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.
We last month gave an extract from Landmarks, containing Dr. Grant's mode of culture and preferences as respects the strawberry. We now give another extract, containing some very interesting historical notes.
"If we look back for the early history of the strawberry as a fruit, we shall not find any account of it to attract our attention farther back than about two hundred years, which is not until after our native Virginia Scarlet had been received and cultivated in England. It has been mentioned, indeed, by Pliny and others, who wrote more than two thousand years ago, but it was not sufficiently prized to make it a subject of cultivation. The only kinds at that time known in Europe were probably the Alpines, including the Wood and the Hautbois. The former are very extensively spread in native wildness, and the latter appear to have come from Northern Europe through Germany. It was very early called Polish, but its history is not well ascertained.
" It does not appear that any other kinds were known in England until after the Early Scarlet was introduced from America, where different kinds are found wild from Hudson's Bay to Louisiana, and perhaps South America. Some accounts state that the South American kinds, known as Chili Pines, were from those introduced to Spain from England, and thence to her colonies, thus making it probable that the Virginia Scarlet is the type and original of all the Pines or Scarlets.
"Up to the beginning of the present century it had been in England for more than one hundred and fifty years, thought worthy of so much attention that it was not unfrequently cultivated in the gardens of the wealthy, but its merit did not give it rank among the most esteemed and indispensable fruits. Its natural history had been written by Duchesne, and published about the beginning of the last quarter of the last century, and the work is still highly valued scientifically, but is of little use to the simple cultivator. At the beginning of the present century begins the 'modern history' of strawberry culture, or, to speak exactly, at the year 1806; for in that year Michael Keens, a market gardener, produced from seed his Imperial. As he states, it was from the seed of the Chili, but it is generally believed from the Carolina Pine.
"From this time strawberry culture assumes a new interest, and Michael Keens takes distinguished rank among public benefactors, not so much for having originated two seedlings, the second in course of which was the type of all of our present excellent varieties; as because by long years of indefatigable industry and careful observation, he learned and made known the conditions of success in cultivation. He did not offer to the public ill-digested and impossible theory, loosely built upon a melange of circumstances pertinent and impertinent, but a carefully elaborated and systematic method, from which half a century has laid aside nothing as useless, and to which it has added little except minuteness of detail, adapting it to different circumstances.
"For a long time his well-cultivated perceptions had taken cognizance of the excellences and defects of the strawberry of that time, as a fruit; and be had labored with indefatigable zeal in his efforts to make it better by the production of seedlings. By careful and judicious cultivation he produced the best possible fruits of those at command. From the best specimens of these be, through the same course, produced others, and from these, in the year 1806, came the Imperial, and from this, a few years later, the Keens' Seedling.
"At this time no generally admitted classification of strawberries was in existence, and the want of it was much felt In the year 1824, a classification was made by James Barnet, which was sufficiently clear and comprehensive for the wants of the time, and it is now recognized by all writers on the subject, including Professor Lindley. He makes seven classes, as follows: 1st, the Scarlet Strawberries; 2d, the Black Strawberries; 3d, the Pine Strawberries; 4th, the Chili Strawberries; 5th, the Hautbois Strawberries; 6th, the Green Strawberries; 7th, the Alpine and Wood Strawberries. Two other classes have been thought of - the Surinam and the Chinese - but concerning these sufficient knowledge did not exist to enable him to state with precision their characteristics, and no one has attempted to do it since.
"This classification does not claim to divide them by any clearly drawn natural line, but only to lay away in boxes several parcels each containing a convenient number to take out for examination, so that we can recognize the individuals as subjects for culture, and not for any scientific contemplation of the relations of likeness or unlikeness which they may bear to each other.
"A natural division would be into Pines, Woods, Alpines, and Hautbois; the Pines comprehending in one great class, without any division that is con-stant or well marked, our esteemed strawberries for cultivation, and having our field strawberry for its type and original.
"Of these classes only three are of special interest to our present consideration; these are, 1st, the Scarlet, of which the Virginia is the type. 2d, the Pine. For the type of this class we may take Keens'. Seedling, or of those that are now better known, Boston Pine, Triomphe de Gand, and Bartlett. 3d, the Chili. This does not include the one that Keens speaks of as furnishing the seed of his Imperial. Mr. Barnet considered that the Carolina Pine, and included it in the general class of Pines.
