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I swelled all over from head to foot, and rolled over and over in my agony. I have often thought since, if I had been nursed for it I should have died; but, being out of the sight of any body, the agony causing me to roll about on the ground was the means of keeping me alive. At the end of three hours I was at the height of my misery, and after that I began to get better gradually; but, when I went home at night, I looked so ill that my mother guessed what was the matter with me. I could not taste, or scarcely look at, a mushroom, for a long time afterwards. I remember well the time when I lived in Essex, I and my men were moving some trees in a plantation, and one of the makers of mushroom catchup came by us, just where there was a quantity of this unwholesome variety of mushrooms, which he thought great luck to meet with, and he eagerly collected them. I addressed him, and asked him how he could make use of such mushrooms. He told me they made the best of catchup, and, by putting plenty of salt and spices to it, the cockneys did not know the difference. I told him he had gathered a sufficient quantity to kill a regiment of soldiers, and that it would be no easy matter to persuade me to taste them.
Before I proceed to describe my system, I must observe that I do not desire any one else to follow it, as it may be perfect one, and I do not profess to be perfect in anything, though I intend to try to be so. I do not profess to be a scientific gardener, but I have followed the profession all my life with the greatest pleasure and interest; I know nothing of any other profession; and it is not my intention to answer any letter or questions put to me, on any subject, without the writer puts his own name and address to it.
Every body, after one moment's consideration, must know that nature produces the greatest abundance of mushrooms in parks, old pastures, and meadows, where the ground has not been disturbed for some time. After a tolerably dry summer, in the autumn season, when the weather is temperate and the nights and days nearly of an equal length, get horse-droppings and cow-dung of equal quantities; one barrow of good maiden loam to four of the above; mix it well together backwards and forwards, until it is regularly incorporated; then wet it the same as you would mortar, and well chop and beat and tread it together, just as a potter does his clay for making pots. Then spread it on a smooth surface three inches in thickness to get steady; if it is fine dry weather, it will in two days be ready to cut into pieces the size of a brickmaker's bricks. Leave it to dry, taking care never to allow it to get washed by rain to any extent, or the principal part of its virtue will be lost. When tolerably dry take it to a shed, or some other darkish place. Procure, if possible, some natural spawn from an old pasture or mill-track. Stack your bricks, and place some of the spawn between every alternate row. Cover it up closely with litter, taking care to look at it in two days' time to see that it does not get too hot; if it does so, uncover it, or it will quickly destroy the spawn, and injure the bricks so much, that, if spawned again, it never works so kindly and strong. If it goes on kindly it will in about 35 or 40 days be ready to unpack. Sort out what is well worked; the remainder, that is not worked enough, stack and cover up as before, taking care to put what is ready into a dry place (without a draught) to get steadily firm, or it will perish. If put into a damp place the spawn will soon run out of it and perish. This must be all particularly attended to. If you do not have good spawn, how can you expect to get good mushrooms? Many people that I have seen use spawn did not know good from bad, and were ignorant of the qualities and properties of it, whether it was perished spawn or not. One observation I must here make, that, when mushroom spawn is once good, if it is taken proper care of, it will be as good after it has been kept seven years as the first day it was ready: the oldest that I ever used was 8 years made; but I have no doubt it would have been as good if it had been kept 20 years.
To make a bed of any size or shape, take the dung fresh from the stable, litter and all together; but, if it is very strawy, shake out some of the long straw. I like to have well-made stable dung. Then have it wheeled into the mushroom shed, or wherever you mean to make the bed, and add a quantity of good heavy loam to it; enough to keep the dung from heating or fermenting to any extent, and so that it may be altogether of one congenial warmth and moisture, which it will be if made with foresight and judgement; but, if it is allowed to ferment and steam, the very life and soul of the dung is gone. If it is allowed to lie and get washed with rain, it is like the brewer's grains after the liquid has been extracted; the grains will not fatten a beast, neither will the dung, when allowed to lose its good qualities, grow good mushrooms; but they will become of a bad quality, poor and thin: the bed will not continue long in bearing, and will probably show large quantities of small mushrooms that will never come to perfection.
I saw a question that was asked about a fortnight since in the Gardener's Chronicle, by a man who appeared to be in trouble about his mushrooms, which showed well, but did not come to perfection; and it was answered, but I believe not exactly as I should have done.
The bed made on my principle will be quite ready to be spawned in about a fortnight after being made. Put the spawn in the bed shallow, just covered; let the bed lie quiet for a week or ten days before casing it, which must be done with about three
inches of good stiff holding loam ; beat it as firmly as possible down on the bed. Let the bed remain quiet another week; then well beat it with the back of a spade again, and cover it over lightly with hay, litter, and straw mixed together; for, if you cover it with hay alone, it is very apt to quickly draw all the spawn out into it and ruin your bed. Take care to give the spawn plenty of time to work itself regularly all through the bed before covering the bed to any extent, or you will certainly be disappointed, and only get very few mushrooms, and those of a bad quality. I have had beds made on the above principle that have produced mushrooms of the first quality in great abundance for four, five, or six months, picking them constantly two or three times a week.
When the bed has been covered about 20 or 25 days, uncover it, and brush it all over, to take the short rubbish out; shake the litter well, and take all the rubbish clean out. Examine the bed, and, if you find it dry, get a stake or broomhandle and make a row of good-sized holes, all up the centre of the bed; get some boiling water and pour two or three quarts into each hole, stopping the heat and steam in immediately with a whisk of mulching dung to retain the evaporation; it will moisten the bed, and cause a nice congenial warmth. I always make it a rule to water the casing of the bed likewise, with boiling water out of a watering pot with a rose on it.
