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 who read the various periodicals of the day, and who reflect on the past, present and future, must have their risibilities frequently agitated by articles on the composition of grape vine borders. We have read of nothing from the days of Adam to Washington to compare with the blood and carrion of the recent days of grape growing. From such we must expect grapes far outvieing the land of Eschol or the graperies of Speechly. Every science has its hobby and every practitioner his ultimatum. In medical science the days of phlebotomy are gone, and horticulture is at present nauseated with offal and ammonia. What produces the rich and luscious grapes on the mountain sides of Southern Europe? What on the calcarious steeps in the vicinity of Paris, or the sandy alluvial of Thomery? What gives the exhuberant growth and heavy product of the famous vine at Hampton Court, or its more famous rival at Cumberland Lodge? Wesjy a dry bottom, thin, warm free soil, with a regular periodical stimulant either of decomposed lava - mineral or vegetable substances.
Of these two celebrated vines, the former is said to luxuriate in an old sewer, but that is a mere say so, and not a fact! the latter grows in the dry sandy loam of an old garden, on a sandy clay bottom that no roots will penetrate - perfectly natural soil, (as you may have seen it, and no mystery about it,) peculiar to that vicinity, and no doubt very genial to the growth of the vine, which should be analysed for the benefit of those who are affected with the carrion and composition mania.
Sometime ago, we saw a grape vine border made three to four feet deep, according to the avowed judgment of a recent writer, and though the drainage was perfect the vines did not grow in it; the second year the roots became rotten and musty - the composition was too rich with shins of beef, heads and even whole bodies, of animal putrefaction. One half had to be removed, and the remainder incorporated with sandy loam from an old pasture. The vines were cut down, (those that were alive,) and replanted. They now do well and bear freely, but in wet seasons arc subject to mildew.
Another, and on a larger scale, was made about eight years ago. The soil and every etc., etc., to carry the whole figure out for a four feet deep border, was carted six miles; the vines grew well for two years, and produced one good crop, when the roots all perished except a few near the surface. Every load of loam cost at least two dollars, independent of the animal "fixings," when there was abundance of light loamy soil and decomposed vegetable matter on the premises, to make a permanent and wholesome foundation for grape culture. About two years ago the soil was renewed, many of the old vines replaced and others cut down, and now they promise well. The error of those rich, deep borders, consists in their decomposing and becoming a solid, greasy, unctuous mass, that would poison any roots, however gross their feeding powers. In these excessively rich borders the Frontignac and Muscat grapes never succeed well - the foliage is of a yellowish sickly green, the wood long jointed, with weak eyes, the fruit when produced, cracking before maturity. These are stubborn facts, not high colored, to which I could add several others if the confirmation of our position required it.
Now sir, for the other side of the picture, (and we will keep under the mark.) We know a vine border of a grapery eighty feet long and sixteen feet wide, that has been made six years. The subsoil is clay, and in rather a low situation. Eighteen inches under the surface there was formed a regular bed, of old bricks, stones and oyster shells, eight or ten inches deep, shelving to a drain, to keep the bottom perfectly dry. The natural soil was a rich, dark loam, to which was added one-quarter street manure, the whole being well incorporated and frequently turned; the border when finished, was one foot higher than the surrounding surface, forming an open, dry, porous soil, twenty inches deep. The vines have uniformly produced great crops, well ripened and colored, consisting of about thirty-five to forty kinds of foreign grapes. The border was never mulched nor covered, in summer or winter. In June and July they had several waterings of liquid manure. On examining the roots they were found to be strong and fibrous, ramifying in every inch of the soil.
There is another grape border ninety feet long and thirty feet wide, that we have carefully observed the past ten years. The substratum to within eighteen inches of the surface is sand and gravel, or gravelly loam, which required no draining; the situation is naturally elevated. A depth of twenty inches to two feet was dug out and replaced with the sod from the walks of the garden and an adjoining field, to which was added one-quarter decomposed leaves and rotten barn-yard manure, mixed only when deposited on the spot. The growth and product have been the finest I have seen - Haraburghs weighing over three pounds, and Syrians from six to nine pounds per bunch. The wood is uniformly short jointed, and of a particularly healthy growth. The border has had an annual top-dressing in winter of stable manure - no manure water - and although the establishment has been under the management of four different gardeners in that period, the vines, in crop, character, color and growth, have maintained their peculiar high qualities.
We have never admitted the practice of deep, rich preparations, for the culture of the grape, even of materials well incorporated, though we doubt not that under judicious management, vines will grow vigorously and produce good crops of half colored, large fruit; but when the fibre of the loam loses its elasticity, and the manure and carrion are decayed, the whole becomes a sour, unctuous mass, retentive of moisture, through which noted; so that what was once a rich, porous, and expensive border, has become entirely unsuited to the growth of the vine. This error has been adopted very unwittingly, from the effervescent recipes of some blue-aproned bragadocio! No sir, we have a climate of our own; let us think for ourselves; let us Americanise our handy work, as you have done Landscape Gardening and Architecture, and though we cannot expect the critical approval of some learned plebians, we may at least show that our reflective organs are not diseased.
Give an artificial vine border a dry bottom; if naturally sandy or gravelly that is enough, but if not make it so. Go down two feet, not more, (less will do;) fill in nine to twelve inches of stones, bricks, coal ashes, clinkers, or any such material, inclining the bottom to a point or points from whence there are permanent drains to carry off the moisture - having prepared a compost of four parts sod or loam taken from the surface, (not going deeper than four inches) - one part street manure or sweepings from large towns, and one part thoroughly rotted stable-manure, all well mixed four or six months previous to using it. If oyster shells or charcoal is convenient, a few loads will prove beneficial in keeping open the soil; take fair weather to fill up the border, raising it above the level at least twelve inches. Time will take down much soluble matter amongst the dry material in the bottom, at which the roots will, at their own pleasure, ramble and luxuriate for half a century. Give yearly, a light top-dressing of manure, or use freely in the growing season, liquid manure, or Guano water, till the fruit begins to color, but not later.
We hear some who have never tried it already say, that such a vine border is too poor and too shallow; that the plants will be weak, and the summer suns, will dry them up. To such we reply, friend, you are "verdant" - what is your idea? "A border four feet deep, drained, concreted, bury the whole animal, (silver dollars too,) and asphalt it to keep down the ammonia." Such sir, is the last and newest idea of this electrical age on grape vine borders. R. Buist.
Philadelphia, Rosedale Nurseries, Jan. 4,1851.
As the foregoing, from one of the most experienced horticulturists in the country, will probably wake up a rejoinder from the other side, we shall reserve what we have to say on this subject, till the "summing up." Ed.
Mr. Editor: Though house grapes have been successfully grown without the expensive preparation mostly resorted to, they do repay a liberal outlay, both in the construction of the house and materials for the border. When rich borders so often mil in producing, for any length of time, fine grapes, the cause must be looked for in the position of the border, or want of sufficient porous materials in it to keep it open. Gardeners have difficulties enough in obtaining the means of doing these things as they could wish, and need not a false economy to make things worse.
A Young ard Enthusiastic Gardener.