This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Surrounded by a cloud of tobacco smoke, sir! strong enough to suffocate any of the fair sex in the metropolis, I-sit down, and give vent to my feelings upon a subject that has filled my thoughts for some time; and now, like a bird that has escaped from its cage, gives evidence of its satisfaction by lift-fflgits voice.
Through the never-resting mind of man we see at the present time new discoveries arriving wheresoever we turn our eyes, both in science and art. While some of them are of great benefit, we find many, and by far the greater part, rest upon principles without any strong foundation. Horticulture is not exempt from this; we see daily new modes of cultivation proposed, and old ones rejected, and different propositions made in regard to the best plan of cultivation, both in the open air and in-doors. While we in some of them discover that the author is well acquainted with the first principles upon which the cultivation of all plants rests, a great many show their deficiency therein, evidencing a want of knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of plants, and also of chemistry. And how can a cultivator grow a crop with success without this knowledge? It is impossible! I think no one can answer this in the negative. This is the basis upon which all his knowledge must rest, and if it is not strong, it will be like a house which has been built upon a heap of sand; the particles of sand being without compactness, the house can not stand, but the first storm will overturn it, and lay it in ruins! Without a true knowledge of physiology, the gardener is unable to do the different operations of trimming, pruning, and propagation with success; all his operations are done in blindness.
And thus with regard to chemistry. It is a well-known fact, that plants, when burnt to ashes, present very different compositions in their inorganic matter. Different plants require, therefore, certain mineral substances to be present in the soil, and if not present, they must be supplied with them through artificial means. This difference is of the greatest importance to the practical cultivator to understand, because by understanding what species of plants use the most of one .ingredient, he can judge with certainty what substances are wanted in his soil, according to the crop he intends to raise; and if wanted, he will know how to supply*those wants, or he can supply his soil with substances, bo that he will be able to raise all kinds of plants on it, and thereby avoid exhausting his land.
But it is not my intention to dwell upon this subject exclusively; my wish is only to show, in a few words, the importance of a perfect knowledge of those two sciences, which I think must appear evident to every gardener with a sound judgment. I will, therefore, proceed to the point upon which I wish to make a few remarks.
When seeing something new appear, I generally ask, "What is it?" and if possible, try to get a look at it. This was the case when I read in the Horticulturist for August, that some genius had invented a mode of growing fruit-trees in baskets! Well, sir, I started for the place where this curiosity was to be seen. On arriving there, I was cordially received by the inventor himself, who accompanied me through his green-houses and orchard-houses, which, I must confess, are built in a style superior, in some respects, to many others, though one great mistake has been made in placing the water-tanks in the shade behind the forcing-houses, where the water can not attain a temperature equal to the temperature in the houses. The turtles and frogs, which the writer in the Horticulturist says are kept between the pot-trees, and are found exceedingly useful in devouring numerous insects, I cud not have the pleasure of seeing, and concluded, therefore, that they were kept on pasturage at this season of the year.
A large number of wire-baskets, about six inches in diameter, hung under the rafters, and in them were planted fruit-trees, similar to the way we cultivate Epiphytes. I only discovered fruit on one of them, and that was a pear.
I thought already that I had seen what was to be seen with regard to those precious baskets, but when entering the vinery, what was my astonishment! here something appeared like magic before my eyes. I felt bewildered, and it was some time before I could believe it to be a reality. It was beautiful, magnificent, and tatseful; truly art had here shown how it is able to improve nature. In a basket about twelve inches in diameter, which hung. under a rafter, a grape-vine was growing, and trained with good judgment all around the edge, and six inches from each other, clusters of the Black Hamburgh hung with hemes equal in size to any grown in graperies. Could this be possible? That such a crop of grapes, and of such good quality, could be raised in a basket whose only contents were a cup filled with charcoal, sand, and water, and placed in the middle of the moss, upon which, the inventor told me, his success depended. Thoughts passed through my mind like a whirlwind; when lo and behold! one of the berries, according to the law of gravitation, dropped to the earth, and, to my great mortification, was smashed to atoms! What could be the cause of this? This led me to take a more scrutinizing glance at the bunches.
I discovered the stalks were all dry, and, what was of still greater importance, that said bunches were kept in their position by means of bast! and if this broke, they would follow their predecessor to the earth. That before so beautiful basket disappeared for me behind clouds of disappointment; it seemed to me worthless, and a mere "humbug;" and in its inventor I saw "a second Barnum" appear before me, convinced that Barnum of New York was not the only one in the Union; and if I had gone and seen "What is it? A man or a monkey?" I should have received an answer just as satisfactory.
I returned home, musing to myself, if it was possible to convert fruit-trees, vines included, into Epiphytes, and to grow them in baskets filled with moss, into which were placed a cup with charcoal, sand, and water? Before we conclude, it may be worth while to ask ourselves the question, What is the soil? The soil is the main agent to which the plant looks for food; it is the laboratory where the different chemical combinations take place previously to entering the plant, where it is converted into sugar, starch, gum, and the other different secretions of vegetables; and if we deprive the plant of the soil, that is, a fertile soil, whose constituents are the different acids, alkalies, and their combinations, neutral salts, the substances of which are of the greatest importance to vegetation, and think to substitute this through moss, we had better leave nature to care for it, and no doubt the result will be more satisfactory. Secondly, we know that a plant, during the time it is at rest, and no gardening can be done perfectly without the trees being allowed a season of rest, require a less amount of moisture, because the plant being without leaves, and the stem only losing a little by perspiration, the roots take up very little food.