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.
NOTWITHSTANDING all the drawbacks of the violent extremes of climate, the United States, and especially all that belt of country lying between the Mohawk and the James rivers, is probably as good a fruit country as can be found in the world. Whilst every American, travelling in the north of Europe, observes that very choice fruit, grown at great cost, and with the utmost care, is more certainly to be found in the gardens of the wealthy, than with us, he also notices that the broad-cast production of tolerably good fruit in orchards and gardens, is almost nothing in Europe, when compared to what is seen in America. As we have already stated, one-fourth of the skill and care expended on fruit culture in the north of Europe, bestowed in America, would absolutely load every table with the finest fruits of temperate climates.
As yet, however, we have not made any progress beyond common orchard culture. In the majority of cases, the orchard is planted, cultivated two or three years with the plough, pruned badly three or four times, and then left to itself. It is very true, that in the fruit gardens, which begin to surround some of our older cities, the well prepared soil, careful selection of varieties, judicious culture and pruning, have begun to awaken in the minds of the old fashioned cultivators a sense of astonishment as to the sice and perfection to which certain fruits can be brought, which begins to react on the country at large. Little by little, the orchardists are beginning to be aware that it is better to plant fifty trees carefully, in well prepared soil, than to stick in five hundred, by thrusting the roots in narrow holes, to struggle out an imperfect existence; little by little, the horticultural shows and the markets, have proved that while fruit trees of the best standard sorts, cost no more than those of indifferent quality - the fruit they bear is worth ten times as much; and thus by degrees, the indifferent orchards are being renovated by grafting, maturing, or altogether displaced by new ones of superior quality.
Stilly there are some important points in fruit culture overlooked. One of the most conspicuous of these is, that varieties may be found, or, if not existing, may be origi-nated, to suit every portion of the United States. Because a fruit-grower in the State of Maine, or the State of Louisiana, does not find, after making trial of the fruits that are of the highest quality in New York or Pennsylvania, that they are equally first rate with him, it by no means follows that such wished-for varieties may not be produced. Although there are a few sorts of fruits, like the Bartlett Pear, and the Rex-bury Russet Apple, that seem to have a kind of cosmopolitan constitution, by which they are almost equally at home in a cool or a hot country, they are the exceptions, and not the rule. The English Gooseberries may be said not to be at home anywhere in our country, except in the cool, northern parts of New-England - Maine, for example. The foreign grape is fit for out-of-door culture no-where in the United States, and even the Newtown Pippin and the Spitzenberg apples, so unsurpassed on the Hudson, are worth little or nothing on the Delaware. On the other hand, in every part of the country, we see fruits constantly being originated - chance seedlings in the orchards, perfectly adapted to the climate and soil, and occasionally of very fine quality.
An apple tree which pleased the emigrant on his homestead on the Connecticut, is carried, by means of grafts, to his new land in Missouri, and it rails to produce the same fine pippins that it did at home. But he sows the seeds of that tree, and from among many of indifferent quality, he will often find one or more that shall not only equal or surpass its parent in all its ancient New-England flavor, but shall have a western constitution, to make that flavor permanent in the land of its birth.
In this way, and for the most part by the ordinary chances and results of culture, and without a direct application of a scientific system, what may be called the natural limits of any fruit tree or plant, may be largely extended. We say largely, because there are certain boundaries beyond which the plants of the tropics cannot be acclimated. The sugar cane cannot, by any process yet known, be naturalised on Lake Superior, or the Indian corn on Hudson's Bay. But every body at the South knows that the range of the sugar cane has been gradually extended northward, more than one hundred miles; and the Indian corn is cultivated now, even far north in Canada.
It is by watching these natural laws, as seen here and there in irregular examples, and reducing them to something like a system, and acting upon the principles which may be deduced from them, that we may labor diligently towards a certain result, and not trust to chance, groping about in the dark, blindly.
