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.
J. Jay Smith, Esq. - Dear Sir: All plants that are deciduous are not dormant, in the literal meaning of the word. Even in winter, plants derive nourishment from the soil, and are constantly adding to their substance. It is also a well-known fact, that the greatest flow of sap is towards the extremities of the branches; or, rather, the sap is elaborated and solidified first at the extreme joints. When pruning is deferred until spring, much of the matter gained during the winter is cut away and lost; hence the practice of deferring the pruning of very luxuriant trees until just starting into leaf, with a view of weakening the growth. But, when pruned in the fall, it will be observed that the buds nearest the end, just below the cut portion, will swell up prominently during winter, will burst out more vigorously in spring, and grow more luxuriantly, than they would have done if similarly pruned in spring. I consider it a very important point in hardy grape culture, for our seasons are not too long for the proper elaboration of wood, and the gain of a week or two in growth is of importance.
I have satisfied myself, in practice, that there is much to be gained in the growth of shoots by this method of pruning.
I am deterred from stating my honest belief on many things, because they are so much opposed to existing practices, as would make them be considered absurdities. I have always advocated low night temperature in forcing and greenhouses - indeed, all structures for plant growing - and have been talked to about it by practical gardeners; although I have never yet advocated it to the extent that I have practised it.
I have had foreign grapes in flower with the thermometer at the freezing point; gardeners would go crazy if the thermometer went below 500 at that time. I have allowed my pineapple pits to fall as low as 40° in wintry nights; 60° is the lowest any rational gardener thinks of; yet these very men would praise the sturdiness and healthfulness of my plants. I have been in the habit, these last five or six years, of letting my greenhouse fall down to 350 every night - frequently to 29°; yes, I have had 40 degrees of frost inside, where there were orchids, stove plants, and hothouse plants, of the most costly and best sorts. I never could get Camellia blooms seventeen inches in circumference, nor Chinese Primroses two inches in diameter, until I adopted that course; but then, there must be a corresponding treatment; plants must be brought into a state to stand this treatment. Suppose any one in the habit of keeping up a high night temperature, were to adopt it suddenly; he would kill his plants in one night.
The same with soil. I have not, these last six years, used anything but fibry loam for potted plants, no matter where they come from, or what they were. Gardeners will tell you that they cannot grow heaths, epacrises, Ac. Ac, as in the ould country, because they "can't get peat" here.
I have had as good heaths growing in loam as ever I had in Wimbledon peat, or even in peat that I have gone myself and selected on Wimbledon Common; and I know what it is to grow these plants. I had under my charge one of the best collections in England; for individual specimens they were not surpassed. One of the best practical gardeners in America, on seeing my heaths in Maryland, said he never believed, until then, that they could be grown here.
Even in cultivating the soil, I almost indorse Jethro Tail, who insisted that stirring the soil was all the manure it required. The thing seems quite reasonable, when we look for a moment at the structure of plants. Just look at that desk before you; it seems solid and ponderous enough. Throw it into the fire, and see how quickly it will "end in smoke." "The things that were Caesar's are rendered to Caesar." It has gone into the atmosphere from Whence it came, and yon may reasonably suppose that the tree that produced it was more indebted to the air than the earth. Depend upon it, we " know nothing" about cultivation yet. But it is too early to advance extreme views; they are looked upon as altogether out of reason.
And yet, when Hugh Miller (author of the Foot-Prints of the Creator, the Old Red Sand-stone etc.) mentioned to Professor Agassis that some of his opinions relating to his discoveries, seemed to himself so extravagant that ho was afraid to communicate them, Agassiz replied: "Do not be deterred, if you have examined minutely, by any dread of being extravagant. The possibilities of existence run so deeply into the extravagant, that there is scarcely any conception too extraordinary for nature to realize".
I have written a long letter, when I only intended half a dozen lines.
Very respectfully, S.