Garden - The End
Nature's charm frequently lies in the complete absence of monotony. True, one may go into the garden and leave it at stated times each day, but the tasks of the day will vary with the season, changing with subtle steps as the days lengthen or contract. The mechanics of plant life move slowly and on giant cogs, but the progress of the year never appears mechanical, and routine to a keen gardener can seldom bore.
And so it is in the French garden. Weather conditions and the unfolding of the seasons give fresh tasks for every day. As for the weather, the lady must be an ardent student of meteorological conditions, for sound judgment in this direction will often save much labour.
For instance, on appearing in one's garden in the morning one has to decide as to the amount of ventilation required by the plants both in the cloches and under the lights. In the depth of winter there will be many days when the lights must not be lifted, nor the bell-glasses raised by means of the little wooden pegs provided for that purpose. During the prevalence of keen northerly or easterly winds, for example, the plants would remain tightly covered, and also throughout a spell of incessant rain.
In mild, open weather, however, such as we frequently experience in the depth of winter, fresh air must be admitted to the plants, and only hard experience can teach to what extent this is permissible.
And, apart from raising lights and cloches, there is the question of the straw mats that are employed at night to conserve heat and ward off frost. These mats, which are used alike both with the frames and bell-glasses, must be rolled up in the morning on all but the really bitter days, and it is important that they should be replaced in the afternoon before cold sets in. During the shortest days it may be necessary to spread them by three o'clock, but at other times an hour before sunset will meet the case.
It is in matters such as these that the true gardener's instinct will make its appearance, and the experience gained in other branches of gardening, coupled with sound common sense, will smooth the way. Similarly, judgment is required in watering, and a rudimentary knowledge of horticulture teaches one that an overplus of moisture, coupled with a low temperature, can only spell damping-off with the plants.
In a garden one must be on the alert all the time, ready at a moment's notice to take action at any change in the weather, to reap the benefit of a few hours' sunshine or to prevent the damage from a sudden fickleness in the direction of the wind.
Endive is a very profitable crop to grow in a French garden, and, like all tender saladings, is in great demand in the spring. Both mustard and cress may also be grown with advantage. In the case of endive, seed is usually sown in August or during the first few days of September, and the resulting plants are bedded out some foot or so apart.
Like lettuce - the cos variety, at least - endive must be tied up, the ties being usually of bast secured a little above the centre of the plant.
Dwarf peas will thrive in frames and yield a good return; and dwarf French beans are quite a standard crop, though obviously both must be forced out of season to reap the desired reward.
Among profitable catch crops, common mint is worthy of attention. The roots may be purchased from any market grower, and are usually bought by the bushel. They may be planted in a frame from which some other crop has been cleared, and the roots should be laid in shallow drills six or eight inches apart, the drills being drawn with a hoe and covered with a rake after planting.
Packing for Market
Asparagus forces well in frames over a rich hot-bed; strawberries in pots may be produced under similar circumstances; and many French gardeners find a market for capsicum. In the writer's opinion, however, a start should be made with lettuce, turnips, carrots, radishes, and endive, keeping the more ticklish subjects in the background till proficiency has been thoroughly attained.
With manure at a high price, rigid economy must be affected with the material. Spent manure should be dug into the ground in the open parts of the garden where normal crops are cultivated, but half-spent litter should be mingled with fresh manure and used up under the lights and cloches. Economy in the use of manure must, however, not be practised at the expense of the crops, and, like all other matters in the
French garden, should be ruled by fine judgment.
In the Parisian allotments women invariably pack the produce for market, and there is a great art in preparing the consignments for transit. Open-sided wooden boxes or baskets made of stout reed are generally used, and are obtainable from all garden sundriesmen, but it is occasionally the custom when dealing with a commission agent for him to provide the necessary receptacles. Small saladings are packed in chip punnets, a gross of which may be purchased for a few pence; and special packing paper, blue in colour as a rule, is employed to line out the boxes or baskets. In matters such as these, however, a visit to a market will give one the required ideas.
An experience gained only by months of patient effort should certainly be a marketable commodity, an asset, an item for one's capital account. In the case of intensive gardening this is fortunately the case, and apprentices to the art invariably learn its wiles at an established garden. Indeed, it is only true to state that many French gardens in this country are largely run for educational purposes, and derive a considerable proportion of their revenue from the fees paid by pupils. At many of these establishments French experts are retained specially to instruct the students.
This side of the question must not be overlooked by the lady who would embark upon intensive culture. She must base her terms largely upon what she has to offer her pupils, and it would be impossible for the writer to fix fees without being acquainted with individual circumstances. Schools of gardening are advertised frequently in the horticultural Press and in the Educational Supplement of the "Times," which appears with that newspaper the first Tuesday in every month. The majority of these schools issue prospectuses.
French gardening is highly scientific, and when embarked upon for a livelihood is not to be taken lightly. Pros and cons must be care fully weighed in the balance, and the writer can only reiterate his warning that it is not a child's game. Given capital, given personal knowledge and experience, given the great gift of good salesmanship, a sound living and a happy life may be ensured.
Four o'clock in the afternoon sees the students at work covering the cloches with matting, as a precaution against frost