List Of Contents | Contents of Summer in a Garden by Charles D. Warner
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And I suppose we put on the sackcloth and ashes, when the striped bug
came at four o'clock A.M., and we watched the tender leaves, and
watered night and morning the feeble plants.  "I tell you, Polly,"
said I, uncorking the Bordeaux raspberry vinegar, "there is not a pea
here that does not represent a drop of moisture wrung from my brow,
not a beet that does not stand for a back-ache, not a squash that has
not caused me untold anxiety; and I did hope--but I will say no

Observation.--In this sort of family discussion, "I will say no
more" is the most effective thing you can close up with.

I am not an alarmist.  I hope I am as cool as anybody this hot
summer.  But I am quite ready to say to Polly, or any other woman,
"You can have the ballot; only leave me the vegetables, or, what is
more important, the consciousness of power in vegetables."  I see how
it is.  Woman is now supreme in the house.  She already stretches out
her hand to grasp the garden.  She will gradually control everything.
Woman is one of the ablest and most cunning creatures who have ever
mingled in human affairs.  I understand those women who say they
don't want the ballot.  They purpose to hold the real power while we
go through the mockery of making laws.  They want the power without
the responsibility.  (Suppose my squash had not come up, or my beans-
-as they threatened at one time--had gone the wrong way: where would
I have been?) We are to be held to all the responsibilities.  Woman
takes the lead in all the departments, leaving us politics only.  And
what is politics?  Let me raise the vegetables of a nation, says
Polly, and I care not who makes its politics.  Here I sat at the
table, armed with the ballot, but really powerless among my own
vegetables.  While we are being amused by the ballot, woman is
quietly taking things into her own hands.


Perhaps, after all, it is not what you get out of a garden, but what
you put into it, that is the most remunerative.  What is a man?  A
question frequently asked, and never, so far as I know,
satisfactorily answered.  He commonly spends his seventy years, if so
many are given him, in getting ready to enjoy himself.  How many
hours, how many minutes, does one get of that pure content which is
happiness?  I do not mean laziness, which is always discontent; but
that serene enjoyment, in which all the natural senses have easy
play, and the unnatural ones have a holiday.  There is probably
nothing that has such a tranquilizing effect, and leads into such
content as gardening.  By gardening, I do not mean that insane desire
to raise vegetables which some have; but the philosophical occupation
of contact with the earth, and companionship with gently growing
things and patient processes; that exercise which soothes the spirit,
and develops the deltoid muscles.

In half an hour I can hoe myself right away from this world, as we
commonly see it, into a large place, where there are no obstacles.
What an occupation it is for thought!  The mind broods like a hen on
eggs.  The trouble is, that you are not thinking about anything, but
are really vegetating like the plants around you.  I begin to know
what the joy of the grape-vine is in running up the trellis, which is
similar to that of the squirrel in running up a tree.  We all have
something in our nature that requires contact with the earth.  In the
solitude of garden-labor, one gets into a sort of communion with the
vegetable life, which makes the old mythology possible.  For
instance, I can believe that the dryads are plenty this summer: my
garden is like an ash-heap.  Almost all the moisture it has had in
weeks has been the sweat of honest industry.

The pleasure of gardening in these days, when the thermometer is at
ninety, is one that I fear I shall not be able to make intelligible
to my readers, many of whom do not appreciate the delight of soaking
in the sunshine.  I suppose that the sun, going through a man, as it
will on such a day, takes out of him rheumatism, consumption, and
every other disease, except sudden death--from sun-stroke.  But,
aside from this, there is an odor from the evergreens, the hedges,
the various plants and vines, that is only expressed and set afloat
at a high temperature, which is delicious; and, hot as it may be, a
little breeze will come at intervals, which can be heard in the
treetops, and which is an unobtrusive benediction.  I hear a quail or
two whistling in the ravine; and there is a good deal of fragmentary
conversation going on among the birds, even on the warmest days.  The
companionship of Calvin, also, counts for a good deal.  He usually
attends me, unless I work too long in one place; sitting down on the
turf, displaying the ermine of his breast, and watching my movements
with great intelligence.  He has a feline and genuine love for the
beauties of Nature, and will establish himself where there is a good
view, and look on it for hours.  He always accompanies us when we go
to gather the vegetables, seeming to be desirous to know what we are
to have for dinner.  He is a connoisseur in the garden; being fond of
almost all the vegetables, except the cucumber,--a dietetic hint to
man.  I believe it is also said that the pig will not eat tobacco.
These are important facts.  It is singular, however, that those who
hold up the pigs as models to us never hold us up as models to the

