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.
In the July number of 'The Gardener' there occurs the following passage by Mr Hinds in connection with this topic: "I am ready to yield to every grower what I claim for myself - viz., that of knowing my own wants and circumstances best, and therefore that I have a right to choose for myself whatever course seems best to adopt; but the aspect of affairs is altered if I recommend for general cultivation what is in fact but a foible of my own." Now there is nothing whatever to complain of in this excellent "piece of morality." The passage is worth remembering by us all, and if I make use of it here in a way that is not particularly acceptable to your correspondent, he has himself to thank for it. Let your readers turn to Mr Hinds's calendarial writings on "Strawberries" in the 'Gardeners' Chronicle, and see for themselves how his precept and his practice correspond.
Not to go back more than the last few weeks, he has in one place sarcastically described those who differ from him in his peculiar notions as following "the practices of their grandfathers; " in another place he has referred to his neighbours as pursuers of "the merest phantoms," which are not "resorted to where high-class gardening is carried out;" and again, he has broadly accused his compeers generally of ignorance how to grow certain Strawberries that did not suit "their wants and circumstances," - informing them in the most courteous manner that those who condemn such and such varieties as do not find favour with him, "do so because they do not know how to grow them" (!). These are some of the examples of toleration towards his neighbours that Mr Hinds sets when he has "a foible of his own " to recommend. In his paper in 'The Gardener, he says "Black Prince Strawberry is not worth growing after February." After that date, however, I can grow plenty of berries of it 5 inches or more in circumference; and I have sold it, as I can prove, in April at from 15s. to 25s. per pound.
Were I to apply the same test to Mr Hinds, therefore, that he is in the habit of applying to his neighbours, I might very justly say that he condemns Black Prince "because he does not know how to grow it." Except it be the market-growers, who grow Sir Charles Napier for its appearance sake only, Mr Hinds stands alone almost among private gardeners as its champion.
And now I am going to analyse one or two of Mr Hinds's "foibles" in Strawberry-culture, which are so much superior, according to his own account; and I think I will show before I have done who it is that follows the practices of their grandfathers, and "pursue phantoms," etc. etc.; and moreover, that Mr Hinds has not apparently made up his own mind on the subject of which he writes, and which I imagine to be an essential qualification in those who aspire to teach others their duties. In 'The Gardener' some time ago, and in the 'Chronicle' lately, he has, as usual, been correcting "a fallacy" of his neighbours'. This "fallacy" consists in supposing, according to Mr Hinds, that Strawberry plants for forcing can be got up properly in less than two years. Most, indeed all, Strawberry-growers raise their plants and force them at the end of the same year and beginning of the next; but if Mr Hinds wanted plants to force - say in 1881 - he would begin to propagate stock in 1879. In case I may be credited with exaggerating, I will give Mr Hinds's own directions.
In preparing plants for forcing he " every year," layers in pots plants which he does not force that year but plants out in August. If these show a crop of fruit the season following, he cuts it off and reserves the plants for producing runners for forcing exclusively, which runners are layered in turn and forced the succeeding year. Thus he occupies a piece of ground to no purpose for a whole year, and to accomplish that which any other Strawberry-forcer accomplishes equally well in one year! and this is the practice recommended in the 'Gardeners' Chronicle' by one who accuses his neighbours of being behind the times! Like most Strawberry-growers, we also make autumn plantations, but not every year, nor yet with the special object of getting runners from them, but for a crop. At the present time our autumn-planted runners are producing an enormous crop - nearly 200 berries to each stool. These, if we followed Mr Hinds's advice, we should destroy, and keep the plants for next year's forcing-plants - 1880! If Mr Hinds had anything to show in support of the practice he advocates, it would be different, but he has not.
We have seen the best forced fruit he was able to produce at the most favourable season of the year, both pot-plants and gathered fruit, and while we quite willingly admit it was good, still it was no better than that of his neighbours, and certainly not so fine as many examples we have seen by other growers who propagated their plants in a much speedier manner. But the queer thing about Mr Hinds's practice is, as he tells us, that his object is to procure runners earlier than he would otherwise do. "Earliness in procuring the runners is an object always to be aimed at." Old forced plants planted out, he says, do not produce runners early enough - not so early as his autumn-planted runners, which must at that rate put out runners very easy indeed; but after all this trouble in getting runners so early in the season, what does he do with them when he has them % Why, keeps them till the end of July, when most people have their stock potted and growing. His objections to potting even his earliest plants before the middle or end of July are that the plants get too much pot-bound! In all our experience we never heard of a gardener complaining on this head.
