Go back to Margery's Garden
Sara Cone Bryant (1873 - Unknown)
[I have always been inclined to avoid, in my work among
children, the "how to make" and "how to do" kind of story;
it is too likely to trespass on the ground belonging by right to
its more artistic and less intentional kinsfolk. Nevertheless,
there is a legitimate place for the instruction-story. Within
its own limits, and especially in a school use, it has a real
purpose to serve, and a real desire to meet. Children have a
genuine taste for such morsels of practical information, if the
bites aren't made too big and too solid. And to the teacher of
the first grades, from whom so much is demanded in the way of
practical instruction, I know that these stories are a boon.
They must be chosen with care, and used with discretion, but they
need never be ignored.
I venture to give some little stories of this type, which I hope
may be of use in the schools where country life and country
work is an unknown experience to the children.]
There was once a little girl named Margery,
who had always lived in the city.
The flat where her mother and father lived
was at the top of a big apartment-house,
and you couldn't see a great deal from the
windows, except clothes-lines on other people's
roofs. Margery did not know much
about trees and flowers, but she loved
them dearly; whenever it was a pleasant
Sunday she used to go with her mother
and father to the park and look at the
lovely flower-beds. They seemed always
to be finished, though, and Margery
was always wishing she could see them
One spring, when Margery was nine,
her father's work changed so that he could
move into the country, and he took a little
house a short distance outside the town
where his new position was. Margery was
delighted. And the very first thing she
said, when her father told her about it,
was, "Oh, may I have a garden? MAY
I have a garden?"
Margery's mother was almost as eager
for a garden as she was, and Margery's
father said he expected to live on their
vegetables all the rest of his life! So it was
soon agreed that the garden should be the
first thing attended to.
Behind the little house were apple trees,
a plum tree, and two or three pear trees;
then came a stretch of rough grass, and
then a stone wall, with a gate leading into
the pasture. It was in the grassy land that
the garden was to be. A big piece was to be
used for corn and peas and beans, and a
little piece at the end was to be saved for
"What shall we have in it?" asked her
"Flowers," said Margery, with shining
eyes,--"blue, and white, and yellow, and
pink,--every kind of flower!"
"Surely, flowers," said her mother,
"and shall we not have a little salad garden
in the midst, as they do in England?"
"What is a salad garden?" Margery asked.
"It is a garden where you have all the
things that make nice salad," said her
mother, laughing, for Margery was fond of
salads; "you have lettuce, and endive, and
romaine, and parsley, and radishes, and
cucumbers, and perhaps little beets and
"Oh! how good it sounds!" said
Margery. "I vote for the salad garden."
That very evening, Margery's father took
pencil and paper, and drew out a plan for
her garden; first, they talked it all over,
then he drew what they decided on; it
looked like the diagram on the next page.
"The outside strip is for flowers," said
Margery's father, "and the next marks
mean a footpath, all the way round the
beds; that is so you can get at the flowers
to weed and to pick; there is a wider path
through the middle, and the rest is all for
rows of salad vegetables."
"Papa, it is glorious!" said Margery.
Papa laughed. "I hope you will still
think it glorious when the weeding time
comes," he said, "for you know, you and
mother have promised to take care of this
garden, while I take care of the big one."
"I wouldn't NOT take care of it for
anything!" said Margery. "I want to feel that
it is my very own."
Her father kissed her, and said it was
certainly her "very own."
Two evenings after that, when Margery
was called in from her first ramble in a
"really, truly pasture," she found the
expressman at the door of the little house.
"Something for you, Margery," said
her mother, with the look she had when
something nice was happening.
It was a box, quite a big box, with a
label on it that said:--
MISS MARGERY BROWN,
From Seeds and Plants Company, Boston.
Margery could hardly wait to open it.
It was filled with little packages, all with
printed labels; and in the packages, of
course, were seeds. It made Margery
dance, just to read the names,--nasturtium,
giant helianthus, coreopsis, calendula,
Canterbury bells: more names than
I can tell you, and other packages,
bigger, that said, "Peas: Dwarf Telephone,"
and "Sweet Corn," and such things! Margery
could almost smell the posies, she
was so excited. Only, she had seen so
little of flowers that she did not always
know what the names meant. She did not
know that a helianthus was a sunflower
till her mother told her, and she had never
seen the dear, blue, bell-shaped flowers
that always grow in old-fashioned gardens,
and are called Canterbury bells. She
thought the calendula must be a strange,
grand flower, by its name; but her mother
told her it was the gay, sturdy, every-dayish
little posy called a marigold. There was
a great deal for a little city girl to be
surprised about, and it did seem as if morning
was a long way off!
