The First Of Spring by A. A. Milne

There may be gardeners who can appear to be busy all the year round–doing even in the winter, their little bit under glass. But for myself I wait reverently until the 22nd of March is here. Then, Spring having officially arrived, I step out on to the lawn and summon my head-gardener.

“James,” I say, “the winter is over at last. What have we got in that big brown-looking bed in the middle there?”

“Well, Sir,” he says, “we don’t seem to have anything do we, like?”

“Perhaps there’s something down below that hasn’t pushed through yet?”

“Maybe there is.”

“I wish you knew more about it,” I say angrily; “I want to bed out the macaroni there. Have we got a spare bed, with nothing going on underneath?”

“I don’t know, Sir. Shall I dig ’em up and have a look?”

“Yes, perhaps you’d better,” I say.

Between ourselves, James is a man of no initiative. He has to be told everything.

However mention of him brings me to my first rule for young gardeners–

“Never sow Spring Onions and New Potatoes in the same bed.”

I did this by accident last year. The fact is, when the onions were given to me, I quite thought they were young daffodils; a mistake any one might make. Of course I don’t generally keep daffodils and potatoes together; but James swore that the hard round things were tulip bulbs. It is perfectly useless to pay your head-gardener half-a-crown a week if he doesn’t know the difference between potatoes and tulip bulbs. Well, anyhow, there they were, in the Herbaceous Border together, and they grew up side by side; the onions getting stronger every day, and the potatoes more sensitive. At last, just when they were ripe for picking, I found that the young onions had actually brought tears to the eyes of the potatoes–to such an extent that the latter were too damp for baking or roasting, and had to be mashed. Now, as everybody knows, mashed potatoes are beastly.

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THE RHUBARB BORDER

gives me more trouble than all the rest of the garden. I started it a year ago with the idea of keeping the sun off the young carnations. It acted excellently, and the complexion of the flowers improved tenfold. Then one day I discovered James busily engaged in pulling up the rhubarb.

“What are you doing?” I cried. “Do you want the young carnations to go all brown?”

“I was going to send some in to the cook,” he grumbled.

“To the cook! What do you mean? Rhubarb isn’t a vegetable.”

“No, it’s a fruit.”

I looked at James anxiously. He had a large hat on, and the sun couldn’t have got to the back of his neck.

“My dear James,” I said, “I don’t pay you half-a-crown a week for being funny. Perhaps we had better make it two shillings in future.”

However, he persisted in his theory that in the spring people stewed rhubarb in tarts, and ate it!

Well, I have discovered since that this is actually so. People really do grow it in their gardens, not with the idea of keeping the sun off the young carnations, but under the impression that it is a fruit. Consequently I have found it necessary to adopt a firm line with my friends’ rhubarb. On arriving at any house for a visit, the first thing I say to my host is, “May I see your rhubarb bed? I have heard such a lot about it.”

“By all means,” he says, feeling rather flattered, and leads the way into the garden.

“What a glorious sunset,” I say, pointing to the west.

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“Isn’t it?” he says, turning round; and then I surreptitiously drop a pint of weed-killer on the bed.

Next morning I get up early and paint the roots of the survivors with iodine.

Once my host, who for some reason had got up early too, discovered me.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Just painting the roots with iodine,” I said, “to prevent the rhubarb falling out.”

“To prevent what?”

“To keep the green fly away,” I corrected myself. “It’s the new French intensive system.”

But he was suspicious, and I had to leave two or three stalks untreated. We had those for lunch that day. There was only one thing for a self-respecting man to do. I obtained a large plateful of the weed and emptied the sugar basin and cream jug over it. Then I took a mouthful of the pastry, gave a little start, and said, “Oh, is this rhubarb? I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Whereupon I pushed my plate away and started on the cheese.

ASPARAGUS

Asparagus wants watching very carefully. It requires to be tended like a child. Frequently I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if James has remembered to put the hot-water bottle in the asparagus bed. Whenever I get up to look I find that he has forgotten.

He tells me to-day that he is beginning to think that the things which are coming up now are not asparagus after all, but young hyacinths. This is very annoying. I am inclined to fancy that James is not the man he was. For the sake of his reputation in the past I hope he is not.

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POTTING OUT

I have spent a very busy morning potting out the nasturtiums. We have them in three qualities, mild, medium, and full. Nasturtiums are extremely peppery flowers, and take offence so quickly that the utmost tact is required to pot them successfully. In a general way all the red or reddish flowers should be potted as soon as they are old enough to stand it, but it is considered bad form among horticulturists to pot the white.

James has been sowing the roses. I wanted all the pink ones in one bed, and all the yellow ones in another, and so on; but James says you never can tell for certain what colour a flower is going to be until it comes up. Of course, any fool could tell then.

“You should go by the picture on the outside of the packet,” I said.

“They’re very misleading,” said James.

“Anyhow, they must be all brothers in the same packet.”

“You might have a brother with red hair,” says James.

I hadn’t thought of that.

GRAFTING

Grafting is when you try short approaches over the pergola in somebody else’s garden, and break the best tulip. You mend it with a ha’penny stamp and hope that nobody will notice; at any rate not until you have gone away on the Monday. Of course in your own garden you never want to graft.

I hope, at some future time to be allowed–even encouraged–to refer to such things as The Most Artistic Way to Frame Cucumbers, How to Stop Tomatoes Blushing (the homoeopathic method of putting them next to the French beans is now discredited), and Spring Fashions in Fox Gloves. But for the moment I have said enough. The great thing to remember in gardening is that flowers, fruits and vegetables alike can only be cultivated with sympathy. Special attention should be given to backward and delicate plants. They should be encouraged to make the most of themselves. Never forget that flowers, like ourselves, are particular about the company they keep. If a hyacinth droops in the celery bed, put it among the pansies.

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But above all, mind, a firm hand with the rhubarb.

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