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.
Outdoor crops of these having been unusually good, both in quantity and quality - at all events in the southern and midland counties of England - the demand for young trees will inevitably be extraordinary. Many of us were beginning to despair of success again crowning our efforts; but those who fortunately have continued to replace their debilitated old specimens with healthy youngsters, have this season been rewarded as their perseverance deserved. The winter of 1879-80 was remarkably destructive among Peach and Nectarine trees; the old trees especially, with their impaired vitality and badly ripened growths, being most extensively killed. The younger trees escaping comparatively uninjured, subsequently formed excellent growth, and this being well ripened, was uninjured during the past severe winter - hence the above result.
To a certain extent we are independent of the outdoor Peach and Nectarine crops, and, as a consequence, no thorough attempt has been made to replace the fine specimens that only a short time since occupied our walls. This being so, I propose to write upon what has been accomplished by others, notably Mr Goodacre at Elvaston Castle Gardens, near Derby, and Mr W. Taylor, Longleat, Wilts. The success of the former is the most remarkable, owing to the unfavourable position of the garden - being almost on a level with the river Derwent, rendering it almost impossible to drain; and when it is stated that the soil is a heavy retentive clayey loam, it will be readily conceded that in such a garden it must be "Peach-growing under difficulties." Yet here is to be seen a long and high south wall, beautifully furnished with standard and dwarf trees, trained in the old-fashioned fan system, which at the time of my visit (end of August) were heavily cropped with ripening fruit. It would be useless to plant trees in such a soil as this, and on the ordinary level, consequently the whole of the border, to a depth of about 30 inches and 10 feet wide, was thrown out, a drain laid from each tree to the main pipe, over these being spread a layer of stones, clinkers, etc., and as much fresh turf as could be procured, worked in with the best of the old soil and mortar-rubbish. This brought the back of the border when settled to about 18 inches above the ordinary level; and as the trees when established were freely mulched with manure, and no vegetables permitted on the Peach border, the roots are easily kept near to the surface, as they should be.
At Longleat, also, an unusual difficulty is experienced with Peach and Nectarine culture, but this is not apparent to a superficial observer. Mr Taylor has nothing to complain of with regard to elevation; but he appears to have a soil to deal with that is very unsuitable to the Peach. This is composed principally of a strong clayey loam, without the slightest trace of lime - a remarkable fact, seeing how abundant the latter is in the district. Whether this affects the longevity of the trees I am unable to say. One thing is certain, their life is a "short one;" and it is equally certain, under Mr Taylor's management, it is a " merry one." His method of training, as recently described in the pages of the 'Journal of Horticulture,' is original, and decidedly worthy of general imitation. In the first place, he commences with maiden or unformed plants, giving the preference to those that have formed a well-ripened growth about a yard long. When received in November, they are planted 4 feet apart, and uprightly against a south wall.
To continue in his own words, and which I cannot do better than copy verbatim: "The knife is not to be used at all the first winter, unless it is to cut off a small side-shoot or two which may be formed; but this is not really necessary, and I generally leave them on and tack them to a wall. When the plants have made growths 2 or 3 inches long in spring, which they will do in abundance, some of these must be selected along each side of the stem, at intervals of about 9 or 10 inches, which must be carefully looked after and trained outwards, with about the same slope as the roof of a slated house; the other shoots, where crowded, may be carefully thinned by taking some of them off close to the stem, but leaving as many as there is room for to clothe the stem and assist circulation, merely stopping them to four or five leaves. The second year will see the wall nearly covered, and bearing a few fruits; while the third, should the season be favourable, will bring a full crop, and every other tree will require removal." He further remarks, he has a " good length of wall in this happy condition," and confesses to being "not a little proud of it;" and with good reason, for heavier crops of highly coloured fruits I have not seen, whether under glass or on the open wall.
The only protection used in spring was a board-coping a foot wide, and ordinary fish-nets - this proving sufficient to ward off what is popularly, if erroneously, termed 9° of frost.
No doubt the introduction of earlier kinds of Peaches and Nectarines has had a stimulating effect upon their culture in the open air, as these seldom fail to ripen, however unfavourable the season may be. Of Peaches, the earliest is Rivers's Early Beatrice; this being closely followed by a superior variety - Early Louise; and two other excellent early sorts are Early Rivers and Hales's Early, provided, however, the latter is procured true to name. Grosse Mignonne probably would not succeed in northern districts, but I have had it remarkably good under that name, and synonyms such as Padley's Early Purple, Neal's Early Purple, and Royal Kensington, both in the midland and southern counties. Noblesse has succeeded well in many districts this season, and the handsome Bellegarde has been exceptionally fine, and should be included in every collection. Of later varieties Barring-ton and Walburton Admirable are, I believe, unsurpassed. Sea Eagle, in a friend's garden near here, the soil of which is remarkably light and chalky, and therefore unsuited to Peach-culture, was very prolific and good, and is strongly recommended.
The list of Nectarines, though short, yet includes several excellent varieties. Of these Lord Napier, a comparatively early variety, raised by Mr Rivers, has won golden opinions in all directions on account of its earliness, productiveness, large size, and good quality of fruit. Hunt's Tawny, Pitmaston Orange, Balgowan, and Downton, have all at different times proved very profitable with me, and not always under favourable circumstances.
In late unfavourable districts the preference should be given to south walls for Peaches and Nectarines; but in warmer districts, and on light soils, they frequently succeed admirably on west and even east walls. Some of the best crops I have yet secured in the open were from an east wall in an exposed garden in Shropshire. The precaution, however, was taken to keep the roots well supplied with moisture, and the frigi-domo blinds down when easterly winds prevailed early in the season. On a south-east wall here they have hitherto proved a complete failure; but I shall unhesitatingly "try my hand" with them in the same position. W. Iggulden.