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.
IT was the writer's fortune this fall to examine a collection of new hybrid grapes, of such remarkable characteristics and superior excellence, that one may be justified in calling it the choicest now extant in America.
Ten years since, Mr. James H. Ricketts, of Newburgh, N. T., owning a little cottage and garden on the hillside in the city, with practical love of horticulture, in the leisure moments spared from his business occupation, began the study and experiment of hybridizing grapes, both native with foreign, and foreign with each other, and testing their seedlings in the open air. If there were any place more unfavorable for such a test, we have never seen it. In the summer time with exposure to intense heat; in the winter to severe cold, with ground poor, and sloping to the northeast, it seemed as if any vine that succeeded here, ought, in all fairness, to do well in the average climate of the United States. His experiments have yearly grown in interest, and the fame of some of his successes have already been known to some of the most observant horticulturists; still it has remained to the trials of the present fall, to give a reliable verdict. His methods of hybridizing are, of course, known only to himself, but all kinds of experiments have been tried, the pollen sometimes being kept till two or three weeks old, and then applied. Again, the caps have been taken off four days in advance of the time usually taken by nature.
One other person in Canada, pursuing his trials, studies and experiments in almost the same track, has yet made a complete failure in every case, and where the secret of Mr. Ricketts' success can be, doth not yet appear. It is sufficient only to judge of the results as we now find them. Mr. Ricketts' collection may be divided into three classes: 1. Black grapes. 2. White -grapes. 3. Wine grapes. There are now seventy-five seedlings in all growing in his garden, and of them all, we may truthfully say, not one is an inferior variety. A large portion of these vines are but two years old, some three to four, while but few are older. Still, the sorts which exhibit most marked excellence, are the older varieties, and the newer ones develop traits more valuable with each year of increasing age. About one-quarter of the collection may be classed fully as hardy as the Concord, and the rest not yet fully determined, although they have all been largely exposed to the winter for the past two years, without suffering injury.
The Secretary is a large, beautiful black grape, which has already become known. It originated with Mr. Ricketts in 1867. The original vine fruited the next year after the seed was planted. It is a seedling from the Clinton and Muscat Hamburgh. A large vine is trained upon a trellis near Mr. Ricketts' house, and some of the bunches were nearly a foot long, and well shouldered, the flavor is excellent, sweet, vinous, bunch hangs well, berry firm; good market sort.
It is a little curious to note here the following incident: Mr. Ricketts taking one day to Charles Downing seven of his seedlings, and requesting an opinion, was surprised and delighted to find him class five of them as better in flavor than the Muscat Hamburgh itself. An opinion from so high a source gives decided character to the value of the collection.
The finest white grape of the collection is No. 93 A, Imperial, a white seedling from Iona and Sarbelle Muscat. The berry is very large, of a fine white color, with considerable bloom; bunch quite large, regular, with slight shoulder; no pulp, no seeds, splendid flavor, with traces of the Iona-Muscat aroma. Vine exceedingly vigorous grower; ripens about time of the Isabella; oldest plant is now four years. Mr. Ricketts has given me the pleasure of bestowing upon it a becoming name, which in honor of its superior merit, I now name "The Imperial," for it seems thus far to be the best white out-door grape yet originated. Perhaps its most valuable feature is its hardiness; standing the winter well, when Concord was killed.
No. 207, H - White grape, slightly yellow, quite sweet, thick pulp, bunch nearly as large as the Catawba. A seedling from Concord and Allen. Vine now two years from seed, and bearing this season five bunches; fully as productive as the Rebecca. From the same origin came other seedlings, all of uniform excellence.
No. 72 B - A seedling from Hartford Prolific. Black, rich, red pulp, musky flavor, sweet, pulp small, very productive, ripens between the Concord and Isabella.
Don Juan - A very large bunch, amber berry. Parent, Jena and General Marmorica; very hardy, ripens with Isabella, vinous, but not very sweet, bears a few very large bunches.
No. 37 - Vine is four years old; bears forty bunches this season; extra large berry; a seedling from Concord and Jury Muscat, exceedingly productive, a good market grape, carries well, berry firm, soft pulp, flavor fair, not sweet, a very strong growing sort.
