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.
There seems to be a growing taste for greenhouses, chiefly, as it would seem, for the purpose of having flowers at command all winter. At this season the resolve is usually made by those who have none, to supply the luxury before the season is over. It is to be regretted that those who desire these pleasant attractions to a home, do not get the opportunity of better advice in the building. We have seen many cases where the houses have had enormous amounts of money spent on them, to the absolute obstruction of the main idea, - plant growing. Houses that would have been made models of beauty and very successful as plant houses, for $500, have been rendered useless by having $2,000 spent on them. The village carpenter, or the grand city architect or builder, have alike had their turn at greenhouse building; the intelligent garden architect is seldom given a chance.
But here again we think the intelligent gardener misses it, in not more generally studying these outside branches in connection with the practical parts of his profession. There is room for such men in every large city and town in the United States. A florist, who is at once a good nurseryman and an intelligent gentleman in every sense of the word - who could at once grow plants, tell all about them, design a dwelling house or horticultural building, make roads, and have a good knowledge of the correct principles of art and taste - would soon be among the wealthy leaders of society in any district, provided he has ordinary business tact added to his intellectual accomplishments.
In learning these things common sense is of more importance than scholastic training. The one who can profit by experience, is more rapidly on the road to success than the one who spends a year at college. Passing through a greenhouse recently, in an establishment under the charge of a very good gardener, a workman was found at work putting down a mortar floor. The other, which had been down but two years, was worn out. It never occurred to the excellent gardener to profit by this experience.
Mortar is the result of crystallization, and anything of this nature readily fractures under a sudden blow. Mortar floors will therefore soon wear out under the heels of pedestrians. But a lime floor is a different thing from a mortar floor. The lime must slack wholly under water, so that there is no chance to heat so as to engender crystallization. When mixed with three or four times its bulk of sand, so as to make a sort of limy mud, and then rolled with a heavy roller several times while drying, so as to press out every particle of air, we have a floor as hard as iron that will never crumble under the feet. Then as to mortar itself. Even the average mason does not know how to make it, and the gardener should be able to tell him how to do it. Here we want crystallization, and only water enough should be given to raise the heat in the lime, and the sand should be added while the lime is slacking. Perhaps half the mortar in use even by good masons, rarely hardens. The clay or dirt in the sand generally gets the blame, but it is rather ignorance of the laws of crystallization. Again, in regard to walls. One has perhaps to be built up against a bank. The earth on the back of the bank may be soft, and admit water. A mortar wall is built against it.
The mortar being little else than plaster, absorbs water. This freezes and the mortar expands. Then the wall falls down. The good gardener learns a lesson. The next, time he has a dry wall built - that is to say, one without any mortar - and he never after this puts up a mortar wall against soft earth. But the man who cannot learn - the one who wonders why that stupid fellow gets along, and he, poor, hard-working fellow, never thrives - he builds up the mortar wall just as before, until bad luck throws it down again. Recently the writer saw another very good fellow in his way, stopping up with cement a crack in a brick flue. He had often done it before. He had never learned to do it once for all. There was the crack, and he plastered a quarter of an' inch all over it. It cracked, and will crack again. If he had made the small crack a large one, so that he could have pushed the cement right into it - a solid mass in the crack instead of a thin skin over it - his work would have been done for all time. Again, there is the man who is always having trouble with his cistern. He has nine-inch brick work, all laid in cement, and he has a quarter of an inch thick of cement all over the bricks, but he was " cheated sir, in that cement.
It must have been badly adulterated to leak as it is always doing." That man will never learn, but the one who profited by his first bad experience that leakages were from two causes - the one from porosity, and the other from unequal contraction, will. He tries to make the coating thoroughly dense, so as to close every pore, the thinner the better, because there would be less likelihood of unequal contraction in drying. So the next time he does not care whether the bricks are in cement or not, or whether there be any bricks at all as long as there is some rough surface to dash his cement against. Then he puts his cement made with water, as thin as cream, and works it with a plasterer's trowel till every particle of air is pressed out, and then he has a surface of cement as hard and as smooth as polished glass. Indeed he learns that unless he could almost see to shave in the wall of his cistern, the work has been very poorly done.
These illustrations will show what sort of genius is required to be a successful gardener, and the illustrations themselves may be practically useful at this season, when one is thinking of greenhouse building and similar garden work.