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.
If the experience of the past season will only awaken gardeners and their employers to the gravity of future prospects of what are commonly called hardy-fruit crops, and cause them to inquire into the reason of the present dearth of fruit for ordinary supply, the empty fruit-rooms of this season, and the insipid and wretched appearance of what little they contain, will not have occurred in vain.
Clearly it is the duty of every gardener who is intrusted with the charge and management of any garden establishment of importance where the outlay is heavy, to bring all the experience of practical observation to bear upon the subject. The agricultural depression is being inquired into by practical agriculturists, assisted by gentlemen of great commercial knowledge and experience, and all the details of cropping, as well as the whole machinery of the system, are to be thoroughly sifted.
Is the practical gardener less intelligent than the majority of farmers? and are gardeners less capable of propounding schemes for the better management of gardens under the altered climatal conditions of Great Britain? I might almost say of Continental Europe, with little exception, during the present year.
I wish I could define the position as clearly in words as I fancy I understand it in thought; the matter would be easily accomplished.
At present most kitchen-gardens are enclosed by four brick walls, the cost of which was no inconsiderable item of expenditure. The south wall is generally occupied with forcing-houses, which answer the purposes for which they are intended admirably, and from a commercial point of view, when successfully managed, leave a very handsome profit on the right side of the balance-sheet.
The kitchen-garden, if economically managed and cropped, will also yield a good return for the labour expended upon it, besides having a constant supply of crisp, fresh vegetables, which cannot be purchased in good condition at some seasons of the year at any price.
The keep of pleasure and ornamental grounds are frequently, and, as I think, very unfairly, included as bad debts against the paying departments of the garden, but I have nothing whatever to do with them here.
We have now three walls left - the east, which is usually occupied with Apricots and Pears; the west with Plums, with perhaps a stray Peach or Nectarine at the most favourable angle connecting the two walls; and the north is usually employed for growing Morello Cherries and Kitchen Plums.
The north wall on the south side, where the situation renders it practicable, is generally furnished with Peach and Apricot trees. Now for results. Most of the Apricot and Peach trees on south walls are dead this year, and will have to be replaced. There were a few Plums on west walls; but on north situations they cracked on approaching the ripening stage, through constant saturation, and were for the most part rendered unfit for use; and Morello Cherries, which were laden with blossom, dropped nearly all their fruit about or previous to the stoning period. This is no coloured or exaggerated statement, but a simple revelation of painful facts. In the formation of new gardens the altered conditions of climate would suggest to any ordinary observant eye that bare brick walls are a misnomer of the past; and whether gardens of the future are to be large or small, I think there will not be much difficulty in propounding a more profitable mode of enclosure than the piling together of a lot of bricks.
The cheapness of glass, and now the lowering of artisans' wages, together with the skill of the modern horticultural builder, with the practical gardener "guiding the helm,' would, I think, enable us, if we only put our heads together, to devise a plan which would supplant the present unprofitable one of enclosing gardens.
All previous experience points to glass-houses as being the best substitutes for brick walls. The houses should be light and roomy, and have a flow and return hot-water pipe along the front, for the purpose of equalising the discrepancy between the day and night temperatures in the spring.
Unheated houses are certainly better than bare walls, but the addition of a little piping would be more than compensated for in value in a good succession of regular crops. Span-houses would give a double crop, and are very accommodating for giving air in boisterous weather: raised restricted borders would be the idea, as giving a minimum of labour and quick returns. When piercing winds are prevalent in the spring, the situation might be modified by the skill of the architect, so that heat enclosed in the afternoons of sunny days, or artificial heat otherwise supplied, would not be absorbed by radiation. The better class of fruits - such as Peaches, Plums, Cherries, and Apricots - might be more condensed in area; and Pears, which seem to do better than anything else, might still occupy the bare walls.
In addition to the regular crops of fruit, there would be early crops of Potatoes, French Beans, and Peas ad libitum - delicacies which greengrocers know how to charge for early in the London season. So much for new gardens, some one may say, but what about the old ? My answer is, that one-half the expense is already laid out where there are existing walls already furnished with fruiting trees. Cover the walls or some portion of them with glass, and have regular crops of fruit and crops of early vegetables, which, I dare venture to assert, are a costly commodity to London families during the months of April and May.
I know a range of fruit-houses in the neighbourhood of Liverpool 101 yards long, where the back wall is covered with stone fruit-trees which produce never-failing crops, and the borders supply early crops of Peas, Potatoes, Beans, Cauliflowers, salading, etc, which are invaluable, and which at that time of year could hardly be purchased for love or money. The protection of fruit-trees in flower by means of Fern litter, spruce branches, tiffany, and all the other remedies, which are as numerous as patent medicines, are proved to be a perfect sinecure, and nothing short of some really effective remedy should be discussed by practical horticulturists in future. Let the financial bearings of both sides of the question be fairly compared, and I feel confident that only one result will follow. W- Hinds.
Canford Gardens, Dorset.