Of the Earth, Soil, Seed, Air, and Water.
1. It is not my intention here to speak of earth, as one of the common reputed elements ; of which I have long since publih’d an ample account, in an express Treatise (annexed to this volume,) which I desire my reader to peruse ; since it might well commute for the total omission of this chapter, did not method seem to require something briefly to be said : Which first, as to that of earth, we shall need at present to penetrate no deeper into her bosom, than after paring of the turfe, scarrifiying the upper-mould, and digging convenient pits and trenches, not far from the natural surface, without disturbing the several strata and remoter layers, whether of clay, chalk, gravel, sand, or other successive Iayers, and concrets fossil, (tho’ all of them useful sometimes, and agreeable to our foresters 😉 tho’ few of them what one would chuse before the under-turfe, black, brown, gray, and light, and breaking into short clods, and without any disagreeable scent, and with some mixture of marle or loame, but not clammy ; of which 1 have particularly spoken in that Treatise.
2. In the mean time, this of the soil, (which I think is a more proper term for composts) or mould rather, being of greater importance for the raising, planting, and propagation of trees in general, must at no hand be neglected, and is therefore on all occasions mentioned in almost every chapter of our ensuing discourse; I shall therefore not need to assign it any part, when I have affirm’d in general, that most timber-trees grow and prosper well in any tolerable land which will produce corn or rye, and which is not in excess stony ; in which nevertheless there are some trees delight ; or altogether clay, which few, or none do naturally affect ; and yet the oak is seen to prosper in it, for its toughness preferr’d before any other by many workmen, though of all soils the cow-pasture doth certainly exceed, be it for what purpose soever of planting wood. Rather therefore we should take notice how many great wits and ingenious persons, who have leisure and faculty, are in pain for improvements of their heaths and barren Hills, cold and starving places, which causes them to be neglected and despair’d of; whilst they flatter their hopes and vain expectations with fructifying liquors, chymical menstruums, and such vast conceptions ; in the mean time that one may shew them as heathy and hopeless grounds, and barren hills as any in England, that do now bear, or lately have born woods, groves, and copses, which yield the owners more wealth, than the richest and most opulent wheat-lands : and if it be objected that ’tis so long a day before these plantations can afford that gain ; the Brabant Nurseries, and divers home-plantations of industrious persons are sufficient to convince the gain-sayer. And when by this husbandry a few acorns shall have peopl’d the neighbouring regions with young stocks and trees ; the residue will become groves and copses of infinite delight and satisfaction to the planters. Besides, we daily see what course lands will bear these stocks (suppose them oaks, wall-nuts, chess-nuts, pines, firr, ash, wild-pears, crabs, &c.) and some of them (as for instance the pear and the firr or pine) strike their roots through the roughest and most impenetrable rocks and clefts of stone it self ; and others require not any rich or pinguid, but very moderate soil ; especially, if committed to it in seeds, which allies them to their mother and nurse without renitency or regret : And then considering what assistances a little care in easing and stirring of the ground about them for a few years does afford them : What cannot a strong plow, a winter mellowing, and summer heats, incorporated with the pregnant turf, or a slight assistance of lime, loam, sand, rotten compost, discreetly mixed (as the case may require) perform even in the most unnatural and obstinate soil ? And in such places where anciently woods have grown, but are now unkind to them, the fault is to be reformed by this care ; and chiefly, by a sedulous extirpation of the old remainders of roots, and latent stumps, which by their mustiness, and other pernicious qualities, sowre the ground, and poyson the conception ; and here-with let me put in this note, that even an over-rich, and pinguid composition, is by no means the proper bed either for seminary or nursery, whilst even the natural soil it self does frequently discover and point best to the particular species, though some are for all places alike : Nor should the earth be yet perpetually crop’d with the same, or other seeds, without due repose, but lie some time fallow to receive the influence of heaven, according to good husbandry. But I shall say no more of these particulars at this time, because the rest is sprinkl’d over this whole work in their due places ; wherefore we hasten to the following title ; namely, the choice and ordering of the seeds.
3. Chuse your seed of that which is perfectly mature, ponderous and sound ; commonly that which is easily shaken from the boughs, or gathered about November, immediately upon its spontaneous fall, or taken from the tops and summities of the fairest and soundest trees, is best, and does (for the most part) direct to the proper season of interring, &c. according to institution.
Invented sowing, and the wild plants nurs’t : When mast and berries from the trees did drop, Succeeded under by a numerous crop.
