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.
The ordinary monthly meeting of this Association was held in the Imperial Hotel, Dundee, on Friday evening the 4th ult., the president, Mr I). Doig, in the chair. Owing to the inclemency of the weather, the attendance was smaller than usual. After the usual preliminary business, Mr M'Arthur, gardener to Mr John Leng of Kimbrae, Newport, read a paper on "The Importance of a Practical Knowledge of Vegetable Culture." After a few introductory remarks, Mr M'Arthur said that culinary vegetables ranked high as articles of food, being very nutritious, and at the same time acting as a corrective against many diseases. They had been cultivated by the nations of the East from the remotest ages. Perhaps the most ancient mention made of any special kinds was to be found in the sacred writings of Moses, the Hebrew lawgiver, who incidentally referred to them in the Book of Numbers, from which we learn that Cucumbers, Melons, Leeks, Onions, and Garlic were in use in the land of Egypt in these days - 4000 years ago. Mr M'Arthur then referred to the date of introduction, and the native countries of many of the most useful kinds of vegetables, and briefly traced their history up till the present time.
As an instance of the rise and progress of the Potato, he alluded to the enormous consumption of this vegetable at the present day, compared with what he had heard from the lips of an old gardener in the West of Scotland, who well remembered hearing his father say, that when the Potato first came among them they carefully scooped out the eyes, with a small portion of flesh attached, and preserved them as sets for the following year's crop, while the remaining portion of the flesh only was used as food. Mr M'Arthur then dealt with the practical part of his subject. It was of the greatest importance that a gardener should have a thorough knowledge of this department of his business. He was afraid there are manifold signs of a growing tendency with many to partly, if not altogether, overlook or despise this very necessary part of their education - the more pleasing occupants of the stove or greenhouse claiming by far the greater part of their attention. He by no means spoke lightly of the love for the beautiful and graceful in flowers and foliage, or of the intellectual pleasure or enjoyment that would ever remain inseparably associated with their beauty and culture; but the gardener who must supply his employer's table with first - class vegetables every day in the year, could not afford to overlook the requirements of the one for the more pleasant duties associated with the other.
The preparation of the soil was of the first importance in vegetable culture : to study its nature and capabilities, how best to husband its resources, and how to increase its fertility. To be able to make a judicious choice of seeds was also a very necessary acquirement, as experience in this matter went a long way to assist in keeping up a continual succession of fresh and useful vegetables. The insect and parasite pests of the kitchen-garden also demanded the skill and energy of the gardener. How to prevent or lessen the ravages of the Onion and Carrot-worm - what was the cause of that scourge amongst Peas, the mildew, and how it always appeared when rain came after a tack of dry weather, - these and the like were questions of weight and importance to the gardener, seriously affecting his work, and often frustrating his well-laid plans.
Mr W. Williamson, Tarvit Gardens, Cupar-Fife, then read a paper on "The Propagation, Cultivation, and Selection of Table Plants for Exhibition." He selected twelve plants from five distinct genera, and treated in detail their habits, propagation, and culture. These consisted of three Palms, three Crotons, three Dracaenas, two Aralias, and one Pandanus. The varieties chosen all required a stove temperature, and their successful management depended on the necessary accommodation, combined with a correct knowledge of their requirements, and an acquaintance with their natural habitat.
Cocos Weddelliana, Geonoma gracilis, Crotons picturatus, Johannis, and interruptum aureum, Dracaenas Sidneyii, Terminalis alba and Guilfoyleii, Aralias elegantissima, Veitchii, and gracillima, and Pandanus Veitchii were, in Mr Williamson's opinion, among the very best of the table plants; but with the rapid improvements that were yearly taking place in this class of plants, no doubt these would be superseded by other varieties of still greater value. Mr Williamson then referred more directly to the position these plants held in the show-room of our local exhibitions. He thought there was great room for improvement in staging them. Very often they were set so close together that one could scarcely distinguish which plant the various leaves belonged to; whereas, to be seen to advantage, each plant should have more or less clear space around it. They might with advantage be utilised in dividing the different sections of cut-flowers, where their graceful and elegant forms would go far to break up the sometimes monotonous appearance of these exhibits.
This paper gave rise to a lively discussion - -the class of plants generally used and their treatment, as well as their habits and height - all being points of dispute.
A scheme for the encouragement of self-improvement amongst the younger members of the Association was submitted, the subjects suggested for consideration being practical horticulture, botany, and chemistry. This scheme was approved of by the meeting, and it was remitted to the council to arrange the details necessary for carrying it into practice. After a vote of thanks to the speakers and the chairman the proceedings terminated.