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.
I opened noiselessly the other morning, that I might enjoy a father's gladness, the door of a room in which my little boy, " six off," was at his play. He was evidently entertaining an illustrious visitor, a beloved and honoured guest. The table, surrounded by every available chair, with a fire-screen for the front door, and a music-stool, inverted atop to represent the main stack of chimneys, was converted into a palace of art. The banquet had just commenced, and the courteous host was recommending to his distinguished guest (a very large and handsome black retriever, by name " Colonel ") the viands before him. These viands, upon a cursory glance through the chair-legs, did not strike me as of an appetising or digestible character - the two pieces de resistance consisting of a leg-rest and a small coal-scuttle, and the side-dishes being specimens of the first Atlantic Telegraph Cable, presented to me by Sir Charles Bright, with a selection of exploded cartridges, sea-shells, ninepins, and keys.
In the vivid imagination of childhood, notwithstanding, they represented all the luxuries dearest to the palate of youth; and if the Colonel, who, by the by, was in full uniform, made from the supplement of the ' Times' newspaper, and was decore with the Order of the String and Penwiper, had partaken of a tithe of the delicacies pressed on him, and according to the order in which they were served, there must have been inevitably speedy promotion in his regiment. The entertainment commenced with cheese, passed on to hasty-pudding and beer, which was followed in rapid succession by-peaches, beef, roley-poley, hare, more hasty-pudding, honey, apricots, boiled rabbits, etc. "And now, Colonel, dear," were the last words I heard, "you shall have some custard and pine-apple, and then we'll smoke a cigar".
In like manner does the wee golden-haired lassie delight to do homage to the queen of her little world, her doll, watching her tenderly, and singing a lullaby which, regarding the condition of those two immense blue eyes, appears to be quite hopeless; then decking her with every bit of finery which she can beg from mammy or nurse, and waiting upon her with a fond untiring service.
And even so did I, in the childhood of that life which is always young - do not our hearts foreknow, my brothers, the happy truth, which old men certify, that the love of flowers is of those few earthly pleasures which age cannot wither? - even so did I, in " My sallet days, "When I was green in judgment," essay, with an enthusiastic though ofttimes mistaken zeal, to propitiate and to serve the Rose. And specially, as with my little boy and his large idol, in the matter of food. I tried to please her with a great diversity of diet. I made anxious experiment of a multiplicity of manures - organic and inorganic, animal and vegetable, cheap and costly, home and foreign. I laboured to discover her favourite dish as earnestly as the alchymist to realise the Philosopher's Stone, but I differed from the alchymist in one essential point - I found it !
Where? Not down among the bones. I tried bones of all denominations - bones in their integrity, bones crushed, bones powdered, bones dissolved with sulphuric and muriatic acid, as Liebig bade; and I have a very high admiration of the bone as a most sure and fertilising manure. For agricultural purposes, for turnips, for grass recently laid down, or for a starved exhausted pasture, whereupon you may write your name with it; and in horticulture, for the lighter soils, for the vine-border, for plants (the Pelargonium especially), it is excellent; but in the Rosary, although a magnum (I feel in writing the pun like the little boy who chalked " No Popery" on Doctor Wiseman's door, half ashamed of the deed, and desirous to run), it is not the surnmum bonum of manures.
Nor up the chimney - though, for Roses on the Manetti Stock, and for Tea-Roses, soot is good manure, and useful as a surface-dressing for hot, dry soils. Nor among the autumn leaves, although these also, decayed to mould, are very advantageous to the Teas, Noisettes, and Bourbons, and to all Roses grown on their owm roots. Sure and great is their reviving power, which gives back to the ground, according to the gracious law of Providence, the strength which was borrowed from it, but not so great as that old lady hoped, who, bringing home a mistaken impression, after listening to a conversation between two gardeners on the beneficial influence of leaf-mould on Tea-Roses, collected for weeks the morning and evening remains of the Tea-pot, and applied them to her Rose-trees "to transform them," as she told her acquaintance (and I am assured of the fact by one of them), " into Tea-scented Chinas next summer".
Nor, crossing the seas, among those bird-islands of Peru, Bolivia, Patagonia, where, rainless, barren, deserted, as they seemed to man, the fish-fed fowls of the ocean were accumulating for centuries a treasure-heap more precious than gold - millions upon millions of tons of rich manure, which has multiplied the food of nations throughout the civilised world, and still remains in immense abundance for us and generations after us. Guano, nevertheless, is not the manure for Roses. Its influence is quickly and prominently acknowledged by additional size and brightness of foliage, but the efflorescence, so far as my experiments have shown, derives no advantage as to vigour or beauty; and even on the leaf the effect is transitory.
Nor in the guano of animal implume - not in the soil called night. The Romans reverenced Cloacina, the goddess of the sewers, and the statue which they found of her in the great drains of Tarquinius, was beautiful as Venus's self; but they honoured her, doubtless, only as a wise sanatory commissioner, who removed their impurities, and, so doing, brought health to their heroes and loveliness to their maidens. They only knew half her merits; but in Olympus, we may readily believe, there was fuller justice done. Although weaker goddesses may have been unkind - may have averted their divine noses when Cloacina passed, and made ostentatious use of scent-bottle and pocket-handkerchief - Flora, and Pomona, and Ceres would ever admire her virtues, and beseech her benign influence upon the garden, the orchard, and the farm. But the terrestrials never thought that faex urbis might be lux orbis, and they polluted their rivers, as we ours, with that which should have fertilised their lands. And we blame the Romans very much indeed; and we blame everybody else very much indeed; and we do hope the time will soon be here when such a sinful waste will no longer disgrace an enlightened age; but, beyond the contribution of this occasional homily, it is, of course, no affair of ours.