We expect to have a variety of experiences this season, and frequent meetings both actual and by pen, for Lavinia, in combination with Horace and Sylvia Bradford, last year built a tiny shore cottage, three miles up the coast, at Gray Rocks, where they are going for alternate weeks or days as the mood seizes them, and they mean to try experiments with real seashore gardening, while Evan proposes that we should combine pleasure with business in a way to make frequent vacations possible and take driving trips together to many lovely gardens both large and small, to our mutual benefit, his eyes being open to construction and landscape effect, and mine to the soul of the garden, as it were; for he is pleased to say that a woman can grasp and translate this more easily and fully than a man. What if the records of The Garden, You, and I should turn into a real book, an humble shadow of "Six of Spades" of jovial memory! Is it possible that I am about to be seized with Agamemnon Peterkin's ambition to write a book to make the world wise? Alas, poor Agamemnon! When he had searched the woods for an oak gall to make ink, gone to the post-office, after hours, to buy a sheet of paper, and caused a commotion in the neighbourhood and rumour of thieves by going to the poultry yard with a lantern to pluck a fresh goose quill for a pen, he found that he had nothing to say, and paused - thereby, at least, proving his own wisdom.
I'm afraid I ramble too much to be a good recording secretary, but this habit belongs to my very own garden books that no critical eyes can see. That reminds me! Father says that he met Bartram Penrose in town last week and that he seemed rather nervous and tired, and worried about nothing, and wanted advice. After looking him over a bit, father told him that all he needed was a long vacation from keeping train, as well as many other kinds of time, for it seems during the six years of his marriage he has had no real vacation but his honeymoon.
Mary Penrose's mother, my mother, and Lavinia Cortright were all school friends together, and since Mary married Bartram and moved to Woodridge we've exchanged many little visits, for our husbands agree, and now that she has time she is becoming an enthusiastic gardener, after my own heart, having last season become convinced of the ugliness of carinas and coleus beds about a restored colonial farmhouse. Why might they not join us on our driving trips, by way of their vacation?
Immediately I started to telephone the invitation, and then paused. I will write instead. Mary Penrose is on the long-distance line, - toll thirty cents in the daytime! In spring I am very stingy; thirty cents means six papers of flower seeds, or three heliotropes. Whereas in winter it is simply thirty cents, and it must be a very vapid conversation indeed that is not worth so much on a dark winter day of the quality when neither driving nor walking is pleasant, and if you get sufficiently close to the window to see to read, you develop a stiff neck. Also, the difficulty is that thirty cents is only the beginning of a conversation betwixt Mary Penrose and myself, for whoever begins it usually has to pay for overtime, which provokes quarterly discussion. Is it not strange that very generous men often have such serious objections to the long-distance tails to their telephone bills, and insist upon investigating them with vigour, when they pay a speculator an extra dollar for a theatre ticket without a murmur? They must remember that telephones, whatever may be said to the contrary, are one of the modern aids to domesticity and preventives of gadding, while still keeping one not only in touch with a friend but within range of the voice. Surely there can be no woman so self-sufficient that she does not in silent moments yearn for a spoken word with one of her kind.
When I had finished sowing my first planting of mignonette and growled at the prospective labour entailed by thinning out the fall-sown Shirley poppies (I have quite resolved to plant everything in the vegetable-garden seed beds and then transplant to the flowering beds as the easier task), Lavinia Cortright came up, note-book in hand, inviting herself comfortably to spend the day, and thoroughly inspect the hardy seed bed, to see what I had for exchange, as well as perfect her plan of starting one of her own.
By noon the sun had made the south corner, where the Russian violets grow, quite warm enough to make lunching out-of-doors possible, and promising to protect Lavinia's rather thinly shod feet from the ground with one of the rubber mats whereon I kneel when I transplant, she consented to thus celebrate the coming of the season of liberty, doors open to the air and sun, the soul to every whisper of Heart of Nature himself, the steward of the plan and eternal messenger of God.
