The love of nature, awakened early, is a great estate with which to endow a child, but it needs education, that the proprietor of the estate may know how to manage it, and not—with the manners of a parvenu—miss either the inner spirit or the outward behaviour belonging to the property. This right manner and spirit of possession is what the informal “nature study” aims at; it is a point of view. Now the point of view as to the outside world means a great deal in life. Countrymen do not love nature as townsmen love it. Their affection is deeper but less emotional, like old friendships, undemonstrative but everlasting. Countrymen see without looking, and say very little about it. Townsmen in the country look long and say what they have seen, but they miss many things. A farmer stands stolidly among the graces of his frisky lambs and seems to miss their meaning, but this is because the manners cultivated in his calling do not allow the expression of feeling. It is all in his soul somewhere, deeply at home, but impossible to utter. The townsman looks eagerly, expresses a great deal, expresses it well, but misses the spirit from want of a background to his picture. One must know the whole round of the year in the country to catch the spirit of any season and perceive whence it comes and whither it goes.
On the other hand, the countryman in town thinks that there is no beauty of the world left for him to see, because the spirit there is a spirit of the hour and not of the season, and natural beauty has to be caught in evanescent appearances—a florist’s window full of orchids in place of his woodlands—and his mind is too slow to catch these. This too quick or too slow habit of seeing belongs to minds as well as to callings; and when children are learning to look around them at the world outside, it has to be taken into account. Some will see without looking and be satisfied slowly to drink in impressions, and they are really glad to learn to express what they see. Others, the quick, so-called “clever” children, look, and judge, and comment, and overshoot the mark many times before they really see. These may learn patience in waiting for their garden seeds, and quietness from watching birds and beasts, and deliberation, to a certain extent, from their constant mistakes. To have the care of plants may teach them a good deal of watchfulness and patience; it is of greater value to a child to have grown one perfect flower than to have pulled many to pieces to examine their structure. And the care of animals may teach a great deal more if it learns to keep the balance between silly idolatry of pets and cruel negligence—the hot and cold extremes of selfishness.
Little gardens of their own are perhaps the best gifts which can be given to children. To work in them stores up not only health but joy. Every flower in their garden stands for so much happiness, and with that happiness an instinct for home life and simple pleasures will strike deep roots. From growing the humblest annual out of a seed-packet to grafting roses there is work for every age, and even in the dead season of the year the interest of a garden never dies.