"Did you think you could plant them in
the morning?" asked her mother. "You
know, dear, the ground has to be made
ready first; it takes a little time,--it may
be several days before you can plant."
That was another surprise. Margery
had thought she could begin to sow the
seed right off.
But this was what was done. Early the
next morning, a man came driving into
the yard, with two strong white horses; in
his wagon was a plough. I suppose you
have seen ploughs, but Margery never had,
and she watched with great interest, while
the man and her father took the plough from
the cart and harnessed the horses to it.
It was a great, three-cornered piece of
sharp steel, with long handles coming up
from it, so that a man could hold it in
place. It looked like this:--
"I brought a two-horse plough because
it's green land," the man said. Margery
wondered what in the world he meant; it
was green grass, of course, but what had
that to do with the kind of plough? "What
does he mean, father?" she whispered,
when she got a chance. "He means that
this land has not been ploughed before, or
not for many years; it will be hard to turn
the soil, and one horse could not pull the
plough," said her father. So Margery had
learned what "green land" was.
The man was for two hours ploughing
the little strip of land. He drove the sharp
end of the plough into the soil, and held it
firmly so, while the horses dragged it along
in a straight line. Margery found it
fascinating to see the long line of dark earth
and green grass come rolling up and turn
over, as the knife passed it. She could see
that it took real skill and strength to keep
the line even, and to avoid the stones.
Sometimes the plough struck a hidden stone,
and then the man was jerked almost off
his feet. But he only laughed, and said,
"Tough piece of land; be a lot better the
When he had ploughed, the man went
back to his cart and unloaded another
farm implement. This one was like a
three-cornered platform of wood, with a
long, curved, strong rake under it. It was
called a harrow, and it looked like this:--
The man harnessed the horses to it, and
then he stood on the platform and drove all
over the strip of land. It was fun to watch,
but perhaps it was a little hard to do. The
man's weight kept the harrow steady, and
let the teeth of the rake scratch and cut
the ground up, so that it did not stay in
"He scrambles the ground, father!"
"It needs scrambling," laughed her
father. "We are going to get more weeds
than we want on this green land, and the
more the ground is broken, the fewer there
After the ploughing and harrowing, the
man drove off, and Margery's father said
he would do the rest of the work in the
late afternoons, when he came home from
business; they could not afford too much
help, he said, and he had learned to take
care of a garden when he was a boy. So
Margery did not see any more done until
the next day.
But the next day there was hard work
for Margery's father! Every bit of that
"scrambled" turf had to be broken up
still more with a mattock and a spade,
and then the pieces which were full of
grass-roots had to be taken on a fork and
shaken, till the earth fell out; then the
grass was thrown to one side. That would
not have had to be done if the land had
been ploughed in the fall; the grass would
have rotted in the ground, and would have
made fertilizer for the plants. Now,
Margery's father put the fertilizer on the top,
and then raked it into the earth.
At last, it was time to make the place for
the seeds. Margery and her mother helped.
Father tied one end of a cord to a little
stake, and drove the stake in the ground
at one end of the garden. Then he took
the cord to the other end of the garden
and pulled it tight, tied it to another stake,
and drove that down. That made a straight
line for him to see. Then he hoed a trench,
a few inches deep, the whole length of the
cord, and scattered fertilizer in it. Pretty
soon the whole garden was in lines of
"Now for the corn," said father.
Margery ran and brought the seed
box, and found the package of corn. It
looked like kernels of gold, when it was
"May I help?" Margery asked, when
she saw how pretty it was.
"If you watch me sow one row, I think
you can do the next," said her father.
