List Of Contents | Contents of Summer in a Garden by Charles D. Warner
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"Well," said Polly, concluding the whole matter, "I am going to do
it." And, having thus "consulted" me, Polly goes away; and I put in
the turnip-seeds quite thick, determined to raise enough to sell.
But not even this mercenary thought can ruffle my mind as I rake off
the loamy bed.  I notice, however, that the spring smell has gone out
of the dirt.  That went into the first crop.

In this peaceful unison with yielding nature, I was a little taken
aback to find that a new enemy had turned up.  The celery had just
rubbed through the fiery scorching of the drought, and stood a faint
chance to grow; when I noticed on the green leaves a big green-and-
black worm, called, I believe, the celery-worm: but I don't know who
called him; I am sure I did not.  It was almost ludicrous that he
should turn up here, just at the end of the season, when I supposed
that my war with the living animals was over.  Yet he was, no doubt,
predestinated; for he went to work as cheerfully as if he had arrived
in June, when everything was fresh and vigorous.  It beats me--Nature
does.  I doubt not, that, if I were to leave my garden now for a
week, it would n't know me on my return.  The patch I scratched over
for the turnips, and left as clean as earth, is already full of
ambitious "pusley," which grows with all the confidence of youth and
the skill of old age.  It beats the serpent as an emblem of
immortality.  While all the others of us in the garden rest and sit
in comfort a moment, upon the summit of the summer, it is as rampant
and vicious as ever.  It accepts no armistice.


It is said that absence conquers all things, love included; but it
has a contrary effect on a garden.  I was absent for two or three
weeks.  I left my garden a paradise, as paradises go in this
protoplastic world; and when I returned, the trail of the serpent was
over it all, so to speak.  (This is in addition to the actual snakes
in it, which are large enough to strangle children of average size.)
I asked Polly if she had seen to the garden while I was away, and she
said she had.  I found that all the melons had been seen to, and the
early grapes and pears.  The green worm had also seen to about half
the celery; and a large flock of apparently perfectly domesticated
chickens were roaming over the ground, gossiping in the hot September
sun, and picking up any odd trifle that might be left.  On the whole,
the garden could not have been better seen to; though it would take a
sharp eye to see the potato-vines amid the rampant grass and weeds.

The new strawberry-plants, for one thing, had taken advantage of my
absence.  Every one of them had sent out as many scarlet runners as
an Indian tribe has.  Some of them had blossomed; and a few had gone
so far as to bear ripe berries,--long, pear-shaped fruit, hanging
like the ear-pendants of an East Indian bride.  I could not but
admire the persistence of these zealous plants, which seemed
determined to propagate themselves both by seeds and roots, and make
sure of immortality in some way.  Even the Colfax variety was as
ambitious as the others.  After having seen the declining letter of
Mr. Colfax, I did not suppose that this vine would run any more, and
intended to root it out.  But one can never say what these
politicians mean; and I shall let this variety grow until after the
next election, at least; although I hear that the fruit is small, and
rather sour.  If there is any variety of strawberries that really
declines to run, and devotes itself to a private life of fruit-
bearing, I should like to get it.  I may mention here, since we are
on politics, that the Doolittle raspberries had sprawled all over the
strawberry-bed's: so true is it that politics makes strange

But another enemy had come into the strawberries, which, after all
that has been said in these papers, I am almost ashamed to mention.
But does the preacher in the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, year after
year, shrink from speaking of sin?  I refer, of course, to the
greatest enemy of mankind, "p-sl-y."  The ground was carpeted with
it.  I should think that this was the tenth crop of the season; and
it was as good as the first.  I see no reason why our northern soil
is not as prolific as that of the tropics, and will not produce as
many crops in the year.  The mistake we make is in trying to force
things that are not natural to it.  I have no doubt that, if we turn
our attention to "pusley," we can beat the world.

