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Garden Bloggers’ Book Club: The Gardener’s Year

Karel Capek didn’t care much for growing vegetables. In “On Market Gardeners,” one of the short essays that comprise The Gardener’s Year, he addresses the readers’ imagined complaints that he only traffics in flowers.

“In reply to this charge I say that in one of the numerous phases of my life I also ruled over some beds of carrots and savoys, of lettuce and kohlrabi; I did it certainly out of a feeling of romanticism, wanting to indulge in the illusion of being a farmer,” Capek writes. “In due time it was obvious that I must crunch every day one hundred and twenty radishes, because nobody else in the house would eat them; the next day I was drowning in savoys, and then the orgies in kohlrabi followed, which were terribly stringy.”

A market gardener, huh? I guess that term fits, although I have to say…the decision to garden had less to do with Farmer Genie dreams, and more to do with a headlong crash into inevitability. I live in Iowa, therefore I garden.

And because I garden, I’m once again taking part in the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, for which Capek’s slim volume of dryly funny essays is the March selection.

Capek feels my particular pain. “Yes, only when he becomes a gardener does a man appreciate those threadbare sayings like ‘the bitter cold,’ ‘the merciless North wind,’ ‘the harsh frost,’ and other such poetic cursings, he even himself uses expressions still more poetic, saying that the cold this year is rotten, damned, devilish, cursed, beastly, and blasted; in contrast to the poets he does not only swear at the North wind, but also at the evil-minded East winds; and he curses the driving sleet less than the feline and insidious black frost,” he writes in “A Gardener’s March.”

Rotten. Damned. Devilish. Cursed. Beastly. Blasted. I might not have used any of those particular words, but I certainly used more tawdry synonyms. But the book was originally published in Czech in 1929, so I assume the approved language for book printing was a little more gardenesque and a little less barroom brawl.

But Capek sallies forward through the year, reminding all gardeners that the next month, April, is “the month for planting.” His essay examines the phenomenon of ordering a few too many plants.

OK, maybe more than a few.

“And so, one day, some hundred and seventy seedlings meet in your house, and they must be planted immediately; and then you look round in your garden and find with overwhelming certainty that you have no space left for them,” he writes in “A Gardener’s April.”

Capek didn’t have access to a computer, but for all intents and purposes, he wrote as if he were keeping a year-long blog, providing oblique insights into his own experience by presenting them in larger-than-life fashion. Every hose in Capek’s world is cranky and about to splash everyone around it. Every flower is a risky venture. Every season, fraught with danger of some sort or another, provides an opportunity to learn, again, that in the end, the gardener is at the mercy of a larger miracle.

7 Comments on “Garden Bloggers’ Book Club: The Gardener’s Year”

  1. #1 Carol
    on Mar 26th, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Genie, thanks for participating again in the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. I like your last thought, about the gardener being at the mercy of a larger miracle. Some things we just can’t control, like the weather! Hope you enjoyed the book and watch for the club meeting post on March 31st.

  2. #2 inadvertentgardener
    on Mar 26th, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Carol, I really enjoyed this pick — thanks for selecting it! I’m looking forward to the full round-up.

  3. #3 Sally
    on Mar 27th, 2007 at 8:00 am

    And he’s right. Farmers (and gardeners) are the biggest gamblers in the world. Especially farmers – they place huge amounts of money into the ground in the hopes that it will grow and repay them. And while gardeners are not quite on that scale, they can only plant, tend and hope for the best. It’s a risky business, but one well worth the price. A farmer I once knew, when asked what he would do if he won the lottery, replied that he’d farm until it was gone. Gotta love these guys!

  4. #4 inadvertentgardener
    on Mar 27th, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Sally, that’s pretty cool…farmers are incredibly hardy people. And they work harder than anyone I know. I never quite thought of planting as gambling, but you’re right. I know I’ve gained a new appreciation for how everyone gets all their plants to grow all year.

  5. #5 Carl Strohmeyer
    on Mar 31st, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I agree with Sally’s comment “Farmers (and gardeners) are the biggest gamblers in the world. Especially farmers – they place huge amounts of money into the ground in the hopes that it will grow and repay them.”
    My Dad owned a avocado farm 30 years ago, I remember the toil and often fruitless labor (not to mention a few accidents that were close calls).
    I also have to drive to LA, CA from Oregon for my business and just this last January I sadly remember all the Oranges Groves incased in ice that are now just fruitless brown trees that will takes years to get pack to peek production.

  6. #6 Annie in Austin
    on Apr 1st, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Maybe there were so many small farmers bringing in produce that people in his area didn’t need to grow their own stuff to have fresh and natural vegetables? It would be interesting to know a little about daily life back then.

    As a vegetable queen, you have a different perspective, and you make a great point, Genie – you’re a market gardener, even if it is on a small scale. We do it here by growing tomatoes and peppers each year.

    I always thought it was weird that people will hesitate on spending a couple of dollars to try a new vegetable plant at a nursery, but will drop money on lottery tickets each week. The odds are so much better with chlorophyll.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    [I would have been here sooner but I've been wandering around with potted plants in my hand, looking for the blank spots.]

  7. #7 inadvertentgardener
    on Apr 1st, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    “The odds are so much better with chlorophyll.” — Annie, I LOVE THAT! I’m also grinning at the thought of you on the hunt for blank spots.

    What I’m hoping is that I don’t end up spending money on seeds and then having to go spend more money to buy seedlings after the fact. But we’ll see…the problem with this being my second year of market gardening is that I fear the sophomore slump.

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