So Margery watched. Her father took a
handful of kernels, and, stooping, walked
slowly along the line, letting the kernels
fall, five or six at a time, in spots about a
foot apart; he swung his arm with a gentle,
throwing motion, and the golden seeds
trickled out like little showers, very
exactly. It was pretty to watch; it made
Margery think of a photograph her teacher
had, a photograph of a famous picture
called "The Sower." Perhaps you have
Putting in the seed was not so easy to do
as to watch; sometimes Margery got in too
much, and sometimes not enough; but
her father helped fix it, and soon she did
They planted peas, beans, spinach,
carrots, and parsnips. And Margery's father
made a row of holes, after that, for the
tomato plants. He said those had to be
transplanted; they could not be sown from
When the seeds were in the trenches
they had to be covered up, and Margery
really helped at that. It is fun to do it.
You stand beside the little trench and
walk backward, and as you walk you hoe
the loose earth back over the seeds; the
same dirt that was hoed up you pull back
again. Then you rake very gently over
the surface, with the back of a rake, to
even it all off. Margery liked it, because
now the garden began to look LIKE a
But best of all was the work next day,
when her own little particular garden was
begun. Father Brown loved Margery and
Margery's mother so much that he wanted
their garden to be perfect, and that meant
a great deal more work. He knew very
well that the old grass would begin to
come through again on such "green"
soil, and that it would make terribly hard
weeding. He was not going to have any
such thing for his two "little girls," as he
called them. So he fixed that little garden
very fine! This is what he did.
After he had thrown out all the turf, he
shoveled clean earth on to the garden,--
as much as three solid inches of it; not a
bit of grass was in that. Then it was ready
for raking and fertilizing, and for the lines.
The little footpaths were marked out by
Father Brown's feet; Margery and her
mother laughed well when they saw it, for
it looked like some kind of dance. Mr.
Brown had seen gardeners do it when he
was a little boy, and he did it very nicely:
he walked along the sides of the square,
with one foot turned a little out, and the
other straight, taking such tiny steps that
his feet touched each other all the time.
This tramped out a path just wide enough
for a person to walk.
The wider path was marked with lines
Margery thought, of course, all the
flowers would be put in as the vegetables
were; but she found that it was not so.
For some, her father poked little holes
with his finger; for some, he made very
shallow ditches; and some very small seeds
were just scattered lightly over the top of
Margery and her mother had taken so
much pains in thinking out how the flowers
would look prettiest, that maybe you will
like to hear just how they designed that
garden. At the back were the sweet peas,
which would grow tall, like a screen; on the
two sides, for a kind of hedge, were yellow
sunflowers; and along the front edge were
the gay nasturtiums. Margery planned
that, so that she could look into the garden
from the front, but have it shut away
from the vegetable patch by the tall flowers
on the sides. The two front corners
had coreopsis in them. Coreopsis is a tall,
pretty, daisy-like flower, very dainty and
bright. And then, in little square patches
all round the garden, were planted white
sweet alyssum, blue bachelor's buttons,
yellow marigolds, tall larkspur, many-
colored asters and zinnias. All these lovely
flowers used to grow in our grandmothers'
gardens, and if you don't know what they
look like, I hope you can find out next
Between the flowers and the middle
path went the seeds for that wonderful
salad garden; all the things Mrs. Brown
had named to Margery were there. Margery
had never seen anything so cunning
as the little round lettuce-seeds. They
looked like tiny beads; it did not seem
possible that green lettuce leaves could
come from those. But they surely would.
Mother and father and Margery were
all late to supper that evening. But they
were all so happy that it did not matter.
The last thing Margery thought of, as she
went to sleep at night, was the dear,
smooth little garden, with its funny foot-
path, and with the little sticks standing
at the end of the rows, labeled "lettuce,"
"beets," "helianthus," and so on.
"I have a garden! I have a garden!"
thought Margery, and then she went off
THE LITTLE COTYLEDONS
This is another story about Margery's
The next morning after the garden was
planted, Margery was up and out at six
o'clock. She could not wait to look at her
garden. To be sure, she knew that the
seeds could not sprout in a single night,
but she had a feeling that SOMETHING might
happen while she was not looking. The
garden was just as smooth and brown as
the night before, and no little seeds were
But a very few mornings after that,
when Margery went out, there was a funny
little crack opening up through the earth,
the whole length of the patch. Quickly
she knelt down in the footpath, to see.
