from Fruit Garden and Home
Pansies for Thoughts
by Ellis Parker Butler
Let your garden solve your problems
Mr. Butler fishes a real thought out of his inkwell this month. A good share of the world's high-class thinking has been done in the garden, whether in man-made gardens or the far-flung fields. Bryant, at nineteen, caught the truth of it in his "Thanatopsis." Old Omar ruminates a bit on life and finally discovers nothing more worthwhile than to meditate under his garden wall.
Solomon, whom we have long considered the world's wisest man, we now know to have been deficient in wisdom. He wrote: "I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruit; I made me pools of water ... and, behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." Solomon didn't get any fun out of his gardens because he "ordered" them made; he didn't build them with his own hands, and so they couldn't serve him. How much greater might his wisdom have been, if ... if ... IF he had gone to pulling weeds in them!
Give your garden a chance to heal your hurts, renew your strength, solve your problems. One sure way to keep your grasp on reason, in the heat and trials that come, is to keep your feet on the ground!
Now, I'm saying Ophelia had it all wrong. In that famous "Act IV, Scene V -- Elsinore -- A Room in the Castle," where she is having her mild dementia chat with Laertes, she says: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember; and there is pansies, that's for thoughts," but in my opinion Ophelia was a raw hand at the garden game and did not know what she was talking about.
To my notion a garden is the greatest thinking place in the world, but I'd be the last man to boom pansies for thoughts. Of course, we have to excuse poor Ophelia more or less; she was a swell girl of the aristocratic classes and probably spent most of her time in the house and only went into the garden when she wanted to flirt with Hamlet or some other young fellow, or to pick a bunch of flowers for the vase on the center-table when somebody was going to call, and she did not know much about gardening. The old folks probably hired a gardener. And, anyway, Ophelia was a little off her norm, so to speak, and had bats in her belfry, and never knew as much as I know, to begin with. We've got to make allowance for Ophelia and just say that when she cracked up pansies for thoughts she meant well but was inexperienced. After a long experience in and near gardens I should say that the flower for thoughts was the plantain weed, with crab grass running it a close second.
I feel that I am peculiarly fitted to speak on this subject for several reasons. Although you might not think it, this business of authorship in which I engage requires that I do a little thinking now and then. I may, for example, sit at my typewriter pounding out a love story at a hot pace, and all at once I discover that Petunia, my beautiful heroine, must marry Henry J. Suggs or the story is all wrong and will come to no good end. But in looking back I find that in Paragraph 27 I have written that Henry P. Suggs was really a lady disguised in men's clothing, and that in Paragraph 48 I have written that Henry P. Suggs is Petunia's grandfather. Now, that's a terrible situation for that story to be in. Petunia can't very well marry Henry P. Suggs if Henry is a lady, and she can't very well marry him if he is her grandfather, and he can't very well be her grandfather if he is a lady anyway. That's how these stories that read so smoothly when you see them in print manage to get all balled up in the writing; you have no idea what a hard job we authors have; we are entitled to all the money we are paid, I assure you.
Well, I've tried sitting in front of the typewriter and thinking. It won't work. Somehow and somewhy, sitting in front of a typewriter and thinking about Petunia and Henry J. Suggs makes me sick at my stomach. And when that happens I think of my stomach, and not of Petunia and Henry. The thing to do is to get away from there -- get out of sight of the infernal manuscript -- and think. So I used to take a walk. I used to go downstairs and put on my hat and go walking. But almost invariably I would meet someone and he would say: Oh! you're through for the day, are you? You're going walking, are you? I'll go with you." And then he would talk of the price of coal, or who stood the best chance of being elected coroner, or what was the best cure for corns -- and none of these help a fellow to solve the troubles of Petunia and Henry. And then I discovered the value of a garden for thoughts.
Nothing in the world equals a garden for thoughts, and I am amazed that no one has heretofore discovered the fact and spread it broadcast. Or would be if I was not always discovering supremely valuable things no one else seems to have brains enough to discover. Somehow the world seems to depend on me to discover these things, and has gotten into the habit of lying back and saying. "Well, no matter; Butler will do it."
I suppose there must be two or three hundred thousand people in the United States who have learned that the best and clearest thinking can be done in a garden or on a nice weedy lawn. I have learned it, anyway. I have found that not only can I think a problem to a satisfactory conclusion there, but that when I am short of ideas they will come to me most quickly in the garden, and work themselves out in my brain most satisfactorily there. Most of my best story thoughts in recent years have come to me in the garden. The garden is the place for you to go when you have a trouble that needs thinking out to a sane and satisfactory finish.
In the first place, your work in your garden becomes more or less automatic, and that gives your brain a chance to work at its highest efficiency, which it always does when it is working unconsciously. You are there among the flowers -- who are always friendly and sympathetic -- and you have that satisfactory feeling that you are doing something well worthwhile as you pull a weed. You feel that if your wife sees you there she won't think you are loafing. In the second place the flowers are so right that your thoughts are apt to be right. If I try to think in my study I see a crack in the wallpaper, a smudge on the woodwork, a book misplaced, or some other thing that should be corrected, and an innate desire to correct these things interferes with clear thinking.
