List Of Contents | Contents of My Summer in a Garden, by Charles D. Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

business is hardly to the taste of a person of a poetic turn of mind.
The details of fertilizing are not agreeable.  Michael Angelo, who
tried every art, and nearly every trade, never gave his mind to
fertilizing.  It is much pleasanter and easier to fertilize with a
pen, as the agricultural writers do, than with a fork.  And this
leads me to say, that, in carrying on a garden yourself, you must
have a "consulting" gardener; that is, a man to do the heavy and
unpleasant work.  To such a man, I say, in language used by
Demosthenes to the Athenians, and which is my advice to all
gardeners, "Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize!"


I find that gardening has unsurpassed advantages for the study of
natural history; and some scientific facts have come under my own
observation, which cannot fail to interest naturalists and
un-naturalists in about the same degree.  Much, for instance, has
been written about the toad, an animal without which no garden would
be complete.  But little account has been made of his value: the
beauty of his eye alone has been dwelt on; and little has been said
of his mouth, and its important function as a fly and bug trap.  His
habits, and even his origin, have been misunderstood.  Why, as an
illustration, are toads so plenty after a thunder-shower?  All my
life long, no one has been able to answer me that question.  Why,
after a heavy shower, and in the midst of it, do such multitudes of
toads, especially little ones, hop about on the gravel-walks?  For
many years, I believed that they rained down; and I suppose many
people think so still.  They are so small, and they come in such
numbers only in the shower, that the supposition is not a violent
one.  "Thick as toads after a shower," is one of our best proverbs.
I asked an explanation 'of this of a thoughtful woman,--indeed, a
leader in the great movement to have all the toads hop in any
direction, without any distinction of sex or religion.  Her reply
was, that the toads come out during the shower to get water.  This,
however, is not the fact.  I have discovered that they come out not
to get water.  I deluged a dry flower-bed, the other night, with
pailful after pailful of water.  Instantly the toads came out of
their holes in the dirt, by tens and twenties and fifties, to escape
death by drowning.  The big ones fled away in a ridiculous streak of
hopping; and the little ones sprang about in the wildest confusion.
The toad is just like any other land animal: when his house is full
of water, he quits it.  These facts, with the drawings of the water
and the toads, are at the service of the distinguished scientists of
Albany in New York, who were so much impressed by the Cardiff Giant.

The domestic cow is another animal whose ways I have a chance to
study, and also to obliterate in the garden.  One of my neighbors has
a cow, but no land; and he seems desirous to pasture her on the
surface of the land of other people: a very reasonable desire.  The
man proposed that he should be allowed to cut the grass from my
grounds for his cow.  I knew the cow, having often had her in my
garden; knew her gait and the size of her feet, which struck me as a
little large for the size of the body.  Having no cow myself, but
acquaintance with my neighbor's, I told him that I thought it would
be fair for him to have the grass.  He was, therefore, to keep the
grass nicely cut, and to keep his cow at home.  I waited some time
after the grass needed cutting; and, as my neighbor did not appear, I
hired it cut.  No sooner was it done than he promptly appeared, and
raked up most of it, and carried it away.  He had evidently been
waiting that opportunity.  When the grass grew again, the neighbor
did not appear with his scythe; but one morning I found the cow
tethered on the sward, hitched near the clothes-horse, a short
distance from the house.  This seemed to be the man's idea of the
best way to cut the grass.  I disliked to have the cow there, because
I knew her inclination to pull up the stake, and transfer her field
of mowing to the garden, but especially because of her voice.  She
has the most melancholy "moo" I ever heard.  It is like the wail of
one uninfallible, excommunicated, and lost.  It is a most distressing
perpetual reminder of the brevity of life and the shortness of feed.
It is unpleasant to the family.  We sometimes hear it in the middle
of the night, breaking the silence like a suggestion of coming
calamity.  It is as bad as the howling of a dog at a funeral.

