Content in a Garden
“ AND the Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day.” This repeats itself to me in the early morning, when the mysterious change which we call dawn resolves itself into long, soft rays which slant in a luminous shower upon the waiting garden. The buds shake themselves and open softly into flowers, and butterflies and tiny white moths dry their wings and lift their painted linings to the sun. Sleek dark moles and white and brown deer mice, and all the soft velvety things which live in the ground and come out to explore and wander in the darkness, rustle back under cover of the ground. At that hour the air is clear and clean of daytime thought and pulsating with the gladness and exaltation of the new day, and over and over the words come to me, “ The Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day.”
If one could stay at just that eminence of perfection in influences and surroundings, it would be better than Eden ; it woidd be perpetual heaven. Perhaps the story of Eden is the story of the morning of the world. In later hours comes the tempter; but in early ones, when lilies are standing like angels in white and shining raiment along the garden walks, evil has no existence. It is then that the heart of Nature speaks to the heart of man, and he hears it. Her glory is before his eyes, and he sees it. Goodness and happiness creep through his veins, and Content broods largely over him.
In the early morning I sit beside the very tops of the fir-tree spires, where they grow across the height of the upper piazza. They grow visibly, lengthening hour by hour the blue green fingers which are always reaching, reaching toward the sky. Underneath lies the garden, palpitating with color and fragrance. If my neighbor, George Showers, passes outside the garden wall, and I call a good-morning to him, he answers back that “ it’s fine growing weather,” and the fir spires nod affirmatively. The great white clouds, sailing in the heavenly blue, seem to drop lower, that they may share the day and the garden with me, and my senses grow finer and keener in the beauty bath of the hour until I feel the minutes drifting by, — each one a rounded drop of pure enjoyment. Such hours and days come to us when we stand face to face with perfect beauty.
Of all the flowers that live and blossom, none are so in keeping with the elemental sweetness of the hour as the ascension lilies. Their glad perfection gives one almost the sense of an accident, a pure happening of nature. It seems impossible for anything deliberately to rise and grow to such a standard. My garden is populous with these perfected beings, for which I am humbly and proudly grateful. As the season of their blossoming comes, I find my very blood tingling with an enthusiasm of expectation. They have been growing long enough where they stand to have widened into groups which represent families ; and consequently they send their stalks in air in company, ten or twelve of them together. I am richer by this in quantity of beauty, and have more for the giving ; but nothing can increase the wonder I feel at one single stalk, rising in stately superiority from its green wreathed place through all the days in which it steadily aspires, and finally, pausing in air, makes ready to spread its splendor. When the buds have gathered their tribute of whiteness from the sun rays, and drawn to themselves the odorous strength which is the mystery of their lives, the miracle of predestined beauty is accomplished and one after another they open to the world. As I watch them, I find myself wondering what commerce of feeling exists between the bulb hidden in the soil and the head in air. What commands and requirements from above drop in fine pulsations down the stem and beneath the wreath of satiny leaves upon the ground ? What is there that the air and the sun and the dew cannot furnish, for which the great mother bulb sends out exploring rootlets into the storehouse of the mould, — and having found, sends back by viewless messengers laden and overladen with the elements of beauty ? It makes one almost long to be a clod, to be able to enter into this mysterious world of growth and being. I find myself wondering what such a perfect thing can be growing toward ! If progress is the law of creation, what will be the immortality of a lily ? When it goes from substance into essence, — and from essence again into substance, — what will it become ?
Does all vegetable life thrill finally upward into humanity ? One can hardly help fancying that that is the final goal of the more demonstrative life of animals ; and when friendly horses come straying from the pasture and leaning from their shoulders over the garden bounds talk to me without words, I feel like saying to them. “ I wonder when you will be a man ? ” And when the chipmunk which lives in the wall sits up and chatters at me, I say to him, “ What an inquisitive little man you will be! ”
I speculate as to the human character of the heavy woodchuck which lives under the studio and ventures out in the early morning, and promenades slowly around the garden while I watch him from the upper piazza. He nips my phloxes here and there, with so proprietary an air that I call him The Bank President.
But it is curious that when I speculate upon the far-off future embodiments of my flowers, I think of them as girl children, and merry or stately maids, or sweet and loving matrons, — never as men mortals ; and I unconsciously find an explanation of the mysterious temperamental differences between men and women in their animal and vegetable preëmbodiments. The cool silence of the earth from which the plant grows and the tree lifts itself is in woman’s more quiet nature, and the fierce ravage of animal instinct in man’s ; and Nature ’s way of blending their characteristics is in their attraction for each other. Finally, the human being finds in his or her self something of the patience of vegetable growth, as well as the impatience of animal demand. I speculate upon the long progress of life in each, beginning from the least and most undeveloped to the last and most perfect; thinking that the mouse, with its little wants and small predatory instincts, might gather to itself through a long upward progress all the bulk and dignity of a horse ; and a radish gather from gradual transformation and aspiring tendency all that culminates in the breadfruit palm.
