How a Man Becomes a Gardener

This is another slice of the wonderful book The Gardener’s Year, by Karel Capek, illustrated by his brother Josef:

Odd as it may appear, a gardener does not grow from seed, shoot, bulb, rhizone, or cutting, but from experience, surroundings, and natural conditions. when I was a little boy I had towards my father’s garden a rebellious and even vindictive attitude, because I was not allowed or tread on the beds and pick the unripe fruit. Just in the same way Adam was not allowed to tread on the beds and pick the fuit from the tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, becasue it wsa not yet ripe; but Adam – just like us children – picked the unripe fruit, and therefore was expelled from the Garden of Eden; since then the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge has always been unripe.

While one is in the prime of youth one thinks that a flower is what one carries in a buttonhole, or presents to a girl; one somehow does not rightly understand that a flower is something that hibernates, which is dug round and manured, watered and transplanted, divided and trimmed, tied up, freed from weeds, and cleaned of seeds, dead leaves, aphids, and mildew; instead of digging the garden one runs after girls, satisifes one’s ambition, eats the fruit of life which one has not produced oneself, and, on the whole, behaves destructively. A certain maturity, or let us say paternity, is necessary for a man to become an amateur gardener. Besides, you must have your own garden. Usually you have it laid out by an expert, and you thank that you will go and look at it when the day’s work is over, and enjoy the flowers, and listen to the chirping of the birds. One day you may plant one little flower with your own hand; I planted a house-leek. Perhaps a bit of soil will get into your body through the quick, or in some other wya, and cause blood-poisoning or inflammation. One claw and the whole bird is caught. another time you may catch it from your neighbours; you see that a campion is flowering in your neeighbour’s garden, and you say: “By Jove! why shouldn’t it grow in mine as well? I’m blessed if I can’t do better than that.” From such beginnings the gardener yields more and more to this newly awakened passion, which is nourished by repeated success and spurred on by each new failure; the passion of the collector bursts out in him, driving him to raise everything according to the alphabet from Acaena to Zauschneria; then a craze for specialization breaks out in him, which makes of a hitherto normal being a rose -dahlia-or sme other sort of exalted maniac. Ohers fall victim to an artistic passion, and continually alter and rearrange their beds, devise colour schemss, move shrubs, and change whatever stands or grows, urged on by a creative discontent. Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. it is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.

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I will now tell you how to recognise a real gardener. “You must come to see me,” he says; “I will show you my garden.” then, when you go just to please him, you will find him wiht his rump sticking up somewhere among the perennials. “I will come in a moment”, he shouts to you over his shoulder. “Just wait till I have planted this rose.” “Please don’t wory,” you kindly say to him. After a while he must have planted it; for he gets up, makes your hand dirty, and beaming with hospitality, he says,: “Come and have a look; it’s a small garden, but – wait a moment”, and he bends over a bed to weed some tiny grass. “Come along. I will show you Dianthus musalae; it will open your eyes. Great Scott, I forgot to loosen it here!” he says, and begins to poke in the soil. a quarter of an hour later he straightens up again. “Ah,” he says, “I wanted to show you that bell flower, Campanula Wilsnae. That is the best campanula which – wait a moment, I must tie up this delphinium.” after he has tied it up he remembers: “Oh, I see, you have come to see that erodium. a momemnt,2 he murmurs, “I must just transplant this aster, it hasn’t got enough room here.” After that you g away on tiptoe, leaving his behind sticking up among the perennials.

And when you meet him again he will say, “You must come to see me; I have one rose in flower, a pernetiana, you have not seen that before. will you come? Do!”

Very well; we will go and see him as the year passes by.

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3 thoughts on “How a Man Becomes a Gardener

  1. Lovely stuff. The first paragraph brought to mind the last lines of the poem, We’re Extremely Fortunate by Wislawa Szymborska I read this morning:

    the sign “No Walking On The Grass”
    a symptom of lunacy.

    Like

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