to cause such wonderful results.
What the ingredients he used were I do not know any more than I know what is in the Dumesnil moss, but few professional horticulturists of any experience could be found gullible enough to believe that any fertilizing material not already known to horticulture could be mixed with moss suitable to feed plants.
The agent of the Dumesnil Moss Company called on me in June and I consented to test the claims of his " secret." Accordingly he sent me a package of the moss which we gave a thorough comparative test with our mixture used for moss mulching, which is composed of about fifteen parts of moss to one part of pure bone dust. Also to make the trial more thorough the same number of plants were potted in ordinary soil. We used - 12 plants Latania Borbonica; 12 Coleus, one sort; 12 Caladiums, one sort; 12 Pandanus, one sort; 12 Crotons, one sort. We washed the soil from the roots and potted in five inch pots four plants of each with the Dumesnil moss, and four of each with our moss and bone mixture, and four of each with ordinary soil. The plants were placed together on one of our greenhouse benches and were given exactly the same treatment. No difference was apparent in any of the three lots from first to last and all grew well, but there was no superiority whatever in those grown in the French moss over the others. I last month invited the New York agent of the Dumesnil Moss Company to examine them, which he did, and expressed himself as being unable to see any difference in the three lots. The matter can be easily tested by any one.
Moss and bone dust can be got almost anywhere and if it proves to be as useful for the purpose claimed as this French moss, whose fertilizing principle is a secret, then it is difficult to understand where the value of the "secret" comes in.
[This is precisely our view of the matter. Those who are introducing this moss culture have felt sore that we have not been able to give it a cordial endorsement. It is a great pleasure to encourage everything new, - or even attempts at novelty - and it is not right to discourage progressive attempts. We could not see that there was any special novelty in this mode of culture, and so in justice to our readers could not afford to endorse it as such ; but we do think there are some advantages in moss culture which deserve development, - and then there are always some who would sooner pay more for an article already prepared than get the material and mix it themselves, and in this view we see no more reason why the sale of fertilizing mosses may not be as much encouraged as paregoric, lawn grass seed, or the thousands of other cheap simples for which as " mixtures " we pay dear. - Ed. G. M].