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.
ONE of the most fruitful Sources of disappointment to the tyro in gardening, is the injudicious choice of material, or, in other words, the selection of objects for cultivation not adapted to his experience or his circumstances. Mr. A, for instance, by reading, or perhaps by the example of some neighbor, all at once conceives a desire to have a fine garden. He procures the nurserymen's catalogues, or some books, and placing entire confidence in the descriptions which he finds accompanying the names of fruits, ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers, selects the newest, and, as he supposes, the best. These he must have, because he does not wish to be second to any in either the beauty or novelty of the objects on which he is about to lavish his care. Unfortunately for him, however, the stock of new and rare fruit trees, plants, and flowers, is small, and the specimens to be had rather feeble, and requiring great care and skill to bring them to a successful issue. His limited experience, as well as his impatience, prevents him from giving them the needful treatment, and they become a total failure.
This cools the ardor of the beginner; visions of fruitful and blooming gardens, on which he had feasted his imagination, become misty; he hesitates, falls back into indifference, and finally and perhaps forpver abandons the delightful scheme of gardening in which he had embarked so hopefully and zealously a few months ago. This is a very great misfortune; not for him alone, and his family, who are thus to be deprived of some of the highest and purest pleasures of life - the enjoyment of a good garden, but for his neighbors and friends, who are deprived of the good example which hi3 success would have given them; and for the country at large, because gardens are public preachers, inculcating industry, refinement, and other personal and social virtues, upon which the comfort and happiness of society in a great measure depend. Now, in order to prevent in some small degree, if possible, the disastrous consequences of such failure, we propose to offer to beginners a few suggestions.
Gardening cannot be learned in a day, or a week, or a year. Men have to spend years in acquiring knowledge enough to make them competent to manage well even an ordinary garden. No man can be a good gardener without reading, and extensive reading, too; but no amount of reading can possibly, by itself, enable a man or woman to enter at once upon the management of a garden, and do it successfully. Practice is necessary - much practice, - and with it, careful study and observation. We may study in books the written history and character of any given tree or plant, until we suppose we know all that can be known about it, and yet when we undertake its cultivation we often find that our very first step was wrong. This every person of experience will testify to be true. The history of the introduction of every new plant and tree corroborates this. An accurate knowledge of the proper treatment has only been acquired by experience. "What, then, are we to do ?" the uninitiated may ask. "Do you wish to discourage us?" "Must we go and serve an apprenticeship plant and make fruitful and beautiful our humble half acre By no means do we wish to discourage you, or magnify the obstacles that lie in the way of your success. Neither do we ask you to serve an apprenticeship to any great master.
What we wish to do, is merely to point out, according to the best of our humble judgment, the true path for beginners to pursue, if they would escape the rock on which so many hopes are shipwrecked.
We caution you against falling into the error which Mr. A committed, to wit, resolving to eclipse, in his first season, all that his neighbors had accomplished in years. This is a fatal sort of ambition, and one which we can not approve of, although we admire high aims in general. If you are totally destitute of experience, consult some friend or neighbor who is competent to advise you, and with his assistance lay Borne plan. Don't make a single move without some fixed plan; and let it be as simple as it possibly can be, so that a very moderate amount of skill, and care, and expense, can carry it out successfully. If your aim be to cultivate fruits, choose a small list of such as are noted in your district for their thorough adaptation to its soil, climate, etc (Eschew new sorts, no matter how imposing the name or how tempting the description,) The management of these for a year or two, if you observe closely and avail yourself of all sources of information, will enlighten you greatly upon the culture of fruits in general; you will be able to appreciate what you have and what you need, and you may safely extend the field of your culture and experiment.
To cultivate fruits successfully and pleasantly, one needs possess a great variety of information, both general and special: the nature of soils and manures, and their influence upon the various species of fruits; the nature and influence of stocks which are grafted or budded upon; the mode of growth and bearing of the various fruits. Then, especially, the kind of soil and degree of fertility required or best adapted to each; the hardiness, growth, and productiveness of varieties; the sort of pruning and training best adapted to them; and how and when to gather the fruit, and the best mode of ripening and preserving it On all these points much may be gathered from books; but, after all, we must study our own trees, in our grounds, before we have knowledge applicable to our peculiar wants and circumstances. We know this by experience. What might be judicious and proper at Boston, would very likely require considerable modification to adapt it to Cincinnati or St. Louis; and even more than this, the same practice would not, in a multitude of cases, be applicable in adjoining gardens.
By far the most intelligent and successful amateur fruit growers within our acquaintance are men who commenced with a few well-tested, easily-grown sorts, and added other and newer ones only as their knowledge of cultivation increased. Their whole practice has been successful, and encouraging to themselves and others.