Although the two modes by which the production of a new variety of a fruit or flower - the first by saving the seeds of the very fruit only, and the other by crossbreeding when the flowers are about expanding - are very well known, and have been largely practiced by the florists and gardeners of Europe for many years, in bringing into existence most of the fine vegetables and flowers, and many of the fruits that we now possess, it is remarkable that little attention has been paid in all these efforts to acclimating the new sorts by scientific reproduction from seed. Thus, in the case of flowers - while the catalogues are filled with new Verbenas every year, no one, as we can learn, has endeavored to originate a hardy Verbena, though one of the trailing purple species is a hardy herbaceous border flower - and perhaps hybrids might be raised between it and the scarlet sorts, that would be lasting and invaluable ornaments to the garden. So with the gooseberry. This fruit shrub, so fine in the damp climate of England, is so unsuited to the United States generally - or at least most of the English sorts are - that not one bush in twenty, bears fruit free from mildew.
And yet, so far as we know, no horticulturist has attempted to naturalise the cultivated gooseberry in the only way it is likely to become naturalised, viz - by raising new varieties from seed in this country, so that they may have American constitutions, adapted to the American climate - and therefore not likely to mildew. The same thing is true of the foreign grape. Millions of roots of the foreign grapes have, first and last, been planted in the United States. Hardly one can be pointed to that actually "succeeds" in the open air culture - not from want of heat or light - for we have the greatest abundance of both; but from the want of constitutional adaptation. And still the foreign grape is abandoned, except for vineries, without a fair trial of the only modes by which it would naturally be hoped to acclimate it, viz - raising seedlings here, and crossing it with our best native sorts.
Every person interested in horticulture, must stumble upon facts almost daily, that teach us how much may be done by a new race or generation, in plants as well as men, that it is utterly out of the question for the old race to accomplish. Compare, in the Western States, the success of a colony of foreign emigrants in subduing the wilderness and mastering the land, with that of another company of our own race - say of New-Englanders. The one has to contend with all his old-world prejudices, habits of labor, modes of working; the other being " to the manor-born," etc, siezes the Yankee axe, and the forest, for the first time, acknowledges its master. While the old-coantryman is endeavoring to settle himself snugly, and make a little neighborhood comfortable, the American husbandman has cleared and harvested a whole state.
As in the man, so in the plant. A race should be adapted to the soil by being produced upon it, of the best possible materials. The latter is as indispensable as the first - as it will not wholly suffice that a man or a tree should be indigenous - or our American Indians, or our Chickasaw Plums, would never have given place to either the Caucassian race, or the luscious " Jefferson;" - bat the best race being taken at the starting point, the highest utility and beauty will be found to spring from individuals adapted by birth, constitution, and education, to the country. Among a thousand native Americans, there may be nine hundred no better suited to labor of the body or brains, than so many Europeans - but there will be five or ten that will reach a higher level of adaptation, or to use a western phrase, " climb higher and dive deeper," than-any man out of America.
We are not going to be led into a physiological digression on the subject of the inextinguishable rights of a superior organization in certain men and races of men, which nature every day re-affirms, notwithstanding the socialistic and democratic theories of our politicians. But we will undertake to say, that if the races or plants were as much improved as they might be, and as much adapted to the various soils and climates of the Union, as they ought to be, there is not a single square mile in the United States, that might not boast its peaches, melons, apples, grapes, and all the other luxuries of the garden now confined to a comparatively limited range.*.
And this is not only the most interesting of all fields for the lover of the country and the garden, but it is that one precisely ready to be put in operation at this season. The month of April is the blossoming season over a large part of the country, and the blossom governs and fixes the character of the new race, by giving a character to the seed. Let those who are not already familiar with hybridizing and cross-breeding of plants - always effected when they are in bloom, read the chapter on this subject in our " Fruit-Trees," or any other work which treats of this subject. Let them ascertain what are the desiderata for their soil and climate, which have not yet been supplied, and set about giving that character to the new seedlings, which a careful selection from the materials at hand, and a few moments light and pleasant occupation will afford. If the man who only made two blades of grass grow where one grew before, has been pronounced a benefactor to mankind, certainly he is far more so who originates a new variety of grain, vegetable, or fruit, adapted to a soil and climate where it before refused to grow - since thousands may continue to reap the benefit of the labors of the latter for an indefinite length of time, while the former has only the merit of being a good farmer for the time being.