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 is generally considered that little which is new can now be advanced on this subject My desultory remarks may therefore appear to be superfluous; but I would ask to what causes are we to attribute the different results which are constantly being obtained by men of great skill and experience in their profession! That there are differences in their productions every one will admit who has an opportunity of examining the grapes exhibited at the Chiswick shows. There we find large bunches with berries gorged with watery matter, but without bloom; there are also large and splendid bunches apparently well ripened but deficient in color; and we often, too, find there beautiful bunches cut fully three weeks before their maturity. Grapes are not ripe because they are black or transparent, as the case may be. The formation of saccharine matter is the last process toward ripeness, which ought to be fully accomplished before grapes are out and sent to any table. A celebrated grape grower, a quarter of a century ago, used to boast that his bunches were of medium size, and so compact that they retained their form in whatever position they were placed.
The berries were large and had a bloom like the Sloe; the flesh was firm, juicy, and rich in sugar, and the berries retained the stamens of the blossom around their base. This he said was growing the Hamburgh grape in perfection; but if that be so, how rarely do we see it attained! To what cause, then, are we to attribute these different results ? The most successful growers in one locality when removed to another have often not been more successful than their brethren of less reputation. One attributes his success to the formation of his vine border; another to his system of pruning, while a third would persuade us that it consists in careful attention to the routine of management in the interior of the house. Now I admit that these are important considerations in the culture of the vine in this country; but when these are combined, do we always obtain successful results! My experience leads me to say, No.
Gardeners in general can not be expected to have a chemical knowledge of the constituents of soil adapted to the growth of the vine and consequent maturity of the fruit; but in all parts of the country, wherever a mansion is erected, and gardens connected therewith for the growth of fruits, etc, the vine will generally be found; and I need hardly remark that in those situations only where the soil is naturally adapted for its growth, and where skill and the practical routine of management are carefully applied, will the results be lasting or satisfactory. The vine, it has been said, is a gross feeder, and well has its voracious appetite been supplied. Deep borders have been made for it and crammed with rich incongruous matter, foetid and disgusting; but what effect, after a few years' decomposition and consolidation, this unseemly compost has on its health and productiveness, the advocates of the system can best report. That the vine requires a liberal and generous supply of nutritive food is certain; but the proper time to apply it is when the plant is in active growth.
It is currently believed that the great vine at Hampton Court derives its nourishment from a sewer in its neighborhood; but whether this is the case or not it is evident that its roots have an unfailing supply of healthy and invigorating food. It is asserted, on the contrary, that the large vine at Cumberland Lodge has no such source of supply; but that it derives its nourishment from the natural fertility of the soil. Some years ago I was in the habit of visiting the gardens of a gentleman in whose green-house (which was of no ordinary size) was planted a Black Hamburgh or Frankendale vine, which entirely covered, the house. Having expressed my surprise to my friend at the fine crop it yearly produced, well knowing that the subsoil was a strong clay, and that no extra supply of nourishment was given to the surface, he said that from his stable-yard there passed within twenty feet of the front of the house a drain which he thought the roots of the vine had entered, and which he considered was the cause of its productiveness.
Some years ago I gave a vine to a neighbor who planted it at the south front of his dwelling-house. I ean answer for it, there was no preparation of soil in this case - in fact, it had many years before been paved with flints; some of these were taken up, a hole made, the vine put in with a little fresh soil around the roots, and the flints replaced. The plant grew to the admiration of its possessor, and in four or five years it had filled the whole of the space available for it, producing abundant crops, and many of the branches were of such a size as would have done credit to any vinery. Having my attention particularly directed to its luxuriant growth and fertility, I could discern no other apparent cause than that there had been a cesspool within twelve feet of where it was planted, but which had many years ago been filled up.
I admit that in these two cases I can only draw an inference, as I had no positive proof that the roots had entered the one or the other. I will only notice another instance, which, although not confined to the vine, will serve to show that the latter will flourish exceedingly when its roots are immersed in an intermitting flow of water.
I was solicited by our village schoolmaster to supply him with a vine to plant on the west front of his school-house. I gave him one, more with a view to his amusement than with any hope of successful culture. The soil was very stiff; at ten inches deep it was a strong clay. However, the vine was planted and carefully attended to; the first two years it made little progress, but after the fourth year it grew vigorously. My judgment was called in question - there could be no gainsaying the fact; it was producing shoots from fifteen to twenty feet in length, and a good crop of fruit; but I was not long in suspense - the cause of its rapid growth was soon discovered. The drain from the sink in the wash-house ceased to flow; the vine had been planted within five feet of it; the roots had entered the drain, and entirely filled it up. They were removed, and the hopes of the schoolmaster were blighted.