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.
As it is generally admitted that there are always two sides to a question, I suppose I may crave space to answer the criticism of your correspondent J. S. W., who has given us a rather lengthy discourse on fruit culture, consisting chiefly of short paragraphs upon the practice of distinguished gardeners, which is already matter of horticultural history. The extracts quoted from the ' Gardeners' Chronicle' have certainly emanated from my pen, and they convey generally my candid opinion of certain scribes who, I suspect, do not persevere in the cultivation of certain varieties of fruit, and who, not having succeeded themselves, have the courage to condemn them on theoretical grounds, while inferior kinds are lauded to the skies. This I consider to be the misfortune of these writers - not my fault; although I regret, on personal grounds, that anything that I have written should hurt the tender susceptibilities of your correspondent! I will endeavour to take the points raised by J. S. W. seriatim, and I hope to be able to cause him to reflect upon the instability of a usually retentive memory.
The question between us is as to the merits of Black Prince as a forcing Strawberry, and now for the proof which is adduced in support of its merits.
We are informed by J. S. W. that he has sold Black Prince in the month of April, in Manchester, at twenty-five shillings a pound, but observe he does not say what time in the month of April, nor is there any account of the weight of fruit gathered from any given number of plants ! All we know is, that J. S. W. received twenty-five shillings for a pound of Strawberries some time or other in some month of April, and we are asked to accept this statement unsupported by a tittle of other evidence of any practical value as a favourable recommendation of Black Prince ! This proof need only be touched by the finger of sound reasoning, and, like other bubbles, it evaporates quickly into thin air. I have been offered two guineas for a pound of Strawberries in the month of April, and could have had any price that 1 liked at other times, had I been selling our fruit, for Strawberries for wedding-breakfasts, and other such occasions; and I daresay J. S. W. could have had the same if there were a famine in the market.
But we will assume for sake of argument that Black Prince would bring the same price per pound - which we know it would not - as Due de Malakoff or Underbill's Sir Harry. Who that knows the size and quantity of fruit that the two latter will produce would ever think of forcing Black Prince, when three times the weight of fruit, four times the size, and of far superior appearance, may be had from the same space 1 Just fancy J. S. W.'s Black Prince staged alongside such pots of fruit of the kinds I have mentioned, as I have seen time upon time, and there is an end of the poor Prince for the present generation. Shakespeare says - "Let's teach ourselves that honourable stop, Not to outsport discretion".
The next point we have to discuss is the merit of Sir Charles Napier as a forcing and dessert variety, and here I must borrow a leaf out of J. S. W.'s book, and quote a short extract from 'The Garden' of May 24th of the present year, at page 420, where J. S. W. describes Sir Charles as being a second or third rate kind, of vigorous constitution. Now the actual fact is just the reverse, and I regard this extraordinary statement as the most cogent and conclusive evidence that your correspondent is debating upon purely theoretical grounds with regard to this particular variety. Sir Charles Napier is one of the most tender Strawberries grown, notwithstanding that it is a prolific bearer under good cultivation.
It was the only variety under my charge last winter that required extra protection from the severity of the weather, and it was the only variety out of doors that was killed to the ground, although it was planted on a sloping dry bank of light well-drained soil, and this has been my experience of it for seven years. It is also a difficult variety to force well: the ordinary conditions applied in Strawberry forcing would ruin it in a week. I am of course writing of superior cultivation in pots, which does not by any means embrace the common run of everyday practice, where people are thankful for a few mediocre fruits, and write about them with as much apparent sincerity as if they were of first-rate quality and finish.
I have now to pass on to the most amusing part of our subject, where J. S. W. says I have nothing to show for the practice I advocate. Well, perhaps not, but we will see by-and-by. Your correspondent says he has seen our best effort in Strawberry forcing, and while admitting that it was good, still it was no better than our neighbours', and certainly not so fine as many examples he has seen by other growers. This piece of information evidently refers to the fruit exhibited last year at Leeds, and I have no reason to complain of my success at Leeds. I had two dishes of Strawberries there, one of which, "a seedling,' was "highly commended" by the judges, of whom one, upon his own account, is an authority on Strawberries.
I intend sending this seedling out by-and-by, and I hope J. S. W. will be pleased to accept a few runners as a memento of my visit to Leeds. The "curious " part of the business is, however, that my first-prize dish was Sir Charles Napier - by the way a "third-rate kind" - and J. S. W. was one of the judges. Now, according to J. S. W., the variety in the first place is a "third-rate kind," and in the next it is said to be "not so good " as other examples, and yet it is good enough to win the first prize by the very person who seeks to condemn it.
The winning dish was set side by side with British Queen, President, Sir Joseph Paxton, and Vicomtesse de Thury; and a few weeks previously I gained first prize for the same variety at Manchester in company with four different kinds, including President and Vicomtesse de Thury, - so it is evident that Sir Charles Napier is not such a bad thing, when well done, after all. I may also add, that Sir Charles was grown by special request of my late employer, for most of the principal parties during the London season, which, I suppose, may be taken as a little additional proof of its merit as a dessert fruit.