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.
In the June number of the Horticulturist I observe that the credit of first announcing the Single Stem Renewal System of Grape Culture, which forms the basis of my recent work on that subject, is given to my neighbor, Mr. W. Saunders, of German town. Mr. S. I esteem as one of my personal friends, and as a clever, pains-taking member of the horticultural profession, and I was rather surprised to discover an attempt on his part to set up a claim of this kind. I fully believe that the method of growing grapes proposed in my work is new, and that it originated with myself. It has been received by the horticultural profession throughout the United States as new. It is not only not in practice, either in the grapery or the vineyard, that I am aware of, (except in some half dozen houses and vineyards planted by myself,) but it is doubted by many whether it is a system that will answer in practice at all. Now I believe that this is the best system of grape-culture ever invented, either for native grapes in the vineyard, or for foreign kinds in the cold grapery or forcing-house. I think it will become the universal system, until a better one shall be devised; and I shall certainly be proud to be the author of a new and perfect system of American grape-culture.
In the month of June, 1858, the plan of growing grapes on a single stem, cut down every other year, and fruited during the intermediate years on dwarf canes, was fully matured in my mind, and was spoken of freely by me in conversation. In the spring of 1858 I planted some Diana vines for one of our leading city editors, on this system, and fruited them last year on dwarf canes, with the best results.
In the fall of 1858 I prepared my work on Grape-Culture; in January, 1859, placed it in the hands of the printer; announced it in the Gardener's Monthly, July, 1859, and published an extract from the manuscript.
In May, 1859,1 planted, for a gentleman within the city limits, on the east side of Germantown, a vineyard of three thousand natives vines, on this system, viz., two feet apart, so as to permit each alternate cane to be cut down annually, and with wire trellises less than six feet high. In July, 1859, I erected a vinery for the same person, one hundred feet long, and prepared a border for fifty vines on this new system. In May, 1859,1 also superintended the construction of a vinery in West Green Street, Philadelphia, on this plan, which will be fruited this year; and the subject was constantly talked of by professional gardeners, personal acquaintances of Mr. Saunders, in and about Germantown and Philadelphia. (Germantown, it is probably known, is a district within the corporate limits of Philadelphia).
Nearly ten months after my work was written, (viz., in September, 1859,) and more than six months after my single-stem vineyards and grape-houses were planted in and about Germantown, Mr. Saunders suggests, in an article in the Horticulturist, that vines might be cut down every other year with advantage, and hence it is assumed that the idea did not originate with myself. I will not say that Mr. S. took an unfair advantage of me, in publishing this idea when he knew that I was about to publish it. I cared nothing about this. It was generally known in Philadelphia to be an original and favorite plan of mine, and I was glad to find it approved by any person of intelligence. In the fall of 1859 I went to England, and the publication of my work was delayed till my return.
In May, 1860, Mr. Saunders' Prize Essay on Grape-Culture, written for the Farmer and Gardener, of Philadelphia, was published, in which he says: "Close planting" (in the grapery, viz., two feet apart) "allows the cutting ,down of a cane occasionally, or each alternate cane yearly, as may be desired," but he does not present it as a special system, nor does he recommend it at all in that essay for vineyard culture ; on the contrary, he advises only the old two-armed system with upright shoots.
Now, if there is anything in my work on the Grape new or valuable, I feel assured it is this single stem, dwarf, and renewal system; and I claim that I wrote my work, announced its publication, and put my method in practice, in Mr. Saunders' own neighborhood, months before he alluded to it in the article referred to. I further claim that. I am the only person who has ever proposed this system, as adapted to the vineyard culture of native grapes, which I consider the chief important point at issue.
A few words as to the merits of this method of culture. I think the horticultural profession generally do not understand the nature and extent of my system. I propose to cultivate native grapes with as much care and precision as we do the foreign kinds, and to produce large crops of perfect grapes and large bunches free from rot and mildew. In the first place, I require that the vine shall be planted shallow, in soil not over-rich, and the roots kept near the surface by mulching and top-dressing. Next I demand, as a requisite to success, that the cane shall be grown as a dwarf, not over three to six feet long, and kept constantly concentrated within that limit by summer pinching, and that the laterals shall be stopped at least four times during the season. No wood of any consequence must be grown to be cut away at the fall pruning. If the vine be weak, the leader must be stopped several times. When the cane is fruited, only one bunch must ever be left on each shoot, and the shoots must be stopped as soon as the fruit is set at two joints beyond the bunch, and the stopping process must be continued on the shoots and laterals, leaving one new leaf on each new joint each time of stopping, until the stoning commences.
