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.
Some of our horticultural sisters may wish to try their hand at raising vegetables, but as most ladies turn more readily to the cultivation of flowers, these must receive at ention first; perhaps, at some future time, we will take up that branch of garden-ing. We must also have some regard for the season in our plan of operations. If we are now commencing a garden, we roust do without crocuses and snowdrops, and the hardy kinds of tulips, narcissuses, and iris, that bloom in the early spring; their bulbs, and these of the lily of the valley, and other hardy lilies, peonies, daffodils, polyauthus, and primrose, must be planted next autumn. We can set out vines, and trees, and shrubs in April and May, if we choose, though they will not bloom this year. When re-set, or transplanted, in October, they get so well started that they will blossom the next spring as well as if they had not been removed ; but it is frequently necessary, in laying out and arranging a garden in spring, to do this then.
In order to procure plants (annuals) for early flowering, it is a good plan to make a bed in a sunny, sheltered spot, some day in October, and to sow it with flower seeds ; then to cover it with dead leaves, and to place boards upon it, for protection through the winter. In May remove the boards and rake off the leaves. After a few days the young plants will have started, and if covered at night with a shallow box, or a screen (made by nailing together pieces of board three or four inches wide, to form a frame the size of the bed, and stretching and tacking over this an old shawl or blanket), they will grow rapidly, and, when the ground is ready, will be large enough to transfer to the place they are to occupy through the summer.
Another excellent and easy way of getting flowering plants in advance of open-ground sowing, is to fill boxes, that will rest on the window sills, with good soil, and plant in these the seeds. The soil should be secured in the autumn, and kept in the cellar, or some place where it will not freeze, till February. Then have ready cigar boxes, or boxes of pasteboard, or of birch bark. These last may be easily cut and sewed by any child of ten years. Moss, or a thin coat of cotton batting or wadding, should be placed within these boxes, as a lining, to prevent leakage. Put the soil into an iron or tin pan to heat in the range or stove oven, and when it is comfortably warm to the touch, and of equal temperature throughout, fill it into the boxes, scatter the seed sparingly over the surface, and then sift over it a little of the soil. The smallest seeds should be mixed with some of the soil, and then sifted upon the surface ; they will need no further covering. Set the boxes in the sunniest windows you have; at night keep them where there is no danger of chills, and the young sprouts will soon peep out. They will need no watering until just before they are'transplanted, unless the air of your room is very dry.
For this reason they will thrive best in the kitchen, where there is plenty of steam. If the soil should crack or look ashen with dryness, a very slight sprinkling of tepid water from a hand broom, or from a watering pot with an extra fine nose, may be given them. Reared in this way they will be strong and stout. While the garden is being put in readiness for them, they should be gradually accustomed to the open air, by setting the boxes out of doors in the sunshine, for an increasing length of time. Begin this at noon ; then take an earlier hour as they get hardier.
February is none too soon to start these boxes ; but if sown in March, they will have made good progress by the middle of May, when, if carefully transplanted and tended, they will pass rapidly on to blossoming. Zinnias, asters, balsams, celosias, clarkias, candytufts, petunias, portulaccas, verbenas and mignionette are greatly hastened by this method. Phlox druramondii, the daturas, salvias, salpiglossis, A schizanthus and the cypress vine (quamoclit) should either be sown in a hot-bed and afterward transferred to the garden soil, or else treated in this manner. Tomato, pepper, martynia and egg-plants, and lettuce, cabbage, cucumber and melon plants for the family garden gain much time by being started thus early in these boxes.
The making and management of hot-beds must be deferred till we take up the cultivation of vegetables; but by the use of this simpler method of forcing, they may be dispensed with in all gardens except the very largest, or where mature growth is desired early.
Don't be in a hurry to open the ground; wait patiently till the soil has lost its dark, dull hue, and can be easily crumbled by your fingers. Then you may commence operations with a good prospect before you. This will seldom occur before the second week in May - is frequently later in New England. If you start earlier, the soil, being cold and damp, will cause the seed to decay before germinating, and whatever young plants are set in it, to shrivel and die, or else to get stunted by the sudden check it will give them. And then, too, we are not wholly exempt from frosts till after May comes in; one frosty night may undo the work of many days and destroy many promising young plants.
In the meantime, decide what plants and how many you will have of early growth, and get them started as suggested above; and what for later growth ; and be sure your seed is good. Look over your bulbs, and in April set them in moist sawdust or moss, in a moderately warm place ; if you have a furnace in the cellar, near that; if not, in the washroom, or in a similar place, for the sprouts to get well started before the garden is made. Then decide what trees, bushes and shrubs you will set, and make arrangements for them. And write on bits of shingle or of thick cardboard the botanical and the familiar names of these, and of your bulbs and annuals; also of the biennials which you mean to plant. These are for tallies, which you will have all ready for use when needed: the wooden ones, with a strong twine to tie them to the trees and bushes; the cards fastened to little stakes, for insertion in the soil near the plants they designate. Have ready, also, a number of stout stakes for the support of dahlias, and smaller ones for gladioluses (gladioli is much easier to pronounce and is really the correct word). Decide whether you will have an arbor or a trellis, for your vines, and get this made.
All these little matters must be attended to beforehand, so that when you commence operations there need be nothing to delay the work.
Having proceeded thus far in your preparations, make a drawing of your plot of ground - just a plain outline of its shape - and divide it into beds, and those of the most desirable shape that its size will admit, and write in the different divisions the names of the plants that you intend to place or to raise there. Make this as accurate as possible - according to a scale of one inch to a yard will be a convenient measurement - and in planning the beds and borders, allow a good generous space for walks.
When all these preliminaries have been finished, gardening time will not be very distant. You can begin to think of your fertilizers, the best of which you will find to be the rakings and clearings up of the various rubbish that gathers unaccountably on the grounds about every dwelling. Before using, this is left to decay some months; a little lime is added, and the whole stirred together occasionally.