I told the man about it; but he seemed to think that he was not
responsible for the cow's voice.  I then told him to take her away;
and he did, at intervals, shifting her to different parts of the
grounds in my absence, so that the desolate voice would startle us
from unexpected quarters.  If I were to unhitch the cow, and turn her
loose, I knew where she would go.  If I were to lead her away, the
question was, Where?  for I did not fancy leading a cow about till I
could find somebody who was willing to pasture her.  To this dilemma
had my excellent neighbor reduced me.  But I found him, one Sunday
morning,--a day when it would not do to get angry, tying his cow at
the foot of the hill; the beast all the time going on in that
abominable voice.  I told the man that I could not have the cow in
the grounds.  He said, "All right, boss;" but he did not go away.  I
asked him to clear out.  The man, who is a French sympathizer from
the Republic of Ireland, kept his temper perfectly.  He said he
wasn't doing anything, just feeding his cow a bit: he wouldn't make
me the least trouble in the world.  I reminded him that he had been
told again and again not to come here; that he might have all the
grass, but he should not bring his cow upon the premises.  The
imperturbable man assented to everything that I said, and kept on
feeding his cow.  Before I got him to go to fresh scenes and pastures
new, the Sabbath was almost broken; but it was saved by one thing: it
is difficult to be emphatic when no one is emphatic on the other
side.  The man and his cow have taught me a great lesson, which I
shall recall when I keep a cow.  I can recommend this cow, if anybody
wants one, as a steady boarder, whose keeping will cost the owner
little; but, if her milk is at all like her voice, those who drink it
are on the straight road to lunacy.

I think I have said that we have a game-preserve.  We keep quails, or
try to, in the thickly wooded, bushed, and brushed ravine.  This bird
is a great favorite with us, dead or alive, on account of its taste-
ful plumage, its tender flesh, its domestic virtues, and its pleasant
piping.  Besides, although I appreciate toads and cows, and all that
sort of thing, I like to have a game-preserve more in the English
style.  And we did.  For in July, while the game-law was on, and the
young quails were coming on, we were awakened one morning by firing,-
-musketry-firing, close at hand.  My first thought was, that war was
declared; but, as I should never pay much attention to war declared
at that time in the morning, I went to sleep again.  But the
occurrence was repeated, -and not only early in the morning, but at
night.  There was calling of dogs, breaking down of brush, and firing
of guns.  It is hardly pleasant to have guns fired in the direction
of the house, at your own quails.  The hunters could be sometimes
seen, but never caught.  Their best time was about sunrise; but,
before one could dress and get to the front, they would retire.

One morning, about four o'clock, I heard the battle renewed.  I
sprang up, but not in arms, and went to a window.  Polly (like
another 'blessed damozel') flew to another window,--

"The blessed damozel leaned out
>From the gold bar of heaven,"

and reconnoitered from behind the blinds.

"The wonder was not yet quite gone
>From that still look of hers,"

when an armed man and a legged dog appeared ir the opening.  I was
vigilantly watching him.

. . . . "And now
She spoke through the still weather."

"Are you afraid to speak to him?" asked Polly.

Not exactly,

. . . ."she spoke as when
The stars sang in their spheres.

"Stung by this inquiry, I leaned out of the window till

"The bar I leaned on (was) warm,"

and cried,--

"Halloo, there!  What are you doing?"

"Look out he don't shoot you," called out Polly from the other
window, suddenly going on another tack.

I explained that a sportsman would not be likely to shoot a gentleman
in his own house, with bird-shot, so long as quails were to be had.

"You have no business here: what are you after?"  I repeated.

"Looking for a lost hen," said the man as he strode away.

The reply was so satisfactory and conclusive that I shut the blinds
and went to bed.

But one evening I overhauled one of the poachers.  Hearing his dog in
the thicket, I rushed through the brush, and came in sight of the
hunter as he was retreating down the road.  He came to a halt; and we
had some conversation in a high key.  Of course I threatened to
prosecute him.  I believe that is the thing to do in such cases; but
how I was to do it, when I did not know his name or ancestry, and
couldn't see his face, never occurred to me.  (I remember, now, that
a farmer once proposed to prosecute me when I was fishing in a
trout-brook on his farm, and asked my name for that purpose.)  He
said he should smile to see me prosecute him.

"You can't do it: there ain't no notice up about trespassing."

This view of the common law impressed me; and I said,

"But these are private grounds."

"Private h---!" was all his response.

You can't argue much with a man who has a gun in his hands, when you
have none.  Besides, it might be a needle-gun, for aught I knew.  I
gave it up, and we separated.

There is this disadvantage about having a game preserve attached to
your garden: it makes life too lively.


