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.
Dr Hogg deserves our gratitude for his admirable Directory; it makes even the stay-at-home gardener better acquainted with his brethren and the whereabouts of gardens. We never take a long journey without a Directory in our pocket, if sight-seeing is our object. We lately slipped our moorings and cleared for London with a Directory and 'Bradshaw,' which were our only studies by the way; drier reading, perhaps, than 'Johnson's Dictionary,' but suggestive of plenty of matter for thought nevertheless. For instance, coming to Newark, the Directory says this is the post-town for Caunton Manor; we stretch our neck and look out of the carriage window to see if we can guess where it can possibly lie - where the Queen of Flowers holds her courts; we think of her great field-marshal, and his many battles won. There is one garden which Dr Hogg has forgotten to mention in the Directory, which is always deserving of a visit, however often it may have been seen before; we mean Covent Garden, London's garden-market, though once on a time a real garden.
There will be seen whatever of garden produce it is possible for skill to send or money bring into the market; and there the practical man can take notes of what he ought to have or might have at home.
The one thing most striking in Covent Garden market on the second week of April was the Oranges. The eye rested on them everywhere, the whole place smelt of them, and everybody must have been tasting them; we did, at three for twopence. It is the same all over London - West End and Mile End, north and south, heaps of Oranges in carts, barrows, baskets, and windows. In the Garden also were Blood Oranges, with their dark-red cheeks and blood-streaked flesh - small Tangerine Oranges, Seville Oranges for marmalade, Lemons, Citrons, Shaddocks as big as bladders of lard, and other fruit of the genus Citrus, dubbed Forbidden Fruit; but en might be spelt ing without being a misnomer.
Do my readers know whence come those huge quantities of Oranges? - from Spain, of course, or from St Michaels, or Malta. Well, we shan't go there to see; but come down to the wharves, a little below London Bridge, and we shall see five or six large steamers, clean and bright and freshly painted, each with three large hatches open, through which one can see the holds closely packed with shallow fragile boxes, each box tied round with a plaited, green, rushy-looking rope. The boxes are swung on deck, the rope cut away by a man with a large knife, who then proceeds to break open the box with a tool-axe and hammer combined. He plunges his hand down among the Oranges at each end of the box to see if he can find something which he should not find, nails up the box again, which is then transferred to the back of a man who has a bevelled pad on his shoulders with a hole in it for his head, and off he marches over planks, decks, and up a ladder 20 feet to the wharf, where he receives a piece of round tin with a hole in it from a man who is standing for the purpose. The men, each with his load of one box, follow each other in line like wild geese along the wharves, up dark alleys, and into fusty-smelling warehouses, from whence dealers are supplied in town and country.
Pears were very scarce in Covent Garden, yet some very fine Easter Beurres are to be seen, thus doing credit to their name, which is too seldom the case with that variety grown in the north of England. Wretched foreign Pines, plentiful enough; English Queens, small and badly swelled; Smooth Cayennes put in a good appearance; Lady Downes Grapes, which seemed, however, the last wreck of bunches gathered together in baskets to keep each other in countenance. Alas for the foreign Grapes ! No wonder the West-Euders cannot eat them; to witness the resurrection of those bunches out of barrels of sawdust, and the clipping and blowing and sputtering necessary to make them presentable, is enough to cure any appetite for foreign Grapes. Fortunately, our foreign bonne bouche, the Orange, has to be divested of its skin before being eaten; not so the Grape. For this very reason alone, the foreign Grape, unlike any other imported fruit, cannot become a favourite with the wealthy. Home-grown Grapes must always hold their own place.
What do our northern friends think is the staple vegetable at present in the London market 1 why, Turnip-tops, said to be very nice; but the craving for Greens at this spring-time must be strong to induce so large a consumption: they are heaped up at the stalls in cart-loads, wizened and smoky, especially at the east end. Fine white heads of Broccoli come more prominently forward westward: nice firm heads, the size of a man's fist, can be bought for 3d. in Whitechapel; further west, the quality and price increase, and yet are plentiful. The leaves are cut off round by the margin of the flower, which, although objectionable from exposing it to dirt, yet makes the flower show itself better. Fine Kidney Beans are to be had by those who like to pay for them. Mushrooms, French, plentiful and cheap. Peas, to judge from their bruises, have come from far; ditto Globe Artichokes at 6d. each. Long Surrey Carrots, as usual, are fine, clean, and tempting, tied in bunches, with a few Birch or Hazel twigs among the tops to keep them together. On asking a dealer where these fine Carrots were grown, he could not tell, but thought they came across London Bridge: many more good things come out of that quarter as well Oranges and Carrots, we soliloquised.
