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.
Mr. Editor:- We don't know whether you are as good a hand in keeping secrets as the ladies are; but we suppose that we can trust, in confidence, all secrets on horticultural subjects very safely in your hands. When men begin to think that they know something "of something " which no one else knows any thing about, they are very careful how, when, and where, they speak of the darling treasure wrapped up in the bottom corner of their large hearts. Now we have just two secrets which we want to tell you; and as we have written secrets a long while ago to you, and you have been kind enough never to divulge them, we are going to entrust you with two more.
You have often told me how fond you are of growing grapes, and that you are making more new vineries. New borders with lots of new ideas, and new theories. What wonderful preparations there are every day made for the vine; how borders are compounded by the drachm and scruple; how deep they are made, and how shallow they are made, and then after making so shallow, how thick a mulching is necessary on them to keep the sun from burning up their poor roots. How borders should be drained, not merely for the sake of taking off water from wet bottom lands, but to show how ingenious some inventors are in filtering away all the precious nutriment which has cost so much money in these vine borders. It is a great pity, sir, that we have not got some vine borders formed within glass cases, so that we could see the precious little root at work like bees in a glass hive. If we could only construct a border like this in some secret spot out of sight, where we could enjoy the sight ourselves of watching the transactions of the little roots as well as the big ones, what a sight we should see! Can't we imagine something how it would be? A border two feet deep, half rotten dung, with two feet of broken stones or oyster-shells in the bottom, and drain cut across the bottom besides; and then a large main drain which must be large enough not to entertain a doubt of its capacity in carrying off a volume of water nearly large enough to drive a grist mill! A border of this sort must be full of vine routs, certainly it must! With all these good things in it, it is bound to be full of roots; but if we had only got the glass case, we could see all about it, and we should see very few of the roots in the border.
When you put a strong growing plant into a pot, the first thing done is to make a good rich compost, with plenty of good rotten dung; yes, and then the next thing is to have plenty of drainage; yes, the pot one-third full or nearly so. In three months' time after potting - and the plant lives and flourishes good - turn this same plant out of the pot, and where do you find the roots? All through the soil in a mass? Not a bit of it; they are down in the bottom of the pot, wound round and round, sucking up the essence washed out of the* beautiful compounded compost. So are the roots of these vines in these filtered borders. There is a vast difference between draining a border and making it a filter. A drain cut all around the intended border, and sunk twelve inches below the bottom surface of such border, in most instances is all that is needed, with a proper outlet for water. Stagnant water, let it be ever so little in the bottom, is very destructive, and a filtered border is no better.
Much has been said of vine borders, a vast amount of money spent on them, and many books written on the same subject, but who has written about the Vine Plant? Who has told you, my dear sir, that the great important fact, the ultimate of all compounds - the perfection developed out of all borders - depends upon the healthy organization of the plants put in them? You may just as well tell me that a gorgeous mansion, decorated with all the splendor and magnificence of wealth, will restore health and strength to the broken down, emaciated constitution and that its glittering walls will re-invigorate the broken spirit, and re-instate the body with joyful health. Our knowledge of the laws of the animal creation teaches us a different tale. When once the vital fluid of this animal organism becomes checked, pores contracted, channels contracted, cankered, and weakened, it takes a mighty power to drive it through again, in its original gentle-flowing streams. Splendid palaces may be created for the broken down constitution - a toy to please the spirit passing away - but they can never build up health.
So with your palace vine borders; stuff them as you will, gorge them as you will, filter them as you will, concrete them as you will, make them inside or outside as you will, you will never produce a good sound bunch of grapes from vines having a broken down constitution. This we call your attention to as secret number one.
You may ask me, "What is meant by a broken down constitution in a young vine?" We answer, dying in a five inch pot for two years before it is sold for planting into some palace vine border, for the enormous sum of fifty cents. This, by-the-by, is getting to be an outrageous price for grape-vines; some folks, however, are getting more rational, and are quite willing to sell them for twenty-cento each. Would you like to know what I consider a good sound constitution in a young grape vine to be? I think I can hear you laughing, yes; so I will tell you. Grown from an eye into a cane six feet long, and one quarter of an inch in diameter at the end of that six feet, in six months' time, thoroughly ripened, the leaves turning naturally yellow, and dropping off because they have fully done their duty; and having plenty of roots as large as the cane itself, and equally as long. Do you not think that it would be a far better policy to save some of that useless money spent in making the palace border, and add a dollar to the price of the vines? You may think me, perhaps, rather dogmatical when I tell you that no vine is worth planting unless it comes very near to the standard given, and that we should much prefer giving two dollars each for such plants, than we would be willing to give one cent for the former class.