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The Gardener and the Manor

Hans Christian Andersen (1871)

About one Danish mile from the capital stood an old manor-house, with thick walls, towers, and pointed gable-ends. Here lived, but only in the summer-season, a rich and courtly family. This manor-house was the best and the most beautiful of all the houses they owned. It looked outside as if it had just been cast in a foundry, and within it was comfort itself. The family arms were carved in stone over the door; beautiful roses twined about the arms and the balcony; a grass-plot extended before the house with red-thorn and white-thorn, and many rare flowers grew even outside the conservatory. The manor kept also a very skillful gardener. It was a real pleasure to see the flower-garden, the orchard, and the kitchen-garden. There was still to be seen a portion of the manor’s original garden, a few box-tree hedges cut in shape of crowns and pyramids, and behind these two mighty old trees almost always without leaves. One might almost think that a storm or water-spout had scattered great lumps of manure on their branches, but each lump was a bird’s-nest. A swarm of rooks and crows from time immemorial had built their nests here. It was a townful of birds, and the birds were the manorial lords here. They did not care for the proprietors, the manor’s oldest family branch, nor for the present owner of the manor,—these were nothing to them; but they bore with the wandering creatures below them, notwithstanding that once in a while they shot with guns in a way that made the birds’ back-bones shiver, and made every bird fly up, crying “Rak, Rak!”

The gardener very often explained to the master the necessity of felling the old trees, as they did not look well, and by taking them away they would probably also get rid of the screaming birds, which would seek another place. But he never could be induced either to give up the trees or the swarm of birds the manor could not spare them, as they were relics of the good old times, that ought always to be kept in remembrance.

“The trees are the birds’ heritage by this time!” said the master. “So let them keep them, my good Larsen.” Larsen was the gardener’s name, but that is of very little consequence in this story. “Haven’t you room enough to work in, little Larsen? Have you not the flower-garden, the green-houses, the orchard and the kitchen-garden!” He cared for them, he kept them in order and cultivated them with zeal and ability, and the family knew it; but they did not conceal from him that they often tasted fruits and saw flowers in other houses that surpassed what he had in his garden, and that was a sore trial to the gardener, who always wished to do the best, and really did the best he could. He was good-hearted, and a faithful servant.

The owner sent one day for him, and told him kindly that the day before, at a party given by some friends of rank, they had eaten apples and pears which were so juicy and well-flavored that all the guests had loudly expressed their admiration. To be sure, they were not native fruits, but they ought by all means to be introduced here, and to be acclimatized if possible. They learned that the frtiit was bought of one of the first fruit-dealers in the city, and the gardener was to ride to town and find out about where they came from, and then order some slips for grafting. The gardener was very well acquainted with the dealer, because he was the very person to whom he sold the fruit that grew in the manor-garden, beyond what was needed by the family. So the gardener went to town and asked the fruit-dealer where he had found those apples and pears that were praised so highly.

“They are from your own garden,” said the fruit-dealer, and he showed him, both the apples and pears, which he recognized. Now, how happy the gardener felt! He hastened back to his master, and told him that the apples and pears were all from his own garden. But he would not believe it.

“It cannot be possible, Larsen. Can you get a written certificate of that from the fruit-dealer?” And that he could; and brought him a written certificate.

“That is certainly wonderful!” said the family.

And now every day were set on the table great dishes filled with beautiful apples and pears from their own garden; bushels and barrels of these fruits were sent to friends in the city and country, nay, were even sent abroad. It was exceedifigly pleasant; but when they talked with the gardener they said that the last two seasons had been remarkably favorable for fruits, and that fruits had done well all over the country.

Some time passed. The family were at dinner at court. The next day the gardener was sent for. They had eaten melons at the royal table which they found very juicy and well-flavored; they came from his Majesty’s green-house. “You must go and see the court-gardener, and let him give you some seeds of those melons.”

“But the gardener at the court got his melon-seeds from us,” said the gardener, highly delighted.

“But then that man understands how to bring the fruit to a higher perfection,” was the answer. “Each particular melon was delicious.”

“Well; then, I really may feel proud,” said the gardener. “I must tell your lordship that the gardener at the court did not succeed very well with his melons this year, and so, seeing how beautiful ours looked, he tasted them and ordered from me three of them for the castle.”

“Larsen, do not pretend to say that those were melons from our garden.”

“Really, I dare say as much,” said the gardener, who went to the court-gardener and got from him a written certificate to the effect that the melons on the royal. table were from the manor. That was certainly a great surprise to the family, and they did not keep the story to themselves. Melon-seeds were sent far and wide, in the same way as had been done with the slips, which they were now hearing had begun to take, and to bear fruit of an excellent kind. The fruit was named after the manor, and the name was written in English, German, and French.

This was something they never had dreamed of.

“We are afraid that the gardener will come to think too much of himself,” said they; but he looked on it in another way: what he wished was to get the reputation of being one of the best gardeners in the country, and to produce every year something exquisite out of all sorts of garden stuff, and that he did. But he often had to hear that the fruits which he first brought, the apples and pears, were after all the best. All other kinds of fruits were inferior to these. The melons, too, were very good, but they belonged to quite another species. His strawberries were very excellent, but by no means better than many others; and when it happened one year that his radishes did not succeed, they only spoke of them, and not of other good things he had made succeed.

It really seemed as if the family felt some relief in saying “It won’t turn out well this year, little Larsen!” They seemed quite glad when they could say “It won’t turn out well!”

