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.
Any one having the operation of an extensive market-garden daily under his eye, where vegetables are grown for profit, and may be exported, and who may be familiar with the routine of kitchen-gardening as performed in the gardens of the nobility and gentry, cannot fail to be struck with the contrast between the systems of management pursued in the two instances, not to mention the great advantage the former mode enjoys over the other in quality, and especially in quantity of produce. One is inclined to inquire, sometimes, whether the much vaunted spade-husbandry has so much to recommend it, especially in the raising and maturing of green crops, such as garden-vegetables which occupy the ground the shortest possible time - a few months - swept away and replaced. It does seem certain that, if a soil has been once thoroughly drained and subsoiled, very deep cultivation is unnecessary afterwards, provided that the top 6 inches is kept tolerably fertilised with farmyard manure. The plough and harrow seem all that is necessary to cultivate the soil sufficiently for the produce of first-rate vegetables of all the annual varieties, such as Peas, Cabbages, Turnips, Beet, Spinach, Onions, Lettuces, etc.
And as to the question of expense as compared with garden-culture, field-culture, with its comparatively superior return, is at least performed at one-half the outlay. The conclusion we wish to draw is one which has been advocated before in these pages, if our memory serves us right, and that is, the abandonment of kitchen-gardening in walled-in enclosures, interrupted and mixed up with small fruit growing and fruit-trees, and migrating to some open field of good aspect, and sheltered by plantations or hedges, where the half pleasure-ground character of the kitchen-garden would be abandoned, and only two objects kept in view: first, the raising of the best possible vegetables; and second, keeping the ground entirely free of weeds, eschewing Box edgings, gravel walks, shears, rollers, and iron rakes, as well as brick walls.
There was once a period in the history of our country, and a long one, when the kitchen-garden was the orchard and flower-garden and pleasure-ground; indeed, the representative of all that is now meant by the gardens of a country residence. The Abbeys and Priories of olden times often had their orchard under their windows, like the farmer of the present day. The residence of the Russian landowner and gentleman, of one storey, thatched and of irregular shape, is surrounded by large kitchen-gardens, his ideas being only now on a level with ours of 200 years ago, so far as horticulture is concerned. Of course we do not speak of the palaces of the Woronzows or Nessel-rodes or Gortschakoffs. Nowadays in the country our idea of beautiful gardens does not embrace brick walls or half acres of Cabbages but green lawns, and walks of gentle curvature bright and smooth, and shrubberies, and specimens of the trees of many climes - of the empire, in fact; of China and Japan, and the far west land facing the North Pacific, and maybe from the mountains, the tops of which our soldiers are now espying far away in the horizon, capped with snow, beyond the Khyber. We like to keep our kitchen-gardening out of sight of our drawing-room windows, as we would our turnip-fields, and there really is some other reason why we should do so besides the one of taste.
The kitchen-garden not now engaging its former place as a part of the pleasure-grounds, is in consequence often much neglected, and the labour drawn away to the pleasure-ground proper; the vegetable crops are, therefore, not so good as they might be, and the kitchen-garden untidy besides, as now arranged with rows of fruit-trees, obstructing operations, and overhanging crops, Box edgings to be clipped and mended and kept clean, gravel walks to be kept smooth, half the labour is absorbed in unproductive work; and, moreover, the necessary quantities of manure are deposited on the soil, and subsoils removed under much difficulty and really excessive labour. Another good reason why field-gardening should be substituted for vegetables is, that hardy fruits of all sorts would be much better grown entirely separate from the vegetable crops. The digging among fruit-trees for vegetable crops destroys the fibrous-feeding roots, which ought to be encouraged and top-dressed; it is a very general practice to utilise the space among and under fruit-trees for vegetables, but it is certain that no vegetables worth the name can be grown under the branches or over the roots of standard fruit-trees.
We have recently inspected several private gardens, where the kitchen-garden was simply a field, the ground laid out in long parallel spaces of about 10 yards wide, with a pathway between, wide enough to admit of a cart passing, made of cinders, but with no attempt at edgings of any sort - the spaces devoted to Sea-kale, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Herbs, Horse-radish, and all perennial things being by themselves, the rest of the ground being cultivated by the plough, and none but the cheapest labour employed - that is, common labourers under the head gardener. The country cottagers' shows vouches for their capacity; and we are bound to say that a sturdy high quality of vegetables were produced different from the produce grown among trees and drawn up by over shelter.
On this matter of shelter we are inclined to the suspicion that, after all, brick walls are not so good as hedges; that even Avails are not enough without, again, a certain amount of shelter from trees. There is shelter behind a wall if the wind blows perpendicular to it; but if it blows at an angle, it rushes along the face of the wall and the border fronting it with increased and cutting force, consequently it is frequently found necessary to plant short cross hedges to impede the force of the wind, and woe betide the vegetables which happen to be in a corner when the wind blows - inside and outside a corner there is always an eddy. The hedge has the effect, on the contrary, of both breaking the force of the wind and of filtering it, though thus obviating the parallel rush as experienced in front of a wall. We happen to be acquainted with a kitchen-garden of about 400 yards in length, by about 10 in width, which is peculiarly situated, and at first sight might be pronounced to have the most favourable advantages as to shelter. The position is no other than the bottom of the ditch which surrounds a fort. The ditch may be 30 feet deep, with a high Avail on the one side and a steep bank of earth on the other; there are various angles and straight lines, in the manner of a star.
Now down there the vegetables might be expected to grow in perfect tranquillity from all the winds which blow, but it is not so the place seems haunted with eddies and cutting currents at all times, and the vegetables have a poor time of it, to the great mystification of the gallant commandant who draws on our supposed wisdom. This is, however, the sort of shelter we believe that garden-walls give, but in an aggravated form - indeed no shelter at all, unless complemented by surrounding hedges and plantations: and the question is whether garden-walls in these days might not be entirely dispensed with so far as shelter is concerned; and certainly from an economical point of view, and as objects of taste, they are entirely unnecessary so far as vegetables are concerned; and they are fast losing their prestige in the culture of fruits. But let the existing walled garden be devoted to fruit-trees, which of themselves break the force of the wind, and in those days of high-priced labour and refined gardening, let the kitchen be supplied from the field, where the necessary skill to secure good vegetables is only of the field standard.
The Squire's Gardener.