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 your last number I notice an article, signed X. S., on Grafting, in which the writer makes a statement to the effect that he has seen two or three dozens of Elms grafted on Beech, and that they are fifty years old. Having had considerable practice in this branch of horticulture, I feel deeply interested in this matter, particularly as it is totally-opposed to all my experience, as well as subversive of all the now universally accepted theories of vegetable physiologists - all of whom, to whose works I have had access, agree to the proposition "that plants on which grafting is practised must be botanically allied, or at all events there must be a similarity in the composition of the sap" (Balfour's 'Outlines of Botany; p. 414).
Belonging to two distinct and well-marked natural orders, and widely different in habit and general appearance, it seems to me that no such similarity or affinity exists between the plants in question. The fact stated is consequently of great importance as throwing new light upon the subject, and opening up a new field for investigation and experiment; and your correspondent deserves the best thanks of your readers for thus making it known. Meanwhile, however, it would be helpful to such an investigation if he would revisit the trees and make sure that there is no mistake, and, if convenient, give the locality, that others may have an opportunity of seeing them, so that the fact may be established beyond a doubt. - I am, yours, etc, A Reader.
I very much regret that in my remarks on Grafting, published in your February number, there is an error. In visiting the trees again to-day, according to the suggestion of "A Reader" in last number of the 'Gardener,' I found my memory had been so far treacherous that the stocks proved to be Hornbeam, and not Beech. I am very sorry for this error, and beg fully to apologise, for correctness is everything. However, in this case the error does not alter the fact, or render it less interesting, that Elm should grow on Hornbeam than on Beech. They are twin-brothers, of the same family and natural order, and I have a vague idea that both were formerly included in one genus. A friend of mine, who was with me when I was first shown these trees, published the fact in the 'Field' last autumn. I was told the Editor remarked that it was an uncommon case. "When I wrote for the 'Gardener,' I was not aware of this fact, that it had been published before. But there is no secret in the matter. The trees stand in Lord Petrie's Park, Thorndon Hall, Essex. Had these trees been allowed room, they would have been large. I measured one a little better off in that way than the rest; it was 4 feet 11 inches about 1 foot above the graft, and the stock 5 feet in girth about 1 foot below it.
There is, of course, a rough ring round at the point of junction. I presume we have yet much to learn on the subject of grafting, as well as on many other subjects. We are too apt to receive opinions without inquiry. Theories are propounded, and followed without thought, much less experiment; few men have patience to reason out an idea, fewer still to investigate closely; but where an informed mind is propelled by a strong love of nature, research will afford rich enjoyment. Dame Nature is more accommodating than is often supposed. What has she not yielded up to the patience of our hybridisers? Should the facts here touched upon lead inquiring readers to ponder the why and the wherefore, good may follow, which I am sure is the aim of your useful magazine. S. X.
[This correction of the error does not render the case less interesting - rather otherwise; for if there is any difference, the Hornbeam is more distinct from the Elm than is the Beech in the closeness of grain, etc. We have received from S. X. specimens of scion and stock, which leave no question about the matter; and his having named the spot where the trees can be seen, botanists and others interested can see for themselves].
Allow me to call the attention of your readers once more to this subject - not this time as an experiment in vegetable physiology, or to show what unnatural subjects may be made to unite together, but as a natural, though not very generally practised, process for attaining a very desirable end.
Take the case of fancy-leaved Geraniums, for instance; it is of importance that anything out of the usual way should be got into a large state as quickly as possible. To give an example: Calling on a nurseryman engaged in this branch of trade, I was shown a large plant of a fine variety, of quite recent introduction. I could not account for it until let into the secret, that the principal branches on an established plant of some common scarlet had been tipped each with a cutting or scion of the new favourite. Being in a gentle heat, the union was quick, and the clever propagator soon had the tops off for farther use.
What nice standards of some of the higher-coloured fancy-leaved sorts could be got in this way! Many of them are weak growers, but by being worked on vigorous stocks - a scarlet seedling, for instance - strength would be imparted, and a plant of beauty and usefulness would be the result. But, better still, what famous weeping Geraniums could be made by working any of the pretty Ivy-leaved varieties on tall stems! They could be grown like small Weeping Willows, and for conservatories, or anywhere indoors - for out of doors rough winds would smash them; but where they would be sheltered, I fancy few plants would be more effective. There are many other plants besides Geraniums on which grafting might be practised with advantage - but with these hints I leave the subject. S. X.