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.
"We have again arrived at the last monthly number for the year, and in summing up impressions of our magazine for the eleven months that have gone, we feel satisfied it has been a successful year, as far as the literary interest and usefulness of the matter it has contained is concerned; and also feel a conviction that the gardening periodicals of the country have, on the whole, fully maintained their position in general interest, as far as we are acquainted with them, and able to judge. It is also abundantly evident that the public interest in gardening matters is on the increase, as must inevitably be the case with the renewed prosperity of the country, and as polite and intellectual tastes with the many supersede the animal and merely sensational.
It appears also pretty clear that Horticulture has now at last broken loose from her leading-strings, and is able to walk alone - indeed, has taken to carry her old nurse on her back, and give her an airing in the country betimes. No doubt the old lady complacently fancies she has the good behaviour of her old foster-child still in her keeping; but it is evident to other eyes that she is in her dotage, while Horticulture is in the vigour of health and growth.
One of the most melancholy reminiscences of the year are the unfortunate squabbles of the Royal Horticultural Society, which seems yet as far from settlement as the Tichborne case: we wait with some interest the summing up of each when it comes. Many gardeners in the country begin to be puzzled what the Royal Horticultural Society really is, and if there be such a thing, inquire, what earthly use is it to gardening 1 The Society and Horticulture seem two distinct entities, and instead of the Society fostering gardening, it and gardeners generally are brought into contempt by the connection. The Society has a couple of gardens, one of which it cannot conscientiously call its own: dignity will not pay the rent, as Mr Micawber more than once found by experience. The other garden is the scene of little horticultural farces, at intervals - Peas, Potatoes, and Pelargoniums are made to show their paces before an interested public: we, in the country, are in respectful wonderment -whether it is all serious or only a pantomime.
All the great shows of the year have been attended with success, and been, on the whole, advances on former years, judging from the reports. Eath, however, did not improve on Birmingham; and is an exception from the fact of there being too many cooks spoiling the broth. Those shows are a sort of Siamese twin affair, two managements in one. One cannot work independent of the other, nor the two together, and nothing but the buoyancy of public interest in gardening could save the management from breaking down. Manchester fruit-show is fresh in every one's memory; it alone will in future mark the year as that on which the Lambton bunch of Grapes was shown.
The war of the Grapes has seen another campaign nearly finished. Unless the keeping battles be fought over again, there are a few sorts, which might be counted on the fingers of one hand, which nobody quarrels with, being faultless. There are other sorts to which faults are universally attributed. It has lately become the fashion not to abuse the faulty Grapes, but the stupid gardeners who cannot grow them. We do not admire this style of criticism; it simply gags discussion: but where one has a bad case, the best course is, abuse your opponent's attorney. The upshot will be that the faulty Grapes will certainly go out of cultivation. Few now grow the old but excellent Grape Chasselas musque, from its being such a determined cracker, a constitutional fault - or the Golden Hambro, from its tenderness of constitution.
The Madresfeld Court, a magnificent Grape, has undoubtedly the same faults as the Chasselas musque, and we have known it crack grown in pots, with the laterals half cut through, or tightly pinched with a coil of wire. Much can be done for it by inarching on other roots, and it must be grown as an early Grape, instead of for winter or autumn, so as to ripen in the heat of summer. We find it crack least inarched on the Hamburg in an early house; also as an autumn Grape inarched on an early stock, the Royal Muscadine.
Mr Simpson has done good service in calling so much attention to the subject of low night-temperatures for Vines. A high night-temperature is exhaustive and actually retarding to Vines, and other plants as well, under certain circumstances; as at night the Vine ought to be recruiting strength for the following day's growth with the light and heat of the sun. Of course there is a limit to the night temperature under which it would be unsafe to descend. The same shrewd writer has, we think, hit the mark about the potato disease; and he foreshadows the time when the Mid-Lothian farmer will indulge in a potato-garden of 50 acres covered with glass, to supply-potatoes with the beef he sends to the London market, a land of potato palaces: this is an idea for the future of Ireland. Seriously, the potato disease may, after all, be the result of meteorological conditions - some say electricity, some rain, some fog. The potato is a native of Peru, a perfectly rainless country, the high range of the Andes, according to Captain Maury, wringing every particle of moisture out of the trade-wind as it passes over the frozen peaks. No doubt the climate of Peru has determined it as the home of the potato, a case of natural selection; and no wonder though our moist and cold soils have induced disease.
This consideration fully bears out Mr Simpson's convictions on the subject.