In these golden latter August days, Nature has come to a serene
equilibrium.  Having flowered and fruited, she is enjoying herself.
I can see how things are going: it is a down-hill business after
this; but, for the time being, it is like swinging in a hammock,-
-such a delicious air, such a graceful repose!  I take off my hat as
I stroll into the garden and look about; and it does seem as if
Nature had sounded a truce.  I did n't ask for it.  I went out with a
hoe; but the serene sweetness disarms me.  Thrice is he armed who has
a long-handled hoe, with a double blade.  Yet to-day I am almost
ashamed to appear in such a belligerent fashion, with this terrible
mitrailleuse of gardening.

The tomatoes are getting tired of ripening, and are beginning to go
into a worthless condition,--green.  The cucumbers cumber the
ground,--great yellow, over-ripe objects, no more to be compared to
the crisp beauty of their youth than is the fat swine of the sty to
the clean little pig.  The nutmeg-melons, having covered themselves
with delicate lace-work, are now ready to leave the vine.  I know
they are ripe if they come easily off the stem.

Moral Observations.  --You can tell when people are ripe by their
willingness to let go.  Richness and ripeness are not exactly the
same.  The rich are apt to hang to the stem with tenacity.  I have
nothing against the rich.  If I were not virtuous, I should like to
be rich.  But we cannot have everything, as the man said when he was
down with small-pox and cholera, and the yellow fever came into the

Now, the grapes, soaked in this liquid gold, called air, begin to
turn, mindful of the injunction, "to turn or burn." The clusters
under the leaves are getting quite purple, but look better than they
taste.  I think there is no danger but they will be gathered as soon
as they are ripe.  One of the blessings of having an open garden is,
that I do not have to watch my fruit: a dozen youngsters do that, and
let it waste no time after it matures.  I wish it were possible to
grow a variety of grape like the explosive bullets, that should
explode in the stomach: the vine would make such a nice border for
the garden,--a masked battery of grape.  The pears, too, are getting
russet and heavy; and here and there amid the shining leaves one
gleams as ruddy as the cheek of the Nutbrown Maid.  The Flemish
Beauties come off readily from the stem, if I take them in my hand:
they say all kinds of beauty come off by handling.

The garden is peace as much as if it were an empire.  Even the man's
cow lies down under the tree where the man has tied her, with such an
air of contentment, that I have small desire to disturb her.  She is
chewing my cud as if it were hers.  Well, eat on and chew on,
melancholy brute.  I have not the heart to tell the man to take you
away: and it would do no good if I had; he wouldn't do it.  The man
has not a taking way.  Munch on, ruminant creature.

The frost will soon come; the grass will be brown.  I will be
charitable while this blessed lull continues: for our benevolences
must soon be turned to other and more distant objects,--the
amelioration of the condition of the Jews, the education of
theological young men in the West, and the like.

I do not know that these appearances are deceitful; but I
sufficiently know that this is a wicked world, to be glad that I have
taken it on shares.  In fact, I could not pick the pears alone, not
to speak of eating them.  When I climb the trees, and throw down the
dusky fruit, Polly catches it in her apron; nearly always, however,
letting go when it drops, the fall is so sudden.  The sun gets in her
face; and, every time a pear comes down it is a surprise, like having
a tooth out, she says.

"If I could n't hold an apron better than that!

But the sentence is not finished : it is useless to finish that sort
of a sentence in this delicious weather.  Besides, conversation is
dangerous.  As, for instance, towards evening I am preparing a bed
for a sowing of turnips,--not that I like turnips in the least; but
this is the season to sow them.  Polly comes out, and extemporizes
her usual seat to "consult me" about matters while I work.  I well
know that something is coming.

"This is a rotation of crops, is n't it?"

"Yes: I have rotated the gone-to-seed lettuce off, and expect to
rotate the turnips in; it is a political fashion."

"Is n't it a shame that the tomatoes are all getting ripe at once?
What a lot of squashes!  I wish we had an oyster-bed.  Do you want me
to help you any more than I am helping?"

"No, I thank you." (I wonder what all this is about?)

"Don't you think we could sell some strawberries next year?"

"By all means, sell anything.  We shall no doubt get rich out of this

"Don't be foolish."

And now!

"Don't you think it would be nice to have a?"....

And Polly unfolds a small scheme of benevolence, which is not quite
enough to break me, and is really to be executed in an economical
manner.  "Would n't that be nice?"

"Oh, yes!  And where is the money to come from?"

"I thought we had agreed to sell the strawberries."

"Certainly.  But I think we would make more money if we sold the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: