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.
In Western New York these cold winter winds are severely felt too are really much more injurious to vegetation than the most intense cold which we ever experience. A great many tender trees and shrubs stood the severe winter of 1851-2 in sheltered places without the least injury, while our mildest winters, such as '52-3, would have ruined them in an exposed place. We have beds of China Roses, and specimens of tender Yews and Junipers, that resist our coldest winters without covering, simply because they are surrounded with a thick plantation of evergreens. A single instance of this kind is as good as a thousand in showing the advantages of shelter, and every observing man may find such on his own premises. Those who have the management of glass structures know how shelter from the wind lessens the difficulty and expense of heating, and the risk of danger from sudden changes of weather. Every year we see orchards in sheltered situations bearing full crops, while those much exposed fail entirely.
Throughout the whole range of cultivation we witness the same results.
But it is not merely against the winds of winter we need protection; we need it even more in spring, when the young leaves are unfolding and the blossoms expanding. This is the season of the year when our fruit crops and tender trees suffer most from exposure. Peach buds can resist a cold in winter several degrees below zero without injury; but a cold, dry wind, which lately we scarcely ever fail to have, at the moment when the buds are opening, arrests the course of vegetation, curls up the leaves, dranges all the functions, causing the fruit to drop, and gives the trees a shock from which they can scarcely recover. In such a time we see the advantages of shelter. Cold and violent winds, lasting two or three days in succession, are frequent in the season of the blossoming of the Cherry, Pear, and Apple, and we see the blossoms broken off and blown about in showers before the fructifying process has been completed. Last spring this was the case here, and in many parts of our grounds three-fourths of the crop was destroyed; in all the outside rows and exposed points this is particularly observable. In ornamental gardens there can be no complete success or satisfaction without ample shelter.
We have seen charming beds of Hyacinths and Tulips ruined in a single hour where the wind had free access; and it happens that the finest flowers require protection most.
In midsummer we need protection as much as at any time. High winds bruise and and break the soft and succulent leaves and shoots, and bend and blow over trees. We have seen, in an exposed nursery, hundreds of fine young trees broken down and destroyed in a few minutes. Then in autumn, when the fruit is attaining maturity, how often do we see trees broken down and three-fourths of the crop scattered on the ground, a heap of worthless windfalls.
Shelter, therefore, is one thing indispensable at all seasons of the year - there is no safety without it The cultivator, whose gardens and orchard stand exposed to the pelting of every wind that blows, must certainly be ill at ease; he cannot count upon the safety of his crops a moment. Under the most favorable circumstances there are great hazards; but his are doubly - trebly great. Like a cowardly landsman at sea, he watches every gathering cloud with alarm, lest it may bring forth a hurricane that will destroy his hopes.
But we shall he told that it is impossible that every one's grounds can be sheltered - impossible that every man can select a situation protected from the west and north by woods or hills. We grant this. We know it is not in the power of many of those even who purchase new places to plant themselves directly behind some natural protection; the country has been pretty well "cleared" of timber, and we must take it just as it is. What we advise, however, is this: that people who are about to purchase land for the purpose of planting extensive orchards, nurseries, or market gardens, should, even at great sacrifices, select a sheltered situation. Ten or fifteen dollars an acre in the first cost of land would be an important consideration in purchasing for farming purposes, but for orcharding, nursery, or market gardening, where the crops are of great value and easily damaged, it is as nothing compared to the advantages of a favorable situation. Experienced cultivators understand this very well; but beginners are apt to overlook it.
When an exposed situation is unavoidable, then the very first step should be to provide shelter in the speediest possible manner. For this purpose, belts of rapid growing trees - say double rows - should be planted so as to intersect the ground at intervals, and ward off the prevailing and most injurious winds of the particular locality. In Western New York the most prevalent and destructive winds are those from the west and north-west, and therefore our protecting belts of trees must run north and south - or perhaps better, a little north-west and south-east. The degrees of exposure and the character of the crops to be grown must regulate the distance between the rows or belts of shelter trees. For the purpose of shelter we know of no tree more suitable than the European Larch. In good dry land it makes a growth of three or four feet in a season; it retains its branches well at the bottom, assuming a pyramidal form; the tops do not spread far or shade the ground; the roots occupy a very small space, and never throw up suckers - besides it is a very beautiful tree, and can be easily raised from seed or purchased at a low price in the nurseries.
