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The Camel-Backed Gardener

Updated on December 30, 2010
Liu Zong-yuan
Liu Zong-yuan

I do not know what Camel-back's real name was. Disease had hunched him up behind, and he walked with his head down, like a camel. Hence, people came to give him the nickname of Camel. "Capital!" cried he, when he first heard of his sobriquet; "the very name for me." And thereafter he entirely left off using his proper name, calling himself " Camel-back."

He lived in a village near the capital, and followed the occupation of a nursery-gardener. All the grand people of the city used to go and see his show; while market-gardeners vied with each other in securing his services, since every tree he either planted or transplanted was sure to thrive and bear fruit, not only early in the season but in abundance. Others in the same line of business, although they closely watched his method, were quite unable to achieve the same success.

One day a customer asked him how this was so; to which he replied, " Old Camel-back cannot make trees live or thrive. He can only let them follow their natural tendencies. Now in planting trees, be careful to set the root straight, to smooth the earth around them, to use good mould, and to ram it down well. Then, don't touch them; don't think about them; don't go and look at them; but leave them alone to take care of themselves, and nature will do the rest. I only avoid trying to make my trees grow. I have no special method of cultivation, no special means for securing luxuriance of growth. I only don't spoil the fruit. I have no way of getting it either early or in abundance. Other gardeners set with bent root, and neglect the mould. They heap up either too much earth or too little. Or if not this, then they become too fond of and too anxious about their trees, and are for ever running backwards and forwards to see how they are growing; sometimes scratching them to make sure they are still alive, or shaking them about to see if they are sufficiently firm in the ground; thus constantly interfering with the natural bias of the tree, and turning their affection and care into an absolute bane and a curse. I only don't do these things. That's all."

Can the priciples of economics "pas trop gouverner" or "Laissez-faire" be applied to the gardening too?

(Excerpt from PAS TROP GOUVERNER by Liu Zongyuan found in Gems of Chinese Literature.)


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