As to what can be grown by the actual practice of intensive cultivation, its name is legion, and every year enterprising gardeners are adding to the list of remunerative crops. Primarily, however, there is lettuce, probably the first Richmond in the field, and the demand for either cabbage or the cos varieties is considerable, especially during the first three months of the year. Earliest Frame, Early Paris Market, and Golden Gem are three kinds of cabbage lettuce grown specially for forcing, and Paris White and Early Perfection are two varieties of cos lettuce. The price varies from 8d. to Is. 6d. per ounce, but it is sheer false economy to buy other than the best seed or to deal with any but seedsmen of repute.
Carrot, cauliflower, melon, radish, and turnip are other crops largely grown in a well-ordered French garden. Paris Forcing and Nantes are two favourite types of carrot; Paris Frame and Timely are two varieties of cauliflower; Parisian Cantaloupe is the leading kind of melon, and among radishes there are Giant Crimson Forcing, Crimson French Breakfast, and Early Ruby. White Parisian Forcing is a satisfactory turnip.
Other crops are dwarf French beans, strawberries, cucumbers, asparagus, mint, and endive, but practically every vegetable that is worth forcing ahead of its normal season can be cultivated in a French garden. Tomatoes, celery, peas, and vegetable marrows are a few of the crops that may be sown in frames towards the end of the spring, the plantlings being transferred to the open garden later to mature, and it is often in these extra uses to which frames may be put that the full return for one's labour and outlay is obtained.
Each garden must inevitably be a law to itself, but, in the writer's opinion, not fewer than fifty bell-glasses, or cloches, should be employed at the start, and as initial stock-in-trade. As for frames, one should commence operations with two dozen, at least. The frames, completely equipped and ready for immediate use, would certainly cost £30, even if made in the simple method outlined, and the cloches would represent an outlay of about £4. Straw mats, one for each light, would cost about 24s. per dozen. Then there is manure to be considered, and also wheelbarrows, general tools, and similar impedimenta. In place of wheelbarrows, however, shoulder-baskets are frequently used, the advantage being that they may be taken along narrow pathways, where a barrow would not pass.
To a great extent, the bell-glasses act as bases of supply to the frames. Obviously, much of the produce will be brought to maturity under the glasses, but, generally speaking, seed is sown beneath the cloches, and the plantlings transferred to the frames when they are sufficiently large to handle. Lettuce, for example, would be sown in the early autumn under the glasses, and in due course the seedlings would be promoted to the frames. Radishes, turnips, and carrots, however, do not transplant readily, and are sown where they are to stand.
When sowing seed under bell-glasses, the soil should be worked up as finely as possible with fork and rake, but not much manure should be used, none whatever if the soil is in good order; thin sowing is imperative, not necessarily to economise seed, but to ensure sturdy plants. In the first stage the plants will not mature very quickly, because there will be but little heat in the ground, and therefore they will be ready at any time for the periodical transplanting, the" sole object of which is to ensure regular succession of crops and an even, steady supply right through the season.
Lettuce and cauliflower seed is usually sown some time in October, the plants being transferred shortly after Christmas to the frames, and it is in making up the soil beneath these frames that a good deal of the art of French gardening lies.
In order to ensure the required amount of "heat" in the beds, the supplies of manure must be drawn from two sources. By far the greater proportion should come from the stacks of this material laid by during the summer, which, by this time, will be well decayed; but to mingle with it there must be a little fresh manure, that is, matter that has only been on hand a week or two, just sufficiently long for it to have been turned with a fork once or twice to enable the foul gases to escape.
This manure must be evenly mixed, and then laid upon the ground so that it is built up in a regular stack slightly larger than the frames in outside measurement, and to a height of from eighteen to twenty-two inches. As it is built it must be trodden down firmly, and when all is ready the frames may be put in place and pressed firmly home, so that their edges sink well down into the manure. Naturally, the slope of the lights must be to the south, so that as much sunlight as possible may be ensured.
The next step is to prepare the soil with which the manure exposed on the interior of the frames is to be covered. In an established French garden there would be great quantities of thoroughly decayed manure that could be mixed with the staple, but the beginner can only trust to the soil at hand. and this must be broken up as finely as possible and introduced into the frames, being worked down finer still with a rake till there are from four to six inches of the soil in light, friable condition. The actual depth of the soil must naturally depend somewhat upon the height of the frames, but it should be arranged that there are four or five inches between the surface of the soil and that of the glass.
Replacing the lights when frames have been made up. This work is toilsome, but an essential part of Photo, S. L. Bastin the routine in French gardening
Having made up the beds and provided the soil, a few days may be allowed to elapse, during which time the inevitable settlement will take place, and the next step is to sow some of the root crops it is desired to grow. Radish, turnip, and carrot may all be sown, as thinly as possible, and in drills or rows, with from eight inches to a foot between each drill.
In the case of the carrot seed, which if small is tenacious and difficult to sow thinly, it is an excellent plan to take a bowl half filled with fine, dry silver sand, and to mingle with the sand the seed, rubbing the mixture carefully through the fingers. By this simple method the sticky seed will be thoroughly separated, and even sowing be ensured.
So soon as the seedlings peep through the ground thinning may take place, and the next step is to transplant the lettuces from the bell-glasses, setting the plants in the alleyways between the root crops, each light covering from sixteen to twenty plants. The plants, however, must not be set too near the edges of the frame, and should be arranged as near the centre as possible.
This, briefly, is the broad principle of French gardening. The heat from the manure and the protection of the lights force along the crops so that they mature out of their normal season. Radishes are ready for marketing as soon as anything, and the lettuces give place to the cauliflowers that have been growing on under glasses.
And all the time during which the plants are maturing constant attention is necessary. Watering is a most important matter, and the greatest judgment must be exercised, for too much water is as bad if not worse than none at all. During the winter months there are great extremes of weather, days when keen winds bring a dry atmosphere, and other times when every-thing offers a streaming appearance. Watering-cans with long spouts, and roses set at a very sharp angle to the spout are usually employed, and one must remember that succulent saladings are usually composed of a high percentage of moisture.
As for the actual method of planting out lettuces and cauliflowers in a frame, this work is accomplished with the aid of a tool known as a "dibber." This is a piece of wood some foot or so in length, and one that is finished with an iron ferrule is preferable. With the right hand a hole is made in the soil into which the left hand places the plant. The earth is then pressed firmly round the plant with the dibber, the whole operation being performed successfully in a few seconds by a skilful planter; the art, however simple as it appears, is only to be acquired after considerable practice.
During the growth of the plants in the frames a certain number of weeds are sure to appear. No manure is perfectly free from seed that has the power of germination; and, as in every other branch of horticulture, French gardening is not free from the pest of weeds.
Obviously these uninvited guests should be ruthlessly uprooted; and it is necessary also that the surface of the soil shall be kept from becoming hard and callous, and at periodical intervals it should be lightly hoed, care being taken that roots are not disturbed.
For the purposes of ventilation every structure in which plant life is grown must be capable of being partially opened. In the case of frames, it is usual to raise one end and support it by means of a brick when the weather permits. To be continued.