This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
LAST month we advocated the growing of very limited selections instead of large collections of Apples, as being much more likely - as a general rule - to produce a greater abundance of fruit. The same rule, we are convinced, applies to every other variety of fruit, from the Pine-Apple to the Currant or Strawberry; and if this rule had been more frequently followed, the supply of fruits would, in numerous instances, have been much more satisfactory, and their culture to no inconsiderable extent simplified. Nor are fruits the only occupants of our gardens to which it would be well to apply the rule - vegetables and flowers, to our mind, require its application quite as urgently; always, of course, making the selections to suit the locality and the wants of the family.
We have often looked with something like pity at the one, or it may be, two or three vineries, into which have been crammed pell-mell ten or a dozen varieties of Grapes, many of them decidedly coarse and inferior; and for the mere sake of having so many varieties, the whole have to be trained much too closely together. Four, or six at most, of the cream of our present numerous varieties, allowed ample room, would yield a far more satisfactory supply of fine Grapes than double that number of varieties. When six of the cream of our Grapes are included in any extent of vineries, on what point, we would ask, would a good judge of Grapes regret the absence of any of the others 1 Would it not be well for horticultural societies in offering prizes annually - as they have done for some time now - for eight varieties of Grapes, to cut the number down to six, and specify the sorts that would be admissible? True, this might keep out our Syrians and Trebbianos, and others which have no merit, comparatively speaking, either in quality or in their culture. This might cause the exhibits to look less imposing to the general public who visit horticultural exhibitions; but to merely make the public stare should not by any means be either the alpha or omega of shows.
If anything comes within the legitimate scope of horticultural societies, it certainly is to encourage the culture of the finest, and not the coarsest, varieties, which latter are certainly not the crucial test of skilful or meritorious Grape culture. It is something like a shame to gull the public with monstrous bunches of coarse Grapes instead of educating them by bringing merit before them. We are certain that no Johnston, or Hunter, or Fowler, will ever think of pinning his reputation to his monster bunches of coarse sorts instead of to his fine Muscats and Hamburgs, etc.
These foregoing remarks apply with equal force to Pine-Apples, Peaches, etc. When three, or four at most, of Pine-Apples are cultivated, we doubt if the addition of another variety more would improve the selection in point of flavour and general usefulness. It would only be a waste of space to refer to other fruits, beyond again expressing our conviction that this rule applies to them all.
Turning to the Vegetable department, and taking, as illustrative of what we are contending for, Peas, Cabbages, and Lettuces, we have no hesitation in saying that in numerous instances one half of the varieties cultivated would greatly improve the character of the supply, and simplify the matter of sowing, naming, etc. Gardeners who have practised for many years, and who have the largest supplies to keep up, come to very much reduce their catalogue of vegetables instead of extending it, and so far differ from beginners and men of less experience.
Looking at flowers, of which there are many species or varieties, our rule might in many cases be applied with rather a sweeping hand. Take Roses as an instance. What a galaxy of names we find, many of which differ from others more in name than anything else, there being just a shade of colour and form of difference between many of them. Would it not be much the better way to select the best and most useful of several, which have so little difference the one from the other 1 A selection of three or four dozen of Hybrid Perpetuals, selected according to soil and climate, would be much more satisfactory in hundreds of cases than double that number.
We might run over the whole of Florist Flowers, Heaths, Azaleas, Orchids, etc. and still be within the limits of the applicability of this rule of moderate selections. To any grower who has a hobby or yearning, and room for mere collections, we have nothing to say; but to all who have a show and supply of flowers to produce for given purposes, we would say, make comparatively small selections and you will not regret it. It is the principle we act upon ourselves, and find it much preferable to collections for the sake of variety.