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.
In the leader for July there is a hard nut to crack for some who yet boldly defend shallow Vine-borders. I have no doubt but this subject (as all that concerns the Vine generally does) will in due time be thoroughly ventilated. I have no intention of entering into the matter, further than saying that there is as much common-sense in the views there promulgated as has appeared in print on Vine-management for some years. While reading the remarks in reference to Vines on the "rocky hill-sides" of the Rhine, it brings forcibly to my mind the conversations it was often my privilege to enjoy with one who was a most successful Grape-grower in this country; and many of his lessons were learned in France and Italy. Much of what he saw in these countries he profited by, learning to thoroughly avoid the practices of some, and closely imitate the practices of others. I need not say that the first were the unsuccessful cultivators, and the latter those who were successful. The finest crops, and by far the most superior fruit, were had where the roots got down a great depth, and some of the rocky hills were the positions where the roots went deepest into the ground and moisture was most abundant. This can be easily illustrated in our country.
On some steep hills which I climbed last year, Heath, Ferns, Violas, and shrubs of many kinds, I saw growing in great luxuriance on the elevated positions, while the same plants far below on the plains were burnt up with drought. Springs of water were abundant on the steepest part of the hills, when the cattle in the valleys were parched with drought. By this one can easily understand how plants can have abundance of moisture on hill-sides. Let any one throw up a ridge of soil (the higher the better) and observe how moisture-loving plants will luxuriate after their roots are established in the soil. Depth of soil, where water cannot become stagnant, will fight half of the practical gardener's battles!
To turn to the Vines: my friend mentioned the various modes of supplying manure to the roots. Sewage, in a fresh state, was a favourite system of some, and by far the most effective; but to carry this practice out in our shallow Vine-borders in this country would be certain destruction. In Italy, the great depth the feeders were from the surface prevented any mishap, as the rains washed down the strong food gradually and very slowly. To use weak material would have been sheer waste, as it would have been exhausted before it reached the active roots. I have observed this friend I refer to watering his Vines; it was not a dribble in his well-prepared borders, but a thorough soaking well out in his kitchen-garden, where the feeders were pushing their way in search of fresh supplies of food. The borders, of course, contained the roots which conducted the fresh supplies from their points to the Vines; but little attention was given - there, indeed, they were covered with broad gravel-walks. No red-spider or shanking was an annoyance there.
This friend was the late Mr William Allan, who lived thirty-five years as head-gardener to the late and present Lord Rendlesham of Rendlesham Hall, Suffolk. Six years of his time were spent in Italy. He was a keen observer, and dearly loved the cultivation of the Vine and Peach, and he was with these (as indeed every branch of his profession) singularly successful. Camellias flourished in Mr Allan's hands. He carefully observed the Belgian growers, when he lived in that country, collecting decayed wood, and carefully storing it up as mould for potting; and many an old Oak at Rendlesham had its decayed centre scooped out by Mr Allan for potting his Camellias. M. Temple.