Yet this is to be consider’d, that if the place you sow in be too cold for an autumnal semination, your acorns, mast, and other seeds may be prepared for the vernal by being barrel’d, or potted up in moist sand, or earth stratum s.s. during the winter ; at the expiration whereof you will find them sprouted ; and being committed to the earth, with a tender hand, as apt to take as if they had been sown with the most early ; nay, with great advantage : By this means too, they have escaped the vermine, (which are prodigious devourers of winter-sowing) and will not be much concern’d with the increasing heat of the season, as such as being crude, and unfermented, are newly sown in the beginning of the spring ; especially, in hot and loose grounds ; being already in so fair a progress by this artificial preparation ; and which, (if the provision to be made be very great) may be thus manag’d. Chuse a fit piece of ground, and with boards (if it have not that position of it self) design it three foot high ; lay the first foot in fine earth, another of seeds, acorns, mast, keys, nuts, haws, holly-berries, &c. promiscuously, or separate, with (now and then) a little mould sprinkled amongst them : The third foot wholly earth : Of these preparatory magazines make as many, and as much larger ones as will serve your turn, continuing it from time to time as your store is brought in. The same for ruder handlings, may you also do by burying your seeds in dry sand, or pulveriz’d earth, barrelling them (as I said) in tubs, or laid in heaps in some deep cellar where the rigour of the winter may least prejudice them ; and I have fill’d old hampers, bee-hives, and boxes with them, and found the like advantage, which is to have them ready for your seminary, as before hath been shew’d, and exceedingly prevent the season. There be also who affirm, that the careful cracking and opening of stones which include the kernels, as soon as ripe, precipitate growth, and gain a years advance ; but this is erroneous. Now if you gather them in moist weather, lay them a drying, and so keep them till you sow, which may be as soon as you please after Christmas. If they spire out before you sow them, be sure to commit them to the earth before the sprout grows dry, or else expect little from them : And whenever you sow, if you prevent not the little field mouse, he will be sure to have the better share. See cap. XVIII.
4. But to pursue this to some farther advantage ; as to what concerns the election of your seed, it is to be consider’d, that there is vast difference, (what if I should affirm more than an hundred years) in trees even of the same growth and bed, which I judge to proceed from the variety and quality of the seed : This, for instance, is evidently seen in the heart, procerity and stature of timber ; and therefore chuse not your seeds always from the most fruitful-trees, which are commonly the most aged, and decayed ; but from such as are found most solid and fair: Nor, for this reason, covet the largest acorns, &c. but (as husbandmen do their wheat) the most weighty, clean and bright: This observation we deduce from fruit-trees, which we seldom find to bear so kindly and plentifully from a sound stock, smooth rind, and firm wood, as from a rough, lax, and untoward tree ; which is rather prone to spend itself in fruit, (the ultimate effort, and final endeavour of its most delicate sap,) than in solid and close substance to encrease the timber. And this shall suffice, though some haply might here recommend to us a more accurate microscopical examen, to interpret their most secret schematismes, which were an over-nicety for these great plantations.
5. As concerning the medicating and insuccation of seeds, or enforcing the earth by rich and generous composts, &c. for trees of these kinds, I am no great favourer of it; not only because the charge would much discourage the work ; but for that we find it unnecessary, and for most of our forest-trees, noxious; since even where the ground is too rertile, they thrive not so well ; and if a mould be not proper for one sort, it may be fit for another : Yet I would not (by this) hinder any from the trial, what advance such experiments will produce : In the mean time, for the simple imbibition of some seeds and kernels, when they prove extraordinary dry, as the season may fall out, it might not be amiss to macerate them in milk or water only, a little impregnated with cow-dung, &c. during the space of twenty four hours, to give them a spirit to sprout and chet the sooner ; especially if you have been retarded in your sowing without our former preparation : But concerning the mould, soiling and preparations of the ground, I refer you to my late Treatise of Earth, if what you meet with in this do not abundantly encounter all those difficulties.
6. Being thus provided with seeds of all kinds, I would advise to raise woods by sowing them apart, in several places destin’d for their growth, where the mould being prepar’d (as I shall shew hereafter) and so qualified (if election be made) as best to suit with the nature of the species, they may be sown promiscuously, which is the most natural and rural ; or in streight and even lines, for hedge-rows, avenues, and walks, which is the more ornamental : But, because some may chuse rather to draw them out of nurseries ; that the culture is not much different, nor the hinderance considerable (provided they be early and carefully removed) I will finish what I have to say concerning these trees in the seminary, and shew how they are there to be raised, transplanted, and govern’d till they can shift for themselves.
As to the air and water, they are certainly of almost as great importance to the life and prosperity of trees and vegetables ; and therefore it is to be wish’d for and sought, where they are defective; and which commonly follow, or indicate the nature of the soil, or the soil of them ; (taking soil here promiscuously for the mould;) that they be neither too keen or sharp, too cold or hot; not infected with foggs and poys’nous vapours, or exposed to sulphurous exhalations, or frigiverous winds, reverberating from hills, and other ill-situate eminencies, pressing down the incumbent particles so tainted, or convey’d through the inclosed valleys : But such as may gently enter and pervade the cenabs and vessels destin’d and appointed for their reception, intromission, respiration, and passage, in almost continual motion : In a word, such as is most agreeable to the life of man, the inverted head compared to the root, both vegetables and animals alike affected with those necessary principles, air and water, soon suffocated and perishable for the want of either, duly qualified with their proper mixts, be it nitre, or any other vegetable matter; though we neither see, nor distinctly taste it : So as all aquatics, how deeply soever submerg’d, could not subsist without this active element the air.
