The Gardener’s December

What gardeners do while the garden sleeps.

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Karel Čapek was a 20th-century Czech writer, playwright, and science fiction author who was nominated seven times for the Nobel Prize in Literature and invented the word “robot.” In the midst of all this, he wrote one small, passionate, loving, humorous, and absolutely enrapturing book about gardening—The Gardener’s Year—in 1929, delightfully illustrated by his brother, Josef. How much do we love the book? Well, GreenPrints has run quotes or excerpts from The Gardener’s Year 12 times in our 32 years. Welcome, dear reader, to the thirteenth. Enjoy!

Yes, you are right, everything is now finished. Until now he has hoed, dug, loosened, turned over, manured, and dressed with lime; strewn the soil over with peat, ashes, soot; cut, sown, planted, transplanted, divided, put bulbs in the ground, and taken out tubers for the Winter; sprinkled and watered, cut the grass, weeded, covered the plants with brushwood, or raked soil to their necks—all this he did between February and December, and only now, when the garden is buried in snow, does he remember that he has forgotten something: to look at it.

What would you say, gardener, if for the first time you looked at your garden?

For you must know that until now he has had no time to do that. When in Summer he ran to look at a flowering gentian he had to stop on the way to weed the grass. When he wanted to enjoy the beauty of delphiniums in bloom he found that he had to give them supports. When asters came into flower he ran to fetch a can to water them. When phlox flowered he pulled out couch-grass; when roses were in bloom he looked where to cut side-branches, or how to destroy rust; when chrysanthemums began to open he ran for a hoe to loosen the soil which had settled round their roots. What do you expect? There was always something to do; how, then, could he put his hands in his pockets and just look to see what things are like?

Now, thank God, everything is finished; perhaps there are still things to be done; there at the back the soil is like lead, and I rather wanted to transplant this centaurea, but peace be with you; the snow has already fallen. What would you say, gardener, if for the first time you looked at your garden?

Well, this black thing here, which is sticking out of the snow, is a withered viscaria; this dry stalk is a blue aquilegia; that tuft of shrivelled leaves is astilbe; and look, that sweep there is Aster ericoides; and here, where there is nothing at all, there is an orange trollius; and this heap of snow here is dianthus, of course it is dianthus. And that stem is perhaps the red yarrow.

Brr, it is cold! Even in Winter one can’t enjoy one’s garden.

Excerpted from The Gardener’s Year (1929) by Karel Čapek—a gem of a gardening book and a true hyacinth for the soul! Order your own copy now!


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