The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, 10: 208-212 (1855)


This branch of fruit-culture is so full of interest, so worthy the attention of all pomologists, and above all has been so strangely neglected of late years-indeed, since the early life of the late T. A. KNIGHT, no attempts to raise seedling Pears have been heard of-that a few words about it may be acceptable.

For home twenty years or more I have occasionally raised Pears from seeds, and must confess that my success has been nothing to boast of; but latterly I have in a measure changed my mode of operations, so as to make the raising of seedling Pears far more interesting than merely sowing the pips of a good Pear, without name, grafting the young shoots from the seedlings, and waiting till they bear fruit. My method is, I flatter myself, adapted to your climate; for seedling Pears are very apt to be pulled up by birds, the pips destroyed by mice, and, in a showery and cold April, to be eaten by slugs and snails.

As soon as the Pear-eating season commences, I have some two or three dozen nine-inch pots filled with a compost of loam and rotten manure—say two-thirds of the former to one-third of the latter. Some sand added will improve it. These pots are then placed on bricks or tiles, to keep out the worms, in some convenient situation (away from hedges, as they harbor slugs,) near the house, and in each pot is a smooth slip of lath, painted, ready to be written on. I will assume it to be October. I am eating a fine specimen of the Louise Bonne Pear; the pips are plump and brown; I take them from the core, go to one of the pots of earth, and with my finger and thumb carefully press in the pips, one at a time, to about an inch deep, and level the surface with my hand; I then write on the label, say, "Louise Bonne Pear, October, 1855;" a piece of slate or tile is then placed on the pot so as to completely cover it, and prevent the ingress of mice. A few days after this I may be again eating a Louise Bonne Pear; I reserve the pips, remove the covering from the pots, and plant them with the others; and so repeat this till some fifteen pips are planted, which will raise quite enough trees from one variety. Again, it is February; I am at my dessert; a delicious Josephine de Malines Pear gives me some fine pips; I place them in paper (my pots of earth are frozen), write the name on it, and have 'pot of earth taken to the green-house, or, in default of such a structure, to the kitchen, plant the pips as above, write on the label, "Josephine de Malines Pear, February, 1855;" then cover the pot as directed, and place it out of doors, covering it with mulch. I omitted to say that at the end of November all the pots, with their covers, should be covered with mulch one foot deep. The young plants from the pips sown in the autumn will make their appearance early in April, if the weather be mild; the pips sown in February or March will not vegetate till April or May; the pips sown in May will probably remain dormant till the following April.

There are two methods of managing young Pear seedlings. The most simple, and one well adapted for those whose hands are full of gardening matters, is merely to let the pots stand on the bricks or tiles, removing, them to a shady place, all the summer giving them abundance of water. Each young tree will, or ought to be, twelve to eighteen inches in height by the end of summer, and its stem as thick as a quill, and well ripened. About the end of October these seedlings may be planted out in the garden, in rows three feet apart, and eighteen inches apart in the rows, with labels to each sort; and in the following April, if there is a wish to bring them rapidly into bearing, each young seedling tree may be cut down to within two inches of its base, and one or two scions made from it (one ought to be enough, and that made from the lower part of the shoot). These should be grafted upon some stout stocks, or upon branches of a bearing tree. An excellent plan is, to buy at a nursery old dwarf Pear trees at a cheap rate, without names, to plant them out one year, and then to graft them with seedlings, cutting them to a stump nine or ten inches in height. They will soon make nice pyramidal trees, and, by being removed biennially, will come into bearing quickly, and not occupy much room. Every sort should be labelled with its origin in this way: "From Marie Louise, Nov., 1854," and so on. This gives much interest to the culture of seedling Pears; for, while waiting some six or seven years, till they bear fruit, their habits will be found very interesting. In most instances, a strong family likeness to their parent may be distinguished in the leaves and shoots of the young trees, varied by now and then a puny, weakly young one, which will canker and die in three or four years, and then by some one or two trees in ten showing a wide departure from the parental stock, making vigorous, thorny shoots, and growing as much in one year as other members of the family in three. Contrary to the views of "parent, pastors, and masters," in general, it is these renegades that give the liveliest hopes to the raiser of Pears. I have at this moment several rows of seedling Pears, five years from the graft. They were grafted on old dwarf Pear trees and have been lifted and replanted twice. This has checked them so that they are now in a bearing state. They are all labelled with their origin, and I have made the following remarks.

Among some fifteen or twenty trees labelled "From Ne Plus Meuris," all remarkable for their resemblance to their parent, are two of extra vigor. Among the same number from Beurré d'Aremberg, are three thorny, vigorous subjects. And this goes on in the same proportion with Bergamotte d'Esperen, Josephine de Malines, Fondante de Noel, and other new kinds of Pears.

Thus far I have given the most simple method of raising seedlings by sowing in pots and not transplanting till autumn. Another method is, to place the pots in a gentle forcing-house either in January or February. The young plants soon make their appearance, and when they have made four leaves in addition to the seed-leaves, they should be raised carefully, with all their fibres, and potted into three-inch pots. As soon as these are full of roots, they should be shifted into larger pots, and kept growing under glass till the beginning of June. They may then be planted out in light, rich soil; and the probability is, they will be three feet high by autumn.

It remains to be seen whether a seedling Pear can be brought into an earlier fruit-bearing state by being grown under glass, and gently forced, so as to give it a long season of growth. I commenced the experiment some years ago, but the cares of an active life prevented me carrying it out fully.

