MR. COLMAN, in his Agricultural Tour,† remarks, that his observations abroad convinced him that the Americans are the most extravagant people in the world; and the truth of the remark is corroborated by the experience of every sensible traveller that returns from Europe. The much greater facility of getting money here, makes us more regardless of system in its expenditure; and the income of many an estate abroad, amounting to twenty thousand dollars, is expended with an exactness, and nicety of calculation, that would astonish persons in this country, who have only an income of twenty hundred dollars. Abroad, it is the study of those who have, how to save; or, in the case of spending, how to get the most for their money. At home, it seems to be the desire of every body to get — and, having obtained wealth, to expend it in the most lavish and careless manner.
There are, again, many who wish to be economical in their disbursements, but find, in a country where labor is one of the dearest of commodities, ‡ that every thing which is attained by the expenditure of labor, costs so much more than they had supposed, that moderate "improvements" - as we call all kinds of building and gardening in this country — in a short time consume a handsome competence.
* Original date of May, 1849.
† This and several other references to Mr. Colman's "Agricultural Tour" show that Mr. Downing was deeply impressed. Rev. Henry Col-man of Massachusetts, after making extended agricultural surveys in this country, visited Europe (1843) and wrote extensively of his travels and observations. Besides several volumes of letters he published two volumes of " European Agriculture and Rural Economy," in Boston (1846-48). — F. A. W.
‡ At the time this was written, fairly good farm labor generally received $15 a month "and board." A high price for agricultural labor was $1 a day, often working "from sun-up to sun-down." — F. A. W.
The fact, that in no country is labor better paid for than in ours, is one that has much to do with the success and progress of the country itself. Where the day laborer is so poorly paid, that he must, of necessity, always be a day laborer, it follows, inevitably, that the condition of the largest number of human beings in the state must remain nearly stationary. On the other hand, in a community where the industrious, prudent, and intelligent day laborer can certainly rise to a more independent position, it is equally evident that the improvement of national character, and the increase of wealth, must go on rapidly together.
But, just in proportion to the ease with which men accumulate wealth, will they desire to spend it; and, in spending it, to obtain the utmost satisfaction which it can produce. Among the most rational modes of doing this, in the country, are building and gardening: and hence, every year, we find a greater number of our citizens endeavoring to realize the pleasures of country life.
Now building is sufficiently cheap with us. A man may build a comfortable cottage for a few hundred dollars, which abroad would cost a few thousands. But the moment he touches a spade to the ground, to plant a tree, or to level a hillock, that moment his farm is taxed three or four times as heavily as in Europe; and as he builds in a year, but "gardens" all his life, it is evident that his out-of-door expenses must be systematized, or economized, or he will find his income greatly the loser by it. Many a citizen, who has settled in the country with the greatest enthusiasm, has gone back to town in disgust at the unsuspected cost of country pleasures.
And yet, there are ways in which economy and satisfactory results may be combined in country life. There are always two ways of arriving at a result; and, in some cases, that mode least usually pursued is the better and more satisfactory one.
The price of the cheapest labor in the country generally, averages 80 cents to $1 per day. Now we have no wish whatever to lower the price of labor; we would rather feel that, by and by, we could afford to pay even more. But we wish either to avoid unnecessary expenditure for labor in producing a certain result, or to arrive at some mode of insuring that the dollar a day, paid for labor, shall be fairly and well earned.
Four-fifths of all the gardening labor performed in the eastern and middle states is performed by Irish emigrants.* Always accustomed to something of oppression on the part of landlords and employers, in their own country, it is not surprising that their old habits stick close to them here; and as a class, they require far more watching to get a fair day's labor from them than many of our own people. On the other hand, there is no workman who is more stimulated by the consciousness of working on his own account than an Irishman. He will work stoutly and faithfully, from early to late, to accomplish a job of his own seeking, or which he has fairly contracted for, and accomplish it in a third less time than if working by the day.
The deduction which experienced employers in the country draw from this, is, never to employ "rough hands," or persons whose ability and steadiness have not been well proved, by the day or month, but always by contract, piece or job. The saving to the employer is large; and the laborer, while he gets fairly paid, is induced, by a feeling of greater independence, or to sustain his own credit, to labor faithfully and without wasting the time of his employer.
