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.
We recollect many years ago, Mr. Editor, when our "whole" soul was in rapport with that most bewitching goddess, "Flora," how all the faculties of the human mind were assiduously directed to the "tinting up" of color, and the "drawing out" into symmetrical proportions, those little tender delicacies over which that goddess sways her regal sceptre; and how the smile from her beautiful features made the heart leap with joy, when we knew that smile was an acquiescence of the perfection, consummated through the care of a fostering hand.
There is not a son of Adam who has ever walked those beautiful paths in "Eden," but has felt the warm blood rush through his veins. Life was there! Spirit and energy were there! Love of God in nature was there! Intrinsic, inherent love of horticulture was there! But the "will-it-pays" were not there!
We see the devotee to Flora in his laboratory. Some new beauty has to be developed. We see also a number of ingredients standing separately, and ready for his use. Now watch him, and see how he compounds his materials. He has got an Erica in his hand, a Masonii major; the peat is taken, to which he adds his silvery sand; and how carefully he incorporates these materials together; and after the proportions are carefully mixed, we see him take hold of a handful of this material, and look at it, and then squeeze it; and now he shakes his head, for the mechanical condition of this material is of that nature, that when pressure is applied, it remains compressed and hardened. This will not do, for water will not pass freely through it, and the consequence of this soil becoming unaerated, would soon destroy the life it was intended to support. The small and tender threads - absorbing fibres, though dependent on moisture as the means to continue life, an excessive gorging with this very element will destroy the whole structure, and life bid us farewell. Watch the remedy! What is it? Mors sand! Readers, there is not a plant cultivated in a pot by an educated plants-man but what sand, and the quality of sand to be used, stands of the first importance.
There is not a hard or soft-wooded plant grown in a pot, we repeat, on which the very essence of human skill is to be applied, but what sand forms one of the principal compounds! We beg the reader's pardon; we have made a gross mistake! There is a plant cultivated in a pot, in which compound of soil we have never yet seen an atom of sand ingrediated! Thousands are grown annually in pots, and not one jot of sand put in the soil! How could we have made such a gross misstatement as the above? What species of plant is this which does not require sand in its compound? We will tell you. It is a plant whose roots are not possessed of absorbing spongioles, into which is drawn aqueous matter, but roots possessed with mouths, into which are set "cutters, tearers, and grinders," in order that the solid matter placed for its support can be properly masticated! This species of vegetable phenomenon has a stomach also, into which passes, rotten dung, ground or broken bone, lime, super-phosphates, guano, oyster-shells, beef bones, and dead horses. After these materials have gone through the necessary transformations in this plant stomach, the chemical elements educted may, or may not, have something to do with the constituent elements of this wonderful plant's organism.
We will now tell you the name of this most wonderful of all plants: it is "Vitis vinifera".
However careful the cultivator may be in compounding his materials, with a proper understanding for the necessity of sand to induce fibrous roots, and of its property for regulating the soil's mechanical condition, the moment he comes to the grape vine, all his previous reasoning seems to be at once ignored, and be treats the vine as he would treat no other plants in pot cultivation; for into the pot is gorged rotten dung, with a host of other things, the tendency of which is to become a solid, greasy mass of constantly decomposing matter. Now if it is of importance to have sand, and a goodly proportion of it, incorporated in our soils for a high state of pot culture, the use of which being to induce fibrous roots, and to keep the compost open and porous; why is it not of the same importance in the pot culture of the vine? And if in the pot culture of the vine, why not in the open border? If a pot containing a few quarts of soil requires its proper proportion of sand to keep this small amount of compost sweet, open, and porous, for a few months' time, is it not of vastly more importance in large masses at earth, where its very weight naturally compresses it in a short time to almost a solid mass? We think this much is self-evident. How can we reconcile the fact to our minds rationally, that a border composed of constantly decomposing, rotting masses of garbage, can be the means of producing healthy roots? With all this transformation taking place in the soil through the rotting of the materials placed in it, we get a transformation of the roots, and this transformation is, passing from life to death! There are none of the higher orders of creation in either the animal or vegetable world which feed on rotting matter! Such feeding belongs to the swine and stench worms, which are down, down, down! beneath the light of our bright and beautiful noon-day sun! Admitting that the educl of such matter in question, forms some of the constituent parts of which the vine and its fruit are composed, there is no reason why decomposition should surround living roots! and the latter be compelled to wait for the necessary element of food being formed by decomposition and through transformation? It is true, that the common soil of such borders being absorbent, holds such gases thrown off by the act of decomposition as may in time be of great benefit to the vine; but the means instituted to gain this end is of a more ruinous nature to the vine, and its roots, ten thousand times over, than if the soil was entirely destitute of any stimulating food whatever.