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.
At the meeting of the Fruit Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society, held at South Kensington on the 21st September last, a special first-class certificate was awarded to Mr Robert Fenn, the Rectory, Woodstock, Oxon, for a collection of twelve sorts of Potatoes, staged by him as the best in his latest experience of Potatoes. The samples were faultless, the tubers of good size, clean and smooth, and I thought it would be well to obtain from Mr Fenn full descriptive notes of these fine varieties for the guidance of Potato cultivators. In a communication accompanying these descriptive notes, he says: "I consider the varieties of Potatoes I exhibited at South Kensington as being the best twelve sorts for household and market purposes, and as being suitable for garden or field culture, and fully up to the march, of progress of the present day".
The following notes are descriptive of the sorts shown by Mr Robert Fenn on the occasion referred to: -
A good household or market variety, A 1 for earliness in gaining firmness and flavour; suitable for framework, for garden, or for field culture if the ground is good.
Without doubt the greatest yielding early Potato for market and general household consumption, and as an exhibition sort there is none to surpass it. This variety may be substituted for the market or the servants' hall with Myatt's Early Prolific; but the ' coming Potato' to. place them both, as well as Rivers' Royal Ashleaf, hors de combat, is Veitch's Improved Ashleaf; excepting the Dickson's Premier only as for the exhibition table.
The best of its class, to be easily and cheaply got at present, for early market and household use, coming in directly after Myatt's Prolific; A 1 for flavour, albeit yellowish in flesh; suitable for garden or field culture.
A good second early round red sort for the market or the household; A 1 for flavour, though yellowish in its flesh; suitable for garden or field cultivation; for the latter preferably, providing the soil of the garden is a rich loam, as in this case the sort is apt to throw gross haulm, and the Potatoes to become diseased.
This is an improved early Regent, and scarcely to be distinguished from the Dalmahoy except by boiling, when Daintree's sort will be found to be ready for the table some eight minutes sooner than the Dalmahoy. First-rate both of them for market, household, or the parlour table, and suitable for garden or field culture.
A good second early Potato, excellent for the parlour table on account of its good looks, and always appreciated by ladies, though for the masculine palate I complain of it, and I have frequently heard it complained of by gentlemen as lacking flavour. A good household variety, and suitable for garden cultivation.
A very prolific, and a good white-fleshed blue-skinned variety; a second early for market and household use; garden or field culture, more especially for the garden.
A capital market, household, or parlour-table kind, suitable for either garden or field culture; a great yielder, and, I presume, a seedling from Wheeler's Milky White, which it much resembles in its flesh. Mr Daintree has a new seedling resembling it in every respect, excepting that this new variety - Daintree's 'Bakers' Dozen' - cracks its skin a little more during its progress of arriving at maturity. I have written 'Bakers' Dozen,' because, when Mr Daintree (Fendrayton, near St Ives, Hunts) sent the sort for me to try, two years ago, he said ' he had a great opinion of it,' and requested me to give it a 'crisp name.' There were thirteen tubers in the package, so I have named his variety the 'Bakers' Dozen'!
A capital prolific market or household Potato, and suitable for garden or field culture. It comes a little too pyriform in shape to please me, although the sample that Mr Cutbush presented to me was a white blunt-nosed kidney of the handsomest type. There can be no mistake about its capability of 'fetching down the scales,' in the heaviest sense of the words, ' per acre.'
A prolific and excellent late-keeping Potato, suitable for either garden or field culture, and at the ' top stave of the ladder' for flavour, and as being suitable for either the market, household, or the parlour table; albeit a little too dry in its eating to please the extreme palates of a few. It is the best strain of the Lapstone Kidney family, and it is of the hybrid class raised by Mr Thomas Almond by the modern method of grafting the eye of one tuber into the tuber of another. If this variety cannot be got, substitute for it Haigh's original Cobbler's Lapstone, which, I doubt, will be found even more difficult to procure. The family are as prolific as rabbits, and when chosen by natural selection, which has been much resorted to, the younger branches are mostly of a quality sufficient to be thought worthy of keeping, hence there are innumerable varieties of it, but only one that I know of to excel the old original, and that is the Yorkshire Hero.
This excellent variety was raised in Renfrewshire, and sent to me by a ' Brother Bee-Keeper,' amongst other famous north-country Potatoes, in a bar and frame Stewarton hive. I never knew my ' brother' by name or in the flesh, but I think the world has been told often enough how I have utilised the hive and all about the ' Praties,' but I do think the raiser of this excellent Potato has never advertised it up to its worth. I sent some to the Rev. W. F. Radclyffe, and both with him and myself it ranks highest in the class Regent. Walker's Second Early Regent and the old York Regent are the other sorts to be preferred in lieu of it. Field cultivation only.
"New American Red is also a Regent. It is a great cropper, and a stain of rose-colour predominates in blotches throughout its flesh when cooked; but it may lose this feature by about next February; and it is not fair, generally speaking, to cook any of the Regent class for correct judgment till that period at any rate. This variety is a great cropper, and suitable for field cultivation only. This Potato will quite supersede the American Hose in our English climate and soil.
"There are two more Potatoes I could have hoped to figure in this list had not adverse fate ordained otherwise - one, Fenn's Rushbrook seedling, a cross between the Early Frame and the white blossom Ashtop. Two of my Potato friends who stood by when I dug them up this spring - a peck of handsome tubers almost to each root - strongly advised me not to make away with the sort, but they proved of no advance on their parents as regards flavour, so I have destroyed every tuber, and I trust the ingenious person who helped himself to a tuber (suus cuique mos) from the plate on which I exhibited it at Bury St Edmunds in 1867 will not perpetuate the breed. Fenn's Onwards, alas! this year has gone backwards. I cannot make it out. For the last five years it has been with me a good Potato in every respect; a great advance on its parents, the Jackson's seedling Kidney and the old Fluke. I must give this chield another year's trial, however, as it does seem hard, after seven years' selection and care, to have to part with 'all my pretty ones;' not only so, but the thing repeated several times over! "Well, I trust to my recent crosses to turn out something better, even though I maintain some of the same blood, either on the male or female line, because I feel convinced I am right in thus laying a foundation for something good and permanent in the future.
"I remember, in a letter he wrote to me years ago, poor Donald Beaton expressing that it was ' easier to raise Pine-Apples than Potatoes;' and he once wrote the same observation publicly in the ' Cottage Gardener.' ' Only a Potato!' is a common expression; but if people, instead of considering the esculent as a mere matter of course from its very commonness, could at the same time be brought to consider its national importance, and to know but a tithe of the enterprise required to raise a new and superior variety, they would hold the escult, and perchance the deluris, in its improvement rather higher in the scale of estimation.
"I cannot conclude without a word respecting Pattersons Victoria. Although no favourite of mine, on account of its tendency to subtub-erate, it is yet a good field Potato, and well suited for the market table or the servants' hall. Like my Onwards, it will suit the north better than our southern counties".
I feel under a deep obligation to Mr Fenn for these valuable notes, and hope they will prove acceptable to many of the readers of the 'Gardener.' R. D.