List Of Contents | Contents of My Summer in a Garden, by Charles D. Warner
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that I deferred putting a value on the potatoes until I had footed up
the debit column.  This is always the safest way to do.  I had
twenty-five bushels.  I roughly estimated that there are one hundred
good ones to the bushel.  Making my own market price, I asked two
cents apiece for them.  This I should have considered dirt cheap last
June, when I was going down the rows with the hoe.  If any one thinks
that two cents each is high, let him try to raise them.

Nature is "awful smart." I intend to be complimentary in saying so.
She shows it in little things.  I have mentioned my attempt to put in
a few modest turnips, near the close of the season.  I sowed the
seeds, by the way, in the most liberal manner.  Into three or four
short rows I presume I put enough to sow an acre; and they all came
up,--came up as thick as grass, as crowded and useless as babies in a
Chinese village.  Of course, they had to be thinned out; that is,
pretty much all pulled up; and it took me a long time; for it takes a
conscientious man some time to decide which are the best and
healthiest plants to spare.  After all, I spared too many.  That is
the great danger everywhere in this world (it may not be in the
next): things are too thick; we lose all in grasping for too much.
The Scotch say, that no man ought to thin out his own turnips,
because he will not sacrifice enough to leave room for the remainder
to grow: he should get his neighbor, who does not care for the
plants, to do it.  But this is mere talk, and aside from the point:
if there is anything I desire to avoid in these agricultural papers,
it is digression.  I did think that putting in these turnips so late
in the season, when general activity has ceased, and in a remote part
of the garden, they would pass unnoticed.  But Nature never even
winks, as I can see.  The tender blades were scarcely out of the
ground when she sent a small black flv, which seemed to have been
born and held in reserve for this purpose,--to cut the leaves.  They
speedily made lace-work of the whole bed.  Thus everything appears to
have its special enemy,--except, perhaps, p----y: nothing ever
troubles that.

Did the Concord Grape ever come to more luscious perfection than this
year?  or yield so abundantly?  The golden sunshine has passed into
them, and distended their purple skins almost to bursting.  Such
heavy clusters!  such bloom!  such sweetness!  such meat and drink in
their round globes!  What a fine fellow Bacchus would have been, if
he had only signed the pledge when he was a young man!  I have taken
off clusters that were as compact and almost as large as the Black
Hamburgs.  It is slow work picking them.  I do not see how the
gatherers for the vintage ever get off enough.  It takes so long to
disentangle the bunches from the leaves and the interlacing vines and
the supporting tendrils; and then I like to hold up each bunch and
look at it in the sunlight, and get the fragrance and the bloom of
it, and show it to Polly, who is making herself useful, as taster and
companion, at the foot of the ladder, before dropping it into the
basket.  But we have other company.  The robin, the most knowing and
greedy bird out of paradise (I trust he will always be kept out), has
discovered that the grape-crop is uncommonly good, and has come back,
with his whole tribe and family, larger than it was in pea-time.  He
knows the ripest bunches as well as anybody, and tries them all.  If
he would take a whole bunch here and there, say half the number, and
be off with it, I should not so much care.  But he will not.  He
pecks away at all the bunches, and spoils as many as he can.  It is
time he went south.

There is no prettier sight, to my eye, than a gardener on a ladder in
his grape-arbor, in these golden days, selecting the heaviest
clusters of grapes, and handing them down to one and another of a
group of neighbors and friends, who stand under the shade of the
leaves, flecked with the sunlight, and cry, "How sweet!"  "What nice
ones!" and the like,--remarks encouraging to the man on the ladder.
It is great pleasure to see people eat grapes.

Moral Truth. --I have no doubt that grapes taste best in other
people's mouths.  It is an old notion that it is easier to be
generous than to be stingy.  I am convinced that the majority of
people would be generous from selfish motives, if they had the

Philosophical Observation. --Nothing shows one who his friends are
like prosperity and ripe fruit.  I had a good friend in the country,
whom I almost never visited except in cherry-time.  By your fruits
you shall know them.


