The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Horticulture in Russia

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474. Almost all the horticulture of Russia is contained in Moscow and around St. Petersburgh; elsewhere scarcely any sort of fruit tree is to be found but the wild pear. Kitchen-gardens are rare, even in Podolia, a very fine Polish province in the Ukraine, with a deep rich soil, level surface, and favourable climate. The only fruits a Russian peasant or minor Russian nobleman can taste are the wild pear (groutchky), dried or green, the strawberry, and the cranberry. Of the last, a cooling acid beverage is made by infusion in water. If any culinary vegetables were known in Russia before the beginning of the last century, they could only have been the dwarf, ragged-leaved brown kale and the mushroom; the potato is but lately introduced, and in 1813 was only grown in a few places round the principal towns. Many of the peasants refuse to eat or cultivate this root, from mere prejudice, and from an idea very natural to a people in a state of slavery, that any thing proposed by their lords must be for the lord's advantage, and not for theirs: thus the first handful of food thrown to untamed animals operates as a scare. The examples of the court, and the number of foreigners employed in the Russian service, civil and military, in their literary institutions, and established as medical or commercial men in the towns, will, no doubt, gradually introduce a variety of culinary plants. The late war may also have had some influence, by giving the untravelled Russian noble a taste for the comforts'of Germany and France; but, unfortunately, the Russians are averse to a country life, and will continue to be so till they acquire a taste for domestic enjoyments and rural recreations. Dr. Howison (Mem. of Caled. Hort. Soc., vol. iii. p. 77.) has given 'an account of the most important culinary vegetables cultivated in the interior of the Russian empire.' Of these, the cucumber, melon, yellow turnip, radish, and bulbous celery were introduced from Germany, and are known but to a few. The remaining sorts mentioned are, the variegated cabbage, introduced from the South Sea Islands; mustard, from Sarepta, near the Chinese wall; and an onion from Chinese Tartary. These were introduced by Hasenkampf, of the late Russian embassy to China. The English and German court-gardeners grow abundance of all our best vegetables, and contrive to prolong the season of some of them, as cauliflowers, celery, cabbage, &c., by earthing them in cellars. A succession of salading is kept up in hothouses, during winter, and even the first crops of all the common oleraceous and acetaceous plants are reared under glass and by fire heat in some of the best gardens. In Storch's St. Petersburgh (chap, iv.), the dependence of Russia on foreign countries for her culinary vegetables and fruits is amply detailed. In the Crimea, according to Mary Holderness, horseradish, asparagus, carrot, dock, sorrel, nettles, capers, and mustard are gathered wild, and used as pot-herbs. Cabbages are cultivated, and they attain a great size: onions, pompions, water-melons, and capsicum are also grown. (Notes, &c., p. 125.) The fruit trees cultivated in the district of St. Petersburgh are, the apple and cherry in gardens and orchards, both by gentlemen and peasants; and the pear, in a few gardens in warm places with protection; but the trees produce no fruit, unless assisted by artificial heat. Figs, peaches, apricots, plums, and mulberries are grown only under glass. Walnuts, almonds, and chestnuts are not cultivated. (Com. to Board of Agr., vol. i.) The culinary vegetables grown in the district of St. Petersburgh are, cabbages of different kinds, savoys and borecoles, turnips of different kinds, radishes (these are very common in peasants' gardens), horseradish, carrots, parsneps, white and red beet, the Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, gourds, water-melons, melons, musk-melons, and cucumbers. The Finland or Swedish turnips (rutabaga), are sown in gardens in the middle of June, taken up in the end of September, and buried in wells or holes dug in the earth, where they keep remarkably well, and eat exceedingly sweet and firm. The common English turnip has been tried in these wells or holes; but they soon become porous, and are neither so firm nor so sweet-flavoured. Cabbage is sown very early, and transplanted about the middle of