“My Handkerchief Garden” by Charles Barnard

This is not a book review.  I just happened to stumble upon this book that was mentioned in one of the gardening newsletters I subscribe to.  My curiosity got the better of me and I plunged right into this book that is written not in the last century but the one before that!  It has less than 100 pages and was published in 1889.  I must say I have found it rather interesting and felt compelled to share it.  The garden size that he had was recorded as 25 x 60 feet.  Would that be the size of a unit’s small backyard?  And how he has managed with $20.49 with a result of having a garden, fresh vegetables, exercise and health.

Here I will highlight parts of the book that stood out for me…usually reduced to one-liners.

  • “There was no gas in the room.  This is most important – for in my experience it is difficult, almost impossible, to raise plants of any kind where gas is burned.  A single gas-jet will spoil the air as fast as six men.”
  • “For every man who works a part of the day in the house there should be several hours devoted to exercise in the open air.”
  • “Exercise then must be, and was it not better to raise lettuce for my table than to trundle an unprofitable lawn-mower, or walk the streets in idleness.”
  • “…notwithstanding a rather poor season, the vegetables were of a far better quality than could be purchased anywhere.”
  • “Will you bring the children up forever on canned goods, when they might pull peas and good times out of the same ground.”
  • “A home garden…make all the difference…between a dish of greens and a lot in the cemetery.”
  • “Let no young man or young woman fancy their education complete without some knowledge of the growth of plants.”
  • “You haven’t really been there, unless you have a garden of your own.”
  • “Herein is one of the great advantages of a home lot – it tends to cultivate a generous heart in the gardener and a thankful spirit in his friends.”
  • “There is one thing you can always present to a lady, and that’s a flower.  Why not a cauliflower?  Is not a cabbage a green rose?”
  • “A home lot always has its advantages – it is at once school, experimental station and a source of amusement.”
  • “Common objection raise to a home garden is the expense and labor in planting and caring for it.”
  • “Did the home lot pay?  Was the return sufficient for the labor?  It was, and the garden did pay, because the time spent on it was odd time not available for other work.  Besides this, the work was a pleasure and a sanitary measure, paying a big dividend in red blood, sound sleep, a good appetite and a cheerful spirit.”
  • “Look at it any way you will, keep a garden for pleasure or profit or health, you may set it down as you personal as well as national duty to make the most of the land that has been given to you.  It is my belief that every man who has a bit of land is bound to consider it as a trust whereof he shall render account and wherewith he should do his best to make the earth bring forth her increase for the benefit of himself, his folks and the rest of the republic.”

I had to add this quote from the recent video of Peter Cundall’s 90th birthday.  “…if you can grow you own fruits and vegetables, that is your health insurance.”

If haven’t planted anything before, give it one try.  If you’re thinking of starting a garden, go for it!  If you’ve been gardening, keep going.  There are just so many benefits that you shouldn’t miss out on!

If you would like to read the book and I would highly recommend it, you can read it online or download it in various formats here, although don’t expect the electronic formats to be perfect since it is reproduced from a very old book.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this and it has encouraged you on your gardening journey.


  1. Nick

    Thanks Ms Karen great find! 25 x 60 foot is approx 7.6 x 18.3m = 139m2 So the “Handkerchief Garden” is probably bigger than a modern unit backyard but smaller than an old school back yard. For comparison a smallish bedroom is about 3.5 x 4m or 14m2. So its about 10 “small bedrooms” of space.


    • Thanks for doing the math for me, Nick! That would still be quite a big garden for some, wouldn’t it? Large enough to rotate the crops. And it was called handkerchief garden…then 🙂


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