I had no idea, until recently, how generally this simple and thrifty
plant is feared and hated.  Far beyond what I had regarded as the
bounds of civilization, it is held as one of the mysteries of a
fallen world; accompanying the home missionary on his wanderings, and
preceding the footsteps of the Tract Society.  I was not long ago in
the Adirondacks.  We had built a camp for the night, in the heart of
the woods, high up on John's Brook and near the foot of Mount Marcy:
I can see the lovely spot now.  It was on the bank of the crystal,
rocky stream, at the foot of high and slender falls, which poured
into a broad amber basin.  Out of this basin we had just taken trout
enough for our supper, which had been killed, and roasted over the
fire on sharp sticks, and eaten before they had an opportunity to
feel the chill of this deceitful world.  We were lying under the hut
of spruce-bark, on fragrant hemlock-boughs, talking, after supper.
In front of us was a huge fire of birchlogs; and over it we could see
the top of the falls glistening in the moonlight; and the roar of the
falls, and the brawling of the stream near us, filled all the ancient
woods.  It was a scene upon which one would think no thought of sin
could enter.  We were talking with old Phelps, the guide.  Old Phelps
is at once guide, philosopher, and friend.  He knows the woods and
streams and mountains, and their savage inhabitants, as well as we
know all our rich relations and what they are doing; and in lonely
bear-hunts and sable-trappings he has thought out and solved most of
the problems of life.  As he stands in his wood-gear, he is as
grizzly as an old cedar-tree; and he speaks in a high falsetto voice,
which would be invaluable to a boatswain in a storm at sea.

We had been talking of all subjects about which rational men are
interested,--bears, panthers, trapping, the habits of trout, the
tariff, the internal revenue (to wit the injustice of laying such a
tax on tobacco, and none on dogs:---There ain't no dog in the United
States," says the guide, at the top of his voice, "that earns his
living"), the Adventists, the Gorner Grat, Horace Greeley, religion,
the propagation of seeds in the wilderness (as, for instance, where
were the seeds lying for ages that spring up into certain plants and
flowers as soon as a spot is cleared anywhere in the most remote
forest; and why does a growth of oak-trees always come up after a
growth of pine has been removed?)--in short, we had pretty nearly
reached a solution of many mysteries, when Phelps suddenly exclaimed
with uncommon energy,--

"Wall, there's one thing that beats me!"

"What's that?" we asked with undisguised curiosity.

"That's 'pusley'!" he replied, in the tone of a man who has come to
one door in life which is hopelessly shut, and from which he retires
in despair.

"Where it comes from I don't know, nor what to do with it.  It's in
my garden; and I can't get rid of it.  It beats me."

About "pusley" the guide had no theory and no hope.  A feeling of awe
came over me, as we lay there at midnight, hushed by the sound of the
stream and the rising wind in the spruce-tops.  Then man can go
nowhere that "pusley" will not attend him.  Though he camp on the
Upper Au Sable, or penetrate the forest where rolls the Allegash, and
hear no sound save his own allegations, he will not escape it.  It
has entered the happy valley of Keene, although there is yet no
church there, and only a feeble school part of the year.  Sin travels
faster than they that ride in chariots.  I take my hoe, and begin;
but I feel that I am warring against something whose roots take hold
on H.

By the time a man gets to be eighty, he learns that he is compassed
by limitations, and that there has been a natural boundary set to his
individual powers.  As he goes on in life, he begins to doubt his
ability to destroy all evil and to reform all abuses, and to suspect
that there will be much left to do after he has done.  I stepped into
my garden in the spring, not doubting that I should be easily master
of the weeds.  I have simply learned that an institution which is at
least six thousand years old, and I believe six millions, is not to
be put down in one season.

I have been digging my potatoes, if anybody cares to know it.  I
planted them in what are called "Early Rose,"--the rows a little
less than three feet apart; but the vines came to an early close in
the drought.  Digging potatoes is a pleasant, soothing occupation,
but not poetical.  It is good for the mind, unless they are too small
(as many of mine are), when it begets a want of gratitude to the
bountiful earth.  What small potatoes we all are, compared with what
we might be!  We don't plow deep enough, any of us, for one thing.  I
shall put in the plow next year, and give the tubers room enough.  I
think they felt the lack of it this year: many of them seemed ashamed
to come out so small.  There is great pleasure in turning out the
brown-jacketed fellows into the sunshine of a royal September day,
and seeing them glisten as they lie thickly strewn on the warm soil.
Life has few such moments.  But then they must be picked up.  The
picking-up, in this world, is always the unpleasant part of it.


