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An Island Garden
AT the Isles of Shoals, among the ledges of the largest island, Appledore, lies the small garden which in the following pages I have endeavored to describe. Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer. A lonely child, living on the lighthouse island ten miles away from the mainland, every blade of grass that sprang out of the ground, every humblest weed, was precious in my sight, and I began a little garden when not more than five years old. From this, year after year, the larger one, which has given so much pleasure to so many people, has grown. The first small bed at the lighthouse island contained only Marigolds, pot Marigolds, fire-colored blossoms which were the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes. This scrap of garden, literally not more than a yard square, with its barbaric splendors of color, I worshiped like any Parsee. When I planted the dry, brown seeds I noticed how they were shaped, like crescents, with a fine line of ornamental dots, a "beading" along the whole length of the centre, — from this crescent sprang the Marigold plant, each of whose flowers was like
" a mimic sun,
With ray-like florets round a disk-like face."
In my childish mind I pondered much on this fact of the crescent growing into the full-rayed orb. Many thoughts had I of all the flowers I knew; very dear were they, so that after I had gathered them I felt sorry, and I had a safe place between the rocks to which I carried them when they were withered, and hid them away from all eyes, they were so precious even then.
The dear flowers! Summer after summer they return to me, always young and fresh and beautiful; but so many of the friends who have watched them and loved them with me are gone, and they return no more. I think of the lament of Moschus for Bion:
"Ah me, when the Mallows wither in the garden, and the green Parsley, and the curled tendrils of the Anise, on a later day they spring, in another year; but we men, we, the great and mighty, or wise, when once we have died, in hollow earth we sleep, gone down into silence."
Into silence! How deep, how unbroken is that silence! But because of tender memories of loving eyes that see them no more, my flowers are yet more beloved and tenderly cherished.
Year after year the island garden has grown in beauty and charm, so that in response to the many entreaties of strangers as well as friends who have said to me, summer after summer, "Tell us how you do it! Write a book about it and tell us how it is done, that we may go also and do likewise," I have written this book at last. Truly it contains the fruit of much sweet and bitter experience. Of what I speak I know, and of what I know I have freely given. I trust it may help the patient gardener to a reasonable measure of success, and to that end I have spared no smallest detail that seemed to me necessary, no suggestion that might prove helpful.
Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see.
Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand!
This is a magic surprising, a mystery
Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.
What is it? Only a handful of earth: to your touch
A dry rough powder you trample beneath your feet,
Dark and lifeless; but think for a moment, how much
It hides and holds that is beautiful, bitter, or sweet.
Think of the glory of color! The red of the rose,
Green of the myriad leaves and the fields of grass,
Yellow as bright as the sun where the daffodil blows,
Purple where violets nod as the breezes pass.
Think of the manifold form, of the oak and the vine,
Nut, and fruit, and cluster, and ears of corn;
Of the anchored water-lily, a thing divine,
Unfolding its dazzling snow to the kiss of morn.
Think of the delicate perfumes borne on the gale,
Of the golden willow catkin's odor of spring,
Of the breath of the rich narcissus waxen-pale,
Of the sweet pea's flight of flowers, of the nettle's sting.
Strange that this lifeless thing gives vine, flower, tree,
Color and shape and character, fragrance too;
That the timber that builds the house, the ship for the sea,
Out of this powder its strength and its toughness drew!
That the cocoa among the palms should suck its milk
From this dry dust, while dates from the self-same soil
Summon their sweet rich fruit: that our shining silk
The mulberry leaves should yield to the worm's slow toil.
How should the poppy steal sleep from the very source
That grants to the grapevine juice that can madden or cheer?
How does the weed find food for its fabric coarse
Where the lilies proud their blossoms pure uprear?
Who shall compass or fathom God's thought profound?
We can but praise, for we may not understand;
But there's no more beautiful riddle the whole world round
Than is bid in this heap of dust I hold in my hand.