My Summer in a Garden

Author: Charles Dudley Warner

First Week

Under this modest title, I purpose to write a series of papers, some of which will be like many papers of garden-seeds, with nothing vital in them, on the subject of gardening; holding that no man has any right to keep valuable knowledge to himself, and hoping that those who come after me, except tax-gatherers and that sort of person, will find profit in the perusal of my experience. As my knowledge is constantly increasing, there is likely to be no end to these papers. They will pursue no orderly system of agriculture or horticulture, but range from topic to topic, according to the weather and the progress of the weeds, which may drive me from one corner of the garden to the other.

The principal value of a private garden is not understood. It is not to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market-gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy and the higher virtues, -hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning. I shall keep this central truth in mind in these articles. I mean to have a moral garden, if it is not a productive one,—one that shall teach., O my brothers! O my sisters! the great lessons of life.

The first pleasant thing about a garden in this latitude is, that you never know when to set it going. If you want anything to come to maturity early, you must start it in a hot-house. If you put it out early, the chances are all in favor of getting it nipped with frost; for the thermometer will be 90 deg. one day, and go below 32 deg. the night of the day following. And, if you do not set out plants or sow seeds early, you fret continually; knowing that your vegetables will be late, and that, while Jones has early peas, you will be watching your slow-forming pods. This keeps you in a state of mind. When you have planted anything early, you are doubtful whether to desire to see it above ground, or not. If a hot day comes, you long to see the young plants; but, when a cold north wind brings frost, you tremble lest the seeds have burst their bands. Your spring is passed in anxious doubts and fears, which are usually realized; and so a great moral discipline is worked out for you.

Now, there is my corn, two or three inches high this 18th of May, and apparently having no fear of a frost. I was hoeing it this morning for the first time,—it is not well usually to hoe corn until about the 18th of May,—when Polly came out to look at the Lima beans. She seemed to think the poles had come up beautifully. I thought they did look well: they are a fine set of poles, large and well grown, and stand straight. They were inexpensive, too. The cheapness came about from my cutting them on another man’s land, and he did not know it. I have not examined this transaction in the moral light of gardening; but I know people in this country take great liberties at the polls. Polly noticed that the beans had not themselves come up in any proper sense, but that the dirt had got off from them, leaving them uncovered. She thought it would be well to sprinkle a slight layer of dirt over them; and I, indulgently, consented. It occurred to me, when she had gone, that beans always come up that way,—wrong end first; and that what they wanted was light, and not dirt.

Observation. —Woman always did, from the first, make a muss in a garden.

I inherited with my garden a large patch of raspberries. Splendid berry the raspberry, when the strawberry has gone. This patch has grown into such a defiant attitude, that you could not get within several feet of it. Its stalks were enormous in size, and cast out long, prickly arms in all directions; but the bushes were pretty much all dead. I have walked into them a good deal with a pruning-knife; but it is very much like fighting original sin. The variety is one that I can recommend. I think it is called Brinckley’s Orange. It is exceedingly prolific, and has enormous stalks. The fruit is also said to be good; but that does not matter so much, as the plant does not often bear in this region. The stalks seem to be biennial institutions; and as they get about their growth one year, and bear the next year, and then die, and the winters here nearly always kill them, unless you take them into the house (which is inconvenient if you have a family of small children), it is very difficult to induce the plant to flower and fruit. This is the greatest objection there is to this sort of raspberry. I think of keeping these for discipline, and setting out some others, more hardy sorts, for fruit.


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Chicago: Charles Dudley Warner, "First Week," My Summer in a Garden, ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in My Summer in a Garden (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed July 16, 2019,

MLA: Warner, Charles Dudley. "First Week." My Summer in a Garden, edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in My Summer in a Garden, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 16 Jul. 2019.

Harvard: Warner, CD, 'First Week' in My Summer in a Garden, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, My Summer in a Garden, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 16 July 2019, from