June. Asparagus is abundant in the open ground, being protected during winter by the snow. The white or sugar-loaf cabbage forms one of the principal vegetables of the peasantry: it is sown very early, transplanted about the middle of June, and pulled up, and hung, or planted in a bed of sand, in cellars, in the latter end of September. Garlic, rocambole, and chives are very hardy, and stand the winter without any protection. The carrot is grown by most peasants; as is the cucumber in the open air among the potatoes, where it produces abundantly till destroyed by frost. (Ibid.) The hop is indigenous in the St. Petersburgh district, and its tops might be used as asparagus, but they are not. The fruits and culinary vegetables of Russia are thus enumerated by Anderson, in 1815: - 'Of wild berries, and fruit-bearing shrubs, there is abundance in Russia. The cranberry is wild and cultivated, as well as the black, white, and red currant, the latter of which grows to the size, of an ordinary cherry, on the Altaian mountains. The hazel bush, though found all over European Russia, does not appear in Siberia. Forests of cherry trees may be seen in the south. Apples and pears flourish generally; but apricots, peaches, almonds, walnuts, and chestnuts are confined to the south. Figs and pomegranates are seen only at Kitzliar and Taurida; the quince tree grows wild in the forests of the Terek, as does the vine about the Don, and in Taurida; it is likewise cultivated to some extent in various other provinces. In the kitchen-gardens, which are wretchedly managed, are cabbages, generally used to make sauer kraut; turnips, often substituted for bread; Turkish, French, and common beans, peas, onions, cucumbers, and garlic; which three last form the salad of the common people. In the southern provinces, sugar and water melons are raised in large quantities, with little care. Some of the latter weigh thirty pounds.' (Anderson's Sketches of the Russian Empire, 8vo, 1815.) The culture of the grape for wine is making considerable progress in the southern districts. In Moldavia, on the left bank of the Pruth, a white grape containing a great deal of carbonic acid, is successfully cultivated. In the Crimea, especially at Soudak, grapes are grown with very large berries, often not less than plums; but they do not yield well in the press. The vines of Spain and Languedoc are successfully cultivated by a Frenchman, at Larci, near Balaklava. A white wine is produced on the banks of the Molotschna, which falls into the Don; wines made from the vineyards on the bank of this river are very well known in Moscow and St. Petersburgh, under the name of Don wines. There is a vineyard near Astrachan, producing very good wine, the greater part of which is sent to the imperial court of St. Petersburgh: what is sold produces a higher price than the wines of France. The north side of Caucasus produces a wine of middling quality, but in sufficient quantity for the inhabitants of these countries. In Georgia and Mingrelia, Russia might produce wines to rival those of Hungary and France. Already Georgia produces a considerable quantity of excellent wine, and in less than twenty years, as much will probably be made there as will supply the whole of Russia. (OEkonom. Neuigk. and Verhandl., 1825.) The valley of Soudak, especially towards the east, is said to be one of the most enchanting spots in the world; and Armenia, Siberia, Italy, and Caucasus are said to offer nothing more delightful. What adds to the charms and celebrity of the valley is the success which has there attended the culture of the vine: it is supposed that Russia may, at no distant period, get wine enough from the Crimea for her own consumption. The first vineyards were planted there in the year 1804, at the suggestion of the celebrated naturalist, Pallas; the situation is named Gadjakol, in the territory of Kosi. Cuttings of vines were brought from France, Zante, Tenedos, the Rhine, Astrachan, and Kitzliar; and two Frenchmen, the one a vine-dresser and the other a farmer, were appointed to plant and to manage them. Ten orphan pupils, from the military school at Cherson, were put under the care of these cultivators; government supplied the necessary capital for every part of the undertaking; and 28,000 vines were planted, which, in the year 1826, produced 1500 vedros of wine of Hungary Bordeaux, the Rhine, Asmalhausen, Muscat, Petit-Bourgogne, Zante, and Kabour, of the best quality. (Bull. Un., Oct. 1827.)