Thinking of these things, I seem to see the whole of God’s creation creeping, creeping up through infinite periods, through all the kingdoms of Nature ; through man, and his later and finer development, whatever it may be ; until it wins its final throne and sits beside the source of life and power. As I sit under the fir trees in my garden, I wonder how much of the lily-heart and the nasturtiums’ spicy smart has been already absorbed into the topmost spires of the balsams, and whether indeed it is not nearer heaven in quality as well as in altitude than it will be when it is merged into humanity. But when I remember the inspired souls among men, who have sung great songs which ring forever in the hearts of all mankind ; and done great deeds which have lifted the whole race to a higher plane, — I see that the fir tree would still be climbing if it went through manhood on its course to God.
There is a possible Eden in every garden, and yet how few of the children of men enter into and possess it! How few, even of the great of earth, know that it is quite within their power to recreate that lost paradise and live in its beauty every summer day of their lives. And it is not alone the beauty of it which ministers so potently to the soul of man ! There is companionship to be found within it which never offends. Here we may select according to our finest preferences those with whom we shall dwell in our separate Edens, and they will remain with us, and bless us with their loyalty as well as their loveliness.
We are comparatively unlearned in the comfort and content of the garden if we suppose that it begins and ends with the delight of the eye. It is true that that is the thing which first attracts us, — the thing we are first aware of, — hut when we live in the garden we find ourselves constantly growing into a most subtle knowledge of the different ways of beauty. Behind the glamour of it there is a sense of acquaintance and companionship, a differentiation of character as complete and — shall I say it ? — far more satisfactory than in the world. It seems as if the cherubim with the flaming sword had been set at the gate of the garden to forever bar its entrance to the serpent, and forever protect its heavenly inhabitants from the world and worldliness.
The characteristics of the children of the garden are as potent as among the children of men, and yet they are happily exempt from sorrow and temptation. Each individual and family and tribe has its own standard and code and rule of behavior, and when we grow to recognize it in each, we have made at least an acquaintance, if not a friend.
The depth of satisfaction to a dweller in the garden of content is this intimate knowledge of what lives behind the beauty. Emerson has said, “ Everything must have its flower, or effort at the beautiful, coarser or finer according to its nature;” and this “ according to its nature ” is what we recognize in what we call the characteristics of the plant. Speculations upon these characteristics would, I fear, be of small use to the professional gardener, but I find them of great service to me. Pursuing the speculations, I come upon bits of actual knowledge, morsels of fact which help me greatly in my main pursuit of gathering much and varied beauty, as well as all kinds of holy influences, into the one small space I call my garden. In pursuing facts, I am apt to drop again into speculations based upon them, so that the interweaving of fact and fancy does not seem to be altogether idle or unprofitable.
In the way of fact, I have found, or think I have found, that wild flowers are more ready to drop characteristic habits and take on new ones than are cultivated ones. Undoubtedly if one is wise and observant and sympathetic, he can do almost what he will in the way of adoption and training of wild flowers, — yet in this delicate performance it is much wiser to follow than to lead. It seems a wicked thing to tempt a flower into unnatural vagaries, — to make a double daffodil of a single one, or a Canterbury bell of a campanula ! A development of body is certainly not as desirable as the growth of fascinating characteristics, and to encourage a flower only in the direction of size is like establishing stature as the model and standard of excellence in the man. It is the something which means expression which should be encouraged.
There is as much delicate shading, as many subtle differences, in the world of the garden as in the world outside, and it is here that close acquaintance and real intimacy brings its reward of interest and content. It may be positive and demonstrative character, or the reverse, but as long as it is tenacious and peculiar it has the power which we find in the individuality of a friend. There is a place in my garden, between the projecting south window of the studio and the two great lilac clumps which shade it, where I have planted as many specimens of the rare lavender-pink fringed orchid as I have been able to find in my drives or walks about Onteora. It would be difficult to tell exactly how and why this flower manages to convey such a sense of its own superior value ; of delicate and priceless worth, yet the fact remains that no flower in the garden inspires so proud a sense of possession. When I found the first ones in a far-off wet meadow, and brought them home and planted them here, there was a sense of surreptitiousness about the whole proceeding, like the hiding of jewels ; and I am conscious of a certain furtive watchfulness in my tendance which the plants themselves do not seem to expect or require. In fact, it may be that a kind of lofty indifference added to quite perfect and peculiar beauty affects our estimation of its rank. They show an apparent carelessness as to what is done to or with them that has an effect of the extreme of good breeding, and certainly adds to, instead of taking from, an idea of their importance.
