This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
When I am tired of my easy chair, I sometimes take a stroll to the garden of Old Godfrey, one of the most original characters in our neighbourhood, to watch him at his work, admire the unrivalled excellence of his vegetables, or sit in his hovel, and hear him recount the adventures of his early life. He was, in his days of youthful energy, one whose pursuits we hardly know whether to praise or blame: marked out by nature for a sporting squire, "chill penury repressed his noble rage," and made him what is familiarly termed " a poacher;" and no one ever practised his art with more skill and success than he did. He was not one of those clumsy performers who march out at night with bludgeons, and knock down gamekeepers with the butt-end of their fowling-pieces; but with a faculty of trapping, snaring, and netting all birds, beasts, and fishes, more resembling an instinct than any modification of human sagacity: quiet, stealthy, and vigilant, constantly did he baffle the squire's keepers and come home with his bags filled with hares and pheasants, for which, in those days, there was always a ready market. He was looked upon, of course, by the neighbouring justices with that virtuous indignation which those game-destroying personages always feel towards their more humble congeners.
How can we account for it, that, in all sects, parties, and coteries, aversion should constantly be in an inverse ratio to their disagreement? Once Old Godfrey was caught, and spent three months in our house of correction; but he was not a man to repine, and his lot was cheered by the humanity of the gaoler, who, in those good old times, before prison-discipline was invented, set him to work with great advantage in his garden; so that, on the whole, Godfrey rather enjoyed his visit than otherwise, and came out with more money in his pocket, and in much better condition, than he went in; and his eye still sparkles as he tells his hearers how successfully he worked at the squire's trout as soon he was released from confinement. Godfrey's knowledge of the habits and dispositions of all the ferae naturce that have come under his observation might enlarge the boundaries of natural science, and afford some amusing chapters to future Whites and Watertons. He knows every partridge's nest within a mile of his garden; and no strange beast can enter its precincts without being discovered; he is like a North American Indian in the quickness with which he detects their tracks, and he knows at once how to ensure their capture: for nothing is more surprising than the certainty with which he catches whatever he tries for: this depends on a peculiar faculty, and yet, no doubt, some portion of his science might be communicated.
He says, with regard to rats, that people set traps for them as if they were anxious to catch them, placing them in their runs or usual haunts, which must be seen by so sensible an animal; whereas his plan is, always to appear as if he wished to hide his trap; they are sure to find it out, and " the more trouble," says he, "they have to get at it, with the more force do their noses go into it." His organ of destruction, however, is only active against a certain class of animals; towards others he is humane; and rather than crush a snail, he will pick it up and throw it over the fence, saying, "There ! it will be some time before you find your way back again." This reminds me of a good story told of Dr. Johnson, who was walking one day at Oxford with a friend round his garden, and observing him throw the snails over the wall, he reproved him sharply, saying it was ungentlemanly; when his friend replied, "Well but, doctor, my neighbour is a Dissenter." On which the lexicographer growled out, " Oh, throw away then, as fast as you like !" Now I have no doubt my humble acquaintance is as far in advance of the doctor in toleration as he is behind him in learning;.
Old Godfrey has now for some years renounced his evil ways, and cultivates seven or eight acres of land as a market-gardener, almost entirely by the labour of himself and his sons. His proceedings have been recently watched by me with increasing interest, as I speculate upon the probable fate of our country under the strong dose of free trade lately administered to her by our state doctors. Can this densely-peopled land, with its swarms of industrious labourers and its boasted Anglo-Saxon energy, ever become a wilderness? Surely not. When I see Old Godfrey's success on a few acres of land of not more than average quality, I naturally ask why more ground in England, fit for garden culture, should not be similarly improved, and made to resemble that beautiful tract between Antwerp and Ghent in the Netherlands, where, for many miles, the traveller sees every variety of vegetable produce flourishing on land as free'from weeds as the best-managed gentleman's garden. Some of our cold clays, tit only for growing oak-timber, will, I fear, never pay for arable cultivation under a free-trade competition; and these our squires may plant as soon as they like for the benefit of their descendants in the year 2050. Perhaps also some of our thin chalky downs, intended for the production of South-Down mutton, may as well return to their natural beauty, and the uses for which Providence designed them; but I cannot believe that the cultivation of the soil generally in civilised England will ever be allowed to decline.
Not far from my residence, the "Sandy gardeners," a hardy race of men, cultivate small plots of ground, and take their produce in one-horse carts a distance of fifty miles to the London market. Their land is curious for its minute cultivation, and produces a rent of 41. per acre; the air all around is redolent of onions, cucumbers are grown by the acre, and the country is so studded with cottages, and swarming with labourers, that you might fancy yourself in the populous regions of China. When the Great Northern Railway, which passes through the midst of this fertile district, is completed, no doubt a still greater impetus will be given to cultivation, and the vegetable wealth will be directed north and south in still more copious streams.
But to return to Old Godfrey, his garden-house and furniture. As times have improved with him, he has erected a respectable building, with good casement-windows, in place of the old tumble-down hovel in which, a few years ago, he stowed his movables. It is curious to sit down and look round upon the place and its owner; it might furnish an artist with a study for Robinson Crusoe: look at our sketch, which certainly is not flattering, for Godfrey has never sacrificed to the Graces; the rough thatch of his shaggy uncombed locks shades a forehead wrinkled "by thinking of his whens and hows, And half by knitting of his brows Beneath the glaring sun".
His eye - for unfortunately he has but one - is small, bright, and sagacious; and he is gifted with a smooth, easy way of expressing his ideas, and a quiet self possessed manner, which many a gentleman born would envy. How characteristic are all the surrounding objects ! From the ceiling hang ropes of the finest onions; his garden-seeds, in bags of various sizes, make a goodly show; all about are placed every kind of implement, traps, nets, and all sorts of indescribable tackle: here an old garden-knife, which, like the dagger of Hudibras, "can bait a mouse-trap or toast bread;" there his double-barrel gun, in good order, with its percussion.caps, ready for use at a moment's notice; in a corner, perhaps, crouches a well-bred pointer or setter-bitch, with her litter of puppies, soon, under skilful training, to be well broken, and fit for the sportsman's use; outside, a snug pig-sty is sure to contain a sow of the best breed the country produces; and his potato-pits are stored with the most approved varieties.
The great peculiarity of Old Godfrey is, that whatever he does, he does so well; the hawthorn hedge round his garden is the perfect model of a fence of that sort, so impervious, so complete, and trimmed to such exact symmetry; his vegetables are not only of the best quality, but perfectly in season; but it is in strawberry-time that he is in all his glory, - his fruit is so well ripened, the sorts are so well selected, and his succession is so good, that it is almost a favour, in some seasons, to be supplied by him; in gooseberries he is also very great, and can talk with critical discrimination upon the claims of the " Old Ironmonger," the "Roaring Lion," and the "Crown Bob." I believe, by this fruit alone, he has, in some years, more than paid the rent of all his land. He boasts, not without reason, that he has produced the best early pea; and, by a skilful selection and crossing of varieties, he has obtained a broccoli which would almost have made his fortune, if he had been related to the family of Mr. Worldly-wiseman; but he never had the least ambition for what is vulgarly called rising in the world.
At one time he would work after dark, sticking a candle in the ground to dig by; but now, as he grows older, he takes things rather easier; still you will mostly find him in his garden, except in the shooting-season, and then he is never long away. I must not omit to say that he now always shoots with a certificate, like other gentlemen; and though he cannot help running a little cunning, he wishes to be considered a fair sportsman.
His boys shew a good deal of the old breed; though I fear their father has been too indulgent, and not bestowed so much pains on their culture as on his broccoli, peas, and rhubarb. Some time since, a gentleman, who felt an interest in their welfare, had one of them, a fine, intelligent-looking little fellow, bound apprentice to a respectable sea-captain; but he could not bear the change. When the strawberry-season came on, he described his feelings as intolerable: no doubt, like Wordsworth's boy,
" He in his hours Of tiresome indolence would often hang Over the vessel's side, and gaze and gaze: And while the broad.green waves and sparkling foam Flashed round him ***** Below him, in the bosom of the deep, Saw gardens, saw the form of sheep that grazed On verdant hills, with dwellings among trees, And shepherds clad in the same country grey Which he himself had worn".
When the ship returned to England, he took the first opportunity of running off; and I dare say his master never inquired after him. The boys would have made excellent gardeners if they had been forced from home, and thrown more upon their own resources.
Time has had a softening and mellowing effect upon Old Godfrey; and I hope when his hour of departure may come, he will be ripe for a better world. Still "what is bred in the bone will never be out of the flesh;" and I have heard a pious neighbour say, who sometimes walks with him to a delightful eminence near his garden, and reads to him in the Bible or some religious publication, which want of education unfortunately prevents Godfrey doing for himself, that when he supposes his hearer's attention to be riveted by some impressive portion of Scripture or edifying story, the devout ejaculation, " There goes a brace of birds !" will dispel the flattering illusion. And when my old friend sat for his portrait, the artist inquiring of him what he would like to be doing, his answer was, "Perhaps, master, you may as well paint me twisting a little bit of wire!" - I am, yours truly,
The Sedentary Man.