I do not hold myself bound to answer the question, Does gardening
pay?  It is so difficult to define what is meant by paying.  There is
a popular notion that, unless a thing pays, you had better let it
alone; and I may say that there is a public opinion that will not let
a man or woman continue in the indulgence of a fancy that does not
pay.  And public opinion is stronger than the legislature, and nearly
as strong as the ten commandments: I therefore yield to popular
clamor when I discuss the profit of my garden.

As I look at it, you might as well ask, Does a sunset pay?  I know
that a sunset is commonly looked on as a cheap entertainment; but it
is really one of the most expensive.  It is true that we can all have
front seats, and we do not exactly need to dress for it as we do for
the opera; but the conditions under which it is to be enjoyed are
rather dear.  Among them I should name a good suit of clothes,
including some trifling ornament,--not including back hair for one
sex, or the parting of it in the middle for the other.  I should add
also a good dinner, well cooked and digestible; and the cost of a
fair education, extended, perhaps, through generations in which
sensibility and love of beauty grew.  What I mean is, that if a man
is hungry and naked, and half a savage, or with the love of beauty
undeveloped in him, a sunset is thrown away on him: so that it
appears that the conditions of the enjoyment of a sunset are as
costly as anything in our civilization.

Of course there is no such thing as absolute value in this world.
You can only estimate what a thing is worth to you.  Does gardening
in a city pay?  You might as well ask if it pays to keep hens, or a
trotting-horse, or to wear a gold ring, or to keep your lawn cut, or
your hair cut.  It is as you like it.  In a certain sense, it is a
sort of profanation to consider if my garden pays, or to set a money-
value upon my delight in it.  I fear that you could not put it in
money.  Job had the right idea in his mind when he asked, "Is there
any taste in the white of an egg?"  Suppose there is not!  What!
shall I set a price upon the tender asparagus or the crisp lettuce,
which made the sweet spring a reality?  Shall I turn into merchandise
the red strawberry, the pale green pea, the high-flavored raspberry,
the sanguinary beet, that love-plant the tomato, and the corn which
did not waste its sweetness on the desert air, but, after flowing in
a sweet rill through all our summer life, mingled at last with the
engaging bean in a pool of succotash?  Shall I compute in figures
what daily freshness and health and delight the garden yields, let
alone the large crop of anticipation I gathered as soon as the first
seeds got above ground?  I appeal to any gardening man of sound mind,
if that which pays him best in gardening is not that which he cannot
show in his trial-balance.  Yet I yield to public opinion, when I
proceed to make such a balance; and I do it with the utmost
confidence in figures.

I select as a representative vegetable, in order to estimate the cost
of gardening, the potato.  In my statement, I shall not include the
interest on the value of the land.  I throw in the land, because it
would otherwise have stood idle: the thing generally raised on city
land is taxes.  I therefore make the following statement of the cost
and income of my potato-crop, a part of it estimated in connection
with other garden labor.  I have tried to make it so as to satisfy
the income-tax collector:--

Manure........................................ 8.00
Assistance in planting and digging, 3 days.... 6.75
Labor of self in planting, hoeing, digging,
     picking up, 5 days at 17 cents........... 0.85
                   Total Cost................$17.60

Two thousand five hundred mealy potatoes,
     at 2 cents..............................$50.00
Small potatoes given to neighbor's pig.......   .50

                   Total return..............$50.50

              Balance, profit in cellar......$32.90

Some of these items need explanation.  I have charged nothing for my
own time waiting for the potatoes to grow.  My time in hoeing,
fighting weeds, etc., is put in at five days: it may have been a
little more.  Nor have I put in anything for cooling drinks while
hoeing.  I leave this out from principle, because I always recommend
water to others.  I had some difficulty in fixing the rate of my own
wages.  It was the first time I had an opportunity of paying what I
thought labor was worth; and I determined to make a good thing of it
for once.  I figured it right down to European prices,--seventeen
cents a day for unskilled labor.  Of course, I boarded myself.  I
ought to say that I fixed the wages after the work was done, or I
might have been tempted to do as some masons did who worked for me at
four dollars a day.  They lay in the shade and slept the sleep of
honest toil full half the time, at least all the time I was away.  I
have reason to believe that when the wages of mechanics are raised to
eight and ten dollars a day, the workmen will not come at all: they
will merely send their cards.

I do not see any possible fault in the above figures.  I ought to say
that I deferred putting a value on the potatoes until I had footed up

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