In a prolonged acquaintance with orchids, I have found that they are able to preserve this air of imperturbability in trying circumstances. Once, in the course of a day’s journey through the mountains, I discovered a stalk in full flower on the high roadside bank. My first impulse to secure the flower melted into a desire to obtain the root; to which end I unadvisedly accepted the offer of my driver to dig it; with the result that halfway down, the slender root was cut clean across. I accepted it as it was, with as much grace as was possible under the circumstances, and as it lay across my lap, its perfect head on one side and maimed feet on the other, I carried it the rest of the way with inward mourning. When I planted it behind the lilacs in the dusk of the evening, I am sure that I helped water it with tears; yet, when I went early the next morning in a mood of sorrowful acquiescence, lo ! there it stood, absolutely smiling at the world and me. And it stands there still in the company of a dozen or more of its kind, — coming up every spring in a closed bunch of leaves, much as a lily makes its first appearance in the world, and showing an entire lack of seasonable ambition of growth. It remains in semi-closed ease until July, when it begins to grow its tall flower stalks, and soon the delicately fringed and pinkish-lavender flowers go feathering up and down the stem, lapping so closely one over the other that it becomes a solid spike of bloom, pervaded with an odor like that of violets. At this stage of its existence it is certainly justified in any amount of selfvalue, for nothing could be finer than its perfect and abundant elegance. The characteristic which it most strongly expresses is one of dignity and reticence. It will grow in its own place with cheerful healthiness, but never a foot does it offer to its neighbor’s door ; indeed, it is a question whether its attitude of reserve toward the rest of the garden world is not in fact the most positive form of disapproval. I have often recognized this trait in humanity, and even here in Onteora I could lay a sacrilegious hand upon a perfect human orchid, — while her human opposite, the cheerfully inquisitive campanula, lays a daily hand of friendly friendliness upon me.
I find that the reserve of which I am conscious in the character of this flower influences my manner of showing it to my friends. I only show it to quiet people, or perhaps sad-hearted ones; only to those who will not exclaim when I take them behind the screen of lilac bushes, but, saying no word of praise or enthusiasm, let these ladies of the wilderness praise themselves.
When I take a friend into a cloister or a church, or even a private house of dignity and importance, I like to be sure that he or she will show only a respectful appreciation, and I have the same feeling for the orchid corner of my garden. In fact. I myself appreciate them so humanly that I do not wish to subject them to indiscriminate introduction.
There is a pure white twin sister of this orchid standing quite alone in a wild garden at Onteora, which I greatly covet. In all my siftings of wild growths I have never seen another, but I remember years ago, on Long Island, a group of salmon-colored ones which grew on an unfrequented edge of the one - mile millpond, and this tint, as every flower hunter knows, is the rarest in nature. It is one of my unsatisfied longings to possess a hundred or more of these orchids at once, but the seed is so infinitesimal that it seems impossible for it to hold the germ of life, — a mere dust of vitality; and if one depends upon root propagations, so far as my experience goes, he will gain another stalk only at the rate of about one in three years. I am inclined to think that reluctance to multiply has something to do with the sense of value it inspires, and yet it appears to have a deeper or less apparent cause. In short, it is one of the mysteries of many-sided nature that a positive negative should impress us far more strongly than positive activity. We all know people who say nothing, and yet whose silence influences us more than the speech of others; and this I think is the secret of my delicate, beautiful, undemonstrative orchid. It does not do, but it is, and its being is one of my sources of content.
Possibly it is these idle speculations which give me such interest in the characteristics of plants ; — not so much of plant races as individuals. The things which independent specimens do with themselves fill me with delight. I am always wondering, not only how such individual manifestations will stand beside those that are purely human, but why one plant should get up and do, while the rest of its race plods along a track which runs back to the beginning of the world.
There is a patch of blue campanula outside my garden wall, on a strip of debatable land between it and the woods. It began when I brought just a stalk and a thread of vegetable life from George Showers’ farm dooryard, and planted it one summer day among the grass blades ; now it has run wild, and in its flowering season makes the wood edge as blue as heaven. I have a great friendship for all varieties of this flower, from the one which clings to the rocks of mountain heights the world over, its delicate bells shaken by the winds of Alps and Andes and Colorado peaks, through the various half-domestic roadside species, which vary with their spikes of lavender-blue and bluish purple the almost universal white of midsummer wild flowers ; — I like them every one ; until I come to a halt in front of something which I am sure man has evolved, the swollen, beer-keg-looking Canterbury bell, with its sticky, insect - destroying leaves, and a stalk which is altogether uncertain of its natural direction. It seems to me that in this last development it has experimented beyond the limits of good taste, and I am sorry.
