In 1870, Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900) published My Summer in a Garden, a book that memorialized Warner’s gardening experiences and that elevated his cat named Calvin to nearly heroic status. The essays comprising the volume first appeared in serialized format in The Hartford Courant. The author’s name might have been that of a character in a 1930s Hollywood movie: a person of delicacy, refinement, and hauteur, the sadly inevitable accompaniment to such refinement and delicacy. Only three years after Boston’s baronial publisher James R. Osgood placed Warner’s gardening book in the hands of appreciative readers, Warner collaborated with Mark Twain in that groundbreaking work entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. As a subscription book from the American Publishing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, The Gilded Age broke the bonds of Brahmin imprimatur by appealing to middle class readers everywhere.
Cover of 1898 Riverside Edition
Of Charles Dudley Warner’s My Summer in a Garden
Such splendid chutzpah! To co-author a work with Twain, famed author of Innocents Abroad and Roughing It, required self-confidence or a reasonable facsimile. Having worked as an editor in Hartford, Connecticut (Warner was buried in Hartford’s Cedar Hill Cemetery; Twain was a pall-bearer.), Warner and Twain shared a love for Hartford. Twain moved there in 1871 and began construction of his elaborate house (https://www.marktwainhouse.org/) in the same year that the author of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” joined Warner in publishing The Gilded Age, the title of which became an epithet for the late 1800s: an era of deep social problems and wide aristocratic corruption hidden behind a thin golden veneer of rich sophistication. Warner and Twain shared more than a passion for Hartford; they were leaders in a growing movement to cause literature to imitate life realistically. Despite their campaign for such literary realism, which fought against the Romantic tendency to moralize, they carried the banners of their Puritan and Presbyterian upbringing when they sought a moral standard capable of saving a nation from evil.
Cover of My Copy of the First Edition of The Gilded Age
By Charles Dudley Warner and Mark Twain
And the Elegant Cursive Handwriting of the Book’s First Owner
But all of this background is meant simply to introduce a series of blogs about my vegetable garden for this year. I see myself as embarking on a project not unlike Warner’s “summer in a garden.” Unfortunately, I have no cat Calvin (with a name invoking that of John Calvin, the exponent of Presbyterian predestination) to lighten the tone. Apparently, I do have chutzpah sufficient to set my blogs alongside the work of Warner, who served as an editor at Harper’s Magazine during its heyday. It was Warner, not Twain, who said, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” In his introduction to My Summer in a Garden, Warner writes, “These garden letters began to blossom every week … .” I hope my blogs will bloom similarly.
I will begin with the weather that Warner mentioned. Soon after I planted my garden on May 2nd, a Saturday, temperatures warmed considerably. Seeds that might have taken two weeks to sprout were poking above the ground after only seven or eight days! I found myself carrying buckets of water from the hand pump to the rows so as to give proper encouragement to the infant plants. I am ahead of myself, though.
|Hand Pump and Buckets for Watering My Garden|
Let me return to Planting Day. My friend Steve had plowed my garden, and the soil was just right: rich and fluffy. I walked on pillows.
Plowmaster, Manufactured by “The Empire Plow Co. · Since 1849”
And Distributed by the American Hardware & Supply Company
Of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
My single-wheeled plow has one of the best jobs there is. It has to work only one day out of the year. It plows my rows on a glorious spring morning. Then it rests from its labors until another year rolls around. I use a Plowmaster, manufactured by “The Empire Plow Co. · Since 1849,” as the still-visible decal proclaims. According to a stencil along the inside of one of the handles, my plow was distributed by the American Hardware & Supply Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here are the Burpee’s seeds I carefully installed at precisely the correct depth and exactly the proper spacing—well, I tried to be careful, precise, and exact:
BEET Detroit Dark Red, Medium Top
BUSH BEAN Beananza
CARROT Mokum Hybrid
CUCUMBER Palace King Hybrid
MESCLUN Sweet Salad Mix
SUMMER SQUASH Cosmos Hybrid
SUMMER SQUASH Burpee’s Hybrid Zucchini
WINTER SQUASH Early Acorn Hybrid
FOUR O’CLOCK Marbles Mix
MARIGOLD Climax Mixed
ZINNIA Giant-Flowered Mix
The flowers, great for bouquets, will form a single-row border around my garden. I forgot to reserve space for an entrance, so I may have to step through the blossoms to reach my vegetables later on. Things could be worse than having to pass among petals to snap a fresh cucumber from its vine.
Those readers who follow my blogs know that I plant only those vegetables that my wild friends (rabbits and raccoons) generally ignore. I fully expect most of the leaves to be chewed off my bush beans, but I have found that the stalwart Beananzas need only a few leaves to function as reliable producers of beans for my dinner table.
|Turquoise Sky Above My Just-Planted Garden|
I left room for eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes to be set out whenever good specimens are on sale. While planting, I often took the time to appreciate my surroundings: the playful breezes, the turquoise sky, and the exuberant melodies of the wrens.
Rocks Marking Rows of Seeds
And Areas for Plants to Be Added Later
I recognize the song of the wren. Alas, I am not yet schooled in identifying the voices of all the birds, but I will learn to name several of them this summer. From my present vantage point, the summer stretches happily toward infinity.