Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some Reading

I am extremely fond of gardening books. They fill my shelves, pile up on the coffee table and next to my bed, and are generally my favorite thing to find under the Christmas tree. I carry them with me as leisurely reading on plane rides and beach vacations and occasionally I write academic papers on topics that allow me to use them as sources. Whenever possible, I want to acquire more of them - from any place or time period, covering any horticultural or landscape design topic, and in any language that I have even the remotest chance of being able to read. On several occasions I have actually had to muster considerable will power to keep myself from purchasing a number of Chinese gardening books, despite the fact that I can decipher a measly three characters out of the thousands employed in the Chinese script. I have, however, indulged in the acquisition of a number of vintage gardening books over the last couple of years, all found while accompanying my parents on visits to antique stores in various parts of the country. The oldest of the works, and in some ways my favorite, is a 1910 edition of Ida D. Bennett's The Flower Garden: A Manual for the Amateur Gardener. Carol at May Dreams Gardens has collected most of the available information about Bennett and her works in an interesting post here. The book itself is a relatively small volume of 257 pages that includes a number of black-and-white photographs and drawn plans for planting schemes and is defined by a rather rigid vision of what a proper flower garden can and should be. Bennett appears to have been a big fan of growing plants from seed, for this is the course of action she advocates wherever possible - even for waterlilies and many tuberous ornamentals like Cannas - on the grounds that it is more economical. She also appears to address herself exclusively to a female audience, ornamental horticulture being considered a particularly "suitable" or "proper" occupation for women at that time. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the last chapter, entitled "A Chapter of Don'ts." At once sternly admonishing and encouraging, authoritarian and idealistic, I find it such an intriguing piece of garden writing that I thought it fit to reproduce it here:
A Chapter of Don'ts
Don't forget to air the hotbeds on warm, sunny days, and to protect them on cold ones.
Don't forget that plants need room to develop, and set them far enough apart to make this possible.
Don't forget to water the window-boxes every day, and to keep the sand in the sand-box wet all the time.
Don't forget to go over the Pansies and Sweet-peas every day, and remove all withered flowers. Don't let them suffer for want of water at any period of their bloom.
Don't try to raise more plants than you have room for, or strength and time to cultivate. A few plants well cared for are better than a neglected garden - a most discouraging sight. The gardener will find enough real difficulty without inviting disaster.
Don't try to follow all the advice that is offered you; make up your mind what you want to do and go steadily ahead. If you fail you will know how, and why, which is in itself a gain. It is a good rule never to take the advice of an unsuccessful person, no matter how reasonable it sounds. Distrust garrulous advice; the gardener with real knowledge is not inclined to force advice upon others.
Don't be cast down by adverse criticism unless your judgment tells you it is deserved. The person who "knows it all" is never so much at home as in someone else's flower-garden, where the principal labour may be done with the tongue.
Don't be wheedled into spoiling your plants by saving seed for one who is perfectly able to buy; instead, give the address of the dealer from whom you purchased, and suggest that he will be glad to fill orders. Don't rob your plant of cuttings that are necessary to its symmetry; this, too, is a case for the florist. There are people who seem to feel it an injustice for any one to possess a plant with more than one branch so long as they are not supplied with that particular variety.
Don't, when you have purchased a dozen Violets or Primulas, meaning to divide them after awhile to make the border you did not feel like purchasing outright, be imposed upon to the extent of giving half of them away to some one who has been waiting for this very opportunity. The experienced gardener learns to steer such people away from plants she does not wish to part with, or have mutilated, but the amateur is looked upon as legitimate prey. I have frequently known people to break a branch from plants they were handling, with the expectation of being told to keep it. The remedy for this sort of thing is to immediately place it in the ground with some remark about having a place for it.
Don't supply with cut flowers, plants, and the like, people who spend more money for unnecessary luxuries than you do for your whole garden, and then tell you how foolish you are to spend so much time and money, and work so hard for your flowers. Don't be too deeply impressed with the sudden friendship at gardening time of the woman who has managed to get along without your society all winter. Don't be imposed upon by the chronic plant-beggar, but suggest to her that you will be glad to lend your catalogues; that in them she will find, at reasonable prices, all the things you have in your garden; and that the florist will doubtless be glad of her patronage.
Don't, on the other hand, be lacking in generosity of the right sort. Flowers may be given to rich an poor alike, and carry no hint of obligation, or unfitness. To the tired worker who has neither time nor space to cultivate them, a handful of flowers, or a potted plant, which can be spared from your abundance, will make a bit of sunshine well worth the trouble. For many who cannot spare the trifling amount a single plant or packet of seed would cost, the surplus plants from flats or hotbeds will be a great pleasure, and one should not wait for requests. Those who really cannot afford these things are rarely guilty of the petty meanness of the professional plant-beggars. It is a good plan to jot down, from time to time as they occur, the names of those you would like to benefit in this way, and then, when you have surplus plants, send word of that fact, and of the time when it will be convenient to take them up. This will be better than sending the plants, which might arrive when it would be inconvenient or impossible to attend to them.
There are so many ways of giving pleasure with flowers that one need never be embarrassed with a surplus: the sick; the young girl who will enjoy them for her party; the young matron, for her pretty luncheon; the church service; the humble funeral, where the choicest and best should go. A beautiful tact may be shown by a choice in harmony with the taste of the recipient and the occasion for which they are intended. Do not send all white flowers, or flowers with a heavy perfume, to the sick-room. Bright flowers are better. Notice the cheer in a pot of golden Daffodils or a bunch of Hepaticas. A charming thing is a handful of Japanese Morning-glory buds picked and sent the night before, that the invalid may watch their unfolding in the morning. I have known these to give the greatest pleasure.
Don't be too greatly cast down by failures; they have their uses. One failure, if it sets you to studying out the cause and remedy, is worth a dozen haphazard successes. We grow plants with even success for some time, then, without any recognised change in the treatment, we meet with failure. We look for the reason, and our education is begun. When we have found the cause of failure, we have made a long step forward.
Don't fail to take some good floral magazines, they are helpful in many ways, and keep you in touch with what other workers are doing.
Don't try to work in unsuitable clothing. Easy, broad, solid shoes - not any old run-down pair - should be considered as essential as a spade, or rake, and skirts that clear the instep, and hang comfortably. Waists with easy arm-holes and collar will enable one to work with a degree of comfort that means the accomplishment of an amount of work in a morning quite impossible were one less comfortably clad. Skirts of blue denim, made Princess style, and ankle length, with comfortable shirt-waists - denim for cool days, calico for warm -  make a thoroughly comfortable outfit.

THE END

Source: Bennett, Ida D. The Flower Garden: A Manual for the Amateur Gardener. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1910.

2 comments:

  1. Wow. She was a canny old bird. You'd have had to get up early in the morning to have taken advantage of her. Maybe she wasn't old? It is great fun to read those old books. Happily, the demand apparently isn't too high; they seem to accumulate in used bookstores. Happy hunting!

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  2. That's a long list! And, unfortunately, I seem to "do" a lot of don'ts!

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