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

Lorraine?  It is true that we have lived on the country; but we
desire, besides, the fruits of the war.  There are no onions, for one
thing.  I am quite ashamed to take people into my garden, and have
them notice the absence of onions.  It is very marked.  In onion is
strength; and a garden without it lacks flavor.  The onion in its
satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables; and it is
the only one that represents the essence of things.  It can almost be
said to have a soul.  You take off coat after coat, and the onion is
still there; and, when the last one is removed, who dare say that the
onion itself is destroyed, though you can weep over its departed
spirit?  If there is any one thing on this fallen earth that the
angels in heaven weep over--more than another, it is the onion.

I know that there is supposed to be a prejudice against the onion;
but I think there is rather a cowardice in regard to it.  I doubt not
that all men and women love the onion; but few confess their love.
Affection for it is concealed.  Good New-Englanders are as shy of
owning it as they are of talking about religion.  Some people have
days on which they eat onions,--what you might call "retreats," or
their "Thursdays." The act is in the nature of a religious ceremony,
an Eleusinian mystery; not a breath of it must get abroad.  On that
day they see no company; they deny the kiss of greeting to the
dearest friend; they retire within themselves, and hold communion
with one of the most pungent and penetrating manifestations of the
moral vegetable world.  Happy is said to be the family which can eat
onions together.  They are, for the time being, separate from the
world, and have a harmony of aspiration.  There is a hint here for
the reformers.  Let them become apostles of the onion; let them eat,
and preach it to their fellows, and circulate tracts of it in the
form of seeds.  In the onion is the hope of universal brotherhood.
If all men will eat onions at all times, they will come into a
universal sympathy.  Look at Italy.  I hope I am not mistaken as to
the cause of her unity.  It was the Reds who preached the gospel
which made it possible.  All the Reds of Europe, all the sworn
devotees of the mystic Mary Ann, eat of the common vegetable.  Their
oaths are strong with it.  It is the food, also, of the common people
of Italy.  All the social atmosphere of that delicious land is laden
with it.  Its odor is a practical democracy.  In the churches all are
alike: there is one faith, one smell.  The entrance of Victor Emanuel
into Rome is only the pompous proclamation of a unity which garlic
had already accomplished; and yet we, who boast of our democracy, eat
onions in secret.

I now see that I have left out many of the most moral elements.
Neither onions, parsnips, carrots, nor cabbages are here.  I have
never seen a garden in the autumn before, without the uncouth cabbage
in it; but my garden gives the impression of a garden without a head.
The cabbage is the rose of Holland.  I admire the force by which it
compacts its crisp leaves into a solid head.  The secret of it would
be priceless to the world.  We should see less expansive foreheads
with nothing within.  Even the largest cabbages are not always the
best.  But I mention these things, not from any sympathy I have with
the vegetables named, but to show how hard it is to go contrary to
the expectations of society.  Society expects every man to have
certain things in his garden.  Not to raise cabbage is as if one had
no pew in church.  Perhaps we shall come some day to free churches
and free gardens; when I can show my neighbor through my tired
garden, at the end of the season, when skies are overcast, and brown
leaves are swirling down, and not mind if he does raise his eyebrows
when he observes, "Ah!  I see you have none of this, and of that." At
present we want the moral courage to plant only what we need; to
spend only what will bring us peace, regardless of what is going on
over the fence.  We are half ruined by conformity; but we should be
wholly ruined without it; and I presume I shall make a garden next
year that will be as popular as possible.