No. 176 - Dark amber color, six weeks earlier than Iona, flavor sweet and richer than Iona, a seedling from Delaware, but has more life and spirit than its parent; in size of bunch also superior.
Clinton Seedling, No. 6 - Foliage wonderfully hardy, thick pulp, slightly acid, but exhibits strong vinous quality, and in the wine scale test, it ranks ahead of the Delaware; immensely productive.
No. 186 - White, seedling from Clinton, considered a good wine grape, large berry.
No. 207, B - A capital eating grape, white, sweet, very hardy, extra stout canes, beautiful colored fruit, bunch moderate size, loose but well shouldered.
No. 12, B - Black, bunch extra large, one foot long, one shoot often bearing three bunches, strong canes, wonderfully hardy, moderately sweet and vinous, thick pulp, consider it an extra good variety; the sweetest grown in the collection.
No. 12, A - Has more juice, less pulp, and really more enjoyable as a family grape.
Adelaide - Black, sweet, vinous, strong, heavy foliage, thick leaf, as large a berry as the Union Village, good bunch, very productive.
Ricketts' No. 1 - Plump berry, very large, long bunch, very firm, keeps growing till cut off, not a sweet flavor, still not acid.
No. 157, D - White, seedling from Concord, earlier than the Hartford by ten days to two weeks, thin skin, large berry, round bunch, sweet flavor, juicy, wood like the Concord, very hardy.
No. 157, A - A brother of 157, D - very late.
No. 158, B - Black, transparent, loose bunch, large, excellent flavor, juicy, quite as good as Senasqua.
No. 14 - White, seedling from Israella and White Tokay, ripens with Isabella, largest of all the white varieties; hangs firmly, both bunch and berry firm, tough skin, quite sweet, bunches extra large, some will weigh nearly two pounds; really a first-class variety.
Quassaic - Black, very regular bunch, a seedling from Clinton and Muscat Hamburgh; novel flavor; a trace of the Clinton, but more pleasant; no more acid than is agreeable; its fine looks and its firmness are its best characteristics; one of the prettiest vines ever seen, filled with large bunches; one vine has grown as much as 25 feet from young plant in a year.
Concord, No. 1 - Enormous berries, each a mouthful, flavor moderately vinous and sweet; when well ripened, quite pleasant; large, well shouldered bunches, moderately productive.
Raritan - An accidental seedling; best wine grape in the world; was tested with thirty and forty others, including Delaware and Walter, and ranked 112°; The Walter marked 3½ per cent, acid; Raritan marked six per cent. No European variety has ever ranked as high in the wine scale as this.
No. 10 - Very good flavor, juicy, large plump berry, hangs on firmly, tough skin; seedling from Hartford and Purple Damascus.
Advance - A natural wine grape; the only wine grape which has a natural effervescence; a good eating grape, very regular bunch, large berries, black, tremendously vigorous, hardy, and astonishingly productive; a first-class vine.
In view of the fact, that the Iona does not succeed here, and the Diana has to be plucked off, so as to leave but one bunch to a shoot, to ripen well, it seems as if vines like those described above, with such excellent flavor and vigorous characteristics, must be destined to a celebrity of more enduring character than the average of new American varieties. From our own personal examination, we can honestly state, not one of all the white sorts exhibits a flavor as inferior as the Martha, and are uniformly larger in berry and bunch. Neither was any white variety less pleasant than the Croton in flavor, and but one possessed a slight musky perfume of the black grape; neither was inferior to Concord, although many not as sweet; while even if no other sorts were deemed valuable as table grapes, the acquisition alone of Raritan and Advance as wine grapes, would mark an era in the grape history of the United States.
It is necessary to express all opinions with caution, for the history of horticulture in the United States has too many records of deathblows to enthusiasm over new fruits which fail when transferred to localities beyond the place of origin; yet, every active horticulturist will rejoice with pleasure at such signal advance in so new and promising addition to the pomo-logical treasures of the country. Mr. llicketts' collection is a valuable one financially - $10,000 would be a fair estimate of its worth, and we trust they will soon be disseminated and he will receive their full value.