My Summer in a Garden

July 31st, 2007

This summer the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club has been taking it easy, reading a short and charming book by Charles Dudley Warner – My Summer in a Garden.

I am inclined to think that the substratum is the same, and that the only choice in this world is what kind of weeds you will have.

That quote sums up the book nicely. Warner good-naturedly chronicled his battles with weeds, marauding animals, and theiving humans – all attempting to thwart his efforts to grow good things to eat. His most vexing enemy was a weed he knew as “pusley”. Nowadays we call it purslane, and Warner would be dismayed but not surprised to learn that it’s now considered a nutritious crop.

Who can say that other weeds, which we despise, may not be the favorite food of some remote people or tribe? We ought to abate our conceit. It is possible that we destroy in our gardens that which is really of most value in some other place.

Warner gardened in the mid 1800s in the Northeast, but his frustrations and joys are echoed by many of today’s garden bloggers. And late summer is a wonderful time to review the frustrations – creatures great and small are intent on consuming the products of our labors. In the present day, I think most of us are happy not to be chasing the neighbor’s cow out of the garden, but Warner has nothing at all to say about deer, or Japanese beetles. Different combatants, same war.

The gardener believes that the struggle and toil is worth it. Apparently even in 1870, many things were not regarded as worth doing unless there was a monetary reward. Warner tries to calculate whether his potatoes were profitable, while wishing it wasn’t necessary to justify himself in this way.

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 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 like old books and clever writing, and this selection for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club seemed custom-designed to please me. I must admit that many of the political references were lost on me, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book. I only wish I had the actual book in my hand instead of reading it on a computer screen. (My alibris.com order didn’t arrive.) I’m wondering though, if the reprint editions include all the wonderful old typographical ornaments that the original had. They really set the stage for the author’s 1870 style of writing.

Thank you once again Carol, for bringing bloggers together to read and discuss great garden books.

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