I wish I knew as much about natural history and the habits of animals
as Calvin does.  He is the closest observer I ever saw; and there are
few species of animals on the place that he has not analyzed.  I
think he has, to use a euphemism very applicable to him, got outside
of every one of them, except the toad.  To the toad he is entirely
indifferent; but I presume he knows that the toad is the most useful
animal in the garden.  I think the Agricultural Society ought to
offer a prize for the finest toad.  When Polly comes to sit in the
shade near my strawberry-beds, to shell peas, Calvin is always lying
near in apparent obliviousness; but not the slightest unusual sound
can be made in the bushes, that he is not alert, and prepared to
investigate the cause of it.  It is this habit of observation, so
cultivated, which has given him such a trained mind, and made him so
philosophical.  It is within the capacity of even the humblest of us
to attain this.

And, speaking of the philosophical temper, there is no class of men
whose society is more to be desired for this quality than that of
plumbers.  They are the most agreeable men I know; and the boys in
the business begin to be agreeable very early.  I suspect the secret
of it is, that they are agreeable by the hour.  In the driest days,
my fountain became disabled: the pipe was stopped up.  A couple of
plumbers, with the implements of their craft, came out to view the
situation.  There was a good deal of difference of opinion about
where the stoppage was.  I found the plumbers perfectly willing to
sit down and talk about it,--talk by the hour.  Some of their guesses
and remarks were exceedingly ingenious; and their general
observations on other subjects were excellent in their way, and could
hardly have been better if they had been made by the job.  The work
dragged a little, as it is apt to do by the hour.  The plumbers had
occasion to make me several visits.  Sometimes they would find, upon
arrival, that they had forgotten some indispensable tool; and one
would go back to the shop, a mile and a half, after it; and his
comrade would await his return with the most exemplary patience, and
sit down and talk,--always by the hour.  I do not know but it is a
habit to have something wanted at the shop.  They seemed to me very
good workmen, and always willing to stop and talk about the job, or
anything else, when I went near them.  Nor had they any of that
impetuous hurry that is said to be the bane of our American
civilization.  To their credit be it said, that I never observed
anything of it in them.  They can afford to wait.  Two of them will
sometimes wait nearly half a day while a comrade goes for a tool.
They are patient and philosophical.  It is a great pleasure to meet
such men.  One only wishes there was some work he could do for them
by the hour.  There ought to be reciprocity.  I think they have very
nearly solved the problem of Life: it is to work for other people,
never for yourself, and get your pay by the hour.  You then have no
anxiety, and little work.  If you do things by the job, you are
perpetually driven: the hours are scourges.  If you work by the hour,
you gently sail on the stream of Time, which is always bearing you on
to the haven of Pay, whether you make any effort, or not.  Working by
the hour tends to make one moral.  A plumber working by the job,
trying to unscrew a rusty, refractory nut, in a cramped position,
where the tongs continually slipped off, would swear; but I never
heard one of them swear, or exhibit the least impatience at such a
vexation, working by the hour.  Nothing can move a man who is paid by
the hour.  How sweet the flight of time seems to his calm mind!


Mr.  Horace Greeley, the introduction of whose name confers an honor
upon this page (although I ought to say that it is used entirely
without his consent), is my sole authority in agriculture.  In
politics I do not dare to follow him; but in agriculture he is
irresistible.  When, therefore, I find him advising Western farmers
not to hill up their corn, I think that his advice must be political.
You must hill up your corn.  People always have hilled up their corn.
It would take a constitutional amendment to change the practice, that
has pertained ever since maize was raised.  "It will stand the
drought better," says Mr.  Greeley, "if the ground is left level."  I
have corn in my garden, ten and twelve feet high, strong and lusty,
standing the drought like a grenadier; and it is hilled.  In advising
this radical change, Mr.  Greeley evidently has a political purpose.
He might just as well say that you should not hill beans, when
everybody knows that a "hill of beans" is one of the most expressive
symbols of disparagement.  When I become too lazy to hill my corn, I,
too, shall go into politics.

