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STORIES TO TELL TO CHILDREN (35)

2006-08-28 20:46

    MARGERY'S GARDEN

    I have always been inclined to avoid, in my work among children, the "how to make" and "how to do" kind of story; it is too likely to trespass on the ground belonging by right to its more artistic and less intentional kinsfolk. Nevertheless, there is a legitimate place for the instruction-story. Within its own limits, and especially in a school use, it has a real purpose to serve, and a real desire to meet. Children have a genuine taste for such morsels of practical information, if the bites aren't made too big and too solid. And to the teacher of the first grades, from whom so much is demanded in the way of practical instruction, I know that these stories are a boon. They must be chosen with care, and used with discretion, but they need never be ignored. I venture to give some little stories of this type, which I hope may be of use in the schools where country life and country work is an unknown experience to the children.

    There was once a little girl named Margery, who had always lived in the city. The flat where her mother and father lived was at the top of a big apartment-house, and you couldn't see a great deal from the windows, except clothes-lines on other people's roofs. Margery did not know much about trees and flowers, but she loved them dearly; whenever it was a pleasant Sunday she used to go with her mother and father to the park and look at the lovely flower-beds. They seemed always to be finished, though, and Margery was always wishing she could see them grow.

    One spring, when Margery was nine, her father's work changed so that he could move into the country, and he took a little house a short distance outside the town where his new position was. Margery was delighted. And the very first thing she said, when her father told her about it, was, "Oh, may I have a garden? MAY I have a garden?" Margery's mother was almost as eager for a garden as she was, and Margery's father said he expected to live on their vegetables all the rest of his life! So it was soon agreed that the garden should be the first thing attended to.

    Behind the little house were apple trees, a plum tree, and two or three pear trees; then came a stretch of rough grass, and then a stone wall, with a gate leading into the pasture. It was in the grassy land that the garden was to be. A big piece was to be used for corn and peas and beans, and a little piece at the end was to be saved for Margery.

    "What shall we have in it?" asked her mother.

    "Flowers," said Margery, with shining eyes,——"blue, and white, and yellow, and pink,——every kind of flower!"

    "Surely, flowers," said her mother, "and shall we not have a little salad garden in the midst, as they do in England?"

    "What is a salad garden?" Margery asked.

    "It is a garden where you have all the things that make nice salad," said her mother, laughing, for Margery was fond of salads; "you have lettuce, and endive, and romaine, and parsley, and radishes, and cucumbers, and perhaps little beets and young onions."

    "Oh! how good it sounds!" said Margery. "I vote for the salad garden."

    That very evening, Margery's father took pencil and paper, and drew out a plan for her garden; first, they talked it all over, then he drew what they decided on; it looked like the diagram on the next page.

    "The outside strip is for flowers," said Margery's father, "and the next marks mean a footpath, all the way round the beds; that is so you can get at the flowers to weed and to pick; there is a wider path through the middle, and the rest is all for rows of salad vegetables."

    "Papa, it is glorious!" said Margery.

    Papa laughed. "I hope you will still think it glorious when the weeding time comes," he said, "for you know, you and mother have promised to take care of this garden, while I take care of the big one."

    "I wouldn't NOT take care of it for anything!" said Margery. "I want to feel that it is my very own."

    Her father kissed her, and said it was certainly her "very own." Two evenings after that, when Margery was called in from her first ramble in a "really, truly pasture," she found the expressman at the door of the little house.

    "Something for you, Margery," said her mother, with the look she had when something nice was happening. It was a box, quite a big box, with a label on it that said:-MISS MARGERY BROWN, WOODVILLE, MASS. From Seeds and Plants Company, Boston.

