“The Paterfamilias should think a long time about building, but planting is a thing not be thought about but done.”
Cato the Elder, On Agriculture
I have spoken to many people who have thought about gardening but who have not started to do so. That is why these words of Cato struck me.
I don’t want to be forward, but I respectfully encourage these people to stop thinking and start doing, as Cato suggests. And now is the time of year, for most of us, to move in that direction.
Every local hardware store has seeds. Vegetables that can be planted very early include greens, such as spinach, chard, kale and lettuce; root crops, such as radishes and beets; peas; onion; and the family of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. In Virginia, now is a great time to plant, on a day the soil is reasonably dry. Especially recommended as straightforward are radishes—which sprout and mature with amazing speed, making them very satisfying for children—and spinach.
Cato’s point is not that planting requires no fore-thought. Rather, while planting is indeed an art, and worthy of much consideration, study, and planning, at the same time it lends itself to our simply diving-in, even as beginners. Xenophon notes that agriculture is a unique art in that anyone can do it, but not even a life-time will fully master it.
Buildings, as a rule, should be built to last. Much forethought should prepare the foundation, as it were, for proper construction. But by nature’s design, with a minimum of preparation, we can just start planting. And we learn, as we grow. Each spring is a new beginning and a re-invitation to start, or start again.
So if you have been wondering whether this is a good year to plant a ‘garden’—be it only a few plants in your side yard or on the patio—perhaps now is the time to stop thinking and to start doing.
Over the next few weeks I am going to offer a series of Wednesday Quotes on gardening, using Hesiod, Xenophon, Cato and Virgil, in which they point to a number of great reasons to till the earth.
Marcus Portius Cato (234-149 B.C.), also known as Cato the Elder and Cato the Wise, was a Roman senator, historian, and farmer. Besides De Agricultura, he wrote on history and the military art.
Image: Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), The Potato Planters [note: potatoes can be planted now in VA too!]