Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  10 (1885), 684–90.

Back-yard Studies

William Hamilton Gibson



Relevant illustrations:

eng. [5]


Natural History, Botany, Wonder, Amateurism, Taxonomy, Illustration, Popularization, Experiment, Scientific Practitioners, Entomology, Naturalists

    The narrator, determined to 'risk [the] curious and fastidious scrutiny of my neighbours', abjures the normal duties of gardening and allows his example of the 'prosaic back yard of the average metropolitan home' to 'follow its own sweet will'. By this procedure, he tells a female 'friend whom I had previously initiated into the mysteries and delights of botany', you can 'still remain in the city, and even without going beyond your front door find abundant occasion for the use of your botany during your spare hours'. (684) Having 'aroused' his 'own curiosity' with this assertion, he takes a 'pencil and note-book' and makes 'a careful inspection of the tangle of vegetation', surprising himself by the 'discovery' of the number of 'species there assembled'. Of the sixty-four species of plants found in the 'plot of turf [...] about twenty-five by twelve feet' there will 'doubtless be discovered a few whose presence will naturally strike the botanist as especially remarkable'. (686) In addition, the presence there of the 'crane's bill plant' furnishes the narrator 'an opportunity of touching upon its peculiar contribution to the mechanical contrivances of plants in the dispersion of seeds', a subject already discussed in 'a former paper' (686–87). Suggests that the 'modus operandi of this process [...] will be made clear by a little study of the accompanying illustration', and provides additional explanations 'for the benefit of those readers who may not be conversant with botanical terms' (687–88). Insists that the conclusions of 'Sir John Lubbock' regarding the distance travelled by seeds dispersed by the 'pretty herb-robert (Geranium robertianum)' have 'been verified by my own experiments ' in the 'back yard' (688). Also notes that the 'mysterious purple morsel of a flower' that grows at the top of 'wild carrots' is 'a tiny tid-bit, which, I observe, however, has proved too formidable for scientist or seer' (689–90). Concludes by discussing the 'interesting incidents of insect life among these grassy jungles', observing that the 'well-known story of the ants and the aphides, first related by Huber, was daily enacted upon the stems of my thistles and other plants', and proclaiming 'What a volume might be written on the arcana of a tuft of grass!' (690).

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