The Garden Guide

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

Italian gardening science

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6. Italian Gardening, as a Science, and as to the Authors it has produced 147.By the establishment of professorships of botany and botanic gardens, in the sixteenth century, the Italians have materially contributed to the study of the vegetable kingdom, without some knowledge of the physiology of which, the practice of gardening must be entirely empirical. Malpighi is considered the father of vegetable physiology in Italy. It must be confessed, however, that the scientific knowledge of the Italians is chiefly confined to their professors and learned men: the practical gardener is yet too ignorant either to study or to understand the subject; and too much prejudiced by old opinions to receive new ideas, or too indifferent to wish to be informed. Some exceptions must be made in favour of such gardeners as have been apprenticed in botanic and eminent gardens, or under intelligent Germans, who are here and there to be found superintending the gardens of the nobles. The hybridising the Cucumis tribe by proximity, and the striking phenomena of the male and female hemp, have introduced some vague idea of the sexuality of vegetables; but the use of leaves, by far the most important knowlege which a gardener can possess, seems nowhere understood by ordinary mastergardeners. Grafting and layering are practised without any knowledge of the effects of the returning sap, or of the exclusion of air and light. Nothing can be worse than the practice of budding orange trees at Nervi; to be convinced of which, it is only necessary to compare the plants imported thence with those brought from Malta or Paris. The culture of the vine, the olive, and the fig belongs to the rural economy of the country; that of the vine is abundantly careless; and the practice of the caprification of the fig, though laughed at by the professors, is still followed in various places near Rome and Naples.