The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: London to Manchester in the Spring of 1831

Harrow growing conditions

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The London clay extends beyond Harrow and Pinner, where it is succeeded by chalk with flints; this is in some parts covered with gravel, the surface of the clay being flat, or gently undulated, with some rising nodules, of which the most conspicuous is Harrow Hill. The surface of the gravel and chalk is more wavy than that of the clay. The soil on both is loamy or clayey, and that on the chalk is mixed with flints. The chalk continues to within a few miles of Aylesbury, where a lower stratum of clay succeeds, and extends some miles beyond that town; the surface being generally even, and the soil a strong loam. Earthy limestone now begins, and continues, through Buckingham, half way to Banbury; this belongs to what geologists denominate the oolite limestone formation; the surface gently varied, and the soil rather stiff, but generally on a dry subsoil. Red sandstone and a dry brown light soil succeed, and continue through Birmingham and the coal country beyond, to the neighbourhood of Ashbourne. Here the hard semicrystalline limestone of Derbyshire, with all its singularities of formation and stratification, with its caverns, pits, beds of volcanic toadstone and basalt, and metallic veins commences, and continues till we reach the neighbourhood of Stockport in Cheshire, where we again enter on the sandstone, which continues to Manchester. No hilly country occurs in this route till we arrive near Cheadle, with the exception of some small cultivated hills near Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Stourbridge, and Dudley. From Cheadle to Ashbourne the country is very irregular, with numerous winding narrow valleys, having rocks protruding from their sides; beyond Ashbourne towards Dove Dale, the surface becomes very hilly and naked, and continues so to Chapel in le Frith. The elevated bleak aspect of the Peak in Derbyshire used to be well known. It is now almost entirely enclosed by stone walls, and covered with pasture and plantations. Approaching Stockport, the view of Cheshire and Lancashire conveys the idea of a fertile and highly cultivated plain on sandstone. The variety of indigenous plants, as seen from the road, in all this tract of country is much less than might be imagined; partly because a ditch and hedge form a sort of artificial habitat, which has a tendency, wherever it occurs, to encourage the same plants. Stellaria graminea is found almost every mile, with the exception of some parts of the Peak, from Bayswater to Manchester. The common trees on the London clay are oaks and elms; beech abounds in masses on the chalk; ash on the red sandstone, especially on the drier and richer soils; the wych elm is found on the shady side of limestone hills in Derbyshire and Staffordshire; on the dry parts of such hills, and especially in Dove Dale, the Pyrus Aria abounds; and, in the moister parts, the yew. We shall say little respecting native birds and insects; the singing birds everywhere were of the thrush family, and of the lark and the linnet kind: in the milder parts, as far as Kidderminster, the nightingale was heard; the plover and cornrail were also heard near Kidderminster. House sparrows, like the house fly and the cabbage butterfly, were found everywhere near human habitations. The weather from the 24th of April to this 24th of June has been chiefly dry; and until the last three weeks, the wind has been in the east. About the 7th of May a severe frost injured the blossoms and young shoots of both native and foreign plants and trees, over the whole tract included in our tour. The American shrubs were the most severely hurt; their young shoots and their expanded blossom buds being entirely cut off. Even the incipient shoots of the ash tree were blackened, and hundreds of acres of larch and spruce firs in the extensive plantations round Heath House, Alton Towers, Illam, and other places, were rendered quite brown, and still continue so. The Scotch pine had not commenced growing, and therefore escaped. Seedlings of every kind in the nurseries, the blossoms of fruit trees and strawberries in the market-gardens, and in private gardens even the wall trees, have all suffered in a degree only equalled by two or three seasons within the remembrance of the oldest gardeners. The only similar injury sustained in our remembrance was in the spring of 1819. The potatoes in the fields were cut down by the frost; but they have since sprung up again, and their appearance, together with that of the corn crops, is now generally promising. Having thus slightly indicated the mode of generalising the natural history part of a gardening tour, we shall next attempt to generalise the gardening information obtained, arranging our remarks under the heads of Palace and Mansion Residences, Villas, Cottage Gardens, Town Gardens, Public Gardens, Nurseries, and Market Gardens. As belonging to the subject of Rural and Domestic Improvement, promised to be registered in our titlepage, as well as in our original prospectus and in the introduction to our first Number, we shall subjoin a few remarks on plantations, agriculture, roads and railroads, canals, towns, cottages, vegetable markets, cemeteries, architecture, education, and condition of the labouring or poorer classes of society. Palace Residences.