This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
I am quite sensible of the risk I am running in attempting to depict what may be termed a one-sided view of former gardening-life - apprenticeship. But let me here say that I do not for a moment doubt that equally graphic pictures from real life could be sketched of an opposite state of things even at the same period to which I allude. Let me also add, that the lessons I have adduced, and shall hope further to multiply, may be ridiculed as tame, their logical sequence by no means clear, and the propriety of their insertion here even doubtful. Still, let me remark that I have found the practical application of the principles by no means useless in my dealings with those whom at different periods I have had under my charge.
Again, I may be accused of being prosy. No excuse for myself will I here plead, for a life spent amidst the beauties of nature should be a poetically-inspiring one. But, alas ! drones will be drones. I must not, however, further for the present digress.
I shall, for convenience' sake, arrange the present chapter, sermonlike, under the following heads (whether I shall strictly adhere to my divisional arrangement I will not venture positively to assert, knowing too well how volatile my mental efforts are). But now for the orthodox way of crudely expressing my thoughts. Firstly, my autobiography; secondly, my practical progress; thirdly, my supplementary modes of mental improvement. To be quite consistent, I think I should add, fourthly, lessons to be learnt; and, fifthly and finally, application. This arrangement must be certainly unexceptionable. Would that the rendering of the details could be as hopefully regarded! My motto seems to be Festlna lente.
But now to plunge at length in media res. I have a vivid recollection of my first "job." I was to make some thousands of cuttings of the common Laurel. My master provided me with a brand-new knife (I know not whether it was a Saynor's or not, for at the moment I do not remember whether that now celebrated firm was then in existence). One thing I am conscious of, that, unfledged chicken as I was, just emerged as it were from my mother's lap, I thought it was a hardship to be required to make these future trees in the open air, exposed to wintry winds and rain, when I might just as well have had them under cover. But I did not rebel - I did not complain - I did not murmur: how vain would it have been! Subsequently, how much greater cause for doing so!
My fingers seem- now benumbed, and the cold east wind penetrates, in imagination, my snug little sanctum as I recall to memory the cruel blasts that would so boisterously blow, even in a southern county, in an exposed position, in blustering March - as I think upon the cold icy dew that would so persistently present itself upon the green leaves and scanty flowers in this early part of my career. My hard fate, thought I!
Ere the dawn of morn had fairly presented itself, my solitary individual self might have regularly been seen in the flower-garden, in front of the mansion, picking the Chestnut and Beech leaves from the last remains of autumn and early spring flowering-plants - from the charming sprigs of evergreens which had been inserted to represent a garden of living beauties. Picture to yourself the desolation, though, after a blustering wind! Realise my stupidity if you can! I used to think how puerile to strip the Laurustinus of its beautiful waxy flowers, the Portugal Laurel of its sombre foliage, and the Yew of its churchyard proclivities, to gratify the fastidious taste of the " family" and visitors.
Those dreaded mornings, when Anemones, Ranunculuses, and other successional bulbs had to be freed from the droppings of surrounding trees, will ever live in my remembrance. Listen to my then specious reasoning! Why were deciduous trees ever created? Why, since they are, do not their leaves fall in May, when they might be gathered up pleasantly? Oh, my poor fingers! Would, Mr Editor, that you could raise the shades of Leech to portray them; or rather my full-length portrait, as at such a moment I can imagine it appeared upon paper. But here note the perverseness of human nature. If this, my special occupation before the "family" was down, had at that time been taken from me and deputed to another, I should have desired that the bitterest furies of aeolus would blast all his efforts. I began to regard this flower-garden (I will give you a sketch of it hereafter, Mr Editor, if you will accept it) as my own peculiar domain. And now I am about to moralise, so there will be an opportunity for you to skip a few lines.
Do the apprentices of the present day enter upon their duties so thoroughly as to regard themselves essentials of the establishment'? Do they love work for its own sake, flowers for their beauty, their attention to them the instrument for acquiring knowledge? Do they regard difficulties as the sources of pleasure, from the enjoyment derivable from surmounting them; inconveniences as necessary hardships, inseparably connected with their selected profession, and only to be smiled at after endurance? Rather do not too many young men regard the work set before them as the creation of professional tyranny, performing it carelessly, that they may be relieved of it.
Fond indulgence ! my idol was destined for another's worship. I was summarily dismissed, and sent to a more laborious occupation. Why was this? Jealousy, jealousy which has dogged my footsteps through life, brought this about. True, I was at this precious spot at early dawn, when the autumnal shower drenched me. I was there when the icy dew subsequently chilled me, when the hoar-frost whitened me, when the eastern wind penetrated me, when the wintry snow covered me; but I was also there when the gentle zephyr of spring stimulated me, when the rich emerald leaves delighted me, when the bursting buds joyed me. I was there to nurse the newty-planted summer-beds, and to watch their development; but, alas! when my favourite Carnation began to throw up its spikes, and I was, with a gardener's natural instinct, training it, my joys were blighted. How 1 Lady S. commended my neatness in tying and training, and requested me to attend exclusively to all such work in her pet garden as needed attention. I am aware of the imprudence of the request.. A kind word to my master might have secured her aim, and saved me a mountain of trouble.
The words were thoughtlessly spoken, however, for she was naturally too kind to give wilful uneasiness or pain to the humblest creature, much less to one who had contrived to insinuate himself into her good graces. The words were spoken to a boy whose conceit was already sufficiently advanced to need no further stimulus - to one who had been treated harshly, and who, consequently, rejoiced that he had found one at least who could appreciate his efforts - to one, moreover, who had not sufficient tact to represent a command under the more attractive phase of a request - to one, alas! who knew that he was already regarded with jealousy, and foolhardy enough to care not how much he increased it. Folly of youth! Independence may degenerate into insolence, indifference to scorn. Seedling errors and mistakes may produce a plentiful crop of ill-flavoured fruit!
I was forbidden the garden, and had to incur the odium of declining to obey orders without an opportunity of exculpating myself. I had neglected to obey her ladyship's commands, and was henceforth placed without the pale of her favour.
Green-eyed monster, jealousy! how many a breast hast thou robbed of ease and pleasure! how many a wreck hast thou not made of body and soul! But I must proceed.
I will not attempt to depict daily occurrences, for they would fill a volume. I will only mention two or three that at the moment strike me, with the view of improving the circumstances.
Hardly-worked and hardly-treated apprentices, listen ! During the three years I was there, I was told the names of two plants by my master, and these names I have now forgotten; and this special favour would not, I suppose, have been shown me, if I had not detected him in an act of vice which would have cost him his situation if I had mentioned it. "Conscience doth make cowards of us all." And, conscience-stricken, he became suddenly familiar with me, until he blindly supposed from my silence with regard to it that my eyes and other senses had been at the critical moment oblivious. Thus we madly parley with sin till it gets the dominion over us. Thus we fondly deceive ourselves that human eye is unconscious of our defects. Young men, before you grumble at your difficulties, and envelop yourselves in deceit, reflect that others have their trials as well as you, and that cunning may be detected by the penetration of the simplest!
One who has Whistled at the Spade.