I most highly recommend the garden and the back lawn for thinking purposes. Get into the garden, or down on the lawn with a basket and a weeding tool, and your thoughts will go far. I recommend the garden for problem thinking and the weedy lawn for working out plans, ideas, and schemes. I'll bet that scads of women who "simply did not know what to get for dinner" have turned out thousands of absolutely delicious dinners because they have gone out of the kitchen and worked in the garden for a few minutes. There, with a garden tool in hand, the mind is away from the kitchen stove, and a broader and nobler food vision comes, a different and delicious dinner is served that night, and home is made happier, and divorce or wife-murder averted.
I'll venture to declare that if seven hundred and sixty-four (764) merchants who failed in business last year had gone into a garden with a bunch of sticks whittled to points at one end and with a ball of twine, and had thought while tying up their wives' drooping campanulas, instead of sitting at an office desk and getting nowhere by chasing their problem from the inkwell to the sponge cup and back again, there would have been five hundred and eighteen (518) less failures reported by Dun and Bradstreet, and if the other two hundred and forty-six (246) had gone home each day at five and squatted on the lawn among the crab grass, plantain, self-heal and dandelions, to think quietly, there would have been no failures at all.
For plain and simple lawn thinking I prefer the plantain to the dandelion. The dandelion has too much root and it sticks too far down toward China to induce placid and gentle thoughts. Out of some 7,000,000 dandelions I have dug only 6 came up with complete roots; 6,999,994 broke off with part of the root still in the ground. This, although you may say nothing vocally, causes the subconscious mind to say "Oh, prunes!" and renders the stream of thought more turgid than it should be. On the other hand the plantain has short roots and it does not matter, anyway, whether you get them all up or not. When you have grasped a plantain leaf and shoved your weeding tool below the crown of the plantain root, the whole thing comes up sweetly and freely, inducing a mood of joyful satisfaction and beatific elation in the inner consciousness that uplifts the soul and clarifies the thoughts. A nice leafy plantain, big enough to fill a teapot, can for me clear the track for a thought that is worth five hundred dollars cash money from any Grade A magazine.
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) is a dandy thought-helper. It looks hard to pull and it comes up easily. Galensoga, which is our most prolific bare-soil weed here in Flushing comes out of the soil so easily it is like oil to the thought-machine. Crab grass is good for hard and knotty problems that need a lot of thinking -- things like how you are going to raise the money for your daughter's college fees and expenses this year, or a plot for a complete novel, or what you ought to do about your mother-in-law.
In the garden the best thought-helpers are the things that have to be tied to stakes, sprayed, disbudded, transplanted and mulched. The pansy, that Ophelia advertised for thoughts, is about the poorest in the lot. I don't want to get in wrong with the pansies, or to hurt their feelings, but the truth is that the pansy is about as valuable for thoughts as the plaster lion you buy and put on the parlor mantel and never have to do anything with thereafter. The pansy, once planted, does not give the hands and the conscious mind enough to do. You might as well look to a fence post or an oak tree for thoughts. Give me tulips, which have to be planted and unplanted, labeled and assorted, sacked, stored and fussed with.
So, unless you go into the garden with a problem to be worked out you should see that you go there with the pleasantest thoughts you can take along, especially if it is a hot day and the mosquitoes are fierce. In the garden, as you bend over the flowers and the weeds and let your thoughts have their way with you, your thoughts get to be more and more what they were in the beginning. In other words, I have found that if I go into the garden with a pleasant thought my thoughts grow pleasanter and pleasanter as I work, but if I go there with an unpleasant or unkind thought it is rather apt to grow unpleasanter or unkinder. If I go into the garden thinking "Should I speak to my neighbor about those chickens of his?" I am apt to end up by thinking "The next time a chicken comes into my garden I shall get a cannon and shoot that unneighborly chicken-raiser in the stomach," or, as I swat at the mosquitoes, my thoughts will run like this: "A lot he cares whether his chickens come into my garden or not ... Nobody seems to care about other people's rights any more, anyway ... Nobody ever did care, by garsh! ... Human beings are a mighty mean lot of trash, take them any way you please ... And, thunderation! all a man has to look forward to is dying and going to heaven and meeting the same bunch again ... What's the use of being decent, anyway? ... I wish I was dead!"
Thoughts of that sort are more apt to develop when pruning climbing roses without gloves.
So I think we garden folk ought to be especially careful not to go into the garden when our livers are out of order, or go only when we have a problem to solve. So much depends on us. The rest of the world, as we know, has only half-thoughts or is thinking in the wrong direction or not truly thinking at all, and the universe depends on us for its only first-class thinking because we in the gardens have the time to think and the place to think in and the avocation that stimulates thought. We should go to the garden with a happy thought to begin with, and let it expand there. Then the world will be all right. At least, I hope so. But if we garden folk don't think pleasant thoughts, who will? Who else can?