This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Perhaps the question of tea culture may be considered exhausted in our region (near Summer-ville, S. C), when we see the failure of the government tea farm, which, for awhile, promised such favorable results. Any one now visiting the neglected grounds would sigh over the miserable condition of the plants, hundreds dead and as many more leafless and dying. The farm is deserted, as I believe the government refuses further aid to the scheme.
Let me now mention a few facts with regard to tea culture, which cannot be gainsaid.
Six years ago we obtained from the Agricultural Department, at Washington, some small, delicate tea plants, which were carefully planted in the poor, sandy soil of our Pineland garden. For awhile we were rather hopeless as to their surviving, many of them looked yellow-leaved and sickly; but gradually they assimilated themselves to the uncongenial soil, and put out both buds and flowers. Now, after five years of growth, we have strong, dark, shining-leaved bushes, perfectly healthy, having withstood untouched the terrible killing frosts of the past winter, which have ruined our orange trees and oleanders, and even affected our roses.
We believe the secret of the culture of the tea plant is, that where it is planted, there it must remain, undisturbed. We never dig around our bushes, the soil being so light and sandy, generally removing the weeds by hand, or with a very light hoe.
A neighbor who had his tea plants long before we got ours, has handsome, spreading bushes growing in the same sandy land as ours; some seeds from his plants have by accident fallen among the debris along the high road, and have grown into nice plants, which can now be seen there, showing how perfectly easy is their culture. If the above account proves interesting, I shall have great pleasure in giving further information as to tea raised from seed saved from our own bushes. Charleston, South Carolina, Feb., 1884. [There have been singular mistakes made from the first in regard to tea culture in the South. Some twenty-five years ago the government thought it would like to know whether the Chinese tea would grow in the South, and they sent an agent to China to get seeds. At that very time, hundreds of tea trees were growing in the South, producing seeds, and nurserymen were raising plants for their trade both from these seeds and from cuttings. Any nurseryman could have told the government that the tea plant would grow very well in the South, and on a year's notice could have furnished, under contract, as many plants as desired for distribution.
But the seed came, plants raised, and distributed everywhere, and that was about the last of it.
During the last few years, the government again tried its hand. Again it did not appeal to nurserymen or tree growers of experience, and again we have the result in the announcement that it "can't be done".
Now, this is all nonsense. The tea plant has been grown successfuly, and is still growing successfully in many parts of the South. Tea has been made from the leaves as good and as cheap as the Chinese ever made. Let the government give but a bounty - protection, if you like to call it - for a few years for private enterprise, and we will guarantee the success of the Chinese tea plant as a tea product in America. We do not need hundreds of acres for experiments.
Give premiums for an acre, or half an acre, and for teas of various qualities from the leaves, and give guarantees that these premiums shall continue from year to year, till experience is improved on, and there will be no more reason found against the permanent success of the enterprise, than there was against beet root sugar culture in France. That would never have been a success but for the protection Napoleon gave it. - Ed.G. M].