Yes! Tiny green leaves, a whole row of
them, were pushing their way through the
crust! Margery knew what she had put
there: it was the radish-row; these must
be radish leaves. She examined them very
closely, so that she might know a radish
next time. The little leaves, no bigger
than half your little-finger nail, grew in
twos,--two on each tiny stem; they were
Margery flew back to her mother, to say
that the first seeds were up. And her
mother, nearly as excited as Margery,
came to look at the little crack.
Each day, after that, the row of radishes
grew, till, in a week, it stood as high as
your finger, green and sturdy. But about
the third day, while Margery was stooping
over the radishes, she saw something very,
very small and green, peeping above
ground, where the lettuce was planted.
Could it be weeds? No, for on looking
very closely she saw that the wee leaves
faintly marked a regular row. They did
not make a crack, like the radishes; they
seemed too small and too far apart to push
the earth up like that. Margery leaned
down and looked with all her eyes at the
baby plants. The tiny leaves grew two on
a stem, and were almost round. The more
she looked at them the more it seemed to
Margery that they looked exactly as the
radish looked when it first came up. "Do
you suppose," Margery said to herself,
"that lettuce and radish look alike? They
don't look alike in the market!"
Day by day the lettuce grew, and soon
the little round leaves were easier to
examine; they certainly were very much like
Then, one morning, while she was
searching the ground for signs of seeds,
Margery discovered the beets. In irregular
patches on the row, hints of green were
coming. The next day and the next they
grew, until the beet leaves were big enough
Margery looked. Then she looked again.
Then she wrinkled her forehead. "Can
we have made a mistake?" she thought.
"Do you suppose we can have planted all
For those little beet leaves were almost
round, and they grew two on a stem,
precisely like the lettuce and the radish;
except for the size, all three rows looked alike.
It was too much for Margery. She ran to
the house and found her father. Her little
face was so anxious that he thought something
unpleasant had happened. "Papa,"
she said, all out of breath, "do you think
we could have made a mistake about my
garden? Do you think we could have put
radishes in all the rows?"
Father laughed. "What makes you
think such a thing?" he asked.
"Papa," said Margery, "the little leaves
all look exactly alike! every plant has just
two tiny leaves on it, and shaped the same;
they are roundish, and grow out of the
stem at the same place."
Papa's eyes began to twinkle. "Many
of the dicotyledonous plants look alike at
the beginning," he said, with a little drawl
on the big word. That was to tease Margery,
because she always wanted to know
the big words she heard.
"What's `dicotyledonous'?" said
"Wait till I come home to-night, dear,"
said her father, "and I'll tell you."
That evening Margery was waiting
eagerly for him, when her father finished
his supper. Together they went to the
garden, and father examined the seedlings
carefully. Then he pulled up a little
radish plant and a tiny beet.
"These little leaves," he said, "are not
the real leaves of the plant; they are only
little food-supply leaves, little pockets to
hold food for the plant to live on till it gets
strong enough to push up into the air. As
soon as the real leaves come out and begin
to draw food from the air, these little
substitutes wither up and fall off. These two
lie folded up in the little seed from the
beginning, and are full of plant food. They
don't have to be very special in shape, you
see, because they don't stay on the plant
after it is grown up."
"Then every plant looks like this at
first?" said Margery.
"No, dear, not every one; plants are
divided into two kinds: those which have
two food leaves, like these plants, and
those which have only one; these are called
dicotyledonous, and the ones which have
but one food leaf are monocotyledonous.
Many of the dicotyledons look alike."
"I think that is interesting," said
Margery. "I always supposed the plants were
different from the minute they began to
"Indeed, no," said father. "Even some
of the trees look like this when they first
come through; you would not think a
birch tree could look like a vegetable or a
flower, would you? But it does, at first;
it looks so much like these things that in
the great nurseries, where trees are raised
for forests and parks, the workmen have
to be very carefully trained, or else they
would pull up the trees when they are
weeding. They have to be taught the
difference between a birch tree and a weed."
"How funny!" said Margery dimpling.
"Yes, it sounds funny," said father;
"but you see, the birch tree is dicotyledonous,
and so are many weeds, and the
dicotyledons look much alike at first."
"I am glad to know that, father," said
Margery, soberly. "I believe maybe I shall
learn a good deal from living in the country;
don't you think so?"
Margery's father took her in his arms.
"I hope so, dear," he said; "the country
is a good place for little girls."
And that was all that happened, that day.
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