This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
What constitutes an amateur horticulturist 1 is a question that seems just now to require a definite answer. Many persons are apt to assume that the possession of a garden and the pretence of having performed the labour required in it, however slovenly it may have been done, authorises them to assume the designation of an amateur horticulturist, whilst another claim has been made, by a set of people who know nothing whatever of the theory or practice of gardening, to be distinguished as amateurs, on the ground that they have become members of a horticultural society. This latter claim is certainly very ridiculous, but I have heard it put forth in sober earnest recently by some who were jealous of the number of professional horticulturists then sitting upon the committee of a local horticultural society. I take an "amateur," in a horticultural sense, to be a person who loves the practice of it and all that relates to it, and who, not being a professional gardener in the ordinary acceptation of the term, does yet display such a knowledge of gardening and a capacity to acquire more of the knowledge, as shall place him, in respect of many of the subjects he cultivates, almost or entirely on an equality with his professional brethren: nay more, there are some true amateur horticulturists who are in reality among the very lights and leaders in certain sections of horticultural practice.
These, of course, constitute an exceptional class, but the great mass of amateurs are to be found in the humbler walks of life - such as clerks, small tradesmen, artisans, and labourers, who, after their ordinary daily occupations are over, find pleasure, recreation, and even profit, in devoting their hours of leisure to the cultivation of their gardens and the few specialties to the growth of which they particularly incline. I stated in my previous paper that I purposed saying something, later on, having special reference to that numerous class that are designated general amateur cultivators, who, being without any particular taste, yet take special delight in all the various features of their gardens. Perhaps they have a small greenhouse filled with plants of a varying character, that are just now looking very rough through the want of a little attention; their Pelargoniums are covered with dead or half-rotten leaves, that should be at once gathered off, and the plants neatly cleaned; the Fuchsias want to be shortened back and exposed to the light to induce a strong healthy growth; Cinerarias will want shifting into larger pots, and kept moist, as nothing promotes green-fly amongst these so much as the flagging of the foliage; Calceolarias should also be shifted into their blooming-pots, and kept as near the glass as possible; nothing spoils them so much as becoming drawn for want of being nearer the light; and they require watching closely for green-fly, and the plants should be fumigated the moment this pest becomes visible.
The great secret of keeping plants healthy in a greenhouse is to keep not only the plants, but the house also, very clean - to water all but growing plants sparingly, and even then to be careful that no stagnant water lies about, either on the shelves or floor of the house; fire-heat should not be given too freely, as its chief use in a greenhouse is to keep out frost and damp, when these descriptions of weather prevail. Towards the end of the month, some pots of tender annuals maybe sown, such as Ten-week Stocks, Asters, Balsams, Cockscombs, etc, and placed on a shelf near the glass - the earlier they are pushed forward the better. Especially be careful to give air on all possible days, as its influence during the spring months is of vital importance upon plants that are expanding into growth; the healthier and more robust this growth can be obtained, the better for the plants all the rest of the season.
Every villa resident should possess a small mowing-machine, and thoroughly acquire the use of it: no more exhilarating occupation can be found for the amateur gardener before breakfast than an hour's employment of it. Apart from the physical results involved, the pleasure derived from the appearance of the work done is very great; indeed, few things add so much to the decoration or the enjoyment of a garden, as a smooth, cleanly-mown lawn. Just now the appearance of it may be marred by worm-casts, but a good birch broom, wielded by a strong arm, will soon disperse them, and with them also any other refuse that might have congregated. Until the grass requires mowing, and that will soon be, the broom should be often used, and the roller also, if one is at hand. Then when the mowing-machine is brought into requisition, the ease with which it will work, and the greater neatness of that work, will more than repay for the expenditure of the previous labour. Perhaps in nothing is our amateur horticulturist so much lacking as a knowledge of the most efficient way in which to apply his labour.
Many men will work, and work continuously, and yet be always in a muddle (a characteristic, by the way, of the doings of many of our professional men), a defect excusable in amateurs, because they have not gone through that routine of garden labour that begins with a boy washing pots and ends only with the retirement from work altogether. To aid him in surmounting this defect, let me advise him always so to apportion the work of his garden as to be able to go over the whole of it at regular intervals, and make a thorough job of it as he goes. Thus, when the lawn has been mown, the beds and borders should be cleaned and rendered tidy, and, if not already done, let them be neatly forked over with care, so that any hardy flower-roots growing therein may take no harm; the edges of the grass, both to the borders and the walks, should be neatly trimmed, and then, when the soil has been dressed, the paths weeded, swept, and rolled, it is to be hoped your pleasure-garden will vie for tidiness with the internal arrangements of your habitation. Then the kitchen-garden must have its necessary attention; and here, possibly, matters are somewhat chaotic, owing to the unfavourable weather that has prevailed.
The pruning of all trees and bushes should be done first; that accomplished, and the refuse-cuttings burnt, then some manure must be got on the unoccupied portions of ground, and be at once dug in. This is glorious exercise, especially before breakfast; there is nothing that will give our amateur gardener so fine an appetite for his rolls and coffee as the turning-up of the surface of mother earth. This work done, as fast as time will admit of its accomplishment, the soil will then be ready for the reception of the various spring crops, respecting which so much was so ably said by "M. T." last month, the pleasure of sowing and planting of which is only eclipsed by the pleasure of watching and tending their growth and maturation. An amateur's flower-garden should be to him emphatically a source of high pleasure; but his kitchen-garden should not only be this also, but even a source of profit; and this latter gain will mainly depend upon the labour he expends upon it, and the judgment he displays in directing it.
I cannot advise him to do better than to constantly study the pages of the 'Gardener.'