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.
All the forced Strawberries at Otterspool were grown as if for exhibition during my time, but whether upon this solitary occasion J. S. W. saw our best effort is not for me to say - only my experience was, that the very hot weather of 1878 in the month of June was very trying, and was not the most favourable time for Strawberry forcing.
With respect to my mode of taking runners, I find J. S. W. has mixed things up in a bewildering fashion, and I will therefore detail my own practice in a few brief words, and give my reasons at the same time. I suppose it will be admitted that no labour is lost that tends to high cultivation in any department of horticulture; and if this be so, the object of taking runners for forcing from young plants will be manifest to all good cultivators. At present we have a large stock of runners in small pots; the best are potted up for forcing, and the next best are planted out in the open quarters for fruiting next year, the remainder being retained for supplying runners for next year's stock to be grown in pots. The short time their roots are confined in the small pots causes them to form a fine plump crown, and they consequently yield a good supply of extra large fruit the following year. That portion of the stock which is intended for supplying runners is planted in two zig-zag lines along the front of any spare border which has been enriched with good soil and manure; and these plants, for the same reason above given, produce early runners the following season.
The advantages are twofold, and in a season like the present, in late localities especially, cannot be overestimated, on account of their furnishing runners so much earlier than old plants. The runners, too, are of the finest description, being fully exposed to sun and air from the start, and are never drawn up, as they are when taken from between rows of old plants.
The crops of fruit are not trampled upon by those who layer the runners; and I find that a couple of smart youths can lay more runners in one day, when the plants are conveniently situated, than they could otherwise do in three.
The only extra labour involved in this work is that the plants are put into small pots, instead of being planted out later in the autumn, and the result is a fine crop of fruit in the one case, and a crop of healthy young plants for forcing purposes in the other.
J. S. W. says I have nothing to show for my labour, while I think it would be a waste of time for me to draw a comparison between a mere written assertion and the results of my practice, which I cannot for obvious reasons further refer to. There is mere assumption against well-known hard facts.
We now come to the Vine question, and I find J. S. W. assumes a more confident tone on the question of Vine leaves. It is curious - indeed amusing - to follow the freaks of your erratic correspondent in his horticultural controversies. Not long ago I was "called over the coals" for attributing to Mr W. Thomson a system of raising Vines from eyes, of which J. S. W. claims to be the author; but immediately the chill wind of adversity blows across his path, we find him, as if by instinct, wending his way back to Dalkeith for an example of Vine-growing to fling in the face of his opponent. I believe most people will admit that Mr William Thomson has grown and can grow Grapes. I have no hesitation in conceding that point. I have also had the pleasure of knowing Mr Rose personally, and of seeing his Grapes growing when he was in the heyday of his glory at Floors. I have further had the opportunity of hearing lectures from Mr Rose on the subject of Vine-growing and Vegetable physiology generally; but I fail to see the relevancy of these illustrations.
Have I disputed that Vines should be in a thoroughly healthy condition of leaf to produce good Grapes 1 I think not.
The point in dispute was raised in the following way: I observed by reading in the horticultural press that J. S. W. had sent some large Vine leaves to London, to be inspected as a proof of extraordinary Vine-growing. I thought this illustration one-sided altogether, and so I wrote an article to ' The Gardener,' condemning the practice of sending leaves without the fruit attached as being a proof of superior cultivation.
I daresay J. S. W., and perhaps others, may think that I am contesting this point for the sake of argument; but such is not the case, for I am so struck with the condition of some of the Vines here, that I am thinking (notwithstanding the distance) of sending a sample of wood and leaves to the Editor, so that he may express his opinion upon them. The wood and leaves are extraordinary, considering the state of the roots, and prove conclusively to my mind that many of our preconceived notions with regard to fruit culture will not, at all events in all cases, stand good.
J. S. W. admits that there are cases in which big leaves may not indicate good crops. Then where is the use of sending leaves that are not accompanied by fruit 1 J. S. W.'s motto is, Get good foliage, - the larger the better, if matured, Observe, if matured ! The point I contest is, the wisdom of growing leaves as big as J. S. W. would seem to recommend in our dull climate. I am challenged to furnish a single example of a crop of well-finished Grapes that were not accompanied by good foliage of proportionately large size. I gladly accept that challenge, but it must be distinctly understood that my idea of good foliage does not tally with that of J. S. W. I can honestly aver that the grand crops of Grapes - prize Grapes - grown by Mr Junnington of Calderstone Gardens, near Liverpool, Mr Mease of Wyncotte, and Mr Roberts of the same neighbourhood, and many others, of which those grown at Manor House, Claughton, Birkenhead, and the Garston Vineyard, are notable examples. In all these cases the foliage was clean, well-developed, and thick to the feel - or leathery, as the common phrase goes - but in no case were the dimensions of the leaves equal to that described by J. S. W. in the columns of ' The Garden.'
At the great fruit-show held in Pomona Gardens, Manchester, about four or five years ago, in the class for eight varieties of Grapes, the competition between Mr Upjohn of Worsley and Mr Hunter of Lamb-ton was so close, that there was some difference of opinion as to which should have been the winning collection, but ultimately Mr Upjohn's "fine finish" carried the day, notwithstanding the larger bunches exhibited by Mr Hunter. The finest bunches of Gros Colman I have ever seen exhibited on any table in England were shown at Liverpool, I think in 1873 or 1874, by Mr Upjohn, and the vines at Worsley do not carry those Brobdignagian leaves that we are told of by J. S. W.
I may be wrong in my opinion, but I have the courage to entertain it, that the Grapes from moderate growth of wood and leaf will always carry the sway in point of quality; while the notable characteristics of J. S. W.'s cultivation will be, generally speaking, big loose bunches, behind the day in everything except weight. I understand that the grand exhibition of Grapes made by Mr Hunter of Lambton, at Manchester, in 1873, as well as on other occasions, was the produce of Vines with exceptionally small foliage compared to the bunches.