This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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.
Notwithstanding the books that have been written, and the gardening periodicals that have been filled weekly with information upon fruit-forcing and fruit-growing generally, there still seems to be a great difference of opinion among cultivators upon the subject. Not only is this the case with amateurs and persons who might be considered as inexperienced, but we also find fruit-growers of some repute differing upon the most fundamental principles of fruit-culture.
Now, in advocating the claims of any particular system of fruit-culture or anything else, if the "principle " is wrong the whole fabric of the argument must necessarily fall to the ground; and in the same way if any particular variety or varieties of fruit be extolled by any grower upon the narrow grounds that it has answered his own purpose, this theory, too, must of necessity evaporate in the presence of more accurate facts and results which have been proved beyond the region of mere assertions. I need hardly say that I refer to a recent discussion in a contemporary upon the relative merits of certain varieties of Strawberries, as well as to certain allegations that have been made regarding Vine-leaves being a sure proof of the quality of the crop.
As regards the Strawberries - the successful forcing of which requires thought, skill, and strict attention - I am ready to yield to every grower what I claim for myself - viz., that of knowing my own wants and circumstances best, and therefore that I have a right to choose for myself whatever course seems best to adopt; but the aspect of affairs is altered if I recommend for general cultivation what is in fact but a foible of my own.
The varieties that have been pitted against each other are Black Prince and Sir Charles Napier. I dismiss the former, because it is not worth growing after February, either for home consumption or for market purposes. The reason and the proof go together. The reason we do not grow Black Prince is because we can get three times the weight of fruit, of larger size and finer appearance, from the same space of Vicomtesse Hericart de Thury. We cannot ignore weight and quality any more than we can ignore the fact that Black Prince is simply a Strawberry for a warm outdoor border, and that it is a useful variety for preserving.
As to the merits of Sir Charles Napier, I have heard a good many opinions expressed about them. Some people object to its "acidity,"' others like it for a change, but call it a third-rate or market kind. I am, however, disposed to think that the principal objection some people have to it is that they have not discovered exactly the conditions under which it thrives best - or if they have, they have been very lax in their attention. Sir Charles Napier is one of the most tender Strawberries grown; it is the first to become injured either in the open ground or in pots from the effects of severe frost, and has also the objectionable habit of throwing up young leaves in the centre of the crown till late in the autumn, which renders it a subject that requires special attention. Our own practice has been to pot off the plants of this variety about the first or second week in August, and to remove all the side crowns during the growing season. The plants are always put in safe quarters (not necessarily covered) before frost sets in; and in the spring when they begin to grow they are at first brought forward in cold pits, and then placed in airy positions in orchard-houses or elsewhere where conditions are similar, but never forced unless under pressing circumstances.
Sir Charles is not a forcer, but when the fruits are colouring the temperature should be raised, and with plenty of air given at the same time the produce will be of the first appearance and quality. I have never seen Sir Charles beaten when properly grown and finished. It comes in well for the month of May, but when forced earlier the weather is not favourable enough to give as much air as the variety requires, and the leaf-stalks become drawn, to the detriment of the fruit.
As to Strawberry-forcing generally, I would like to say a word or two on behalf of beginners. It is a work which entails great patience and labour to do it well, and each cultivator should determine for himself the varieties which are best adapted for his own particular purpose. As, for instance, we see Vicomtesse de Thury and Keen's Seedling often recommended as being first-rate croppers in certain districts, but no reference is made to their travelling qualities - a point of great importance if the fruit has to be sent by rail a distance of two or three hundred miles. Keen's Seedling is one of the worst travellers, and the Vicomtesse should not be grown for travelling purposes after the end of April.
"When I was at Otterspool I began with Vicomtesse de Thury, next in order came Underbill's Sir Harry, and President, and then Sir Charles Napier, Dr Hogg, and James Veitch, in the order named. To grow a smooth-skinned Strawberry for travelling long distances is not good practice where appearance and high finish are expected.
With reference to the question of large Vine-leaves being any indication of superior Grape-culture, my own personal observation leads me to the conclusion that it is just the reverse. It is a sure sign that the Vines have "bolted" with the grower, and that they are galloping with a loose rein. Are the prize Grapes of our exhibitions, which are characterised by the highest finish, gathered from Vines with leaves like Chinese parasols, or are they the produce of Vines with medium leaves, leathery to the feel, with medium-sized wood hard and brown as haze? If any one is disposed to dispute the grounds of my argument, I will furnish leaves perhaps nearly 16 inches in diameter, from Vines, where I can prove that the roots are in the worst possible condition, and the Grapes are far from being what would be expected from Vines bearing such fine leaves. I think, if I may be allowed to draw a feeble comparison, the capacity of the Vine in many respects after a few years' high cultivation has never been satisfactorily estimated by their leaves, any more than a phrenologist is able to tell the quality or exact capacity of the human brain by feeling the bumps of a man's head.