My Summer in a Garden

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Author: Charles Dudley Warner

Eighth Week

My garden has been visited by a High Official Person. President Gr-nt was here just before the Fourth, getting his mind quiet for that event by a few days of retirement, staying with a friend at the head of our street; and I asked him if he wouldn’t like to come down our way Sunday afternoon and take a plain, simple look at my garden, eat a little lemon ice-cream and jelly-cake, and drink a glass of native lager-beer. I thought of putting up over my gate, " Welcome to the Nation’s Gardener; " but I hate nonsense, and did n’t do it. I, however, hoed diligently on Saturday: what weeds I could n’t remove I buried, so that everything would look all right. The borders of my drive were trimmed with scissors; and everything that could offend the Eye of the Great was hustled out of the way.

In relating this interview, it must be distinctly understood that I am not responsible for anything that the President said; nor is he, either. He is not a great speaker; but whatever he says has an esoteric and an exoteric meaning; and some of his remarks about my vegetables went very deep. I said nothing to him whatever about politics, at which he seemed a good deal surprised: he said it was the first garden he had ever been in, with a man, when the talk was not of appointments. I told him that this was purely vegetable; after which he seemed more at his ease, and, in fact, delighted with everything he saw. He was much interested in my strawberry-beds, asked what varieties I had, and requested me to send him some seed. He said the patent-office seed was as difficult to raise as an appropriation for the St. Domingo business. The playful bean seemed also to please him; and he said he had never seen such impressive corn and potatoes at this time of year; that it was to him an unexpected pleasure, and one of the choicest memories that he should take away with him of his visit to New England.

N. B. —That corn and those potatoes which General Gr-nt looked at I will sell for seed, at five dollars an ear, and one dollar a potato. Office-seekers need not apply.

Knowing the President’s great desire for peas, I kept him from that part of the garden where the vines grow. But they could not be concealed. Those who say that the President is not a man easily moved are knaves or fools. When he saw my pea-pods, ravaged by the birds, he burst into tears. A man of war, he knows the value of peas. I told him they were an excellent sort, "The Champion of England." As quick as a flash he said, "Why don’t you call them ’The Reverdy Johnson’?"

It was a very clever bon-mot; but I changed the subject.

The sight of my squashes, with stalks as big as speaking-trumpets, restored the President to his usual spirits. He said the summer squash was the most ludicrous vegetable he knew. It was nearly all leaf and blow, with only a sickly, crook-necked fruit after a mighty fuss. It reminded him of the member of Congress from...; but I hastened to change the subject.

As we walked along, the keen eye of the President rested upon some handsome sprays of "pusley," which must have grown up since Saturday night. It was most fortunate; for it led his Excellency to speak of the Chinese problem. He said he had been struck with one, coupling of the Chinese and the "pusley" in one of my agricultural papers; and it had a significance more far-reaching than I had probably supposed. He had made the Chinese problem a special study. He said that I was right in saying that "pusley" was the natural food of the Chinaman, and that where the "pusley" was, there would the Chinaman be also. For his part, he welcomed the Chinese emigration: we needed the Chinaman in our gardens to eat the "pusley; "and he thought the whole problem solved by this simple consideration. To get rid of rats and "pusley," he said, was a necessity of our civilization. He did not care so much about the shoe-business; he did not think that the little Chinese shoes that he had seen would be of service in the army: but the garden-interest was quite another affair. We want to make a garden of our whole country: the hoe, in the hands of a man truly great, he was pleased to say, was mightier than the pen. He presumed that General B-tl-r had never taken into consideration the garden-question, or he would not assume the position he does with regard to the Chinese emigration. He would let the Chinese come, even if B-tl-r had to leave, I thought he was going to say, but I changed the subject.

During our entire garden interview (operatically speaking, the garden-scene), the President was not smoking. I do not know how the impression arose that he "uses tobacco in any form;" for I have seen him several times, and he was not smoking. Indeed, I offered him a Connecticut six; but he wittily said that he did not like a weed in a garden,—a remark which I took to have a personal political bearing, and changed the subject.

The President was a good deal surprised at the method and fine appearance of my garden, and to learn that I had the sole care of it. He asked me if I pursued an original course, or whether I got my ideas from writers on the subject. I told him that I had had no time to read anything on the subject since I began to hoe, except "Lothair," from which I got my ideas of landscape gardening; and that I had worked the garden entirely according to my own notions, except that I had borne in mind his injunction, "to fight it out on this line if"—The President stopped me abruptly, and said it was unnecessary to repeat that remark: he thought he had heard it before. Indeed, he deeply regretted that he had ever made it. Sometimes, he said, after hearing it in speeches, and coming across it in resolutions, and reading it in newspapers, and having it dropped jocularly by facetious politicians, who were boring him for an office, about twenty-five times a day, say for a month, it would get to running through his head, like the "shoo-fly" song which B-tl-r sings in the House, until it did seem as if he should go distracted. He said, no man could stand that kind of sentence hammering on his brain for years.

The President was so much pleased with my management of the garden, that he offered me (at least, I so understood him) the position of head gardener at the White House, to have care of the exotics. I told him that I thanked him, but that I did not desire any foreign appointment. I had resolved, when the administration came in, not to take an appointment; and I had kept my resolution. As to any home office, I was poor, but honest; and, of course, it would be useless for me to take one. The President mused a moment, and then smiled, and said he would see what could be done for me. I did not change the subject; but nothing further was said by General Gr-nt.

The President is a great talker (contrary to the general impression); but I think he appreciated his quiet hour in my garden. He said it carried him back to his youth farther than anything he had seen lately. He looked forward with delight to the time when he could again have his private garden, grow his own lettuce and tomatoes, and not have to get so much "sarce" from Congress.

The chair in which the President sat, while declining to take a glass of lager I have had destroyed, in order that no one may sit in it. It was the only way to save it, if I may so speak. It would have been impossible to keep it from use by any precautions. There are people who would have sat in it, if the seat had been set with iron spikes. Such is the adoration of Station.

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Chicago: Charles Dudley Warner, "Eighth 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 October 5, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=496WELA4MBHB4Z1.

MLA: Warner, Charles Dudley. "Eighth 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. 5 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=496WELA4MBHB4Z1.

Harvard: Warner, CD, 'Eighth 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 5 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=496WELA4MBHB4Z1.