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.
It may appear to some almost superfluous to enter upon a subject which, as many suppose, is so well understood as the cultivation of Currants. Like the Gooseberry, treated of in our last paper, Currants are very extensively cultivated, being found growing in almost every garden from the largest to the smallest. Their cultivation is very simple; indeed few people who know anything of gardening would be willing to confess that there is anything of mystery in their management. That there is any mystery connected therewith we will not argue, but we think few will deny but that one man or other excels in their cultivation all others of his acquaintance. This may in some instances be attributed to better soils and finer positions, but in many cases it is the result of better management upon the part of the cultivator. Seeing this to be the case, we purpose giving a detail of how Currants are managed in well-regulated establishments and under the care of good horticulturists.
Like all other fruits, if new varieties are wanted the only way of propagation is from seed. Indeed, if finer varieties than those already in cultivation are wanted, the surest and safest method is to use great care in the selection of the varieties from which seed is to be taken, impregnating the flowers by artificial means, and selecting the seeds from the largest and finest-formed fruit. By using caution and care, in this way new and improved varieties may be the result of the operation. When the fruit is thoroughly ripe the seeds ought to be washed from the pulp, and may either be sown at once or retained till spring and sown in a favourable position. The best place to sow is under a south wall, in nice rich soil of a light nature. When the seed is sown as soon as the fruit is ripe, the plants are finer in every respect the following year, and in every case ought to be fit for planting out into nursery-lines a foot apart the following winter. Currants are also propagated by suckers, layers, and cuttings. By cuttings is the best method for the propagation of existing varieties.
As their propagation is in every respect identical with that of the Gooseberry, as described in our paper upon that fruit, it is quite unnecessary to say more regarding it here, but simply to refer the reader to that article for whatever information he may require upon that branch of our subject.
Currants may be divided into three classes - Red, White, and Black. The pruning and training of the Red and White Currant are in almost every particular the same. We shall therefore speak of them first, after which we shall refer to the management of the Black Currant, which requires quite a different treatment; starting with a Red or White Currant bush at one year from the cutting, or two from the seed. It ought to be planted the following autumn into a nursery-line having at least 1½ foot square of ground to itself. It must just be treated in the same manner as recommended for the Gooseberry, and regularly root-pruned and transplanted until it is large enough to be put into its permanent position in the fruit-garden. When this is the case, their situation must be fixed upon, which, if a choice can be had, should be where the soil is deep, rich, and moderately heavy, such as gardeners generally know as good sandy loam. If the soil be of a dampish nature, so much the better; but where flavour is a consideration, we would recommend that they be planted in an open position, free to the full blaze of the sun, and not under trees in orchards and in out-of-the-way corners, as they are too often to be found.
No doubt larger fruit is obtainable from such positions than are to be got from those planted as we have recommended, unless means be adopted to prevent rapid evaporation, especially during long-continued droughts, when the fruit is swelling and finishing off. The largest and finest-flavoured Currants we ever saw were grown upon an exposed piece of ground in one of the driest counties in Scotland; but the cultivator took the precaution every year to cover the ground over with from 2 to 3 inches of short grass from the lawns, and hence every drop of rain which fell was economised for the benefit of the Currant crop. It is all very well to plant Currants - or anything else - in whatever position the cultivator may think fit, and expect the best results without any further trouble than the usual winter-pruning. This is not cultivation. It is a trusting to chance - leaving things to a state of nature, with the slight exception already indicated. In the management of a garden, it is quite impossible to procure the best position necessary for everything under the gardener's care; and seeing this to be the case, it is his duty to bring his skill and horticultural knowledge to bear directly upon such cases, and thereby counteract, as far as possible, by artificial means the evil influences that are at war against him.
It is by these means, and these means alone, that horticulture has achieved so much. If all things had merely been left to circumstances and chance, we should not have been one stage further advanced than were our grandfathers. Everything is simple when once we know it, and everything in connection with horticulture is easy of accomplishment to those who have mastered it; but no one knows the trouble, anxiety, and patience that have been exercised ere many of what we think the simplest results have been achieved, save he who has studied and wrought out these results for himself. Some one may say, the mere fact of covering over a piece of Currant-bearing ground with short grass could not cost much study or horticultural ability. Verily that is true; but this also is true, that although most of the gardeners in the same district were year after year admiring the fruit and wishing "their Currants would do as well," yet not one out of every six adopted the plan that all saw and confessed did such effective service.
The lesson to be read from this is, that some men are not content until they have exhausted every means within their reach in order to bring about the best results, while others are content to leave things to chance and circumstances so long as the results are at least of a kind to be called above mediocrity.