    Margery could hardly wait to open it. It was filled with little packages, all with printed labels; and in the packages, of course, were seeds. It made Margery dance, just to read the names,——nasturtium, giant helianthus, coreopsis, calendula, Canterbury bells: more names than I can tell you, and other packages, bigger, that said, "Peas: Dwarf Telephone," and "Sweet Corn," and such things! Margery could almost smell the posies, she was so excited. Only, she had seen so little of flowers that she did not always know what the names meant. She did not know that a helianthus was a sunflower till her mother told her, and she had never seen the dear, blue, bell-shaped flowers that always grow in old-fashioned gardens, and are called Canterbury bells. She thought the calendula must be a strange, grand flower, by its name; but her mother told her it was the gay, sturdy, every-dayish little posy called a marigold. There was a great deal for a little city girl to be surprised about, and it did seem as if morning was a long way off!

    "Did you think you could plant them in the morning?" asked her mother. "You know, dear, the ground has to be made ready first; it takes a little time,——it may be several days before you can plant."

    That was another surprise. Margery had thought she could begin to sow the seed right off.

    But this was what was done. Early the next morning, a man came driving into the yard, with two strong white horses; in his wagon was a plough. I suppose you have seen ploughs, but Margery never had, and she watched with great interest, while the man and her father took the plough from the cart and harnessed the horses to it. It was a great, three-cornered piece of sharp steel, with long handles coming up from it, so that a man could hold it in place. It looked like this:-

    "I brought a two-horse plough because it's green land," the man said. Margery wondered what in the world he meant; it was green grass, of course, but what had that to do with the kind of plough? "What does he mean, father?" she whispered, when she got a chance. "He means that this land has not been ploughed before, or not for many years; it will be hard to turn the soil, and one horse could not pull the plough," said her father. So Margery had learned what "green land" was.

    The man was for two hours ploughing the little strip of land. He drove the sharp end of the plough into the soil, and held it firmly so, while the horses dragged it along in a straight line. Margery found it fascinating to see the long line of dark earth and green grass come rolling up and turn over, as the knife passed it. She could see that it took real skill and strength to keep the line even, and to avoid the stones. Sometimes the plough struck a hidden stone, and then the man was jerked almost off his feet. But he only laughed, and said, "Tough piece of land; be a lot better the second year."

    When he had ploughed, the man went back to his cart and unloaded another farm implement. This one was like a three-cornered platform of wood, with a long, curved, strong rake under it. It was called a harrow, and it looked like this:-

    The man harnessed the horses to it, and then he stood on the platform and drove all over the strip of land. It was fun to watch, but perhaps it was a little hard to do. The man's weight kept the harrow steady, and let the teeth of the rake scratch and cut the ground up, so that it did not stay in ridges.

    "He scrambles the ground, father!" said Margery.

    "It needs scrambling," laughed her father. "We are going to get more weeds than we want on this green land, and the more the ground is broken, the fewer there will be."

    After the ploughing and harrowing, the man drove off, and Margery's father said he would do the rest of the work in the late afternoons, when he came home from business; they could not afford too much help, he said, and he had learned to take care of a garden when he was a boy. So Margery did not see any more done until the next day.

    But the next day there was hard work for Margery's father! Every bit of that "scrambled" turf had to be broken up still more with a mattock and a spade, and then the pieces which were full of grass-roots had to be taken on a fork and shaken, till the earth fell out; then the grass was thrown to one side. That would not have had to be done if the land had been ploughed in the fall; the grass would have rotted in the ground, and would have made fertilizer for the plants. Now, Margery's father put the fertilizer on the top, and then raked it into the earth.

    At last, it was time to make the place for the seeds. Margery and her mother helped. Father tied one end of a cord to a little stake, and drove the stake in the ground at one end of the garden. Then he took the cord to the other end of the garden and pulled it tight, tied it to another stake, and drove that down. That made a straight line for him to see. Then he hoed a trench, a few inches deep, the whole length of the cord, and scattered fertilizer in it. Pretty soon the whole garden was in lines of little trenches.

    "Now for the corn," said father.

    Margery ran and brought the seed box, and found the package of corn. It looked like kernels of gold, when it was opened.