And this brings me to what I see may be a crisis in life.  I begin to
feel the temptation of experiment.  Agriculture, horticulture,
floriculture,--these are vast fields, into which one may wander away,
and never be seen more.  It seemed to me a very simple thing, this
gardening; but it opens up astonishingly.  It is like the infinite
possibilities in worsted-work.  Polly sometimes says to me, "I wish
you would call at Bobbin's, and match that skein of worsted for me,
when you are in town."  Time was, I used to accept such a commission
with alacrity and self-confidence.  I went to Bobbin's, and asked one
of his young men, with easy indifference, to give me some of that.
The young man, who is as handsome a young man as ever I looked at,
and who appears to own the shop, and whose suave superciliousness
would be worth everything to a cabinet minister who wanted to repel
applicants for place, says, "I have n't an ounce: I have sent to
Paris, and I expect it every day.  I have a good deal of difficulty
in getting that shade in my assortment."  To think that he is in
communication with Paris, and perhaps with Persia!  Respect for such
a being gives place to awe.  I go to another shop, holding fast to my
scarlet clew.  There I am shown a heap of stuff, with more colors and
shades than I had supposed existed in all the world.  What a blaze of
distraction!  I have been told to get as near the shade as I could;
and so I compare and contrast, till the whole thing seems to me about
of one color.  But I can settle my mind on nothing.  The affair
assumes a high degree of importance.  I am satisfied with nothing but
perfection.  I don't know what may happen if the shade is not
matched.  I go to another shop, and another, and another.  At last a
pretty girl, who could make any customer believe that green is blue,
matches the shade in a minute.  I buy five cents worth.  That was the
order.  Women are the most economical persons that ever were.  I have
spent two hours in this five-cent business; but who shall say they
were wasted, when I take the stuff home, and Polly says it is a
perfect match, and looks so pleased, and holds it up with the work,
at arm's length, and turns her head one side, and then takes her
needle, and works it in?  Working in, I can see, my own obligingness
and amiability with every stitch.  Five cents is dirt cheap for such
a pleasure.

The things I may do in my garden multiply on my vision.  How
fascinating have the catalogues of the nurserymen become!  Can I
raise all those beautiful varieties, each one of which is preferable
to the other?  Shall I try all the kinds of grapes, and all the sorts
of pears?  I have already fifteen varieties of strawberries (vines);
and I have no idea that I have hit the right one.  Must I subscribe
to all the magazines and weekly papers which offer premiums of the
best vines?  Oh, that all the strawberries were rolled into one, that
I could inclose all its lusciousness in one bite!  Oh for the good
old days when a strawberry was a strawberry, and there was no
perplexity about it!  There are more berries now than churches; and
no one knows what to believe.  I have seen gardens which were all
experiment, given over to every new thing, and which produced little
or nothing to the owners, except the pleasure of expectation.  People
grow pear-trees at great expense of time and money, which never yield
them more than four pears to the tree.  The fashions of ladies'
bonnets are nothing to the fashions of nurserymen.  He who attempts
to follow them has a business for life; but his life may be short.
If I enter upon this wide field of horticultural experiment, I shall
leave peace behind; and I may expect the ground to open, and swallow
me and all my fortune.  May Heaven keep me to the old roots and herbs
of my forefathers!  Perhaps in the world of modern reforms this is
not possible; but I intend now to cultivate only the standard things,
and learn to talk knowingly of the rest.  Of course, one must keep up
a reputation.  I have seen people greatly enjoy themselves, and
elevate themselves in their own esteem, in a wise and critical talk
about all the choice wines, while they were sipping a decoction, the
original cost of which bore no relation to the price of grapes.


The closing scenes are not necessarily funereal.  A garden should be
got ready for winter as well as for summer.  When one goes into
winter-quarters, he wants everything neat and trim.  Expecting high
winds, we bring everything into close reef.  Some men there are who
never shave (if they are so absurd as ever to shave), except when
they go abroad, and who do not take care to wear polished boots in
the bosoms of their families.  I like a man who shaves (next to one
who does n't shave) to satisfy his own conscience, and not for
display, and who dresses as neatly at home as he does anywhere.  Such
a man will be likely to put his garden in complete order before the
snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of
melancholy ruin and decay.

I confess that, after such an exhausting campaign, I felt a great
temptation to retire, and call it a drawn engagement.  But better
counsels prevailed.  I determined that the weeds should not sleep on
the field of battle.  I routed them out, and leveled their works.  I
am master of the situation.  If I have made a desert, I at least have
peace; but it is not quite a desert.  The strawberries, the
raspberries, the celery, the turnips, wave green above the clean
earth, with no enemy in sight.  In these golden October days no work
is more fascinating than this getting ready for spring.  The sun is
no longer a burning enemy, but a friend, illuminating all the open
space, and warming the mellow soil.  And the pruning and clearing
away of rubbish, and the fertilizing, go on with something of the
hilarity of a wake, rather than the despondency of other funerals.
When the wind begins to come out of the northwest of set purpose, and
to sweep the ground with low and searching fierceness, very different
from the roistering, jolly bluster of early fall, I have put the
strawberries under their coverlet of leaves, pruned the grape-vines
and laid them under the soil, tied up the tender plants, given the
fruit trees a good, solid meal about the roots; and so I turn away,
writing Resurgam on the gatepost.  And Calvin, aware that the summer
is past and the harvest is ended, and that a mouse in the kitchen is
worth two birds gone south, scampers away to the house with his tail
in the air.