I am satisfied that it is useless to try to cultivate "pusley." I set
a little of it one side, and gave it some extra care.  It did not
thrive as well as that which I was fighting.  The fact is, there is a
spirit of moral perversity in the plant, which makes it grow the
more, the more it is interfered with.  I am satisfied of that.  I
doubt if any one has raised more "pusley" this year than I have; and
my warfare with it has been continual.  Neither of us has slept much.
If you combat it, it will grow, to use an expression that will be
understood by many, like the devil.  I have a neighbor, a good
Christian man, benevolent, and a person of good judgment.  He planted
next to me an acre of turnips recently.  A few days after, he went to
look at his crop; and he found the entire ground covered with a thick
and luxurious carpet of "pusley," with a turnip-top worked in here
and there as an ornament.  I have seldom seen so thrifty a field.  I
advised my neighbor next time to sow "pusley" and then he might get a
few turnips.  I wish there was more demand in our city markets for
"pusley" as a salad.  I can recommend it.

It does not take a great man to soon discover that, in raising
anything, the greater part of the plants goes into stalk and leaf,
and the fruit is a most inconsiderable portion.  I plant and hoe a
hill of corn: it grows green and stout, and waves its broad leaves
high in the air, and is months in perfecting itself, and then yields
us not enough for a dinner.  It grows because it delights to do so,
--to take the juices out of my ground, to absorb my fertilizers, to
wax luxuriant, and disport itself in the summer air, and with very
little thought of making any return to me.  I might go all through my
garden and fruit trees with a similar result.  I have heard of places
where there was very little land to the acre.  It is universally true
that there is a great deal of vegetable show and fuss for the result
produced.  I do not complain of this.  One cannot expect vegetables
to be better than men: and they make a great deal of ostentatious
splurge; and many of them come to no result at last.  Usually, the
more show of leaf and wood, the less fruit.  This melancholy
reflection is thrown in here in order to make dog-days seem cheerful
in comparison.

One of the minor pleasures of life is that of controlling vegetable
activity and aggressions with the pruning-knife.  Vigorous and rapid
growth is, however, a necessity to the sport.  To prune feeble plants
and shrubs is like acting the part of dry-nurse to a sickly orphan.
You must feel the blood of Nature bound under your hand, and get the
thrill of its life in your nerves.  To control and culture a strong,
thrifty plant in this way is like steering a ship under full headway,
or driving a locomotive with your hand on the lever, or pulling the
reins over a fast horse when his blood and tail are up.  I do not
understand, by the way, the pleasure of the jockey in setting up the
tail of the horse artificially.  If I had a horse with a tail not
able to sit up, I should feed the horse, and curry him into good
spirits, and let him set up his own tail.  When I see a poor,
spiritless horse going by with an artificially set-up tail, it is
only a signal of distress.  I desire to be surrounded only by
healthy, vigorous plants and trees, which require constant cutting-in
and management.  Merely to cut away dead branches is like perpetual
attendance at a funeral, and puts one in low spirits.  I want to have
a garden and orchard rise up and meet me every morning, with the
request to "lay on, Macduff." I respect old age; but an old currant-
bush, hoary with mossy bark, is a melancholy spectacle.

I suppose the time has come when I am expected to say something about
fertilizers: all agriculturists do.  When you plant, you think you
cannot fertilize too much: when you get the bills for the manure, you
think you cannot fertilize too little.  Of course you do not expect
to get the value of the manure back in fruits and vegetables; but
something is due to science,--to chemistry in particular.  You must
have a knowledge of soils, must have your soil analyzed, and then go
into a course of experiments to find what it needs.  It needs
analyzing,--that, I am clear about: everything needs that.  You had
better have the soil analyzed before you buy: if there is "pusley"
in it, let it alone.  See if it is a soil that requires much hoeing,
and how fine it will get if there is no rain for two months.  But
when you come to fertilizing, if I understand the agricultural
authorities, you open a pit that will ultimately swallow you up,
--farm and all.  It is the great subject of modern times, how to
fertilize without ruinous expense; how, in short, not to starve the
earth to death while we get our living out of it.  Practically, the
business is hardly to the taste of a person of a poetic turn of mind.

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