Friday, December 18, 2009

Old Ladies Who Garden: Martha Logan

A woman's work is never done. Nor is it ever recognized, or honored or paid for.

Martha Logan (1704- 1779) is America's first garden writer. Her Gardeners Kalendar was published by a man in 1752 in the South Carolina Almanack. Credit for the work was marginally given as having been done by a "Lady of this Province" and various versions were published throughout the 18th century. Even today in the most recent version that I can find, a 1971 reprint by the National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs, she is curiously absent from the title page and some dude named Phillip Miller with a pretentious title (Late Member of the Botanic Academy of Florence, and Gardener to the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, at their Botanic Garden in Chelsea) is taking credit for her labors.

There are no pictures in extant of Martha, but you can imagine her to be stout, sturdy and dependable. Take for example her entry in the Kalendar for December. "This month is subject to different sorts of weather; sometimes the ground is frozen up, so that little can be done in the garden; at other times hard rains and thick stinking fogs render it very uncomfortable stirring abroad, but especially to persons of tender constitutions: and this weather is also very injurious to tender plants."

Thick stinking fogs. Persons of tender constitutions. Injurious weather. Ahem. Reading Martha, I keep thinking she, too, is making metaphor of her garden. She was the daughter of a politician, who had been lieutenant governor at various times of both North and South Carolina. She had an abbreviated childhood, marrying just after her father died in 1718 when she was thirteen. She was likely well educated because in 1742 she advertized that she would board students at her plantation on the Wando River outside of Charleston, and teach them to read and write as well as to do "work Embroidery." Martha, unlike most women of that era, owned property. She inherited the plantation from dear old dad. Before her husband died in 1764, the couple had eight children. And it was believed that Martha managed the Logan plantation and later she acted as attorney for her son George Logan of Cape Fear. Indeed, I'm imagining Martha to have been quite a fearsome and fearless business woman and task master. Take for example some of her directives from the Kalendar:
  • Break up your gravel walks and turn them where they begin to be mossy.
  • When the weather is mild, you should continue trenching the ground where you intend to plant your trees.
  • If this month proves severe (as it often happens,) you must be careful to keep the frost out of the green-house; for if it reaches the earth of all your Orange-trees so as to freeze it.
  • You must carry dung upon the ground where you intend to transplant young trees.
And on and on, she lists the work to be done throughout the year in the kitchen garden, in the fruit garden, in the pleasure garden (flowers is what she meant, but it sounds racey doesn't it?), in the nursery, in the green house and even in the wilderness, where she would go to stock up on medicinal herbs.

This time of year, women are all maniacally racing through the Kalendar tasks required to arrive successfully at the end of December as the winner of the Christmas contest--address the cards, buy the presents, wrap the gifts, decorate the tree, make the candy, bake the cookies, host the parties, attend the parties. Our inner Martha commands our holiday Kalendar.

I remember once a long time ago when my mother was still alive how the holiday season was a magical happening that unfolded with with ease and pleasure. With her at the helm, it all just came together. This year, I've finally grown to embrace without resentment my role (her role) as I labored away. There never will be honor or recognition in woman's work. We will never be paid for all we do.

I was making the fudge and the caramels and my girls were lounging lazily on the sofa, the snow falling outside. As they watched movie, after sitcom, after silly reality show, it didn't matter to me at all that neither one offered to help.

There time will come. For now the season just unfolds and perhaps still holds for them the pleasure of it all just coming magically together. The Putterer

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