This is the time of year when gardeners (and would-be gardeners) are poring over seed catalogs and being pleasantly seduced into thinking that they can reproduce the same results in their back yard gardens as appear in the luscious catalog photos of fruits and vegetables – forlorn hope!
Following is a story of the joys of gardening that I’ve adapted from a chapter in John Kendrick Bangs’ 1900 book titled, The Idiot at Home.
Bart Bumble, an order clerk down at the Ajax plow Company, his only connection with growing a crop of any kind, had a small house with a fair-sized yard only one block from the factory.
One day in 1918, Bart’s brother, Bert, visited and said, “Bart, with this big yard I’d think you’d have a Victory Garden.”
“Why, I do," replied Bart. “I've got a garden patch down behind the wagon shed. The stuff we get is almost as good as canned goods, too. We had a stalk of asparagus the other night that was great as far as it went. It was edible for an inch I was told, although that part of it had already been nibbled off by my son Benny while it was waiting to be served. However, the inedible end which survived was quite sturdy, and might have substituted for a tent peg if needed.”
“One stalk of asparagus is a pretty poor crop, I should say,” said Bert, laughing.
“Maybe,” said Bart. “But Mrs. Bumble and I were proud of our asparagus crop, and regretted that it did not survive to be properly served at dinner. Benny was severely scolded for biting off the green end of it before I even saw it.”
“Twasn't very good,” said Benny.
“I’m very glad it wasn’t, son,” said Bart. “I’d be sorry to hear that you had any pleasure from your inexcusable act.”
“Do you usually serve such small portions of the stuff from your garden?” asked Bert.
“Often we don't serve anything at all from it," said Bart, “which you see is smaller yet. In this instance Mrs. Bumble had intended a little surprise for me. We had struggled with that asparagus-bed for some time. She had studied asparagus in her botany book. I had looked it up in the encyclopedia. We had ordered it in various styles when we dined out, and we had frequently bought cans of it in order to familiarize ourselves with its general appearance. Then we consulted experienced gardeners and did what they told us to do, but somehow it didn't work. Our asparagus crop languished. We sprinkled it in person. We put all sorts of fertilizers and bug sprays on it, but nothing worked, and finally when I added up the costs, I discovered that we had paid out enough money, without satisfactory results, to have kept us in canned asparagus for four years, I got discouraged, but then Mrs. Bumble discovered that one perfect stalk. She was elated our work had not been entirely wasted, and cooked the stalk as a surprise for me. As I have told you, then Benny, over whom we seem to have no control, got ahead of us –”
“You was surprised, wasn't you, pa?” demanded the boy.
“Somewhat, son,” said Bumble, “but not in exactly the way your mother had planned.”
“Is asparagus the only thing you’ve grown?” queried Bert.
“Oh no!” replied Bart. “We've had peas and beets and beans and egg-plant and corn – almost everything. Our pea crop was lovely. We had five podfuls for dinner on the Fourth of July, and the children celebrated the day by shelling them for their mother. They popped open almost as noisily as a torpedo. It was really very enjoyable.”
“Is it true,” asked Bert, “that home-raised peas are sweeter than any other?”
“Of course,” replied Bart. “That Fourth-of-July night when we ate those five podfuls we discovered that fact. Five podfuls of peas are not enough to feed a family of four, so we mixed them in with a few more that we bought at the grocer's, and we could tell ours from the others right away, they were so much sweeter.”
“Pooh!” said Bert. “How did you know that they were yours that were sweet, and not the store-bought peas?”
“How does a father know his own children?” asked his brother. “If you'd labored over those five pods as hard as we did, carefully planting, weeding, and guarding them against bugs, tenderly watching their development from infancy into mature peahood, I guess you'd know your own from others.”
“Tell Uncle Bert about the strawberry, pa,” said Benny, who liked to hear his father talk.
“Well,” said Bumble, “it's not much of a story. There was one. We had a strawberry patch twenty feet by ten. We had plenty of straw and plenty of patch, but the berries were quite shy about appearing. The results were disappointing. I found one berry trying to hide itself under a pile of straw one morning, and while I went to call the Mrs. to come and see it, a miserable robin came along and ate it! I hope the bird enjoyed it, because I estimate that berry cost twenty dollars. That is one of the things I hate about gardening. I don't mind spending forty-four dollars on a stalk of asparagus that is eaten, even surreptitiously, by a member of my own family; but to pay twenty dollars for a strawberry to be gobbled by a lousy robin is too much!”
“You forget, Bart,” said his wife, “that we got fifteen boxes out of the strawberry-patch later.”
“No, I don't,” said Bumble. “I was coming to that, and it’s really a confession. You were so unhappy about the loss of our one beautiful berry that I decided to make that patch yield. The fifteen boxes of berries that we eventually harvested were bought at the local fruit-stand and judiciously scattered about the patch where you would find them. I had hoped you would never find it out, but when you talked about spending thirty-eight dollars on that strawberry-patch next year, I decided it was better to tell you the truth.”
“Well! I never!” Exclaimed Mrs. B.
“But really,” asked Bert, “haven't you raised anything in your garden?”
“Oh yes,” said Bart. “I've raised my water bill! I used to pay twelve dollars a quarter for water, but now the bill’s at least twenty-five dollars. Truly, a garden does profit someone.”
– Sam Moore
“We sprinkled it in person.” [Illustration from the book, which is available on the Gutenberg Project]