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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 7 (October 1, 1935)

Sins Of The Soil

page 50

Sins Of The Soil

The Battle of the Flowers.

Many people commit gardening and many of those who don't, have troubles, too. The chief drawback of a garden is that it is always wrongly situated. If it has a southern aspect it gets no sun in the winter; if it faces north it gets too much in the summer. If it tilts to the east the plants die of exhaustion through being wakened too early in the morning; if turned towards the west the domestic flora get to bed too late and succumb to deadly nightshade.

The only alternative is to have your garden situated in a biscuit tin so that you can keep it down in the basement or up in the loft or under the gas stove until such time as you strike a day which seems completely propitious to the propagation of floral growth—or words to this effect.

Of course, there are successful gardeners. You meet them on trains and trams and buses, descanting on their success with double-edged speckled spinozas and perennial palliases. In this respect gardening and fishing are somewhat akin; you hear much and see little. I do not suggest that all gardeners are liars. In fact, I once knew one who actually grew things; but he was a passive, spineless sort of creature—wholly devoid of that grand primitive sense of struggle for supremacy—who was content merely to plant things, care for them, and let Nature take her course unchallenged; unlike the average he-man horticulturists who love to pit their cunning against ruthless Nature by planting sun-flowers in the cellar, water lilies on the ash heap and ice-plants in the conservatory.

But the real fact is that the best way to rear a garden is to refrain from rearing it. The “rose that grows in No-man's Land” and the “Snowdrop On the River's Brink” both throve simply because there was nobody to blight them with blight mixtures and fix them with fertilizers.

On the other hand, you spray your pet rose with black lead against white butterfly, with red lead against green fly, with whiting against black-leaf; you inoculate it against prickly itch, you vaccinate it against cauliflower ear and you wrap a piece of sacking round its chest. What happens? It dies on you, of course. But, ignore it during the period a rose is supposed to need a mother's care and, when it is about to bloom, hop out and dot it one on the stamen with a mallet! What happens? You get blooms which even your wife will put in her vases. But such is gardening—and life in general!

And the bulbs you heave into the darkest corner of the garden as unworthy to fraternise with your prize
“Who loves to pit his cunning against ruthless Nature.”

“Who loves to pit his cunning against ruthless Nature.”

“ham and eggers”! What do they do but spend the dark days of winter digging themselves in so that, in the spring, they present you with blooms as big as the average fourpenny cabbage, while your prize “ham and eggers” are a disgrace to any frying pan.

The fact of the matter is that Nature is continually at war with man and misleads him to expect certain things to happen among the spraxias and snapdragons, which never do. Thus, the experienced tactician, after making himself conversant with the accepted laws and canons of the horticultural hotbeds, takes the opposite course. If the experts advise sulphide of semolina or chloride of hydrophobia for the variegated aspirates, the wise gardener administers a dose of prussic or an injection of brimstone and treacle and sits back until the blooms arrive. Otherwise he will discover that his rambling roses are too feeble even to page 51 stroll, that his climbing clamberers get dizzy before they have clambered six inches, that the dahlias have a rooted objection to appearing in public, and the begonias are bed-ridden.

Just Sow Sow.

Seeds are another source of disappointment. Because a packet says “Double pneumonias” such is no guarantee that, after planting, the gardener will not get filigreed filberts or even double-breasted cauliflowers.

No reflection on the honesty of seed merchants is intended. They do their part, but something happens in the packet, or underground, which converts a gardener's hopes to a “mess of potash.”

One must remember that the pictures on the packets are painted by artists who seldom grow anything but hair. They are idealists who gild the lily and paint the rose. Consequently the pansies on the packet look like orchids with blood pressure, and the tiger lilies resemble a floral zoo. Artists are not good gardeners because they always expect realisation to equal imagination.

Vegetrouble Gardening.

If flower-gardening is disappointing, vegetable culture is doubly so, because the unfortunate enthusiast has both “roots” and “tops” to contend with. The great difficulty is that “roots” always seem to have an ambition to appear in public as “tops” and “tops” seem to have rooted ambitions. The gardener who knows his vegetables will overcome this by planting the “root” seeds upside down and putting the cabbages and lettuces in splints to keep them on the up grade.

The gardener desirous of growing cauliflowers should always plant cabbages, because cabbages always turn out to be cauliflowers in the end.

Potatoes should be blindfolded before planting because the less a potato sees the more concentration it puts into becoming a worthy member of the tuber family.

“Gardening is somewhat akin to Fishing.”

“Gardening is somewhat akin to Fishing.”

Potatoes must be dug up every now and again to see how they are getting on. This convinces the potato that you are taking a kindly interest in its welfare and encourages it to keep its mind on the game. Potatoes, being Irish, are very impulsive and respond readily to such kindness. You need never worry about killing potatoes by digging them up and replanting them; they like it and will roll over on their faces, close all their eyes and die, if left undisturbed in their beds.

Stealing a March on October.

Now is the time to plant everything which the book says should have been planted at the beginning of winter. Of course all the spring vegetables should have been planted in the late autumn. I am not suggesting that the experts do not know their business, but I know that they don't know mine; for long experience has convinced me that my garden plot is more like a conspiracy than a plot, and the only chance of getting results is to plant everything six months too late or six months too early, thus taking Mother Nature off her guard. This knowledge of the psychology of flowers, fruits, roots, and shoots has enabled me to rear the annual radish which is the pride and joy of my declining years.

There is no doubt that gardening provides a degree of glorious uncertainty, even lacking in horse racing; for in gardening you do have a win sometimes. So

Thank God for a garden!
In winter it lies
All oozy and woozy—
A blight to the eyes;
In spring there is promise
From beds trimly tilled—
A promise which seldom,
Alack! is fulfilled.
In summer when cabbages
Gently unfold,
The sun turns their greenness
To russet and gold.
The lettuces too,
When drought is about,
And hosing unlawful,
Curl up and conk out.
But life is a gamble,
And, begging your pardon,
We sing with the poet,
“Thank God for a garden.”