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Garden Wit and Wisdom from Days of Old

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: gardening, garden books, Alfred Carl Hottes, 1001 Gardening Questions Answered, cold frames, Karel Capek, Cindy Murphy,

Who can be satisfied until every home has a garden, every community a garden club and every city a community garden? ~ Alfred Carl Hottes 

 1001 Gardening Questions Answered

The question appears in the preface of “1001 Garden Questions Answered”, and is still as relevant today as when Hottes first asked it.  In fact, much of the information contained in the book is still relevant – it’s still in print, the latest edition issued in 2007, eighty years after the first edition of the book was published.  I recently found my Dad’s 1947 copy of the “heavily revised” fourth printing of the book; hopefully newer editions have been “heavily revised” also, because the non-pronounceable chemicals listed in the “How to Control Insects and Diseases” chapter are just downright scary.    

Despite that, this is a little gem of a book, with a ton of wisdom, useful information, and interesting tidbits.  Judging from the tattered cover, dog-eared pages, and that Dad wrote his name on the inside cover, I’m guessing this book was passed around a lot among friends, family, and co-workers who shared his interest.   

The legacy Dad left me was his life-long love of nature and of gardening.  Some of my earliest memories are of him teaching me about plants and birds we encountered on our walks through the forests and fields.  At home, I’d work alongside him, helping in his big vegetable garden….although at that young of an age, I don’t know how much help I did versus how much additional work I created.   

Mom didn’t share Dad’s passion for gardening, (or, I’m sure, for my love of playing in the dirt as a kid – a love that I never outgrew, and I’ve got ground-in stains on the knees of all my jeans to prove it).  She was more of a behind-the-scenes gardener – an advisor on what she wanted planted, then cooking, canning, pickling, or putting fresh on the table the fruits of Dad’s labor.  Keith is much the same – he waters, he weeds, he harvests, and generally likes to be out in the garden, but he doesn’t have the same passion for gardening that I do.  He does, however, have the title of Official Garden Construction Engineer.      

“If you haven’t anything else to do Winter nights, busy yourself putting a coldframe together for early gardening operations.  Every garden needs a coldframe….” writes Hottes.  

 Cold frame

I returned home from a weekend trip to my childhood home where I found the book, to find Keith had built me one. Though he doesn’t have a passion for gardening, he does have a passion for using power tools.  The cold-frame is darned spiffy, I think, made from two old windows someone had set out for the trash, which I threw into the back of my truck last fall with a cold-frame in mind.     

Older than “1001 Garden Questions Answered”, passed around more often than Dad’s copy of it…and every bit as flavorful as the peppery leaves of the mustard greens I planted in the cold-frame, is a little tidbit of wit and wisdom on the book’s last page.

The Gardener’s Prayer 

O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o’clock in the morning, but you see, it must be gentle and warm, so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on Campion, Alyssum, Helianthemum, Lavender, and the others which You in Your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants- I will write their names on a bit of paper if You like- and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not, for instance, on Spirea, or on Gentian, Plantain-lily, and Rhododendron), and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no plant-lice and snails, no mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven.  Amen. ~ Karel Capek (1890-1938)