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.

Take a Weekly Vacation, 1927

Last year we took a vacation that lasted all summer and well into the autumn, and yet the actual “vacationing” took place on only one day each week. John and I both believe in the re-creating powers of an occasional outing, and since we could not leave our little farm for more than a day at a time, we hit upon this plan.

Every Sunday morning last summer we were up before dawn and while I packed a well-planned lunch, John took care of the chores. When everything was in order for the day, our little car slid down the shadowy driveway and out into the open road. And with what joy we went out to meet adventure!

Sometimes we had a trip planned, to some resort or beauty spot, a visit to a distant relative, to the mountains or the lakes. Or again we started out with no particular destination in view, just following any road that took our fancy. Sometimes after a strenuous week we looked for a quiet spot where we might just rest among Nature’s beauties. A fishing trip, perhaps. At least that is what we called it–even though our idle lines bobbed on the sunny waters all day long and we never caught a thing!

Each of these trips brought its little adventure, its bit of beauty, a lesson, an amusing incident, a lovely memory to store away and think about and discuss all through the following week. Our Kodak album is filled with pictures that tell the story of each of those trips, and often during the winter we have taken them out and laughed and talked them over.

And best of all, we never missed a Sunday at church all summer. It was always possible to find along the way a church of our denomination holding services sometime during the morning. We always came away refreshed, awakened, with some old truth or some new thought to take with us on our little journey.

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!

Growing Old Gracefully; 1928

“Growing Old” is not a very welcome subject in America just now. [Or in 2018!] Beauty experts and Keep-young-societies are filling the land with Anti-wrinkle Truth, yet the simple fact remains that our yesterdays do not come back.

For most people, the advancing years are a blessing for through them we grow away from the follies and fictions of life to a real understanding of the meaning of things.

Growing old gracefully is largely a matter of living gratefully. 

To me, in middle life, sunrises and sunsets have lost none of their beauty. Mr. Thomas Edison, now at eighty says, “The things which I now do give me as much pleasure as the things which I did when younger.”

There is really no age to the mind or to the soul. What seems to be age is a slowing up of the bodily processes. Glad of each morning, and grateful to God for the blessings of each day, my faith is that our souls defy the calendar.

To grow old gracefully, one must learn to sidestep worry. Worry is the plow that furrows our faces. It is a useless sin and does incalculable harm. Worry tries to tack tomorrow’s load upon the tired shoulders of today. It causes us to reach our little hands to take the reins out of the great hands of God. Every time we give up to worry we release poisons into our blood that unfits us for our tasks, and make us take hold of the tools of life with palsied hands.

Jesus observed over-anxious people and said to them, “If God so clothed the grass which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, oh ye of little faith?”

The amazing thing about Jesus is that he could face all the suffering which he knew was ahead of him without worrying about it. He certainly is our Teacher and Master in the school of trust.

To grow old gracefully one must keep busy at useful tasks. The do-nothing becomes an is-nothing. Someone says, “Suppose a person is so crippled that he cannot walk, what then?” I would reply, “No one ever arrives at the place where he needs to be useless.” I knew of a lady who was bedfast for years. Her room became a sort of shrine where people went to catch her faith and see her smile. Physically helpless, she became perhaps the most useful person in the town.

I once read in an undertaker’s magazine, “If you want a coffin, stop working and you will soon get one.” One is doing a useful task in the world who perfects an even temper in suffering, though he is deprived of active toiling.

To grow old gracefully, it is necessary to preserve faith in oneself, one’s neighbor and in God. How much easier it is to preach this doctrine than it is to practice it! We fail to reach our ideals and then give up trying. Others fail us and we lose faith in them. Life shows its teeth to us and we lose faith in God. Yet, in all this there is hope for us. Even though we fail, we can believe that we are capable of better things. A man is always better than his worst. So is his neighbor.

A better understanding of the ways of God come to us with the passing of the years, making it possible for us at last to sing.

“Blest be the tempest, kind the storm
That drives us nearer home.”

To me, old age is a beautiful thing and I am going to strive to keep to the above directions, hoping that I shall be able to prove them, should God give to me the time of gray hairs.

The Bible says, “A hoary (gray) head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness.”

Robert Browning adds:
“Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be.”