I first read My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, the current selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, a few years ago.
I do agree with some earlier reviews that it takes a few pages to get used to the rhythm of the book and the “nineteenth century” English, along with the differences in how work (manual labor) and women were viewed in 1870. As I re-read sections of the book this summer, I soon recognized several often quoted passages, familiar to me now, and perhaps more interesting to me now because so many of them are related not just to gardening, but to hoes and hoeing.
From his chapter on the tenth week:
“In half an hour I can hoe myself right away from this world as we commonly see it, into a large place where there are no obstacles. What an occupation it is for thought! The mind broods like a hen on eggs. The trouble is, that you are not thinking about anything, but are really vegetating like the plants around you. I begin to know what the joy of the grape-vine is in running up the trellis, which is similar to that of the squirrel in running up a tree. We all have something in our nature that requires contact with the earth. In the solitude of garden-labor, one gets into a sort of communion with vegetable life, which makes the old mythology possible. For instance, I can believe that the dryads are plenty this summer: my garden is like an ash-heap. Almost all the moisture it has had in weeks has been the sweat of honesty industry.”
Shown by itself, I think there are a few gardeners who would be surprised to find out that this paragraph was written nearly 135 years ago. It shows why Warner’s book is not bound by the time period it was written in and is worth reading again.
Who among us, even without a hoe in hand, has not gotten lost in their garden, lost in thoughts of all types, not especially related to the garden itself, but to life in general? I have solved many problems and made many decisions in the garden with no particular effort to force myself to do so. You can lose both thought and time in a garden!
And at times it does seem possible that “the old mythology” is possible in the garden. For Warner that life was in the form of dryads (tree nymphs), and for me in the playful idea of garden fairies communing at night with the bunnies, planning how to trick me in my own garden.
Some might read the following paragraph and point it out to me especially.
“I need not add, that the care of a garden with this hoe becomes the merest pastime. I would not be without one for a single night. The only danger is, that you may rather make an idol of the hoe, and somewhat neglect your garden explaining it, and fooling with it.”
Really, it’s not necessary to discuss what it means to “make an idol of the hoe”. I think I have control over my hoe collection, and have it all in proper perspective. Really, I do.
Join the book club!
If you would like to join us for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, post your own review on your blog of the book selection, My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, which is also available on Google Books, and send me a comment or email so I can include you in the book club post on July 31st. Or if you haven’t read the book, write up something about your own summer in your own garden, and I’ll include that. All are welcome!