I like to go into the garden these warm latter days, and muse.  To
muse is to sit in the sun, and not think of anything.  I am not sure
but goodness comes out of people who bask in the sun, as it does out
of a sweet apple roasted before the fire.  The late September and
October sun of this latitude is something like the sun of extreme
Lower Italy: you can stand a good deal of it, and apparently soak a
winter supply into the system.  If one only could take in his winter
fuel in this way!  The next great discovery will, very likely, be the
conservation of sunlight.  In the correlation of forces, I look to
see the day when the superfluous sunshine will be utilized; as, for
instance, that which has burned up my celery this year will be
converted into a force to work the garden.

This sitting in the sun amid the evidences of a ripe year is the
easiest part of gardening I have experienced.  But what a combat has
gone on here!  What vegetable passions have run the whole gamut of
ambition, selfishness, greed of place, fruition, satiety, and now
rest here in the truce of exhaustion!  What a battle-field, if one
may look upon it so!  The corn has lost its ammunition, and stacked
arms in a slovenly, militia sort of style.  The ground vines are
torn, trampled, and withered; and the ungathered cucumbers, worthless
melons, and golden squashes lie about like the spent bombs and
exploded shells of a battle-field.  So the cannon-balls lay on the
sandy plain before Fort Fisher after the capture.  So the great
grassy meadow at Munich, any morning during the October Fest, is
strewn with empty beermugs.  History constantly repeats itself.
There is a large crop of moral reflections in my garden, which
anybody is at liberty to gather who passes this way.

I have tried to get in anything that offered temptation to sin.
There would be no thieves if there was nothing to steal; and I
suppose, in the thieves' catechism, the provider is as bad as the
thief; and, probably, I am to blame for leaving out a few winter
pears, which some predatory boy carried off on Sunday.  At first I
was angry, and said I should like to have caught the urchin in the
act; but, on second thought, I was glad I did not.  The interview
could not have been pleasant: I shouldn't have known what to do with
him.  The chances are, that he would have escaped away with his
pockets full, and jibed at me from a safe distance.  And, if I had
got my hands on him, I should have been still more embarrassed.  If I
had flogged him, he would have got over it a good deal sooner than I
should.  That sort of boy does not mind castigation any more than he
does tearing his trousers in the briers.  If I had treated him with
kindness, and conciliated him with grapes, showing him the enormity
of his offense, I suppose he would have come the next night, and
taken the remainder of the grapes.  The truth is, that the public
morality is lax on the subject of fruit.  If anybody puts arsenic or
gunpowder into his watermelons, he is universally denounced as a
stingy old murderer by the community.  A great many people regard
growing fruit as lawful prey, who would not think of breaking into
your cellar to take it.  I found a man once in my raspberry-bushes,
early in the season, when we were waiting for a dishful to ripen.
Upon inquiring what he was about, he said he was only eating some;
and the operation seemed to be so natural and simple, that I disliked
to disturb him.  And I am not very sure that one has a right to the
whole of an abundant crop of fruit until he has gathered it.  At
least, in a city garden, one might as well conform his theory to the
practice of the community.

As for children (and it sometimes looks as if the chief products of
my garden were small boys and hens), it is admitted that they are
barbarians.  There is no exception among them to this condition of
barbarism.  This is not to say that they are not attractive; for they
have the virtues as well as the vices of a primitive people.  It is
held by some naturalists that the child is only a zoophyte, with a
stomach, and feelers radiating from it in search of something to fill
it.  It is true that a child is always hungry all over: but he is
also curious all over; and his curiosity is excited about as early as
his hunger.  He immediately begins to put out his moral feelers into
the unknown and the infinite to discover what sort of an existence
this is into which he has come.  His imagination is quite as hungry
as his stomach.  And again and again it is stronger than his other
appetites.  You can easily engage his imagination in a story which
will make him forget his dinner.  He is credulous and superstitious,
and open to all wonder.  In this, he is exactly like the savage
races.  Both gorge themselves on the marvelous; and all the unknown
is marvelous to them.  I know the general impression is that children
must be governed through their stomachs.  I think they can be
controlled quite as well through their curiosity; that being the more
craving and imperious of the two.  I have seen children follow about
a person who told them stories, and interested them with his charming
talk, as greedily as if his pockets had been full of bon-bons.

