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.
At the commencement of these papers I took occasion to point out how, in many instances, the wall-borders are far too narrow to rightly admit of being cropped with vegetables, as the preparation for these much interferes with the roots of the fruit-trees. Where, however, a liberal quantity of manure is given, and the digging performed once only during the year - say either late in the autumn or early in the spring - not so much harm results; indeed it is very probable the fruit-trees derive more nourishment from this and the supplies of liquid manure administered to some crops, than they would receive were they the only occupants of the borders. This may appear somewhat contradictory, but it is not so in reality. What I mean to say is this : the majority of wall-borders are inadequately manured, are dug and cropped without any regard being paid to the lawful and really most valuable occupants - viz., the fruit-trees trained to the walls. If more attention was paid to the roots of these, we should see fewer walls furnished, or rather partially furnished, with inferior trees. For an illustration of my argument, I have only to step into the garden now under my charge.
I here find splendid walls, which are now almost in as good condition as when built a century since; good, deep, well-drained soil, and plenty of available moisture. Unfortunately the borders* are narrow, and these appear to have long been heavily cropped, in common with the remainder of the garden. In one instance the borders near a west wall have for many years been filled with herbs, few of which were ever replanted or manured. As a consequence of all this, the trees, with the exception of the Pears and three large Apricots, are now in a very poor plight, the old ones gradually dying, and those planted of late years making little progress, mildew being prevalent on all the Peaches and Nectarines; all this resulting, I firmly believe, from the dry impoverished state of the borders. It may be said I am forming rather too hasty an opinion on the subject. If after more liberal treatment I find this to be the case, I will retract: I mention it at the present time, simply because I intend writing in this number upon what should not be grown on wall-borders, and refer to this not because it is a solitary instance of mismanagement, but rather because it will not injuriously affect those responsible.
In a great many gardens the herbs are grown on wall-borders, and, as at this place, are almost undisturbed for many years. In our case, in addition to the herbs, we found a row of Violets and Chrysanthemums where possible to plant them, at the base of this and all the walls. Consequently the border, from the wall to the edge and to its full depth, was robbed of all fertility all the year round. No wonder the Apricots were dry and poor, and the Pear-trees (cordons) never perfected their fruit. Those who have Violets or herbs, including well-established Parsley on wall-borders, will do well to examine the soil under them. The result of the investigation, unless I am much mistaken, will be a decision to form fresh Violet and herb quarters. I am aware the herbs are very conveniently situated when near the walks; but if they cannot be shifted to the opposite side of the walks, owing to more fruit-trees being in possession, what is to hinder planting a few lines on the inside of the fruit-trees % As I have endeavoured to point out in these papers, the wall-borders can be cropped more profitably with temporary crops, as opposed to the most injurious permanent crops (with which I ought to include Strawberries, should these be retained beyond one or at the most two seasons); and it is quite certain that new beds of herbs are not only easily formed, but they are also very much improved by the process.
Of course if the Violets, Strawberries, and herbs were annually replanted, the ground on these occasions receiving heavy dressings of manure, not much harm would result; but it is a curious fact how little attention is paid to the herb quarters especially, seeing how regular is the demand for some of them. How many there are who fail to maintain a supply of Parsley ! and even Mint, Tarragon, and Sage are very scarce at times when they ought to be available, and that, too, with but little trouble. In conclusion, a few further remarks on herb-culture may not be out of place.
Here it has been the practice to sow Parsley on a south border for winter use; but although the object in view has been attained, the practice will not be imitated by me, owing to the incessant tramplings in all weathers when the Parsley is picked, rendering the ground solid and poor, and not easily recovered to a workable condition. The Parsley is this season sown in quantity in lines near to, and between, the commoner fruit-trees in the open, where it will be quite as accessible, and less injurious. Some of the hardiest Parsley I have yet seen was grown entirely in the open. The seedlings should always be thinned out freely, as it improves the quality and robustness of the growth.
With the majority of herbs annual propagation is not necessary; but as a rule, young plants of all will be found most profitable, as well as less unsightly. Old plants again, of Tarragon and Sage especially, frequently fail, if picked closely or from frost; whereas a few two-year-old plants will yield endless pickings. The former should, during the spring months, be divided and replanted on good fresh soil; and of Sage young plants may be obtained, either by pulling off, during April, small branches, and firmly dibbling in these on a north border, - by cuttings, made in June or July, of the current year's growth, dibbling these in hand-lights in a cool position, - or by seed sown on a warm border in April. The young plants should not be allowed to flower, and they will soon spread. Mint is much improved by being occasionally divided and replanted, and does not require a warm sheltered position. A fresh stock of Fennel can easily be had by sowing seed in March and April. The common and pot Marjorams can be divided and transplanted in the spring months; and the winter Sweet Marjoram is annually sown in April or early in May. Penny-royal can be divided and replanted at almost any season of the year.
Good-sized branches of Rosemary, if pulled off during March or April, and dibbled in a shady border, will root freely, and form nice plants for moving in the following spring. The different varieties of Thyme can easily be propagated by division, and soon grow to a good size. Summer Savory is obtained by sowing seed in a warm position during April; and the winter Savory is usually increased by division of the old roots, either in March or April. Sorrel is often seen in undisturbed possession of a warm border, when in reality it would succeed better in a cooler position. Probably in the majority of gardens it is unnecessarily grown, and the ground it occupies might well be devoted to other purposes. To have large succulent leaves, the roots should be divided and replanted every two or three years. It should be cut over when inclined to run to seed. Chives should also be replanted occasionally : they are very useful for salads. Both Sweet and Common Basil are raised from seed. There may be other kinds than the above; but according to my experience, cooks now do not use but few varieties of herbs, although it is perhaps advisable to grow them in case they should be asked for.