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.
WHEN we consider how largely the Currant contributes to good living, in the way of tarts, jams, jellies, wines, &c; and how easily it is cultivated, how little space it requires, how patient it is under all sorts of maltreatment; we surely must confess that it is a most valuable fruit - an indispensable fruit, - not for the rich man or the poor man, but for every man who has a square yard of ground to till. Valuable as it is, however, it has received comparatively little attention at the hands either of experimental pomologists or practical fruit-growers. While we have had new varieties of other fruits in abundance and to spare, our list of Currants has remained pretty much the same for a great length of time. In cultivation, too, it has been neglected - thrust into some out-of-the-way corner, where other fruits would utterly refuse to thrive, and left to struggle with its fate - it receives no pruning, or pinching, or training, or mulching, such as are lavished on its more favored neighbors.
With all this neglect, it produces crops of fruit, and large crops too; but of what quality! - about as nearly equal to fine, well-grown Currants, as an austere Crab is to a delicious Fall Pippin, or a common Damson Plum to a Green Gage. We are quite certain that no other fruit is more susceptible of improvement, by good treatment, than the Currant Just try the experiment on a neglected bush that has been left to itself for the last three or four years ; - apply the pruning knife judiciously, remove all the suckers from about the roots, prune it up to a single stem six or twelve inches from the ground, thin out the top branches, and then give it a liberal dressing of well-decomposed manure, or good compost; and you will be surprised at the size, and beauty, and richness of your Currants. Follow up this mode of treatment for a few years, and you may by that time know what fine Currants are.
Currant bushes, as we too often find them, are complete nuisances - mere thickets of weak branches. An annual pruning is necessary; suckers must by no means be tolerated, and the main branches should be kept at sufficient distance from each other to admit the sun and air freely. The annual shoots should be shortened, in order to keep up a good supply of lateral fruit-spurs. This applies only to the Red and White varieties; the Black bears its best fruit on the previous year's wood. Then it is a great feeder, and must be annually treated to a light dressing of compost The roots are small and fibrous, and can not travel far in search of food.
By proper management, the season of Currants may be greatly prolonged. For instance; for early ripening, a few plants may be trained against the south side of a garden fence. In this way they will ripen full two weeks sooner than in the open quarter. For late ripening, train on the north side of a fence such late sorts as the Victoria and Prince Albert. A new French variety, called La Hative, is said to be very early, and may on this account prove valuable.
Training the Currant against a wall or fence is a very simple matter. It may be done in this way: Take a young plant - say a year-old cutting - set it in its place, and when it begins to grow, rub off all shoots on the lower part of the stem, and allow only two strong shoots to remain at the top. At the end of the season the plant will be something like fig. 1. The spring following, these two shoots are shortened one-half or one-third, according to vigor, and brought down to a horizontal position, as in fig. 2. From each of these we have a certain number of young shoots, from which we select one or two to train up in a vertical direction, and one to continue the main horizontal branches, as in fig. 3 ; all others should be rubbed off. The upright shoots should be full six inches apart. At the next pruning, these upright shoots must be shortened one-third or one-fourth, according to the vigor, to insure the production of lateral fruit-spurs; and from year to year this is repeated. It is an exceedingly simple matter, if started on the right principle.
Some people may think that such regularity and precision is altogether unnecessary, and that it will answer every purpose if the branches are allowed their natural growth, and spread out against the fence or wall. The same thing is urged in regard to Grape vines. We must insist upon it, however, that system and regularity are necessary in the training of all trees. Without these we can never secure that nice uniformity of growth and vigor that is absolutely essential to the well-being of all trees placed in artificial conditions.
We are glad to observe increased attention given this useful fruit; in a few years it will no doubt occupy a position in the fruit garden to which it is justly entitled. The production of new varieties should engage the attention of experimental cultivators. We want to increase its size; for this, in small fruits, is an important point See what the English have done for the Gooseberry; the prize varieties for 1653 are actually as large as pullets' eggs. See what has been done for the Strawberry; Rivers, in his latest catalogue, says that Myatt's Eleanor has been grown, in 1853, eight inches in circumference! This shows what may be done. Among Currants we have received, within a few years, some three or four varieties that show a little advance upon the old popular Red and White Dutch sorts, so generally grown. The frontispiece of this number exhibits some of these.
The Cherry is decidedly the largest red Currant known - at least as far as we are informed. The bunches are shorter than those of the Red Dutch, but the berries are at least one-third larger under equal circumstances. The plant is a vigorous grower, having strong, short-jointed shoots, and dark green, heavy foliage, that distinguish it at once from the others.
The Prince Albert is a new variety sent us a few years ago from France. The bunches are very long; berries nearly as large as the Cherry, of a light pinkish-red color, and ripen quite late. Plant vigorous, with distinct, folded, and sharply serrated foliage. Bears profusely. Rivers says, in his latest catalogue, that Prince Albert is the same as the Transparent White. The probability is, that he received his plant from the same source that we did, but got it wrong. It is yet very scarce. It is so remarkable that it can not be confounded with any other sort.
The White Grape is the largest and finest of all white Currants. Bunches long, and berries very large and pale. Plant a slow grower, with stout, irregular shoots, and dark green, reflexed leaves. It is called in France Chasselas, and in this country has been confounded, to some extent, with the White Dutch.
The At tractor is a large, white Currant - nearly or quite as large as the White Grape. The plant is moderately vigorous, with remarkably deeply lobed, and sharply and deeply serrated foliage.
The Victoria, or Houghton Castle, is a pale red variety, with bunches of enormous length. Valuable for its lateness.
The Red Grape, Long-bunched Red Dutch, Magnum Bonum, and Knight's Sweet Red, are all fine red varieties, superior to the Red Dutch; but none of them strikingly distinct.
The Silver-striped Red is a variety of the Red Dutch, with variegated or blotched foliage, like that of the Silver-edged Geranium.
Black Currants, which are largely consumed by the English people for jams and jellies, are not much cultivated in this country. The common Black English is well known. The Black Naples is larger and finer, and is generally considered the best of this class. We cultivate a curious copper-colored variety of the black Currant The Missouri Currants are sweet, and have something of the flavor of Whortleberries. The Large-fruited has fruit nearly as large as Morrello Cherries, of a shining violet color. The foliage is somewhat of the same character as the Yellow Flowering Currant The Sweet-fruited has smaller, oval, shining fruit, of a violet color, and the foliage resembles that of the black Currant more than the others. We have recently received several new varieties from France, which we have not yet tested sufficiently to warrant an opinion of their merits.