The most scientific mode of raising new Pears from seed, is to sow the pips of only such fruits as have had their origin from fertilized blossoms. If T. A. KNIGHT had not taken the old Swan's Egg Pear almost constantly into his experiments, so that most of his seedlings have too strong a leaning to it, and had taken such Pears as Glout Morceau and Old Colmar, or the Winter Nelis, with some larger late Pear, and also formed other crosses, with his peculiar tact, we should most probably have had some of the finest Pears in the world. The late T. N. WILLIAMS, of Pitmaston, raised new sorts of Pears with great facility by fertilizing. Some of these partake of the qualities of both their parents in a remarkable degree; but he was not careful enough in selecting varieties to a given end, which ought to be, raising of large, hardy, late-keeping sorts.

We have October and November Pears without end; their names are legion, and serve to create distaste rather than a wish for a collection of Pears. To raise new and fine late Pears, a word or two as to the selection of proper kinds as parents may not be amiss. That fine, large, late Pear, Leon le Clerc de Laval, reckoned a baking Pear, but which in May and June becomes soft and agreeable, should be crossed with the Winter Nelis, the most delicious of all our winter Pears. The Easter Beurré, which, although in France the finest of late Pears, is in England generally flat and poor in flavor, may be crossed with Beurré d'Aremberg, always vinous and racy; the Triomphe de Jodoigne may be crossed with the Josephine de Malines; and so on.

There are two methods by which fertilization may be brought about, in one of which chance is to a certain extent trusted to. This is by training the bearing branches of two Pear trees on a wall, so that the blossoms are mingled, or planting two pyramids of the two kinds of Pears selected in a situation far removed from any others. The certain method is to select a blossoming spur, or rather say a bunch of blossoms, and a day or two before they expand remove all the anthers, cover the blossoms with a fine piece of muslin, and the following day fertilize the flowers with the pollen of the variety fixed upon to cross with. This is done simply by finding some flowers in full bloom, with the pollen perfect, and placing them on the blossoms under the muslin cover, closing it immediately, and tying it securely, so as to prevent the ingress of bees. To those who have inclination or leisure, this occupation will be found of much interest; and to those who have not, the chance method will be equally so.

The theory and practice of the late VAN MONS, which for so many years has made such a noise on the Continent, has been given in American works on fruits; but I may, I trust, be allowed to repeat it in as few words as possible. He commenced by sowing the seeds of some hardy, inferior Pear, and, as soon as the trees bore fruit, he sowed the pips from them, waiting again till the second generation bore fruit, from the pips of which he raised trees, and so on for several generations. He gave out to the world that by this method he raised all his best Pears, and that those of the last generations were nearly all good. This seems to be in unison with the well-known fact that cultivation brings on amelioration; but his assertion that by thus raising successive generations his last seedlings became so fruitful as to bear some years earlier than the first, or those raised in the ordinary way, was a delusion, brought on, I suppose, by enthusiasm. That some out of his many thousands of seedling Pears would bear fruit some years before others, I have no doubt; but that it resulted from the system, was an error. Let any one of your readers raise seedlings from the old Swan's Egg Pear, and at the same time raise some from one of VAN MONS' Pears—say Prince Albert, which, as being one of his late generations, ought to give seedlings wonderfully prolific, it will be found that the chances are equal about the seedlings bearing fruit when young. I am inclined to think that those from the very old Pear the Swan's Egg will bear fruit before the very new Pear Prince Albert. I am also inclined to think that his system of amelioration by successive generations, although, on paper attractive and interesting, was slow and uncertain, for the following reason. Some few years since, I was traveling in Belgium, and paid a visit to the garden of the late Major ESPEREN. I learned that he had no system of raising Pears, but that he sowed seed according to his fancy, and trusted to chance. I was surprised to find that he had raised, in a comparatively small garden, and out of a small number of seedlings, such Pears as Josephine de Malines, Bergamotte d'Esperen, Fondante de Noel, Fondante de Malines, and some others. I afterwards saw the vast collection of VAN MONS' thousands of large trees raised from seed after his system, and among them all it may be safely said that there was not one variety to surpass, or even equal, the two first-named varieties raised by chance. To chance also, and not to this much vaunted-of system, we owe such Pears as Marie Louise, Glout Morceau, Beurré Rance, Beurré d'Aremberg, and, above all, Winter Nelis; so that we may console ourselves with the idea that chance is very liberal, and the system of VAN MONS not so; for, after a whole lifetime devoted to it, it failed to give him five Pears to surpass the above, or one to equal the last-named. I remember feeling assured, when first I heard VAN MONS talk of his theory, that it was not tenable; for, if amelioration was progressive in seedlings raised in successive generations without crossing, and if in like manner fertility was increased by it, the Peach orchards in America would give fruit all perfect in quality, and of wonderful fertility,—for the Peaches in some of the States are raised, generation after generation, from the stones. What wonders the fortieth generations of Peach two ought to be. They should bear fruit even the first year from seed. Among the hundreds of varieties of Pears with the name of VAN MONS attached to them, there are some very good, although by far too many are sorts ripening in October or November; but by raising Pears from seed in America, you will have sorts better adapted to your climate, and of equal or even perhaps of better quality than the too numerous varieties from Belgium.

CybeRose note: It is interesting to note that Rivers ignored the bulk of Van Mons' method. He did not collect the fruit before the seeds ripened. He did not let the fruit rot. He did not remove the tap root and leads of the seedlings. And he grafted the seedlings, which Van Mons recommended against. It is grossly to condemn a method while not practicing it properly. It is also interesting to compare Goff's use of immature seeds in modifying tomatoes. The tomatoes also became softer and juicier each generation, and less durable in storage.

If a fruit is already soft and juicy, Van Mons' method could lead to earlier bearing, but the fruit might become too soft in successive generations.

Downing: The Van Mons Theory (1849)

Weston: Selective Breeding - Theorie Van Mons (1836)