After the bed has been made about 30 or 35 days, this watering causes a fine congenial warmth if covered down immediately, which should be done. I generally repeat it two or three times, allowing three days to intervene between each time, according to the state of the bed. It destroys every slug, woodlouse, or any other kind of insect whatever that is about, and sweetens the bed to such a degree that mushrooms thrust themselves up through it of a firm good quality all over the bed. But never water a mushroom bed after it is in full bearing, or it will stop bearing, or send them up of a bad quality generally afterwards, and will not continue long. For instance, observe mushrooms when they are growing naturally in parks, pastures, or fields, as soon as the heavy rains come on them they stop bearing. Damp the litter occasionally with hot water, to raise a gentle mist; and if the bed is in a shed sprinkle it all over now and then with boiling water, which destroys every kind of insect, and raises a sweet congenial mist that mushrooms are particularly fond of.
How I came first of all to discover the good effects of using loam amongst the dung was this. Some years ago, whilst I was working for a market-gardener, I was short of dung to form the mushroom beds with, so as to make them come into bearing at the time wanted. I recollected having accidentally seen a
3d Ser. - 1843. V.
mixture of earth and dung once lying outside a farmer's field, full of beautiful mushroom spawn, and I resolved to try it mixed together, thinking it would be the means of keeping the bed cold, that it might be very soon spawned to be in readiness for market at the time wanted; and I was truly astonished, and so was my master, to see such an abundance of mushrooms of a superior quality, and lasting so long; the quality beyond any that we had ever seen before. It did not strike me till some years afterwards about its preserving the quality of the dung, although I never left off practising it, and with the same good effect. I have told many gardeners of it since, and I know they have put it into practice for some years past.
My next letter shall be on potato-growing in all its stages; the cause of curl, dry rot, and my opinion on the great abuse that most useful of all vegetables is subject to in this country generally, as far as I have observed.
Bicton Gardens, Nov. 4. 1842.
Art. VI. Notices of some Gardens and Country Seats in Somerset
shire, Devonshire, and Part of Cornwall. By the CONDUCTOR.
(Continued from Vol. for 1842, p. 555., and concluded.)
SEPT. 20. 1842. Sidmouth. Peake House ; E. B. Lousada, Esq. This is the largest place in the immediate neighbourhood of Sidmouth. The house is in a commanding situation at the top of an extensive slope which terminates near the sea shore. No expense has been spared to render this declivity uniform, but, as there were a number of trees to be left, they stand on elevated portions of the original surface, which either have not been sloped down at the edges at all, or sloped down so very imperfectly as to constitute glaring deformities. “ The ugliest ground,” Sir Uvedale Price observes, “is that which has neither the beauty of smoothness and gentle undulation, nor the picturesqueness of varied tints of soil: of such kind is ground that has been disturbed, and left with risings upon it, which appear like knobs or bumps, or gashes into it, such as old gravel pits or quarries.” (Essays on the Picturesque, vol. i. chap. ix.) It is surprising to see, at a place which bears evidence of a large sum having been laid out on it, the finishing operation of uniting the bumps with the surface on which they stand so much neglected. The cause is evident: the proprietor has entered fully into the subject of improvement, as far as ambition and wealth are concerned, but has not imbued his mind with it in regard to taste. If country gentlemen and ladies would give
themselves up as completely to their architects and landscapegardeners, as they do to their tailors and milliners, such deformities as those to which we allude would not be perpetrated, though the result would probably be nearly as great a sameness in the scenery of places as there is in dress. What then is to be done? Let taste be free, and let every country gentleman do as he pleases. We recommend those who do not think fit to employ a first-rate artist, and yet set some value on public opinion, to study the subject, and superintend their own improvements. It is necessary to be rationally occupied in order to pass the time agreeably, and what can be more rational than the improvement and adornment of that portion of our country's surface which we can call our own? What more conducive to health, to the prosperity of his neighbours who live by their labour, and what more patriotic ? Mr. Lousada has the great merit of being unsparing in expense; and, with a few years' experience and observation of other country seats, and some reading, he will acquire a good taste and display it. This is evident from what he has recently done in the flower-garden, in which there are some scenes that might engage the pencil of an artist.
In the kitchen-garden we observed a pine pit heated by hot water agreeably to a mode invented by Messrs. Garton and Jarvis of Exeter, the peculiarity of which is that the hot water can be let out of the pipes into troughs over them at pleasure, so as rapidly and abundantly to supply a moist heat. Of this, and some other improvements made by Messrs. Garton and Jarvis, we expect hereafter to give some account. Mr. Lousada's dwelling-house is replete with arrangements requisite for comfortable and elegant enjoyment, and it contains some good pictures, statues, and books.
A singular place at Sidmouth, belonging to Mr. Fish, was mentioned to us as worth seeing, but Mr. Fish only shows it on particular days, and our day happened not to be his.
Sept. 22. — Nutwell Court; Sir Thomas Trayton Fuller Elliot Drake, Bart. This place is extremely interesting on account of some remarkably fine trees which it contains; but in other respects it is crowded, confused, and not carefully kept. Nevertheless it has all the elements necessary to constitute a fine place: beautiful distant views across and along the Exe and to the sea; a varied surface, with hills and knolls; a fine spring of water, as the name implies; a good house, not badly situated; extent of park; and abundance of wood which only requires thinning out. We noted down the following dimensions of trees: Magnòlia grandifòra 25 ft. high, with a head 30 ft. in diameter, and the stem 14 in. across at 1 ft. from the ground; Plátanus occidentalis 100 ft. high, with a trunk