"This (according to him) true Chili is very distinct in character, having very villous or hairy leaves of thick texture, the fruit very large and pale, and insipid in flavor. The chief interest of this class consists in its having fur-nished one of the parents of Wilmot's Superb. With the Black Strawberries we shall have nothing to do, as the Black Prince is not made of that class ] by its color, but is with the Pines. The Green Strawberry assimilates so nearly with the Hautbois, that we need only say that it is like it in flavor, and is rarely grown, and only as a curiosity. The Wood and Alpine Strawberries are sufficiently distinct for separate classes, but to the cultivator, at present, they are of too little consequence to occupy our attention. 1 think further acquaintance with the Alpines will teach us that they are worthy of attention for special purpose. The Hautbois Strawberries are so distinct from the other kinds, that it has been generally supposed there is a specific organic distinction that will not permit of inter-impregnation, although it is claimed to have been done both in England and in this country; but nothing within my. knowledge has been pro-duced that could perpetuate itself; therefore it has played only its own individual part in the history of strawberry culture, and the 'Prolific (or Hermaphrodite) Hautbois' of a much earlier date than that named, is still the best of its class; 'sweet with musky fragrance,' bearing its fruit well up from the ground, as the name imports.
Of the Alpines, Bed and White; little need be said, except that under proper treatment they produce a small autumnal crop, and never more than a small crop of very small berries under any circumstances. These are only valuable for their curiosity.
"The Chili or South American Strawberry had been for a long period in the European gardens, but only as an unprofitable occupant; its own stamens being so imperfect as to effect fructification but sparingly, and its season of flowering being so late as to render fertilization by the pollen of other varieties impracticable for a crop; In size it surpassed other varieties of the time, with firm flesh, but poor flavor. It was from a seed of a 'White Chili,' according to Keens, that he raised his 'Imperial,' or Imperial Black, in 1806. But Barnet of the London Horticultural Society states that it was from the White Carolina Pine. It was exhibited before the London Horticultural Society in 1813, and a fine colored en graving of it published in the Horticultural Transactions.
"Of the Scarlet Strawberries the best was Early Scarlet, which was no other than our present Large Early Scarlet, which had been introduced from America two hundred years before, and was at that time their best strawberry. And it is not ten yeans, nor perhaps half that, since many of our 'best cultivators' spoke of it as the best variety for general cultivation in America. This was in a measure true, for according to the prevailing ideas of cultivation it was beat, for it will produce some fruit under a degree of negligence which would render fruitless those that now rank as our best varieties.
"The production of Keens' Imperial was but a step in advance. It was not high flavored, and only tolerably productive, but was much the largest and handsomest that had been produced, and it was the first that bore its fruit on stalks well up from the ground. It had a strong influence in leading others to plant, and seedlings innumerable were raised, and many of a better character than had been generally grown.. Foremost among these, for the number produced, was Thomas Andrew Knight, President of the London Horticultural Society. The beet that he raised was named Downton, but this was so far surpassed by two others, that it has been forgotten.
"Mr. Keens continued to plant strawberry seeds, as he had for a long time done; for the desire of improvement was in him a living force that would not let him rest. He was soon most munificently rewarded by a seedling from his Imperial, which has since been known as Keens' Seedling, or Keens' New Pine. This was a very astonishing production for the time, and must even now be regarded as a first-rate fruit in habit, size, flavor, and productiveness, when under the special treatment which in our climate it requires. The London Horticultural Society immediately (1821) published a finely executed colored plate of it, which for truth and spirit I have never seen surpassed. The fruit and artist were worthy of each other, and the London Horticultural Society never conferred honor more worthily.
"About the year 1815, a kind called the Roseberry Strawberry was sent from Aberdeen in Scotland, which, from its late season in flowering, fitted it to become a good fertiliser of the Chili. Mr. John Wilmot, who used it for this purpose in 1823, exhibited before the London Horticultural Society specimens of fruit from a seedling of this parentage that was equal to Keens9 in size and beauty, but not so valuable. About this time Mr. Wilmot also raised from Keens' Imperial one that was justly esteemed as valuable, which was named Wilmot's Black Imperial. It was afterwards known in England and this country under the name of Black Prince; and when circumstances were favorable, it was excellent in flavor, and productive, and much more hardy than its parent, but still sensitive and variable. Ross' Phoenix, an American seedling from Keens', was also much better for general cultivation in this country than its parent. The two were well calculated for field culture under good management, while both Wilmot's and Keens' needed the special attention of the skillful gardener, in consequence of their tenderness, resulting from foliage which, under ordinary circumstances, could not endure our scorching summer suns.
I have not yet fully noted the part that Early Scarlet has performed, and by saying that none of its direct offspring has been greatly distinguished, I have apparently disparaged its importance. It will be noticed again, for although it is now rarely remembered, I think its office is not fully accomplished".