Single rows of this might be managed so as not to occupy more space than a common hedge, and they would afford protection to considerable extent of level ground. The Norway Spruce is another excellent tree for this purpose, and it has the advantage of being evergreen; but it requires at least double the time to attain a height that would afford much protection except to small plants. The American Arbor Vitae and Hemlock Spruce may be very properly used for this purpose, too; but neither of them are of such rapid growth as the first two named. The Lombardy Poplar, Balsam Poplar, Snowy Abele, and Silver Maple, are trees of which a very effective belt or forest may be made in six or eight years. Their growth is almost incredibly rapid, and this is the very purpose for which they are valuable. They cannot with propriety be planted through the interior of plantations, as we advise to plant the Larch, Spruce, Hemlock, and Arbor Vitae, but they can be placed around the exposed borders and outlines, and do essential service.
In the culture of dwarf trees, flowers, vegetables, and all of low growth, common hedge rows of Buckthorn, Privet, Osage Orange, or, any rapid growing shrub, will be of great service. It would not be necessary them in the usual way for fences, but just enough to give them the necessary strength and compactness required for the purpose of protection against the elements. Those who have seen the gardens and nurseries of Europe know how highly hedges are esteemed for shelter; in fact, they are considered indispensable. In Skirving's nurseries at Liverpool there are many miles of them, intersecting the ground in all directions, to break off the cold sea winds that, but for the hedges, would prevent the culture of many tribes of plants that are now grown most successfully.
In the second volume of the Horticulturist, page 58, Mr. Downing gave an account of Mr. Tudor's gardening at Nahant, which furnishes a very striking illustration of the benefits of shelter. We must give it in Mr. Downing's own words :
"Of course, even the idea of a place worthy of the name of a garden in this bald, seagirt cape, was out of the question, unless some mode of overcoming the violence of the gales and the bad effects of the salt spray, could be devised. The plan Mr. Tudor has adopted is, we believe, original with him, and is at once extremely simple, and perfectly effective. It consists merely of two, or at most three, parallel rows of high open fences, made of rough slats or palings, nailed in the common vertical manner, about three inches wide, and a space of a couple of inches left between them. These paling fences are about sixteen feet high, and usually form a double row, (on the most exposed side a triple row,) round the whole garden. The distance between that on the outer boundary and the next interior one is about four feet. The garden is also intersected here and there by tall trellis fences of the same kind, all of which help to increase the shelter, while some of those in the interior serve as frames for training trees upon.
"The effect of this double or triple barrier of high paling is marvellous. Although like a common paling, apparently open and permitting the wind free passage, yet in practice it is found entirely to rob the gales of their violence, and their saltness. To use Mr. Tudor's words, 'it completely sifts the air.' After great storms, when the outer barrier will be found covered with a coating of salt the foliage in the garden is entirely uninjured. It acts, in short, like a rustic veil, that admits just so much of the air, and in such a manner as most to promote the growth of the trees, while it breaks and wards off all the deleterious influences of a genuine ocean breeze - so pernicious to tender leaves and shoots".
A valuable lesson is taught by this mode of successful gardening under difficulties. We commend Mr. Tudor's example to men who are continually lamenting the sacrifices they have to make on account of their exposed situations, and yet make no effort whatever to improve it. Providence will not work miracles in our behalf. Every man who cultivates the earth must contend with the elements; and now that in this country we are making some serious attempts at gardening, we expect to 6ee such a thing as shelter, which is the very foundation of success, receive due attention. It is worthy of note that we generally find, both at home and abroad, the best examples of gardening where the greatest difficulties have to be met. In the best climates, where tolerable success can be obtained without any special effort, improvements are apt to be slowly made. Blackwood's Magazine was not far wrong in classing " a moderately bad climate and a tolerably sterile soil," among the "prerequisites neces-sary to originate and cherish a love of horticulture." They are certainly necessary to awaken energy and forethought.