Before taking up the subject of vegetable culture, I will relate an incident connected with cottage gardening that may interest if it doer not benefit some of those into whose hands this book may fall. About a dozen years ago I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a gentleman whose duties compelled him to be at his desk in a close office in the City of New York, from 9 o'clock a. m. to 4 p.m. Being naturally of a weak constitution, his sedentary life soon made him the victim of dyspepsia to such a degree that he felt that he must soon resign his situation. He was then a man of forty, entirely ignorant of anything pertaining to country life, and it was with great misgivings and reluctance that, by the advice of his physician, he changed his home from a closely built part of New York to a cottage in the then country-like suburb of Bergen Heights, N. J. His means enabled him to purchase a modest cottage built on a lot 50 by 150 feet; he did not want the land, he said, but the cottage was such as he fancied, and the ground had to go with it. It was about this time that I formed his acquaintance, through some business transaction, and he asked my professional advice as to what he could do with his land, which he had already begun to consider somewhat of an incumbrance. I replied to him that, if I was not greatly mistaken, in his little plot of ground lay a cure for all his bodily ills, and that besides it could add to the comforts if not the luxuries of his table if he would only work it. "I work it !" he exclaimed. "You don't suppose that these hands could dig or delve," holding up his thin and bloodless fingers, "and if they could I know nothing about gardening." I told him I thought neither objection insurmountable if he once begun.
The result of our conversation was, that he resolved to try, and try he did to a purpose. Our interview was in March, and before the end of April he had his lot all nicely dug over, the labor being done by his own hands during an hour and a half each morning. His custom was to get up at six o'clock and work at his garden until half past seven. This gave him ample time to dress, get breakfast, and be at his desk in the city by nine. The labor of merely digging was (to him) heavy and rather monotonous, but he stuck to it bravely, and when he again presented himself before me for plants and seeds and information as to what to do with them, it was with some pride that I saw my prescription had worked so well, for my friend then looked more like a farmer than a pallid clerk. The regulating of his little garden was a simple matter, and was done according to the following diagram:
During his first season, of course, he made some blunders and some failures, but his interest in the work increased year by year. His family was supplied with an abundance of all the fresh vegetables and fruits his limited space could admit of being grown - a supply that it would have taken at least $150 to purchase at retail, and stale at that. But the benefit derived from the cultivation of this cottage garden was health - strong, rugged health - that for the six years he was my neighbor, never once failed him.
I know this case is an extremely exceptional one, for I never knew another man who so resolutely worked himself into health. There are hundreds of business men, book-keepers, salesmen, clerks, and the like who live in the suburbs of all great cities, many of whom can ill afford to pay for the keeping of the plots surrounding their cottages, but who think they can far less afford to do the work themselves. As a consequence, in nine cases out of ten, the rear, at least, of their suburban plots is a wilderness of weeds. But this is not the least of the evils, the owner has a certain amount of muscular force, and this, be it more or less, being unused, its possessor pays the penalty of his laziness in dyspepsia, and a host of other ills. The proofs are apparent everywhere that garden operations are conducive to health and longevity. The work is not unduly laborious, and when fairly entered into has a never-failing interest. The growing and the watching of the great variety of plants gives a healthy tone to the mind, while the physical labor demanded by cultivation takes care of the body.