The original roadside campanula is an inquisitive creature, often venturing where it is not bidden ; and yet it is vastly like some unexacting friend, who is always ready to fill an unexpected vacancy. I have a theory, that — wisely guided — this amiable embodiment might give us a prolonged summer of blossom instead of its habitual wink of summer blue. This theory is supported by the conduct of an individual, one of my acquaintance, which has placed itself — so far as habit is concerned — in an entirely new category; and has accomplished this seeming miracle quite without human or scientific assistance.
One September day, two seasons ago, I discovered, in a close corner between the stone foundation of the studio and the garden wall, a wild campanula, stretching up a lengthy, wavy spike of blossom. It was long after its usual season of flowering, and, in fact, the campanula at the edge of the forest had their seed cups already filled with well-browned grains, quite ready for scattering. I looked after this enterprising specimen with the attention we are apt to give to things which outrank their kind ; since, in truth, a first-class plant will make itself noticeable in the garden, as a first-class man or woman will be noticeable in the world.
The following spring I remembered and looked for it, and found a perfect mat of leaves where it had stood, with half a dozen children grouping themselves around the parent one. When the regular flowering time came, I looked in vain for a rising blossom stalk, and was fain to believe that my exceptional plant would expend its vitality in leaf, rather than in flower. In spite of the fact that its kindred outside had already blossomed and seeded and faded, still it made no sign ; but when late August came it bestirred itself ; a newer crown of bright and tender green formed in the centre of its leaves and began to lift itself with a show of blossom buds, while the numerous baby crowns made haste to follow. It was mid-September before the stalk had reached the height at which it thought proper to hang out its pinky-blue flower bells, and then it was a giant of its kind, surrounded by a crowd of less aspiring kindred. Through September and into October branching stems sprang from the main stalk and shook their superior five-pointed bells in air, and when the first black frost was imminent I gathered them and set their feet in a water jar, where they went on growing and unfolding in the high English window until October was nearly ended. Now, that variation from its kind has established itself as a September blossom ; I have set its younglings all along the studio wall, and it keeps step with the rose-colored wave of phlox blossoms which covers the garden when the flower season nears its end. It seems that I have acquired a new variety by what thoughtless minds might call accident ; but a liberal or thoughtful one could see that it was by deliberate action of the flower. It was a true development, an aspiration of an individual plant which felt within itself a strength for unusual growth, and selected its own time and means.
Florists have a habit of taking advantage of any such manifestation of power or ambition in an individual, leading it on by cunning means of food or temperature, or perhaps even of superior companionship, until it has reached its utmost limit of development, and then by constant care, season after season, encouraging it to continued exertion, until, in scientific language, the type is fixed, and a permanent instead of a transitory wonder enriches the world.
We can see that this result is not altogether one of science or skill. The horticulturist must have his happy accident to begin with; in other words, the plant must have first decided to differ from its kind, — to exceed by one supreme effort what its family has done, — to claim, and use, and make advantages for itself. The self-made man repeats this variety of effort in the kingdom of man, and it requires no more of him in kind than it does of the plant; but he, poor inadequate human being, has not been able to fix his type and make his race permanent. What a thing it would be if the type of what we call genius could be fixed ! — if the seed could be gathered and sown and the crop of it reaped, if every kind of man produced after his own kind as infallibly as grasses or daisies or clover will do !
Perhaps we are still rudimentary, and that when the world is older man will have perpetuated certain superior qualities which are now alighting here and there upon individuals ; so that they will become true characteristics, into which men will grow, as infallibly as roses and lilies and violets do. In the long future of humanity, a man may be known by his type ; and his type may represent qualities. He may be known as a Bravery, or a Generosity, or some other great and good thing, and we shall name races or strains as we now name individuals, — as poets, or inventors, or explorers, or astronomers, or any other effort above the one of mere existence.
It is curious that while universities have produced an occasional wonderful specimen of manhood, they have not been so successful in developing the man strain and leading it far in advance of common lines of humanity, as the experimental stations of agriculture, or of horse and cattle breeding have been, in dealing with their particular material. If a strain of man could be developed by university culture, and fixed in possession of all those qualities which are the test of human superiority, we should have breeds as distinguished in the man race as the “ Lilium Auratuin ” among lilies, or the “ Golden Splendor” among chrysanthemums, and such races would be royal lines called by kingly names.
Finally, the world might breed a race of men whose souls burned within them for love, and with power to help humanity, so that no other seed would be sown, and it would become, indeed, God’s garden, in which He might walk with gladness.