    "May I help?" Margery asked, when she saw how pretty it was.

    "If you watch me sow one row, I think you can do the next," said her father.

    So Margery watched. Her father took a handful of kernels, and, stooping, walked slowly along the line, letting the kernels fall, five or six at a time, in spots about a foot apart; he swung his arm with a gentle, throwing motion, and the golden seeds trickled out like little showers, very exactly. It was pretty to watch; it made Margery think of a photograph her teacher had, a photograph of a famous picture called "The Sower." Perhaps you have seen it.

    Putting in the seed was not so easy to do as to watch; sometimes Margery got in too much, and sometimes not enough; but her father helped fix it, and soon she did better.

    They planted peas, beans, spinach, carrots, and parsnips. And Margery's father made a row of holes, after that, for the tomato plants. He said those had to be transplanted; they could not be sown from seed.

    When the seeds were in the trenches they had to be covered up, and Margery really helped at that. It is fun to do it. You stand beside the little trench and walk backward, and as you walk you hoe the loose earth back over the seeds; the same dirt that was hoed up you pull back again. Then you rake very gently over the surface, with the back of a rake, to even it all off. Margery liked it, because now the garden began to look LIKE a garden.

    But best of all was the work next day, when her own little particular garden was begun. Father Brown loved Margery and Margery's mother so much that he wanted their garden to be perfect, and that meant a great deal more work. He knew very well that the old grass would begin to come through again on such "green" soil, and that it would make terribly hard weeding. He was not going to have any such thing for his two "little girls," as he called them. So he fixed that little garden very fine! This is what he did.

    After he had thrown out all the turf, he shoveled clean earth on to the garden,—— as much as three solid inches of it; not a bit of grass was in that. Then it was ready for raking and fertilizing, and for the lines. The little footpaths were marked out by Father Brown's feet; Margery and her mother laughed well when they saw it, for it looked like some kind of dance. Mr. Brown had seen gardeners do it when he was a little boy, and he did it very nicely: he walked along the sides of the square, with one foot turned a little out, and the other straight, taking such tiny steps that his feet touched each other all the time. This tramped out a path just wide enough for a person to walk.

    The wider path was marked with lines and raked.

    Margery thought, of course, all the flowers would be put in as the vegetables were; but she found that it was not so. For some, her father poked little holes with his finger; for some, he made very shallow ditches; and some very small seeds were just scattered lightly over the top of the ground.

    Margery and her mother had taken so much pains in thinking out how the flowers would look prettiest, that maybe you will like to hear just how they designed that garden. At the back were the sweet peas, which would grow tall, like a screen; on the two sides, for a kind of hedge, were yellow sunflowers; and along the front edge were the gay nasturtiums. Margery planned that, so that she could look into the garden from the front, but have it shut away from the vegetable patch by the tall flowers on the sides. The two front corners had coreopsis in them. Coreopsis is a tall, pretty, daisy-like flower, very dainty and bright. And then, in little square patches all round the garden, were planted white sweet alyssum, blue bachelor's buttons, yellow marigolds, tall larkspur, many- colored asters and zinnias. All these lovely flowers used to grow in our grandmothers' gardens, and if you don't know what they look like, I hope you can find out next summer.

    Between the flowers and the middle path went the seeds for that wonderful salad garden; all the things Mrs. Brown had named to Margery were there. Margery had never seen anything so cunning as the little round lettuce-seeds. They looked like tiny beads; it did not seem possible that green lettuce leaves could come from those. But they surely would.

    Mother and father and Margery were all late to supper that evening. But they were all so happy that it did not matter. The last thing Margery thought of, as she went to sleep at night, was the dear, smooth little garden, with its funny foot- path, and with the little sticks standing at the end of the rows, labeled "lettuce," "beets," "helianthus," and so on.

    "I have a garden! I have a garden!" thought Margery, and then she went off to dreamland.

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