Manual of Gardening/Chapter I

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Manual of Gardening (Second Edition) by L. H. Bailey
Chapter I: The Point of View
Chapter I · II · III · IV · V · VI · VII · VIII · IX · X · XI · Reminders · Index


Wherever there is soil, plants grow and produce their kind, and all plants are interesting; when a person makes a choice as to what plants he shall grow in any given place, he becomes a gardener or a farmer; and if the conditions are such that he cannot make a choice, he may adopt the plants that grow there by nature, and by making the most of them may still be a gardener or a farmer in some degree.

Every family, therefore, may have a garden. If there is not a foot of land, there are porches or windows. Wherever there is sunlight, plants may be made to grow; and one plant in a tin-can may be a more helpful and inspiring garden to some mind than a whole acre of lawn and flowers may be to another.

The satisfaction of a garden does not depend on the area, nor, happily, on the cost or rarity of the plants. It depends on the temper of the person. One must first seek to love plants and nature, and then to cultivate the happy peace of mind that is satisfied with little.

In the vast majority of cases a person will be happier if he has no rigid and arbitrary notions, for gardens are moodish, particularly with the novice. If plants grow and thrive, he should be happy; and if the plants that thrive chance not to be the ones that he planted, they are plants nevertheless, and nature is satisfied with them.

We are wont to covet the things that we cannot have; but we are happier when we love the things that grow because they must. A patch of lusty pigweeds, growing and crowding in luxuriant abandon, may be a better and more worthy object of affection than a bed of coleuses in which every spark of life and spirit and individuality has been sheared out and suppressed. The man who worries morning and night about the dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions. Each blossom is worth more than a gold coin, as it shines in the exuberant sunlight of the growing spring, and attracts the insects to its bosom. Little children like the dandelions: why may not we? Love the things nearest at hand; and love intensely. If I were to write a motto over the gate of a garden, I should choose the remark that Socrates is said to have made as he saw the luxuries in the market, "How much there is in the world that I do not want!"

I verily believe that this paragraph I have just written is worth more than all the advice with which I intend to cram the succeeding pages, notwithstanding the fact that I have most assiduously extracted this advice from various worthy but, happily, long-forgotten authors. Happiness is a quality of a person, not of a plant or a garden; and the anticipation of joy in the writing of a book may be the reason why so many books on garden-making have been written. Of course, all these books have been good and useful. It would be ungrateful, at the least, for the present writer to say otherwise; but books grow old, and the advice becomes too familiar. The sentences need to be transposed and the order of the chapters varied, now and then, or interest lags. Or, to speak plainly, a new book of advice on handicraft is needed in every decade, or perhaps oftener in these days of many publishers. There has been a long and worthy procession of these handbooks,--Gardiner & Hepburn, M'Mahon, Cobbett--original, pungent, versatile Cobbett!--Fessenden, Squibb, Bridgeman, Sayers, Buist, and a dozen more, each one a little richer because the others had been written. But even the fact that all books pass into oblivion does not deter another hand from making still another venture.

The ornamental burdock

I expect, then, that every person who reads this book will make a garden, or will try to make one; but if only tares grow where roses are desired, I must remind the reader that at the outset I advised pigweeds. The book, therefore, will suit everybody,--the experienced gardener, because it will be a repetition of what he already knows; and the novice, because it will apply as well to a garden of burdocks as of onions.

What a garden is.[edit]

A garden is the personal part of an estate, the area that is most intimately associated with the private life of the home. Originally, the garden was the area inside the inclosure or lines of fortification, in distinction from the unprotected area or fields that lay beyond; and this latter area was the particular domain of agriculture. This book understands the garden to be that part of the personal or home premises devoted to ornament, and to the growing of vegetables and fruits. The garden, therefore, is an ill-defined demesne; but the reader must not make the mistake of defining it by dimensions, for one may have a garden in a flower-pot or on a thousand acres. In other words, this book declares that every bit of land that is not used for buildings, walks, drives, and fences, should be planted. What we shall plant--whether sward, lilacs, thistles, cabbages, pears, chrysanthemums, or tomatoes--we shall talk about as we proceed.

The only way to keep land perfectly unproductive is to keep it moving. The moment the owner lets it alone, the planting has begun. In my own garden, this first planting is of pigweeds. These may be followed, the next year, by ragweeds, then by docks and thistles, with here and there a start of clover and grass; and it all ends in June-grass and dandelions.

Nature does not allow the land to remain bare and idle. Even the banks where plaster and lath were dumped two or three years ago are now luxuriant with burdocks and sweet clover; and yet persons who pass those dumps every day say that they can grow nothing in their own yard because the soil is so poor! Yet I venture that those same persons furnish most of the pigweed seed that I use on my garden.

The lesson is that there is no soil--where a house would be built--so poor that something worth while cannot be grown on it. If burdocks will grow, something else will grow; or if nothing else will grow, then I prefer burdocks to sand and rubbish.

The burdock is one of the most striking and decorative of plants, and a good piece of it against a building or on a rough bank is just as useful as many plants that cost money and are difficult to grow. I had a good clump of burdock under my study window, and it was a great comfort; but the man would persist in wanting to cut it down when he mowed the lawn. When I remonstrated, he declared that it was nothing but burdock; but I insisted that, so far from being burdock, it was really Lappa major, since which time the plant and its offspring have enjoyed his utmost respect. And I find that most of my friends reserve their appreciation of a plant until they have learned its name and its family connections.

The dump-place that I mentioned has a surface area of nearly one hundred and fifty square feet, and I find that it has grown over two hundred good plants of one kind or another this year. This is more than my gardener accomplished on an equal area, with manure and water and a man to help. The difference was that the plants on the dump wanted to grow, and the imported plants in the garden did not want to grow. It was the difference between a willing horse and a balky horse. If a person wants to show his skill, he may choose the balky plant; but if he wants fun and comfort in gardening, he would better choose the willing one.

I have never been able to find out when the burdocks and mustard were planted on the dump; and I am sure that they were never hoed or watered. Nature practices a wonderfully rigid economy. For nearly half the summer she even refused rain to the plants, but still they thrived; yet I staid home from a vacation one summer that I might keep my plants from dying. I have since learned that if the plants in my hardy borders cannot take care of themselves for a time, they are little comfort to me.

The joy of garden-making lies in the mental attitude and in the sentiments.