To have the roots in a matted condition that one could almost play at football with them, we thought, was the aim of every one who understood their culture - but we live and learn, or rather unlearn!
As regards Vine-leaves and their size in relation to fruitfulness, Mr Hinds is just as unfortunate as he is about Strawberries. He "can prove," he states, "that the roots are in the worst possible condition (!), and the Grapes far from being what would be expected," when they produce fine leaves; but his statement simply proves that he is without experience as to all the conditions under which large and fine foliage may be produced for many years in conjunction with unfailing and heavy crops of fruit of the first quality. Our own motto is, "Get good foliage - the larger the better if matured - and the fruit will take care of itself,' and that motto I have never had occasion to alter, as I could show your correspondent at the present moment, and could have done for years back; but I can furnish him with evidence that he will perhaps be more disposed to credit.
The first lesson I received on this head was at Dalkeith about 1856 or '57. At that period there was a house of pot-Vines there bearing one of the finest crops of Grapes I ever saw. This house is alluded to in Mr Thomson's book on the Vine. The plants were the admiration of all who saw them, and the leaves were as remarkable as the fruit - some of them, if I remember correctly, measuring 14 inches or more in diameter, and samples, I think, were sent by Mr Thomson to Dr Lindley, then editor of the 'Gardeners' Chronicle.' The next example was at Floors Castle, during the late Mr Rose's time. I did not see them myself, but I remember well Mr Thomson saying of them that a finer crop or finer berries in all respects he never saw, and that the Vine-canes and the foliage were equally remarkable for their size and vigour. In either of these cases will Mr Hinds venture to say that the Vines were in the "worst possible condition "? and will he tell us why, if a pot-Vine may have large leaves with advantage, a planted-out Vine may not 1 There are conditions in which big leaves may not indicate good crops, as Mr Hinds's experience seems to confirm; but when leaves and wood are well ripened, as they can be, the stronger they are the better, and all practice and theory corroborate this view: and I ask Mr Hinds to point to one single example, if he can, of a fine crop of large bunches, well finished, that were not accompanied by good foliage of proportionally large size.
All the large-bunching varieties of the Vine like the Barbarossa and Syrian, or large-berried like the Gros Colman, Golden Champion, and Duke, produce extra large leaves, as is well known; and the first sign of a good crop on any variety, other things being right, is large leaves and good wood. I may just state, in conclusion, that the reason I have taken notice of Mr Hinds's paper is, that though he does not name me, I was a principal party in the "discussion in a contemporary" to which he alludes, and which it would appear induced him to pen his " Remarks on Fruit-culture." J. S., W.
P.S. - The following are the dimensions of Vine-leaves here on different varieties: Hamburgs, 14 and 15 in.; Golden Champion (monstrous berries), 14 in.; Duke, 13 in.; Golden Queen, 14 in.; Venn's Muscat, 13 in.; Gros Colman, 14 in. All the Vines, Hamburgs excepted, are growing in an inside border exclusively, and in an impenetrable bottom; and all are carrying heavy crops without a bad berry in the lot, and the Hamburgs have been doing so for twelve years constantly. Golden Queen, Venn's Muscat, Gros Colman, and the Hamburgs are carrying a crop, as near as I can estimate, probably very little, if any, under 30 lb. to the 19-feet rod, and many bunches were cut off. Royal Muscadine, with fine leaves of its kind, is bearing at a not much less rate; and the bunches, not yet finished swelling, measure 9 inches in length and 8 inches across the shoulders. All the Vines are planted about 22 inches apart. Black Hamburgs nearly ripe and colouring quite black; berries generally about 1 inch in diameter. Having given the size of the leaves, I think it necessary to furnish these particulars as well. The leaves, I should also say, are the largest on the Vines, and are from the laterals and main rods both.
The pot-Vines at Floors bore 14 bunches each; and at Dalkeith the plants mentioned occupied a pit 30 feet long by about 7 feet wide, and bore 200 bunches. - (See Book on the Vine.) J. S., W.