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.
Those of our readers who intend to erect houses for use the coming winter, or to be planted with vines or trees the following spring, should have commenced operations, so that everything may be in readiness before the approach of frost. Scarcely any lover of plants can dispense with protection of some sort for his half hardy pets, which have added so much to his pleasure and the gratification of his visitors during the growing season, and which must otherwise succumb to the winter's frost. To those who can not afford a more expensive structure, and who are. willing to give to it a very small amount of attention, a cold pit has many advantages over the usual practice of putting plants in a cellar.
Such a pit should be permanent in its character, and located in a spot easy of access to the house, that it may receive proper attention during the winter. A convenient size, and one sufficient for an ordinary garden, would be ten feet long by five wide, varied somewhat from these dimensions to suit size of glass in sashes. The pit should be excavated four feet and a half below the surface, and a hollow wall of brick built up to one foot above the surface. Six inches in depth of coarse gravel should be placed in the bottom, on which the pots containing the plants rest. Shelves may be also placed around the sides for the smaller plants. The wall above the ground should be "banked up" to within three inches of the top, and sodded.
Double sashes, we have found, give great protection, and save attention in covering the pit. The bars of these sashes are "rabbited" on both sides and double glazed, thus inclosing a stratum of air affording a good non-conductor of heat from within, or cold from without the pit. The plants when first put in the pit will require to be watered, and the sashes opened during the day, until cold weather. But little water is required during winter, as the plants are in a state of rest, and partial dryness at the roots is of advantage. In very severe weather straw mats would be required, but the double glass-would keep out 10 to 15 degrees of frost. Some ventilation must be.given on mild days, when the sun is bright, to carry off the dampness, but in dull cold weather all should be kept closed up. Camellias and azaleas do admirably in such quarters, and can be brought into the dwelling and flowered at any time during the winter. Many plants grow with surprising luxuriance after remaining dormant in such quarters all winter.
As the season advances, in the spring ventilation must be given during the day, closing the sashes at night until the weather becomes mild, when they may be gradually removed altogether.
We have never advocated the erection of cheap structures for growing plants, unless they are intended for mere temporary use; or if the owner is willing to repair them frequently to an extent of an entire renewal in from six to ten years.
The general plan of horticultural structures may be as perfect as possible, but if the details are not well carried out, and especially if the workmanship be not good, they will prove a source of never-ending vexation and expense. Insecure foundations, ill-fitting doors and ventilators, imperfect glazing and inferior workmanship of every description, are evils that skillful gardeners have to contend with, and upon whom the consequences of such defects usually fall, when they should be placed upon the shoulders of the constructor.
Methods for building cheap graperies and green-houses have often been described, and we find many of these imperfect and temporary structures scattered through the country. Such buildings may be cheap as respects their first cost, but their durability is a question which should enter into the calculations of their builders, as well as the consideration of the original outlay. After a year or two we find them with open joints, leaky roofs, and decaying foundations. The inferior and temporary character of materials and workmanship is often a source of serious loss to their owners, and every building of this description demonstrates the mistaken and. shortsighted economy of its projector. It is much wiser and truer economy to expend at the outset a sufficient amount of money and care to make the structure permanent, and to obviate the necessity of constant repairs. Experience has taught us that if they are well and substantially built, these structures will endure for twenty years with very few repairs except an occasional coat of paint.
It need not be demonstrated that the profit and gratification to be derived from a well-built house far exceed those accruing from a cheap and imperfect one, with escapes for the heat in winter, and inlets for cold air and driving snow and rain.
In the September number of the Horticulturist Mr. Eaton, in an article on grape houses, expresses himself as being strongly in favor of curvilinear roofs, and enumerates some important advantages which he considers they possess.
My object was to endeavor to show how a neat, and at the same time a cheap and efficient glass house might be built; for there are many persons who would be willing to build such, who do not feel inclined to adopt a costly ornamental style, yet would not be pleased with a roughly built house of boards, and the broken sash ventilation of Mr. Eaton.
Now I wish to state at once that I have no dislike to curved roofs. When properly constructed they answer very well as grape, or indeed any other kind of glass houses; in alluding to them in my article of March last, I had not the most distant idea of condemning them. But as they have been brought forward as models, it may be well to enquire wherein their superiority consists.
With regard to the superior beauty of curved glass roofs, I confess that in the most of them which I have seen, (not excepting the Great Palm house at Kew,) there is a want of architectural proportion which detracts much from the beauty and grace which a curved roof would otherwise confer. This I have thought proceeds from a deficiency of upright base, or support ing elevation. A house so constructed that the curve seems to start immediately from the ground, originates a feeling similar to that produced in my mind when looking at a vase sitting on a lawn without a pedestal.
As to the additional gain of training surface, I think there is a mistaken notion prevalent on this point. For example, take a house 10 feet wide and 12 feet high, let there be 2 feet upright wall, then curve so as to procure a rafter 14 feet in length, which will be in good proportions. A common span would, in addition to the upright wall, require 2 feet upright glass, and a rafter 12 feet long. So that the training surface is very equally balanced, and any gardener would undertake to grow just as much fruit in the one, as he could in the other.
An " important disadvantage" in all narrow high houses, is the difficulty of equalizing the temperature. This is well understood among practical gardeners.
The cost of curvilinear houses, is, I have good reason to know, over 30 per cent that of angular houses. I again repeat that the latter are " much cheaper and equally efficient".
There is a too general dread of glass structures among our amateur fruit-growers and owners of suburban places, caused, doubtless, by the fussy and complicated rules for their management laid down in most books. A grape-house or orchard-house for peaches, etc., can be just as easily managed as a vine or peach-tree in the open ground, and with an almost certainty in the house of a good crop, because in the house temperature can be controlled, while out of doors it can not. With a house constructed so that ventilation can be had only at the top, there is little fear of any mildew, or other disease, so often destructive to vines in houses constructed with both upper and lower ventilators, and there is no trouble whatever in controlling the temperature. In such houses (in the season of frosts) we have seen months pass without the ventilators being disturbed, the temperature being regulated by that outside. The rules for forming borders of rags, old horses, etc., are all humbug; any good rich soil will grow table grapes; and if any enriching material is required, bone meal or well-rotted manure is all that is necessary.
In managing, also, the main point is to keep moisture in connection with heat; and as heated air is an absorbent of moisture, it will extract it from the vine or tree, unless it can be obtained from the soil; the surface, therefore, should never be allowed to become entirely dry during the period of vigorous growth. After the fruit has commenced coloring, if the soil becomes partially dry, it will not be injurious. Some think the flavor of the fruit better with less moisture during the latter part of the ripening season.