Nor must the shoots or laterals be allowed to extend to three or four joints, either while growing the canes or when fruiting, before this stopping is performed. My idea is to cultivate the native as carefully as we are compelled to do the foreign vine, in a pot; and if this is done, I am sure the result will be in the highest degree satisfactory. If the best possible table grapes be desired, I would advise thinning the bunches as we do in the grapery, and I would also limit the length of the cane to three feet or less. After fruiting, then cut down the entire cane, leaving only two or three eyes on the last year's woody and take a whole year to produce a new cane before fruiting again.
Now, will anybody assert that this system of growing grapes is not new, or that I was not the first to announce it and to put it into practice? On the contrary, in its application to native grapes in the vineyard, is it not yet a question with some of our best grape-growers, whether it will answer? Attached to Mr. Saunders' Prize Essay on grape-culture, lately published, are two other essays. In one of them, by Mr. F. J. Cope, the author, says: "lam convinced, by experience and observation, that no [native] vine can very long maintain its original vigor, which has been for a series of years annually pruned in nursery style." Again: "The healthiest and most prolific vines I have ever seen are those that had never been pruned at all."' The other essay is by J. M. McMinn. He says,"Our [native] vines will only endure a moderate amount of pruning; the too free use of the knife on them produces disease, and invariably shortens their life. We have seen fine natives hopelessly ruined by theoretic pruning." These are the ideas generally entertained by very intelligent grape-grow-' era. It is thought that the native grapes must he allowed to grow in a wild, rambling form, over high trellises or trees, and that any attempt to prune or restrain them will be fatal to their health and fruitfulness.
On reading such writing as the above, one would suppose that it would be dangerous to stop a rampant shoot or lateral, or even to take off excess of fruit. "To attempt to confine the growth to mere stakes"' says Mr. McMinn, "will prove a failure on all our American species/'
This declaration I feel ready to meet with another. I assert, that when grown as dwarfs upon my system, the native vines will not only retain their health and vigor for an unlimited number of years, but that I can produce upon a cane not over six feet long, a crop of native grapes, having six qualities required for perfection in grape-growing, (viz., ripeness, perfect color, high flavor, size of berry, size of bunch, and weight,) that will excel in all, or a majority of these points, any crop that can be grown upon any unrestrained cane of equal age, six hundred feet long. You may extend your vine over half a dozen trees, if you like, and I will keep my dwarf tied to a "mere stake." I shall soon be ready to show canes and fruit, grown upon this system, both of native and foreign kinds. I wish to see the question reduced down to "dots." Let the matter be tested, and let facts decide. I am ready to abide the issue.
One thing I request the profession to notice. I do not prune or use the knife upon my dwarfs during the process of growth, except to cut down the entire vine every second year. I pinch in the leader, the shoots, and the laterals, while yet tender, and only direct the force of the sap in new directions, gently, so as not to give a violent check to the cane at any time. I know very well that the vine will not endure the severe pruning of large branches, or even of strong shoots and laterals, without injury. I avoid this evil by not permitting unnecessary wood to grow at all. Hence, I do not prune severely. My practice is based upon "stopping," not pruning. If I could only " stop" the spread of error and falsehood as easily and as successfully as I can stop the useless and injurious growth on my vines, I think I should be tempted to turn preacher at once.
[Our remarks last month were simply intended to supply what had been deemed an oversight, and to place before our readers the facts in the case, so far as we had knowledge of them. The article in the Gardeners Monthly, which we supposed to be on the same subject, relates, we find, to regulating the temperature of vine borders. Mr. Bright has now furnished the facts on which he bases his claim to be the originator of the "single stem, dwarf, and renewal system," and we must do him the justice to say that he has presented them in a fair and good-tempered manner, offensive to no one. It is much to be regretted that controversies of this kind, among professional men, are sometimes conducted in a spirit befitting only a modern politician ; such a spirit ought to find no place in horticultural literature, for it is a libel on its humanizing influence. We have no interest in this subject beyond laying the facts before our readers. In regard to the merit of the system, that is a point on which there will be a wide difference of opinion among professional men. We think it desirable to give it a trial on our "natives," and have planted the vines accordingly. We "go in " for progress, and if there is any merit in a new thing, we have always aimed to find it out speedily.
The objection to close planting will not hold good, at least in the grapery. Charles Butler, Esq., has a grapery 600 feet long, in which the vines are planted two feet apart, and fruited annually. The grapes in that house, for size of bunch and berry, quality, etc, are equal to the best we ever saw, and far above the average in these respects. His gardener, Mr. Ellis, it is true, is a skillful man, but that is an excellence which all gardeners should possess. It is just such men as Mr. Ellis and Mr. Chorlton that we should like to have try the single stem renewal system, as applied to the vineyard. By the time they get that fairly under way, we shall have another to propose to them from a different quarter. Any reasonable thing we feel bound to try. - Ed].