What a wonderful read Karel Capek’s The Gardening Year is! Although Mr. Capek’s book was first published in 1929, much of his writing is as pertinent today as it was nearly a century ago. We gardener types can all relate to his amusing anecdotes, such as knowing the exact moment when the first forsythia bud appeared in spring or railing against the weather.
While reading this book, I was struck by Capek’s instinctive understanding of the workings of a gardener’s mind. He is able to poke gentle fun at gardeners because he obviously experienced many of these foibles himself.
Capek’s approach in talking about what happens each month in a gardener’s year is an engaging one. Most gardeners would nod their heads in agreement as Capek outlines many a gardener’s thoughts and tasks during the gardening year. The accompanying caricatures, drawn by his brother, add much appeal to Capek’s words.
I had a nostalgic moment while reading a small chapter inserted between Capek’s discussion of a gardener’s life in July and August. Here we are treated to a lovely description of what Capek sees as “clearly distinguished botanical groups” at railway stations and at butcher shops. With the disappearance of most passenger railway stations and independent butcher shops here, I could only reflect on what I remember of that time long ago as we waited on the station platform for a train’s arrival.
If you are a cacti lover, then you will enjoy Capek’s musings on the cult of the mysterious cacti. In his words, “ there are profound mysteries in a Real Cactus Soil which no cactus maniac would betray, even if you broke him on the wheel.” I suppose it was a reflection of his times too, that Capek compared a cacti collection to a “camp of war-like pygmies” and then declared that “life is war”. Some things never change, do they?
While reading Capek, I had a sense that the autumn season was his favourite time of year. He closes the month of October with this beautiful statement:
A garden is never finished. In that sense it is like the human world and all human undertakings.
No truer words have ever been spoken.