Feat, such as you hear of in Europe, and especially in Ireland, is largely the growth of water mosses, perhaps the growth of thousands of years. The remains of the moss can be plainly seen near the surface, but a few feet down it is so decomposed that it is not discernible. The German peat moss imported largely to this country from Silesia for horse bedding is sphagnum, hardly old enough to call peat, for you can plainly see the remains of the moss in it. Jadoo was simply that with some chemical fertilizer injected into it.
The Cut Flower Display Case in an Up-To-Date Store.
Show House of a Chicago Retailer Photographed Just Before Easter.
Plants of the heath family like this peat because their fine roots work easily in it and it retains moisture, but it is not always an infallible guide that nature cannot be improved on, and because you find a plant struggling along in a certain soil in a state of nature is no proof that with a richer and better soil it will not improve.
There are extensive sphagnum bogs scattered over this country, and it is likely there are some that if drained would afford us the same excellent material that is found in Europe, and notably in Bagshot, Surrey, where the rhododendrons are cultivated by the hundreds of acres in such excellence and profusion.
The bulb fields of Holland are black peat or muck. Perhaps that country and Belgium, called the low countries because most parts are many feet below the level of the sea, were many thousand years ago one vast moss bog, and most likely they were, for there are the remains of ancient primitive man who built his hut on stilts and lived on the shallow lakes and subsisted on Crustacea, for there are the remains of his kitchen refuse. The Hollander and Belgian would not raise such crops did they not saturate the soil with manure every third year. This peat is useful, and we see by the splendid azaleas, etc., that they grow that it suits them, but it is not indispensable and our most important plants can be grown without it. Where our soil is sand or clay we do not avail ourselves of what we might, and that is leaf-mold. Hundreds of us see thousands of loads of leaves of maple, oak and elm burned up every autumn when if they were collected and mixed or covered with sufficient earth or manure to keep them from blowing away they would be invaluable for many of our plants. Roses and carnations do not need them, but all our hard-wooded plants that like peat, and our begonias, fuchsias, ferns, in fact, any of the soft-wooded plants, would be benefited by their use. It is a tedious job raking them up, but in many of our streets and parks and cemeteries they are raked up for you. In the country you can always find in some hardwood forest places where the wind has laid up for years deposits of these leaves, and you should always have a good supply on hand.
When leaves are collected the same fall that they drop, it will take two years before they are fit to use, and more than that, unless they get frequent turning. I would consider a heap of maple leaves, well rotted by frequent turnings and to which had been added when first collected a third or fourth of their weight of cow manure, a veritable heap of gold dust for adding to your loam for cyclamen, or most any other plant.
Refuse hops, turned frequently, make a good substitute for leaf-mold, and I have even used them on carnation benches in the old days of La Purite and Edwardsii with the very best results.
We value the hotbeds not only for their use in raising plants cheaply and well in the spring, but the "byproduct," the old bed put up in a pile and the following spring and summer turned over and chopped down once or twice, makes the most useful ingredient for our potting soil. In fact, for geraniums, coleus, cannas and most bedding plants it is all you want added to your loam if you are minus that good pile that I first spoke of.
There are great growing qualities in clay soils, even in clay taken a foot below the surface, as we have often seen proved by rose growers, but it should, if necessity compels its use, be exposed a winter to the frosts, and when used must needs have considerable manure to make it mechanically right. Clay alone will go down too solid and be too retentive of moisture, and for our plants in pots would be not at all desirable.
The worst of all soils is a gritty sand, and you sometimes find this on the surface. Our cuttings grow in sand for a short time, but soon show the need of something better. When sampling soil if it feels gritty to the hand don't have anything to do with it; it is mostly particles of sand, whatever its appearance. If a soil feels smooth, or as it is technically called, " silky," you have the right stuff.
Sometimes we have to avail ourselves of soil that has been cultivated as a garden for years. If you know that it has been well supplied with manure it will grow most of your plants, for it is rich. But there is something about sod that has been cut a few months that is not equaled by any soil that has been tilled, however much manure has been used. The roots of the grass keep it open and in a good mechanical condition, however firm you make it, and there may be something more; in decaying the roots and fibers may emit bacteria that are of great usefulness to the roots. As we depend on one kind of bacteria to do our digesting, and possibly another one to do our thinking, it is quite likely that in the process of decomposition this vegetable matter generates or emits a valued species. Certain it is that a good fibrous loam is the sheet anchor of our soils. More important than any fine quality or mixture of soil is to have plenty of it available at all times.
Up to a 3-inch pot you have to sift through a 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch mesh, after that we never sift soils except for seeds. From a 3-inch to a 4-inch and upwards we only chop the soil. This is most important. Somebody, I forget who, cursed the sieve, and he was right. Use it as little as possible. Chop your soil or break it up with a digging fork, but don't sift it.