We saw a striking illustration of this lately, in the case of two neighbors, — both planting extensive orchards, and requiring, therefore, a good deal of extra labor. One of them had all the holes for his trees dug by contract, of good size, and two spades deep, for six cents per hole. The other had it executed by the day, and by the same class of labor, — foreigners, newly arrived. We had the curiosity to ask a few questions, to ascertain the difference of cost in the two cases; and found, as we expected, that the cost in the day's work system was about ten cents per hole, or more than a third beyond what it cost by the job.
* This situation also has changed since 1849. — F. A. W.
Now, whether a country place is large or small, there is always, in the course of the season, more or less extra work to be performed. The regular gardener, or workman, must generally be hired by the day or month; though we know instances of everything being done by contract. But all this extra work can, in almost all cases, be done by contract, at a price greatly below what it would otherwise cost. Trenching, subsoiling, preparing the ground for orchards or kitchen gardens, or even ploughing, and gathering crops, may be done very much cheaper by contract than by day's labor.
In Germany, the whole family, including women and children, work in the gardens and vineyards; and they always do the same here when they have land in their own possession. Now in every garden, vineyard, or orchard, there is a great deal of light work, that may be as well performed by the younger members of such a family as by any others. Hence, we learn that the Germans, in the large vineyards now growing on the Ohio, are able to cultivate the grape more profitably than other persons; and hence, German families, accustomed to this kind of labor, may be employed by contract in doing certain kinds of horticultural labors, at a great saving to the employer.
Another mode of economizing, in this kind of expenditure, is by the use of all possible labor saving machines. One of our correspondents — a practical gardener — recommended, in our last number, that the kitchen garden, in this country, in places of any importance, should always be placed near the stables, to save trouble and time in carting manure; and should be so arranged as to allow the plough and cultivator to be used, instead of the spade and hoe. This is excellent and judicious advice, and exactly adapted to this country. In parts of Europe where garden labor can be had for 20 cents a day, the kitchen garden may properly be treated with such nicety that not only good vegetables, but something ornamental shall be attained by it. But here, where the pay is as much for one man's labor as that of five men's labor is worth in Germany, it is far better to cheapen the cost of vegetables, and pay for ornamental work where it is more needed.
So, too, with regard to every instance, where the more cheap and rapid working of an improved machine, or implement, may be substituted for manual labor. In several of the largest country seats on the Hudson, where there is so great an extent of walks and carriage road, that several men would be employed almost constantly in keeping them in order, they are all cleaned of weeds in a day by the aid of the horse hoe for gravel walks. In all such cases as these, the proprietor not only gets rid of the trouble and care of employing a large number of workmen, but of the annoyance of paying more than their labor is fairly worth for the purpose in question.
There are many modes of economizing in the expenditures of a country place, which time, and the ingenuity of our countrymen will suggest, with more experience. But there is one which has frequently occurred to us, and which is so obvious that we are surprised that no one has adopted it. We mean the substitution, in country places of tolerable size, of fine sheep, for the scythe, in keeping" the lawn in order.*
No one now thinks of considering his place in any way ornamental, who does not keep his lawn well mown, - - not once or twice a year, for grass, but once or twice a month, for "velvet." This, to be sure, costs something; but, for general effect, the beauty of a good lawn and trees is so much greater than that of mere flowers, that no one, who values them rightly, would even think of paying dearly for the latter, and neglecting the former.
Now, half a dozen or more sheep, of some breed serviceable and ornamental, might be kept on a place properly arranged, so as to do the work of two mowers, always keeping the lawn close and short, and not only without expense, but possibly with some profit. No grass surface, except a short lawn, is neater than one cropped by sheep; and, for a certain kind of country residence, where the picturesque or pastoral, rather than the studiously elegant, is desired, sheep would heighten the interest and beauty of the scene.
* A suggestion quite as timely after the lapse of 70 years. — F. A. W.
In order to use sheep in this way, the place should be so arranged that the flower garden and shrubbery shall be distinct from the lawn. In many cases in England, a small portion, directly round the house, is inclosed with a wire fence, woven in a pretty pattern (worth three or four shillings a yard). This contains the flowers and shrubs, on the parlor side of the house, with a small portion of lawn dressed by the scythe. All the rest is fed by the sheep, which are folded regularly every night, to prevent accident from dogs. In this way, a beautiful lawn-like surface is maintained without the least annual outlay. We commend the practice for imitation in this country.