My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 2

My garden, early June

This summer I’m comparing each week of Charles Dudley Warner’s gardening journal, My Summer in a Garden, to my own garden. I’m finding that I can relate to many of his perspectives, and this week, his thoughts are centered on weeds.

Hardly is the garden planted, when he must begin to hoe it. The weeds have sprung up all over it in a night.

Ain’t that the truth. Warner continues…

The most humiliating thing to me about a garden is the lesson it teaches of the inferiority of man. Nature is prompt, decided, inexhaustible. She thrusts up her plants with a vigor and freedom that I admire; and the more worthless the plant, the more rapid and splendid its growth. She is at it early and late, and all night; never tiring, nor showing the least sign of exhaustion.

I’m in the middle of that long wait for my seeds to sprout (or not) while weeds merrily enjoy their head start. I always hope I can identify my seedlings by the time they come up, but if I can’t, it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” kind of adventure. Here are two examples from my vegetable and herb garden this week.

Can you see the lettuce seedlings? The teeny light green sprouts in the center of the picture? Besides the fact that the weeds are much bigger than the seedlings, I’m also a little bothered that there are so few lettuce sprouts, but that’s a whole other problem.  I may just have to replant.

And then there’s this little disaster zone. Can you spy the dill among the quack grass? (I can barely see it myself but there’s actually quite a lot buried in there.) Sigh.

On the whole, though, my garden is off to a good start and not completely overridden by weeds, but we’ve had a lot of rain this early summer. I’ve had to watch the weeds helplessly from the sidelines as they have their way with my baby plants. But with no rain in the forecast this week, I hope I can get some of my weedy spots under control.

A final quote from my gardening friend, Charles–

…there is no liberty in gardening. The man who undertakes a garden is relentlessly pursued.

Weeds. They’re after me.

My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 1

The last frost date is upon us here in southern Wisconsin, and I have officially begun another garden season. Every spring I can’t wait to get out in the garden and by August, I’m wondering what I did with all that spare time I had all winter.

A few months ago, I discovered a book called My Summer in a Garden. It was written in 1870 and unlike many books from that period, it was funny. The author had me laughing over his frustrations and perspectives regarding a vegetable garden, which 150 years later, still resonates with modern gardeners. Here is how he introduces the subject of gardening.

“The principal value of a private garden is not understood.  It is not to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy and the higher virtues, hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.”

I can’t disagree with him completely. I have to argue that my garden does give me produce and if not better, it’s definitely cheaper than market gardeners (or farmer’s markets) nowadays. However, along with fruits and vegetables, it definitely provides a healthy dose of character testing and building experiences…

Like last year when I harvested a whopping one sweet potato per plant, only to have them all freeze in my root cellar before I could use any.

Or when Japanese beetles covered my plum tree, threatening my first harvest. I went out three times a day to pick off those nasty things and drown them into a container of soapy water. (But the work paid off, because I got this harvest. And if you’ve never had canned plums, you’ve missed out!)

Or when the spinach that I hadn’t even started harvesting yet bolted and went to seed overnight.

Or when I planted hot summer crops, like okra, melons, and peanuts, only to have a record cold, rainy summer. (And you know what happened the years I focused on cool weather crops…)

But there are the surprises that somehow, make up for (most) of the frustrations…

Like one of my first gardens when I apparently sowed carrot seed with a heavy hand and every single one of them grew (this was not the entire harvest)–

Or the year when one potato fed several people–

Or finally, the year my tomato grew a terrific schnoz and a dimple. It was really hard to eat this fellow, let me tell you.

And so it begins, garden season 2018…deferred hopes, tests of character, blighted expectations, here we come!