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.
Not being a Doctor of Horticulture, with any specialty to advocate, I will have to ask indulgence if my present article is a little promiscuous in its character.
To begin with that very trite subject, the weather, we have had within the last thirty-six months a very dry season, a very wet, a very hot, and a very cold one. All the weather prophets have been at fault, and the auguries, whether based upon bird, or animal, or vegetable phenomena, have been alike deceptive. If the weather is not the result of a present exercise of the Divine will, but is governed by established rules, they are certainly thus far inscrutable to humanity.
In this section of the county, according to a very conservative thermometer kept by Professor T. F. Thickstun, who makes observations for the Smithsonian Institute, the mercury has stood, between the 26th of December and the 21st day of March, twenty-four times below zero, the lowest degree reached being 27° below 0. Instruments in other parts of the village gave four or five degrees below this. Another unusual feature in the weather was the absence of any rain from the 22d of Dec. to the 2d of April, a period of over 14 weeks. On .the other hand, the snow, which commenced falling about Christmas, lasted until the middle of April, and accumulated in many places until it was thirty inches deep on the level.
There is a sad list of killed and wounded, and a very crymean air of grief about amateur cultivators. Quinces and roses are killed down to the snow line; Chinese arbor vitae and many other evergreens are done up brown; the box wood is blanched; peach-trees, if they have any vitality left, will have to submit to severe amputation when new buds have formed; and dwarf pears are more or less affected. Notwithstanding all this, there is much of beauty left in our groves and fields. The snow has protected the winter grain, apple and standard pears are showing their blossom-buds, and we shall probably have a good supply of strawberries and the smaller fruits. Cultivators will hardly relinquish shrubbery of rare merit because once in the course of many years it is destroyed by an Artic winter. Yet popular attention will be directed, as it should be, to the hardier class of trees and shrubs in our country, which we. are too apt to overlook. In making a selection of the former, however, I can hardly say that I agree with friend Allen (who always writes a spirited and sensible article) in adopting the Balm of Gilead, Athenian Poplar, or Cottonwood.
I carefully eradicated them from my own grounds some years ago, and induced one of my neighbors to do the same thing by the proffer of some sugar-maples as a substitute. They undoubtedly grow rapidly, and look well when young; but they are softwooded, easily broken by storms, great monopolists of soil and space, much given to sprouting, and lack durability. Being large when grown, an equal and more permanent amount of beauty can be obtained by the selection of trees of less objectionable habits. Friend Alien has almost redeemed his tree by that story of the oriole's, but I can assure him that I parted with no birds when I laid an axe to the roots of the Cottonwood.
In speaking of Mr. Allen, I fully concur with him in the report he makes to the Western New York Fruit Growers' Association about the " Ladie's sweeting apple." After trying it for two or three years, I have rejected it, as quite below in this region the qualities attributed to it by Mr. Downing.
The failures of fruits from frosts and severe winters will turn attention to the growing of grapes under glass, and in connection with this subject, I would mention that having occasion this spring to remove an old grapery, I found the studding and boards much dry rotted by the tan, with which the walls of the building had been filled. The tan seems to be unnecessary, and for the reason I have given had better be dispensed with. A span roof on a north and south line gives the vines a much greater amount of solar light and heat during the day than a lean-to grapery, with a southern exposure, and the temperature is more equal. As we have sometimes violent winds when it is too warm to close a grapery, fine wire screens over sliding sashes in the ends of the building admit of ventilation, while they break the force of the wind; they also exclude beetles and other insects.
There seems to me to be a debatable philosophy in the reasons given by some of our best writers on grape culture on the subject of ventilation.
Keep the head cool and the feet warm, says Mr. Chorlton (page 24), is advice often given by physicians, and the same rule, with very slight modifications, applies to plants generally. "Nature has no fixed canopy over plants to prevent heat passing upwards," etc. Now we keep our feet warm with cork soles and other appliances, counteracting and not conforming to nature. A seed to germinate requires warmth in the soil, but when the plant or tree is grown, if the soil be kept damp and cool, it will stand the blaze of a July sun on its top without injury. If nature has any rule about it, it would seem to be to keep the roots cool, and the head of a plant warm.
In unison with Mr. Chorlton is a remark of Mr. Saunders in the May number of Horticulturist: "Towards the end of this month leave the top sashes open all night, and allow the temperature to fluctuate with the external atmosphere. There is no climate in the world where the temperature is constantly the same".
As a general rule, to give a good deal of ventilation when the weather is warm is good practice, but a grapery should be closed in cold nights, even in midsummer. Analogies are often deceptive, but the analogy with regard to climate and grape culture, if closely observed, would, we think, lead to a different conclusion from that given by Mr. Saunders.
The climates in the world best adapted to grape growing are those which are marked by uniformity of temperature and the absence of extremes. Uniformity of temperature is then the desideratum, and if we can secure it artificially in a grapery, it may be that we can excel any natural climate in the matter of grape culture. Though the Tine will be uninjured by the slight fluctuations of temperature in countries where it is indigenous, it seems hardly to follow that the more violent and sudden changes of our North American climate should be innocuous to it. Light frosts, even in June, with us are not unusual.
I merely call attention to what strikes me as eccentricity of theory in these gentlemen, because I know that in mulching, and sprinkling, and keeping the borders in right condition, and in the regulation of temperature, they are practically no doubt as reliable guides as any we have in the country.
Some of our best writers on fruit culture, investigating new diseases, pear blight, black knot, etc, I notice endeavor to account for them by climatology, cold, unseasonable winds, Ac, to all which it may be objected that sudden changes of temperature are not modern inventions. They have always been common, and of wide extent, while these diseases break out locally, even as to orchards, and extend themselves from place to place, apparently without dependence on temperature. Atmospheric causes, such as produce cholera, yellow fever, and other destructive epidemics, may have a kindred malaria destructive to vegetation. Insects, fungoid productions, which have escaped microscopic observation, may account for the evils we are considering, but a sudden change of temperature, as a reason, does not accord with all the facts.
We close with the hope that some shrewd observer may do something better than raise objections to present theories by giving us new ones in unison with reason and observation on this "knotty" question.