The same qualification is (as we said) required in water, to which ’tis of so near alliance, and whose office it is, not only to humectate, mollify, and prepare both the seeds, and roots of vegetables, to receive the nutrition, pabulum, and food, of which this of water as well as air, are the proper vehicles, insinuating what they carry into the numerous pores, and through the tubes, canales, and other emulgent passages and percolutions to the several vessels, where (as in a stomach) it is elaborated, concocted, and digested, for distribution through every part of the plant ; and therefore had need be such as should feed, not starve, infect or corrupt ; which depends upon the nature and quality of the mix’d, with what other virtue, spirit, mineral, or other particles, accompanying the purest springs, (to appearance) passing through the closest strainers. This therefore requires due examination, and sometimes exposure to the air and sun, and accordingly the crudity, and other defects taken off and qualified : All which, rain-water, that has had its natural circulation, is greatly free from, so it meets with no noxious vapours in the descent, as it must do passing through fuliginous clouds of smoak and soot, over and about great cities, and other vulcanos, continually vomiting out their acrimonious, and sometimes pestiferous fervor, infecting the ambient air, as it perpetually does about London, and for many adjacent miles, as I have elsewhere shew’d.
In the mean time, whether water alone is the cause of the solid and bulky part, and consequently of the augmentation of trees and plants, without any thing more to do with that element (tho’ as it serves to transport some other matter) is very ingenuously discuss’d, and curiously enquired into by Dr. Woodward, in his History of the Earth ; fortified with divers nice experiments, too large to be here inserted : The sum is, that water, be it of rain, or the river (superior or inferior) carries with it a certain superfine terrestrial matter, not destitute of vegetative particles ; which gives body, substance, and all other requisites to the growth and perfection of the plant, with the aid of that due heat which gives life and motion to the vehicles passage through all the parts of the vegetable, continually ascending, till (having sufficiently saturated them) it transpires the rest of the liquid at the summity and tops of the branches into the atmosphere, and leaving some of the less refined matter in a viscid hony-dew, or other exsudations, (often perceived on the leaves and blossoms,) anon descending and joining again with what they meet, repeat this course in perpetual circulation : Add to this, that from hence those regions and places crowded with numerous and thick standing forest-trees and woods, (which hinder the necessary evolition of this superfluous moisture, and intercourse of the air) render those countries and places, more subject to rain and mists, and consequently unwholsome ; as is found in our American plantations, as formerly nearer us, in Ireland ; both since so much improved by felling and clearing these spacious shades, and letting in the air and sun, and making the earth fit for tillage, and pasture, that those gloomy tracts are now become healthy and habitable. It is not to be imagined how many noble seats and dwellings in this nation of ours, (to all appearance well situated,) are for all that unhealthful, by reason of some grove, or hedge-rows of antiquated dotard trees ; nay, sometimes a single tuft only, (especially the falling autumnal leaves neglected to be taken away) filling the air with musty and noxious exhalations ; which being ventilated, by glades cut through them, for passage of the stagnant vapours, have been cur’d of this evil, and recovered their reputation.
But to return to where we left ; water in this action, imbib’d with such matter, applicable to every species of plants and vegetables, does not as we affirm’d, operate to the full extent and perfection of what it gives and contributes of necessary and constituent matter, without the soil and temper of the climate co-operate ; which otherwise, retards both the growth and substance of what the earth produces, sensibly altering their qualities, if some friendly and genial heat be wanting to exert the prolifick virtue : This we find, that the hot and warmer regions produce the tallest and goodliest trees and plants, in stature and other properties far exceeding those of the same species, born in the cold north : So as what is a gyant in the one, becomes a pumilo, and in comparison, but a shrubby dwarf in the other ; deficient of that active spirit, which elevates and spreads its prolifick matter and continual supplies without check, and is the cause of not only the leaves deserting the branches, whilst those trees and plants of the more benign climate, are clad in perennial verdure : And those herbacious plants, which with us in the hottest seasons hardly perfect their seeds before Winter, and require to be near their genial beds and nurse, and sometimes the artificial heat of the hot-bed. Lastly, to all this I would add that other chearful vehicle, light ; which the gloomy and torpent north is so many months depriv’d of ; the too long seclusion whereof is injurious to our exotics, kept in the conservatories, since however temper’d with heat, and duly refresh’d; they grow sickly, and languish without the admission of light as well as air, as I have frequently found.