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 was with genuine heartfelt pleasure that I read the remarks made by our Editor in the March number of the ' Gardener' as to the education of young gardeners. I shall anxiously look forward to his promised opinion on that interesting subject, not because I am personally acquainted with him, but because I know him to be a gardener - using the latter word in its fullest sense - and his great experience will add additional weight to his ideas. I must again mention a few more of the young gardener's difficulties - I mean the hindrances that present themselves to those gardeners who work hard and study hard, who are earnestly striving to climb the "tree of knowledge," instead of being content to lounge round its base, and be elbowed and jostled by those ignorant loafers whose only aim in approaching it at all is to laugh derisively at the slips and failures of those who are engaged in ascending its slippery trunk. The road to knowledge may be likened to our attempting to climb a tall stately monarch of the forest.
At the first onset we find it difficult to ascend, we have but few branches to assist us up its smooth sides, and what we have are extremely slender; but as with perseverance our store of knowledge increases, we find the simple facts we at first knew gradually expand or enlarge by becoming amalgamated with other nearly related facts, thus forming stronger branches, by the aid of which the climbing of our typical tree is rendered more pleasant and comparatively easy to what it was when its stem was smooth and free from such friendly supporting aids. Then, again, as we press upwards we collect new facts, which help to fill up the spaces that exist between those already collected, thus lessening the distance - the intervening spaces that are so difficult to climb. It is easy to climb the smoothest tree when the trunk or bole is covered with branches on which to rest our feet or cling with our hands; so it is with us in obtaining knowledge: at the first onset it is difficult, but as our minds become stored with facts we find it simplified, until our intellectual powers gradually develop themselves; and when they have done so to a certain extent, we find it comparatively easy to proceed onwards.
One of the difficulties that under-gardeners have to contend with is the low wages which that class, as a general rule, obtain in return for their services. The author of this article, at fifteen years of age, started as "crock-boy "in a private garden with a salary of 6s. per week; out of this sum he paid 2s. per week to the head-gardener by way of premium, and Is. per week for a bed. Some people object to a young man paying a premium, and will even venture to assert that a head-gardener has no right to take one from those under him. I must maintain that he has, providing that his employer allows him to do so, and he himself is fully competent to teach them the true principles of our noble calling; more than this, if every head-gardener were to insist upon a premium of 2s. or 3s. per week being paid to them, it would be at least one way - a very effectual one, I think - of obtaining only such young men into our gardens as have a real love for the profession, which, it must be owned, is sadly encumbered with come-day-go-day sort of fellows, who care nothing for either the science or practice of gardening.
I am very much mistaken if many of these lethargic characters would consent to pay for instructions they do not require, or rather do not wish to be troubled with, even though they were to be had for nothing. I am perfectly well aware that to make a young man pay a weekly premium is to place a difficulty in his path; but, at the same time, if the gardener were competent to teach, and performed his duty in a straightforward and proper manner, the young man would eventually become convinced that after all it was a difficulty he had done well in surmounting. Again, if a gardener would endeavour to approach perfection in his calling, he must know something at least of the theoretical portion of it, notwithstanding that there are some who would have us believe - in fact, have attempted to prove - that the theory of horticulture is neither necessary nor useful to the young gardener. I, with due respect to their opinions, must contend that a knowledge of speculative principles or theory is useful. The most illiterate horticulturist, the most ignorant of gardeners, daily employs it.
Is it possible for a man to perform any common operation without speculating as to what results will be obtained thereby? If, then, he speculates at all as to the effect or effects to be produced by certain operations of which he himself is the primary cause, most assuredly that man employs theory; for are we not duly informed that theory is a speculative plan or scheme 1 Then, again, if a certain amount of theory is not essential, not useful, not of importance, how comes it that it is so commonly employed and advocated by some of the leading horticulturists of the present day? How is it that our examination papers are almost entirely made up of theoretical questions? The gardener who possesses a goodly store of demonstrative knowledge, coupled with practical skill, is certainly superior to the one that is content with mere habitual practice.
Because practical knowledge may to some extent exist alone, it does not immediately follow that such knowledge is superior to practical and scientific knowledge in a judicious state of combination.
The young gardener must learn his profession by precept as well as by mere habitual practice, or his difficulties, as I said before, will be many, and, moreover, of a kind and character not easy to be removed from his path. As the young man attempts to improve himself, he will continually meet with hindrances and difficulties; but by persevering industry they will be overcome sooner or later; and after conquering one difficult problem, he will find himself better able to master the next that presents itself. And after all this persevering study and application to practice, what will be our recompense? shall we obtain more wages than those who do not study at all? In all probability we shall not: the best man does not always, as a rule, succeed in obtaining the best situation; this statement applies more particularly to private establishments, for in some Government situations, when a vacancy occurs, an examination is held - in such cases as these a man reaps all the benefit of his youthful study.
It must be accepted as a general fact that every operation per-formed in a garden is to produce or to assist in producing some particular effect. I say assist, because, to obtain some ultimate results in horticulture (as in other sciences) - the production of a Pine-apple, for example - we must employ several different operative causes - such as proper soil, heat, moisture, light, and air - all of which are causes that must act in union, in harmonious union, before the end sought after is gained. Now, to thoroughly understand the particular parts performed by these various causes is not such an easy matter after all. Some considerable progress must have been made, many difficulties trampled under our feet, before we are able to understand and explain correctly how each particular cause acts individually, and the whole collectively, in order to produce the desired result. Yet this is what every gardener should be able to do. If he in his practice does nothing more than imitate others more skilled than himself - imitate their actions, without comprehending the principles that govern them - if he does no more than this, he is not worthy of the name of gardener.
My advice to all young gardeners is, "Work and learn" - learn practice, and also those laws or principles that govern it, and that ought in every case to regulate it.
In my next I intend to give, for the benefit of young and aspiring gardeners, some information respecting gardeners' examinations, and the "difficulties" to be contended with in order to obtain "certificates of merit." Up to the present time but few have troubled to attend these emulating contests except from the public gardens near the metropolis. F. W. B.