"Hard is the heart that loveth naught in May!" Yes, so hard that it is no longer flesh and blood, for under the spell of renewal every grass blade has new beauty, every trifle becomes of importance, and the humble song sparrow a nightingale.
The stars that blazed of winter nights have fallen and turned to dandelions in the grass; the Forsythias are decked in gold, a colour that is carried up and down the garden borders in narcissus, dwarf tulips, and pan-sies, peach blossoms giving a rosy tinge to the snow fall of cherry bloom.
To-day there are two catbirds, Elle et Lui, and the first Johnny Wren is inspecting the particular row of cottages that top the long screen of honeysuckles back of the walk named by Richard Wren Street. Why is the song sparrow calling "Dick, Dick!" so lustily and scratching so testily in the leaves that have drifted under an old rose shrub? The birds' bath and drinking basin is still empty; I pour out the libation to the day by filling it.
The seed bed is reached at last. It has wintered fairly well, and the lines of plants all show new growth. As I started to point out and explain, Lavinia Cortright began to jot down name and quantity, and then, stopping, said: "No, you must write it out as the first record for The Garden, You, and I. I make a motion to that effect." As I was about to protest, the postman brought some letters, one being from Mary Penrose, to whom Mrs. Cortright stands as aunt by courtesy. I opened it, and spreading it between us we began to read, so that afterward Lavinia declared that her motion was passed by default.
"Woodridge, April 30. "My dear Mrs. Evan,
"I am going into gardening in earnest this spring, and I want you and Aunt Lavinia to tell me things, - things that you have done yourselves and succeeded or failed in. Especially about the failures. It is a great mistake for garden books and papers to insist that there is no such word in horticulture as fail, that every flower bed can be kept in full flower six months of the year, in addition to listing things that will bloom outdoors in winter in the Middle States, and give all floral measurements as if seen through a telephoto lens. It makes one feel the exceptional fool. It's discouraging and not stimulating in the least. Doesn't even nature meet with disaster once in a while as if by way of encouragement to us? And doesn't nature's garden have on and off seasons? So why shouldn't ours?
"There is a quantity of Garden Goozle going about nowadays that is as unbelievable, and quite as bad for the constitution and pocket, as the guarantees of patent medicines. No, Garden Goozle is not my word, you must understand; it was invented by a clever professor of agriculture, whom Bart met not long ago, and we loved the word so much that we have adopted it. The mental quality of Garden Goozle seems to be compounded of summer squash and milkweed milk, and it would be quite harmless were it not for the strong catbriers grafted in the mass for impaling the purses of the trusting.
"Ah, if we only lived a little nearer together, near enough to talk over the garden fence! It seems cruel to ask you to write answers to all my questions, but after listing the hardy plants I want for putting the garden on a consistent old-time footing, I find the amount runs quite to the impossible three figures, aside from everything else we need, so I've decided on beginning with a seed bed, and I want to know before we locate the new asparagus bed how much ground I shall need for a seed bed, what and how to plant, and everything else!
"I like all the hardy things you have, especially those that are mice, lice, and water proof 1 If you will send me ever so rough a list, I shall be grateful. Would I better begin at once or wait until July or August, as some of the catalogues suggest?
"Bart has just come in and evidently has something on his mind of which he wishes to relieve himself via speech.
"Your little sister of the garden,
"She must join The Garden, You, and I, " said La-vinia Cortright, almost before I had finished the letter. "She will be entertainer in chief, for she never fails to be amusing!"
"I thought there were to be but three members," I protested, thinking of the possible complications of a three-cornered correspondence.
"Ah, well," Lavinia Cortright replied quickly, "make the Garden an Honorary member; it is usual so to rank people of importance from whom much is expected, and then we shall still be but three - with privilege of adding your husband as councillor and mine as librarian and custodian of deeds!"
So I have promised to write to Mary Penrose this evening.