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.
A London market-garden is ever an instructive place to visit, and this being one that has always borne a high reputation, we felt certain to be much interested, and were not disappointed. This market-garden is famous for the production of fruit, and Plums, Apples, Pears, Currants, and Gooseberries are the leading features. It is in three or four divisions: one lies eastward of the Chiswick Gardens, another southwards, and further plots westward; and it is on one of these that Mr Dancer resides. The soil is that rich black loam found along the valley of the Thames, and which is so suitable for market-gardening purposes.
This paper is intended as a record of certain features presented in these grounds as we walked through them. It was just in the midst of the Plum season, and, allowance being made for the extraordinary fruitfulness of the Plum this season, the crops were of a wonderful character. It was computed that the yield of Plums for this season was four thousand bushels, and Mr Dancer stated that the difficulty was to procure a sufficient number of hands to pick and pack them, and conveyances to take them to Covent Garden Market.
We had an excellent guide and companion in Mr A. F. Barron, of the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens, and our explorations commenced at the eastern portion of the grounds. Here we saw large plantations of the Victoria or Alderlin Plum, a variety that is well known and extremely useful for culinary purposes. The trees were both of bush shape and of the standard form also. and all were bearing very heavy crops. This is a bad dry-season Plum, because, being a great bearer and the crop very thick, the fruit does not swell out, and it is therefore small in size. In a wet season it is much larger. This Plum finds a ready sale in Covent Garden Market, and large quantities are sent on to Glasgow, Manchester, and other places in the north. The Victoria Plum is a capital tree with which to fill up blanks in orchards; it does not mind a crowded position; and when a tree decays in one of his plantations, if the spot be at all confined, M r Dancer plants a Victoria Plum. Another staple Plum was Gisborne's, a roundisli oval-shaped fruit of a yellowish-green colour, that is also a prolific bearer, and comes in rather earlier than the Victoria; it is of somewhat coarse quality, but makes excellent preserves, etc.
Underneath these Plum-trees, and near them, were plantations of red and black Currants, which are grown to a very great extent. Between the Currant-trees were rows of purple sprouting Broccoli, which grows well on poor soil and in little room. This is a variety of Broccoli that gets overlooked because of its coarse appearance, but when cooked it is a delicious and finely-flavoured vegetable, and one that is gradually finding its way into the gardens of large establishments.
A good quantity of that fine dessert Plum known as Jefferson's is also largely grown, though not so extensively as the Victoria. Another was Richardson's, a black Plum something after the Mussel character, and an enormous cropper. Hundreds of bushels of it are grown, as it is a particular favourite of Mr Dancer's. It bears a high character as a cooking Plum.
There was also a very large number of Gooseberry bushes, among which had been planted pyramid trees of Cox's Orange Pippin Apple. Mr Dancer grows a great lot of this fine variety between the bushes, the trees being planted 12 feet apart each way. This is a great improvement on the old plan of standard trees, under which nothing would grow. These bush-trees bore heavy crops of fine fruit. Instead of putting various kinds of Apples in a plantation, as of old, Mr Dancer and others form a plantation of the same variety; by this means a piece of ground is cleared at the same time, and recropping is not retarded. Near these, and skirting one side of a walk, was a line of fine young standard trees of the Wellington Apple, heavily cropped - a sort that sells well, and brings a good price.
A plantation of Red Currants here shows considerable variation. It is seen in the habit of growth, shape of berry, and fruitfulness. Mr Dancer grows very largely of one variety he has selected, which bears very abundantly on young and small trees, to such an extent as to produce crops equal in extent to that seen on trees as large again of the old variety. He has no particular name for it, but is content to have an exceedingly abundant bearer.
At this point Pears came into view, for a change of crop is seen as each plantation is passed by. Louise Bonne of Jersey could be seen bearing great crops, grafted on the Quince stock, the fruit of fine quality: there was more than an acre of this variety, and it is considered to be one of the best and most profitable Pears grown. Between lines of pyramid Apples could be seen Potatoes, and between the rows of Potatoes Savoys, for a winter crop.
Of Poupart's Plum a great quantity is grown; it is a medium-sized reddish-purple variety of excellent quality, and an abundant bearer, can be used for dessert or cooking purposes, and valuable because late. Rivers's Early Prolific is the earliest Plum grown: it is a round purple variety, like an Orleans, and the first of the group that finds its way into the market. Another was Prince of Wales, a round, reddish-purple, medium-sized Plum, a great bearer and a good kitchen sort, of the Orleans type also: a great quantity of this is grown, as it is a certain cropper year by year.
In odd corners away under the shade of trees, where nothing else would grow, patches of Rhubarb could be seen, and in such places it does remarkably well. Now followed a large piece of bush-trees of Small's Admirable Apple, about 4 feet in height, which bore a heavy crop of this excellent kitchen variety. These are worked on the Paradise stock. Succeeding these was another piece of Cox's Orange Pippin, the trees larger than any we had yet seen, the crops, as well as individual fruits, being very fine. To show how the London market-gardeners make the best use of their ground, it may be stated that the piece of land on which these Apples were growing produced last spring a good lot of early Cabbages; this was succeeded by early Potatoes, and before the Potatoes are lifted, lines of Savoy Cabbage for winter use are planted between the rows.