Can any one explain how there came to be such swarms of bullfinches all over the country last winter and spring? they seemed to come suddenly in quantity as some insects are known to do - for instance, certain butterflies: did their numbers escape thinning from the mildness of the winter 1 We shot them in quantity, but still they came. Did they come over in flocks from the Continent, as wood-pigeons are known to do? But notwithstanding the scourge of finches, the fruit crop has been plentiful and fine, excepting Plums and Apricots; indeed the Apple orchards seemed better for the thinning of their buds. The Apple crop in the south has been magnificent, and many fine varieties have fruited as we never saw them before in the north. The cider-machines have been grinding and squeezing, not by any means a cleanly operation, which we are able to view from our cottage window, and which makes us mentally vow never to drink another drop of cider; but it is perhaps well that we have not seen all the processes of the kitchen before eating our dinner: even the making of wine is not a process of much nicety in its first stages.
Insect-pests are always a dread and source of much labour to gardeners. The phylloxera, which, however, we have never seen but in a woodcut, and do not wish to make further acquaintance with, has caused much alarm, and made gardeners very cautious about receiving Vines from nurseries. It seems proved that the insect can be imported with other plants as well as Vines. When this is the case, it will be difficult to prevent its gradual spread in the country. We all know from experience with mealy-bug how much care is required to prevent its introduction to a house, and when once there it is next to impossible to clear it. Has no one found a remedy against this soft-bodied insinuating pest, which has so large a circle of acquaintance 1 If we remember right, we were promised a wash for its eradication this year. Are there no more poisonous fumes than those of tobacco which can be used against insect-life and yet are innocuous to that of the plant? There must be. Liquids there are, certain death to the genus Coccus, and quite safe on all but the tenderest foliage; but price is the obstacle.
This has been eminently a controversial year. There have been, among others, a little Pea war, and rumours of a great Pea war: the claimants among Peas are becoming very numerous, with plausible pretensions difficult to prove. We have Supremes and Superlatives, Alphas and Omegas, the best of all - and probably among them the worst of all. Some of them might be recommended to Jack as rivalling his Bean-stalk: some are conspicuous, like other claimants, for size. Somehow we cannot get over an old prejudice in favour of Sangster, Ringleader, Ne plus ultra, and Veitch's Perfection. Good things invariably make their way: of these are Osborn's Bean and Beet, and Veitch's Cauliflower and Dwarf Erfurt for all seasons - though not a new thing.
In flower-gardening the progress has still further been in the way of carpet-bedding, with a greater use of really hardy plants, and plants which require but slight protection in winter. Standard plants, such as Weeping Hollies or Acer negundo variegata, work well in with this style of bedding. Sedum spectabile and Telephium roseum are hardy plants which should be much more generally grown. Seed sown now will make nice plants for next May, to flower in autumn. The seeds are very fine, and must not be covered. Geraniums are becoming a drug, unless it be very dwarf sorts, which ought to be the aim of raisers for the present.
The Calceolaria disease has been very prevalent; but if Calceolarias were very much earlier planted in the beds than they are - say the end of April - we should hear less of disease. In the first bed we planted early in the bedding season, we did not lose a plant: of those planted late in May many were lost. The Calceolaria comes from a cool climate, high up on the Andes, below the snow-line, where the roots are constantly in a moist state from melted snow; so that the plant becomes quite paralysed by heat and drought, or by having the supplies cut off at the time of removal. The Cineraria sometimes suffers in precisely the same way; and the damping of the Chinese Primula is, we think, also explained in this way. It being really a moisture-loving plant, keeping it dry at the root to check damping really aggravates the disease. The Cucumber disease has also been very prevalent, and seems a more difficult matter to deal with. We think, however, that a brisk bottom-heat and a limited amount of soil to grow in would obviate the disease very much.
We don't believe the disease follows the seed; but like the Potato disease, the Calceolaria disease, and other vegetable diseases, indoors and out, is more a climatic effect.
There are many more subjects which might be summarised as having been of interest during the year. Cowan's system of heating is one of great interest to many, especially to those situated on the chalk or limestone. Many are looking forward to the results of the experiment now in operation on the rim of the London basin, at Hatfield. It involves a principle which may yet be more extensively worked out - namely, the economising of waste heat from commercial manufactures. The waste heat from one blast-furnace would heat all the Vineries of a county.
One of the most useful inventions of the year in the way of appliances will be, we think, the new imperishable labels of Bell & Thorpe.
Space compels us to stop for the present, in the hope of being able to give the sum total another time.
The Squire's Gardener.