This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Kind Readers, - The thought has sometimes crossed my mind, as it has perhaps the minds of others, how far man is justified in destroying many of the birds, insects, creeping things, and the like, which he looks upon, sometimes with, more frequently we may fear without, reason, as plagues; how far, in short, man, as a creature, is doing what he ought to do in destroying the life of creatures.
The slaughter of animals and birds for food may be looked upon as necessary, and therefore blameless; but even to this it seems to me that there should be some limit.
I will put an instance: when a number of persons of good education, and frequently of high position in the world, meet in some well-stocked preserves of game, and at the end of what is called a day of sport, the slaughtered pheasants and hares are counted, not by tens, but by hundreds, is this necessary? Can it be right? Can a merciful Creator look upon this wholesale destruction of His creatures with approval? I leave others to answer the question for themselves; but my own heart tells me that such a destruction of life, mainly for the sake of sport, can no more be justified than the bull-fights of the Peninsula.
I now come to what are called the gardeners' pests, birds, insects, creeping things, etc. There can be no doubt but that all these were created for some wise end; nothing has been made in vain, of this we may rest assured. Some over-busy people have learnt this by experience. Those who have endeavoured to destroy rooks, chaffinches, sparrows, etc, have often found to their cost that God had given these birds a necessary work to do; and that when they have not been permitted to perform their appointed duty, evil has come of it in the shape of unchecked myriads of grubs and the like. For my part, I cannot believe that one of the birds which frequent our fields and gardens ought to be destroyed; I would frighten them away by all means when they are particularly troublesome, and keep them off with nets, etc.; but I should at other times leave them unmolested to perform their appointed work.
Insects doubtless have their uses, though, I must confess, I have greater difficulty in discovering what they are; still I would say, Do not destroy more than are absolutely necessary. I feel sure, if we do destroy these living armies, some other pests will rise up in increased numbers, and bring unlooked-for destruction in their train.
Again, as regards creeping things; I cannot say much in behalf of slugs and snails, yet I never have them destroyed in large quantities without a qualm of conscience; surely they must be the destroyers of something else which needs destroying; and if they multiply upon us in an unusual manner, may not this circumstance suggest to us the possibility that, in our over-anxiety to rid ourselves of some other fancied pests, we have been destroying- the natural enemies which would have kept in check these troublesome hordes? I have more to say for earth-worms. I believe them to be the active members of a large draining association for the benefit of man; and 1 do not hesitate to affirm, that he who chops a worm in two with a spade, or otherwise destroys it, has done a cruel and a foolish action.
Of a like character is the common practice of killing harmless toads and frogs, - some of the most useful auxiliaries of a gardening establishment.
The sum of all this is, that it appears to me to be worth the consideration of every gardener, how he may destroy as little as possible of the sensitive creation; and that he should not think he has done well when, with fell determination, he has destroyed as many as possible of God's creatures, but when he has learnt to spare every one which he cannot convince himself, on due reflection, to be a downright plague.
Descending in the scale of creation, I come now to the vegetable world. Here, as we have no pain to inflict, no blood to shed, I have no doubt we may exercise our discretion as to the destruction of plants, weeds, etc.
At the Fall the ground was cursed, and it began to bring forth briers, thorns, and the like. As, then, they seem to have been sent to punish man for his sin, to increase his difficulty in tilling the ground, I see not but what man may do his best to root them out, and thus lessen the labour which has become his portion.
Yet even the destruction of small plants and weeds cannot be carried out, without exciting in the minds of the thoughtful some passing feeling of regret at uprooting a being full of life, thus bringing it to a premature, an early death. Burns the poet seems to have felt this when he wrote his sweet little poem on " A Mountain Daisy, upon turning one down with the plough in April 1786." The first stanza shews the poet's feeling:
"' Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r, Thou's met me in an evil hour; For I maun crush amang the stoure.
Thy slender stem; To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
Thou bonnie gem".
The poet's moral in the last stanza is also worth recalling:
"Ev'n thou who mourn'st the Daisy's fate, That fate is thine - no distant date; Stern Ruin's ploughshare drives, elate,
Full on thy bloom, Till crush'd beneath the furrow's weight.
Shall be thy doom".
Kind readers, will it be believed, that after this word of mercy lor the sensitive creation, this pleasing reminiscence of the poet's tenderness of heart, I should come forward to counsel the destruction of the Daisy, - to place before you a weapon for its extirpation?* Yet so it is: it may be thought inconsistency on my part; be it so. I do not desire its destruction every where, but I must counsel its complete removal from lawns, and all portions of neatly kept grass. I look upon a Daisy as one of the worst, perhaps the very worst, enemy of a good grass-sward.
1 only know of one method of eradicating this weed from a lawn, and that is the use of a small instrument like a dock-fork in miniature. This roots them out with ease when the ground is not too dry; it can be used readily by a woman or child.
I do not know any thing that spoils a good lawn so much, or overpowers the grass so quickly, as the " wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r." This fork will, at a very small expense, and with little amount of labour, supply the remedy. The dimensions and the plan of it are given in the accompanying woodcut. Any persons looking upon a lawn after it has been freed from the Daisy, though regretting its untimely fate, may reap the benefit of Burns's moral; or they may be reminded of the final separation and rooting out of the wicked from the righteous, of the unsullied scene of Heaven, where nothing will be allowed to have a place which offendeth or defileth.
J. H. G.
* Our correspondent sent us a very neat drawing of his fork, and the dimensions of the several parts; but we have used the above, which differs from it in nothing essential, and which may be made by any village blacksmith. The whole length of the iron part is about five inches, and that of the handle nine inches. It must be understood that we do not entirely concur with our amiable correspondent on one or two points. The destruction of birds, in our opinion, becomes a duty when they are too numerous: the extirpation of slugs and snails from our gardens should always be enforced to the utmost. - En.