The Gardener’s Year

This is a book by Czech writer Karel Capeck who gave the wrd robot to the English language. It is a brilliant little tome that was hugely popular on its release in 1931; the copy I have is the 10th impression, from 1939. It is both funny and an accurate (?) account of gardening, beautifully illustrated by his brother Josef. As it is out of copyright, I can give you the contents:

How Little Gardens Are Laid Out

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There are several different ways in which to lay out a little garden; the best way is to get a gardener. The gardener will put up a number of sticks, twigs, and broomsticks, and will assure you that these are maples, hawthorns, lilacs, standard and bush roses, and other natural species; then he will dig the soil, turn it over and pat it again; he will make little paths of rubble, stick here and there into the ground some faded foliage, and declare that these are the perennials; he will sow seeds for the future lawn, which he will call English rye grass and bent grass, fox-tail, dog’s-tail, and cat’s-tail grass; and then he will depart leaving the garden brown and naked, as it was on the first day of the creation of the world; and he will warn you that every day you shuld carefully water all this soil of the eath, and when the grass peeeps out you must oder sme gravel for the paths. Very well then.

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One would think that watering a little garden is quite a simple thing, especially if one has a hose. It will soon be clear that until it has been tamed a hose is an extraordinarily evasive and dangerous beast, for it contorts itself, it jumps, it wriggles, it makes puddles of water, and dives with delight into the mess it has made; then it goes for the man who is going to use it and coils itself round his legs; you must hold it down with your foot, nd then it rears and twists round your waist and neck, and while you are fighting with it as with a cobra, the monster turns up its brass mouth and projects a mighty stream of water through the windows on to the curtains which have been recently hung. You must grasp it firmly, and hold it tight; the beast rears with pain, and begins to spout water, not from the mouth, but from the hydrant and from somewhere in the middle of its body. Three men at least are needed to tame it at first, and they all leave the place of battle splashed to the ears with mud and drenched with water; as to the garden iself, in parts it has changed into greasy pools, while in other places it is cracking with thirst.

If you do this every day, in a frtnight weeds will spring up instead of grass. This is one of Nature’s mysteries – how from the best grass seed most luxuriant and hairy weeds come up; perhaps weed seed ought to be sown and then a nice lawn would result. In 3 weeks the lawn is thickly overgrown with thistles and other pests, creepiing, or rooted a foot deep in the earth; if you want t pull them out they break off at the root, or they bring up whole lumps of soil wiht them. It’s like this: the more of anisance the mroe they stick to life.

In the meantime, through a mysterious metamorphosis of matter, the rubble of the paths has changed into the most sticky and greasy clay that you can imagine.

Nevertheless, weeds in the lawn must be roted out; you are weeding and weeding, and behind your steps the future lawn turns into naked and brown earth as it wsa on the first day of the creation of the world. Ony on one or two spots something like a greenish mould apears, something thin like mis,t and scanty, and very like down; that’s grass, certainly. You walk round it on tiptoe, and chase away the sparrows; and while you are peering into the earth, on the gooseberry and currant bushes the first little leaves have broken  forth, all unawares; Spring is always too quick for you.

Your relation towards things has changed. If it rains you say that it rains on the garden; if the sun shines, it does not shine just anyhow, but it shines on the garden; in the evening you rejoice that the garden will rest.

One day you will open your eyes and the garden will be green, long grass will glisten with dew, and from the tangled tops of the roses swolen and crimson buds will peep forth; and hte trees wil l be old, and their crowns will be dark and heavy and widely spread, with a musty smell in their damp shade. and you will remember no more the slender, naked, brown little garden of those days, the uncertain down of the first grass, the first pinched buds, and all the earthy, poor, and touching beauty of a garden which is being laid out.

Very well, but now you must water and weed, and pick stones out of the soil. dig bird

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