The gardener used always twice a week to bring them fresh flowers, tastefully arranged, and the colors by his arrangements were brought out in stronger light.

“You have good taste, Larsen,” said the owner, “but that is a gift from our Lord, not from yourself.”

One day the gardener brought a great crystal vase with a floating leaf of a white water-lily, upon which was laid, with its long thick stalk descending into the water, a sparkling blue flower as large as a sunflower.

“The sacred lotos of Hindostan!” exclaimed the family. They had never seen such a flower; it was placed every day in the sunshine, and in the evening under artificial light. Every one who saw it found it wonderfully beautiful and rare; and that said the most noble young lady in the country, the wise and kind-hearted princess. The lord of the manor deemed it an honor to present her with the flower, and the princess took it with her to the castle. Now the master of the house went down to the garden to pluck another flower of the same sort, but he could not find any. So he sent for the gardener, and asked him where he kept the blue lotos. “I have been looking for it in vain,” said he. “I went into the conservatory, and round about the flower-garden.”

“No, it is not there!” said the gardener. “It is nothing else than a common flower from the kitchen-garden, but do you not find it beautiful? It looks as if it was the blue cactus, and yet it is only a kitchen-herb. It is the flower of the artichoke!”

“You should have told us that at the time!” said the master. “We supposed of course that it was a strange and rare flower. You have made us ridiculous in the eyes of the young princess! She saw the flower in our house and thought it beautiful. She did not know the flower, and she is versed in botany, too, but then that has nothing to do with kitchen-herbs. How could you take it into your head, my good Larsen, to put such a flower up in our drawing-room? It makes us ridiculous.”

And the magnificent blue flower from the kitchen-garden was turned out of the drawing-room, which was not at all the place for it. The master made his apology to the princess, telling her that it was only a kitchen-herb which the gardener had taken into his head to exhibit, but that he had been well reprimanded for it.

“That was a pity,” said the princess, “for he has really opened our eyes to see the beauty of a flower in a place where we should not have thought of looking for it. Our gardener shall every day, as long as the artichoke is in bloom, bring one of them up into the drawing-room.”

Then the master told his gardener that he might again bring them a fresh artichoke-flower. “It is, after all, a very nice flower,” said he, “and a truly remarkable one.” And so the gardener was praised again. “Larsen likes that,” said the master; “he is a spoiled child.”

In the autumn there came up a great gale, which increased so violently in the night that. several large trees in the outskirts of the wood were torn up by the roots; and to the great grief of the household, but to the gardener’s delight, the two big trees blew down, with all their birds’-nests on them. In the manor-house they heard during the storm the screaming of rooks and crows, beating their wings against the windows.

“Now I suppose you are happy, Larsen,” said the master: “the storm has felled the trees, and the birds have gone off to the woods; there is nothing left from the good old days; it is all gone, and we are very sorry for it.”

The gardener said nothing, but he thought of what he long had turned over in his mind, how he could make that pretty sunny spot very useful, so that it could become an ornament to the garden and a pride to the family. The great trees which had been blown down had shattered the venerable hedge of box, that was cut into fanciful shapes.

Here he set out a multitude of plants that were not to be seen in other gardens. He made an earthen wall, on which he planted all sorts of native flowers from the fields and woods. What no other gardener had ever thought of planting in the manor-garden he planted, giving each its appropriate soil, and the plants were in sunlight or shadow according as each species required. He cared tenderly for them, and they grew up finely. The juniper-tree from the heaths of Jutland rose in shape and color like the Italian cypress; the shining, thorny Christ-thorn, as green in the winter’s cold as in the summer’s sun, was splendid to see. In the foreground grew ferns of various species: some of them looked as if they were children of the palm-tree; others, as if they were parents of the pretty plants called “Venus’s golden locks” or “Maiden-hair.” Here stood the despised burdock, which is so beautiful in its freshness that it looks well even in a bouquet. The burdock stood in a dry place, but below in the moist soil grew the colt’s-foot, also a despised plant, but yet most picturesque, with its tall stem and large leaf. Like a candelabrum with a multitude of branches six feet high, and with flower over against flower, rose the mullein, a mere field plant. Here stood the woodroof and the lily of the valley, the wild calla and the fine three-leaved wood-sorrel. It was a wonder to see all this beauty!

In the front grew in rows very small peartrees from French soil, trained on wires. By plenty of sun and good care they soon bore as juicy fruits as in their own country. Instead of the two old leafless trees was placed a tall flag-staff, where the flag of Dannebrog was displayed; and near by stood another pole, where the hop-tendril in summer or harvest-time wound its fragrant flowers; but in winter-time, after ancient custom, oat-sheaves were fastened to it, that the birds of the air might find here a good meal in the happy Christmas-time.

“Our good Larsen is growing sentimental as he grows old,” said the family; “but he is faithful, and quite attached to us.”

In one of the illustrated papers there was a picture at New Year’s of the old manor, with the flag-staff and the oat-sheaves for the birds of the air, and the paper said that the old manor had preserved that beautiful old custom, and deserved great credit for it.

“They beat the drum for all Larsen’s doings,” said the family. “He is a lucky fellow, and we may almost be proud of having such a man in our service.”

But they were not a bit proud of it. They were very well aware that they were the lords of the manor; they could give Larsen warning, in fact, but they did not. They were good people, and fortunate it is for every Mr. Larsen that there are so many good people like them.

Yes, that is the story of the gardener and the manor. Now you may think a little about it.