Perhaps this fact has no practical relation to gardening; but it
occurs to me that, if I should paper the outside of my high board
fence with the leaves of "The Arabian Nights," it would afford me a
good deal of protection,--more, in fact, than spikes in the top,
which tear trousers and encourage profanity, but do not save much
fruit.  A spiked fence is a challenge to any boy of spirit.  But if
the fence were papered with fairy-tales, would he not stop to read
them until it was too late for him to climb into the garden?  I don't
know.  Human nature is vicious.  The boy might regard the picture of
the garden of the Hesperides only as an advertisement of what was
over the fence.  I begin to find that the problem of raising fruit is
nothing to that of getting it after it has matured.  So long as the
law, just in many respects, is in force against shooting birds and
small boys, the gardener may sow in tears and reap in vain.

The power of a boy is, to me, something fearful.  Consider what he
can do.  You buy and set out a choice pear-tree; you enrich the earth
for it; you train and trim it, and vanquish the borer, and watch its
slow growth.  At length it rewards your care by producing two or
three pears, which you cut up and divide in the family, declaring the
flavor of the bit you eat to be something extraordinary.  The next
year, the little tree blossoms full, and sets well; and in the autumn
has on its slender, drooping limbs half a bushel of fruit, daily
growing more delicious in the sun.  You show it to your friends,
reading to them the French name, which you can never remember, on the
label; and you take an honest pride in the successful fruit of long
care.  That night your pears shall be required of you by a boy!
Along comes an irresponsible urchin, who has not been growing much
longer than the tree, with not twenty-five cents worth of clothing on
him, and in five minutes takes off every pear, and retires into safe
obscurity.  In five minutes the remorseless boy has undone your work
of years, and with the easy nonchalance, I doubt not, of any agent of
fate, in whose path nothing is sacred or safe.

And it is not of much consequence.  The boy goes on his way,--to
Congress, or to State Prison: in either place he will be accused of
stealing, perhaps wrongfully.  You learn, in time, that it is better
to have had pears and lost them than not to have had pears at all.
You come to know that the least (and rarest) part of the pleasure of
raising fruit is the vulgar eating it.  You recall your delight in
conversing with the nurseryman, and looking at his illustrated
catalogues, where all the pears are drawn perfect in form, and of
extra size, and at that exact moment between ripeness and decay which
it is so impossible to hit in practice.  Fruit cannot be raised on
this earth to taste as you imagine those pears would taste.  For
years you have this pleasure, unalloyed by any disenchanting reality.
How you watch the tender twigs in spring, and the freshly forming
bark, hovering about the healthy growing tree with your pruning-knife
many a sunny morning!  That is happiness.  Then, if you know it, you
are drinking the very wine of life; and when the sweet juices of the
earth mount the limbs, and flow down the tender stem, ripening and
reddening the pendent fruit, you feel that you somehow stand at the
source of things, and have no unimportant share in the processes of
Nature.  Enter at this moment boy the destroyer, whose office is that
of preserver as well; for, though he removes the fruit from your
sight, it remains in your memory immortally ripe and desirable.  The
gardener needs all these consolations of a high philosophy.


Regrets are idle; yet history is one long regret. Everything might
have turned out so differently!  If Ravaillac had not been imprisoned
for debt, he would not have stabbed Henry of Navarre.  If William of
Orange had escaped assassination by Philip's emissaries; if France
had followed the French Calvin, and embraced Protestant Calvinism, as
it came very near doing towards the end of the sixteenth century; if
the Continental ammunition had not given out at Bunker's Hill; if
Blucher had not "come up" at Waterloo,--the lesson is, that things do
not come up unless they are planted.  When you go behind the
historical scenery, you find there is a rope and pulley to effect
every transformation which has astonished you.  It was the rascality
of a minister and a contractor five years before that lost the
battle; and the cause of the defeat was worthless ammunition.  I
should like to know how many wars have been caused by fits of
indigestion, and how many more dynasties have been upset by the love
of woman than by the hate of man.  It is only because we are ill
informed that anything surprises us; and we are disappointed because
we expect that for which we have not provided.

I had too vague expectations of what my garden would do of itself.  A
garden ought to produce one everything,--just as a business ought to
support a man, and a house ought to keep itself.  We had a convention
lately to resolve that the house should keep itself; but it won't.
There has been a lively time in our garden this summer; but it seems
to me there is very little to show for it.  It has been a terrible

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