Punnets of Seakale of six or eight heads, laid side by side on moss in round chip baskets. Salads are on the whole abundant; long young Cucumbers, Turnip Radishes, Mustard and Cress, green and brown Water Creases, forced Chicory, Endives beautifully green on the outside, inside fine creamy white, crisp and firm, the perfection of an Endive - Cos Lettuces, shall we call them French? we did not inquire. Here let us throw in our evidence in favour of the cloche or bell-glass; we have satisfied ourselves that with its use French Salads can be grown in England, and we shall pay no attention to any assertion to the contrary in future; but we must have these "blisters" of glass at a payable rate. Woe betide the teeth which chew those sticks of Asparagus, white to the tips, stringy as whalebone, a foot long and thick as a man's thumb ! They are just the thing to feed the first live gorilla which comes to the Zoological Gardens. M. Du Chaillu tells us that Mr Gorilla feeds on the ribs of the leaves of the Pine-Apple, which are tough enough, although a specimen in the British Museum is absorbed in contemplation of a ripe fruit made of gilt plaster, as if he preferred it to the leaves.
The trade in cut-flowers and flowering-plants does not seem pushed to the same extent as it is in Paris. There is no flower-market in London to compare with that at the Madeleine, or what we have seen at the bridge near Notre Dame. Covent Garden, in its way, is the only place we know approaching either. The high prices asked would indicate that there was room for further supplies, or a more eligible and comeatable market is desirable, say near Hyde Park Corner or St James's, if we be not ignorant of such a thing being already in existence. [Aristocratic noses turn up contemptuously at such a thought; besides, the provision of a site would be the great difficulty: after all, is a market in this locality really required? - Eds.] Returning to Covent Garden, nowhere have we seen bouquets better made than here. A favourite style at present is a white Camellia for a centre (premising that all flowers are first fixed if necessary on artificial stalks with fine wire, sheaves of which, cut in lengths, lie beside the operator), then a ring of Roses, alternated with bunches of blue Nemophila, or Gentian for blue, fragile though the flowers be; Cinerarias are also used for blue; then come Pelargoniums, either scarlet or show varieties, such as the old forcing kinds - Gauntlet and Boule de Len, alternated with Stephanotis or Deutzia; here and there moss Rosebuds, Heaths, Lily of the Valley, or Epacris, are sticking above the surface of the bouquet, Adiantum cuneatum being a favourite for green.
Den-drobium nobile is also at present in use for bouquets, and will remain so for a month. Quantities of the common Northern Hard-Fern, Blechnum boreale, are largely used to fringe the commoner bouquets; from whence it comes we do not know, perhaps from a heath or moor not far away, or it may be grown on purpose. The chief feature remarkable about most bouquets is a system of order in their arrangement suggesting how much beauty depends on form and symmetry, and how much natural grace is compatible with strict formality. Practically, when the operator knows exactly beforehand how he is to arrange his materials, he can turn those materials to the best account without waste.
Cyclamens are in splendid force; Hyemalis, Gracilis, and Ventricosa Heaths, the latter exquisite for furnishing. Spirea (Hoteia) Japonica, of all plants for forcing, this is one of the best; its profuse white spikes of flower, rising above its fine Fernlike foliage, make it an elegant plant for furnishing either drawing-room or conservatory. Standard Roses, 2 to 3 feet high, two years from the bud, with fine • healthy foliage and half-a-dozen open flowers, in 6-inch pots; dwarf Roses ditto, John Hopper being a favourite, and Gloire de Dijon also. Hydrangeas, with monstrous single heads, in 5-inch pots, are very early. Mignonette short and stubby, in 5-inch pots, six to eight plants in a pot; Double Tournesol Tulips; white Queen-of-England-looking Fuchsias, masses of bloom, in 6-inch pots; Hyacinths of every hue; Lily of the Valley, Pinks, Carnations, Cactuses, Calla AEthiopica, Dielytra, etc.; Neapolitan Violets in flower in 4-inch pots, at 1s. 6d. per pot, ought to bring more of that saleable plant into the market. Much more could be said of what may be seen and learned in Covent Garden. I fear lest what is already said be trite to many.
Hosts of hardy herbaceous plants may be seen, some with droll nondescript names attached; Ivy in pots, for training about windows, down dark alleys, where nothing else will grow; the commonest Ferns and weeds by the wayside may be bought; Groundsel in barrow-loads for bird food.
While we were making some purchases at a leading stall, a person came forward asking for Nettles to buy, but could not be supplied with green, but could get dried. Another purchaser wanted the deadly Nightshade, and wished to know from which part of the plant the tincture was extracted: was informed, from any part. He looked like a paterfamilias, in high-polished boots. Did the villain want to experiment on his own family? The Squire's Gardener.