Friday, May 18, 2012

Books in the Garden

Spring is in full bloom. Flox, iris, and even the delphinium are bursting to beautify our borders. Honeysuckle is sweetening the air. Strawberries are ripe for picking and mouth-wateringly delicious.

In the vegetable garden, the peas are flowering and the potatoes are up. Every night we have enormous salads because the greens are so lush and prolific that we can’t eat them fast enough. Whenever we open the back door the dizzying fragrance of cilantro asails our nostrils encouraging us to breathe in deeply to savor it to the full.

It’s an exhilarating time of year. Wouldn’t it be blissful to take a good book and go sit outdoors and relish it in the midst of all this beauty? I must dismiss this wistful daydream, however, since ‘tis the season for working the ground, sowing, planting, weeding, and mulching. With the exuberance of spring goes a fair bit of exhaustion. There’s not too much time for relaxing with a book.

We have a little farm, but are not farmers by birth or upbringing. Hence, we learn everything by failure. This year we are working on a friend’s farm to gain some valuable knowledge and experience – to gain some blisters, muscles and sunburn. These things do not discourage us, because we love food, preparing delectable meals, and when we have labored to get it that food tastes even better. For the past few years we have read dozens of books on gardening and farming, which have been helpful, but skill doesn’t come from absorbing information alone, but combined with dirt under the fingernails does produce living things.

Last Friday, after about an hour of squatting to thin and weed carrots, our little friend Sam, eight-years-old, came over to lend a hand – and to snitch a few baby carrots, sweeter than candy. Emily turned up a worm and Sam immediately forgot the carrots to examine it. Worms are one of our best friends in the garden, their whole life purpose serving us incalculably.

“Do you know which end the head is?” he asked, just as I was about to expound about the value of worms.

“I imagine it’s the end that’s moving in that direction,” Emily logically responded.

“See that band there?” he pointed, “that’s how you know where the head is.”

“How did you know about that, Sam?”

“From a book on worms I was reading the other day," was the matter-of-fact answer.

This is a particularly amusing interchange as books on worms are a library memory for us. When we had been open for lending books for maybe three weeks, a mother came in asking for books on worms for their 4-H project. Nothing panics the soul of a librarian more than realizing she doesn’t have a book to offer. Fortunately we had a book – one. The next three 4-H moms through the door weren't so lucky. Consequently, for the next year, every living book on worms we ran across, we bought. When Sam’s mother wanted some living books on nature topics several weeks ago, we told her how excellent this particular worm book was and she took it.


Charlotte Mason refers to the “science of relations”, which is a fancy term for the natural way children make connections between the things they know about already and the things they continue to learn. Yes children need a rich supply of living books, books full of living ideas that come alive to them and feed the living person. However, she also challenges parents to help their children learn the book of nature by being out in it, observing, exploring, scrutinizing, experiencing real life. Her opinion was that children were too much in the world of books and not enough in the world of things. True, Sam knew something about worms from a book. It’s hard to say, though, which came first, the knowledge from the book about worms from his shelf, or the interest in the book because of the knowledge he had from firsthand experience with worms. The book of nature makes the world of nature interesting, and the world of nature makes the book of nature interesting.

There are seeds in the garden that flourish into beauty for the eyes and fruit for the body. There are seeds of ideas in books that flourish into knowledge for the mind and fruit for the soul. The thing they have in common is life. Sow the seed, reap the harvest.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Now I am very curious as to the name of this excellent living book about worms. I didn't know there was such a thing! I really need to improve our little science section. Most of the books are the glossy photo/disjointed text modern sort - bought before I knew any better.

    1. In my flurry to get back out to the garden I forgot to include the link to Sam's book: Earthworms by Dorothy Childs Hogner. It's now included in the post--sorry to make you wait!