And yet I am not perfectly at rest in my mind.  I know that this is
only a truce until the parties recover their exhausted energies.  All
winter long the forces of chemistry will be mustering under ground,
repairing the losses, calling up the reserves, getting new strength
from my surface-fertilizing bounty, and making ready for the spring
campaign.  They will open it before I am ready: while the snow is
scarcely melted, and the ground is not passable, they will begin to
move on my works; and the fight will commence.  Yet how deceitfully
it will open to the music of birds and the soft enchantment of the
spring mornings!  I shall even be permitted to win a few skirmishes:
the secret forces will even wait for me to plant and sow, and show my
full hand, before they come on in heavy and determined assault.
There are already signs of an internecine fight with the devil-grass,
which has intrenched itself in a considerable portion of my
garden-patch.  It contests the ground inch by inch; and digging it
out is very much such labor as eating a piece of choke-cherry pie
with the stones all in.  It is work, too, that I know by experience I
shall have to do alone.  Every man must eradicate his own devil-
grass.  The neighbors who have leisure to help you in grape-picking
time are all busy when devil-grass is most aggressive.  My neighbors'
visits are well timed: it is only their hens which have seasons for
their own.

I am told that abundant and rank weeds are signs of a rich soil; but
I have noticed that a thin, poor soil grows little but weeds.  I am
inclined to think that the substratum is the same, and that the only
choice in this world is what kind of weeds you will have.  I am not
much attracted by the gaunt, flavorless mullein, and the wiry thistle
of upland country pastures, where the grass is always gray, as if the
world were already weary and sick of life.  The awkward, uncouth
wickedness of remote country-places, where culture has died out after
the first crop, is about as disagreeable as the ranker and richer
vice of city life, forced by artificial heat and the juices of an
overfed civilization.  There is no doubt that, on the whole, the rich
soil is the best: the fruit of it has body and flavor.  To what
affluence does a woman (to take an instance, thank Heaven, which is
common) grow, with favoring circumstances, under the stimulus of the
richest social and intellectual influences!  I am aware that there
has been a good deal said in poetry about the fringed gentian and the
harebell of rocky districts and waysides, and I know that it is
possible for maidens to bloom in very slight soil into a wild-wood
grace and beauty; yet, the world through, they lack that wealth of
charms, that tropic affluence of both person and mind, which higher
and more stimulating culture brings,--the passion as well as the soul
glowing in the Cloth-of-Gold rose.  Neither persons nor plants are
ever fully themselves until they are cultivated to their highest.  I,
for one, have no fear that society will be too much enriched.  The
only question is about keeping down the weeds; and I have learned by
experience, that we need new sorts of hoes, and more disposition to
use them.

Moral Deduction.--The difference between soil and society is
evident.  We bury decay in the earth; we plant in it the perishing;
we feed it with offensive refuse: but nothing grows out of it that is
not clean; it gives us back life and beauty for our rubbish.  Society
returns us what we give it.

Pretending to reflect upon these things, but in reality watching the
blue-jays, who are pecking at the purple berries of the woodbine on
the south gable, I approach the house.  Polly is picking up chestnuts
on the sward, regardless of the high wind which rattles them about
her head and upon the glass roof of her winter-garden.  The garden, I
see, is filled with thrifty plants, which will make it always summer
there.  The callas about the fountain will be in flower by Christmas:
the plant appears to keep that holiday in her secret heart all
summer.  I close the outer windows as we go along, and congratulate
myself that we are ready for winter.  For the winter-garden I have no
responsibility: Polly has entire charge of it.  I am only required to
keep it heated, and not too hot either; to smoke it often for the
death of the bugs; to water it once a day; to move this and that into

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: