The observant reader may have noticed that in my previous blog post, where I outlined the points listed in “The Book of Old-Fashioned Flowers and Other Plants Which Thrive in the Open-Air of England by Harry Roberts With Numerous Illustrations Reproduced from Drawings by Ethel Roskruge, copyright MCMI (1901), I went from number 5 to number 10, skipping numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9.
I’m glad you asked. I skipped them because unlike the other points, I thought they needed some commentary to go with them.
6. Cultivate the soil to a depth of two or three feet in the manner described in this book, and in dry weather supply an abundance of water, and keep the surface mulched either with moss or manure, or with loose soil.
Today, the subject of digging the soil down to that depth is controversial and generally not recommended. I personally want it be a practice that remains in the 20th century, though there may be times that digging is appropriate, though maybe not down to three feet. One article of probably thousands of articles on this subject on the Internet that seems to provide good information on when to dig and when to not dig is Double-Digging: Why Do It? on the Organic Gardening website. As always, you need to judge the value of digging for your soil conditions. But I agree with the article, building soil up is a lot easier then digging down to create a good planting bed.
7. In arranging mixed borders, avoid dottiness, preferring rather to plant bold clumps or masses of individual species. Let the surface of the soil be carpeted by low-growing, surface-rooting plants, such as the dwarf Campanulas, Aubrietias, Arenarias, Silene acaulis, S. alpestre, Linaria alpina, Veronica saxatilis, and the like. Let the taller growing plants be mostly towards the back of the border, and the smaller plants mostly near the front, but avoid primness by allowing an occasional clump of tall plants (especially those, such Gladioli and Lilies, which need special care) to break the front margin, and by letting the dwarfer carpeting plants spread towards the back of the border.
Truth be told, I left this off because it was a long two sentences. Reading back over it, I think it applies today. Plus it gives us the word “dottiness” to describe how some gardeners plant their “one of” plants. A dot here, a dot there, here a dot, there a plant, everywhere a dot (plant) dot (plant). And it gives us the word “primness” which I interpret as the strict adherence to planting by height, like you are lining up kids for a kindergarden picture. Tall kids in the back, please. Primness and dottiness — two words we should use more often in describing how not to plant a flower garden, unless of course, you like dottiness and primness.
8. Keep in a shed or in a corner of the garden a compost heap composed of two parts sand, one part fibrous loam (such as the top spit of meadow land), one part of two-year-old leaf mould, and one part manure. Whenever one is transplanting a herbaceous or other plant, it will be found very helpful to cover the roots with a few inches of this soil. Mixed with an equal quantity of sand it will also be useful to place round bulbs when planting them.
We make composting too complicated. Parts this, parts that. No one is going to follow this recipe these days. Who has access to a top spit of meadow land, anyway? I make my compost the lazy way, just pile up stuff and wait. Eventually, I get compost.
9. When planting, always dig a hole sufficiently large and deep to contain the roots well spread out. Place the plant in position, cover the roots with a few inches of the compost just named, and give a bucketful of water to settle the earth. Then fill up the hole with ordinary soil, firmly pressing with the foot if necessary, though the liberally watering often does away with the need. In any case the surface should be ruffled up into a state of looseness in order to check evaporation.
I think that is mostly good advice, although today, less emphasis is placed on the deep part, and more on the large (wide) part. I never dig the hole deeper than the root ball and often dig it just a little less deep. But that’s me.
So there you have it, the rest of Harry Roberts’ points on gardening. I think until I get the actual hard copy of this book, I’ll move on to the next rabbit hole of winter gardening…