In his Cato Maior de Senectute, Cicero, or rather his mouthpiece Cato is talking about old age. This period of life has many disadvantages, but still there are possibilities for pleasure and one of these is gardening. I do have a small garden, hardly more than a post stamp, but I am unable to maintain even such a small piece. I like gardens as long as I don’t need to cut the grass, plant and water flowers and - o horrible - weed the garden! My mother of 81 loves gardening, but my father has not a particular inclination for it. However under the guidance of my mother he is patiently mowing the grass and weeding...
Personally I don’t see myself taking pleasure in gardening as I tend after my father, unless, like Cato the Elder, I will own an estate with slaves doing the hard labour!
The following is a lyric description of the growing of wheat.
Cicero, Cato Maior de Senectute:
XV. (51). Venio nunc ad voluptates agricolarum, quibus ego incredibiliter delector; quae nec ulla impediuntur senectute et mihi ad sapientis vitam proxime videntur accedere. Habent enim rationem cum terra, quae numquam recusat imperium nec umquam sine usura reddit, quod accepit, sed alias minore, plerumque maiore cum faenore. Quamquam me quidem non fructus modo, sed etiam ipsius terrae vis ac natura delectat. Quae cum gremio mollito ac subacto sparsum semen excepit, primum id occaecatum cohibet, ex quo occatio, quae hoc efficit, nominata est, deinde tepefactum vapore et compressu suo diffundit et elicit herbescentem ex eo viriditatem, quae nixa fibris stirpium sensim adulescit culmoque erecta geniculato vaginis iam quasi pubescens includitur; ex quibus cum emersit, fundit frugem spici ordine structam et contra avium minorum morsus munitur vallo aristarum.
delector (+ abl): to take pleasure in (for one self. Medial use of delecto)
accedere ad: to approach
Habent rationem cum terra: they have to do with the earth
recusat imperium: objects to domination
alias: some time
faenus –oris (n.): interest, profit
mollio mollivi mollitum: to make soft
subigo subegi subactum: to cultivate, till
occaeco occaevi occaevum: to conceal (litt. to make blind)
cohibeo cohibui: to contain
occatio –onis (f.): a harrowing (the etymology is wrong, it is from occare `to harrow’))
tepefacio tepefeci tepefactum: to make lukewarm (object: semen)
vapor –is (m,): warmth, heat
difundo difiudi difusum: to open, split (subject: terra)
elicio elicui: to lure
herbesco: to grow into stalks (folia `leaf’ is understood)
nixa fibris stirpium: supported by the fibres of the roots
adulesco adulevi adultus: to mature
culmo geniculato: with knotted stalk (culmus, connected with English `haulm’ < pie. *ḱolh2mo-, *ḱlh2emo-)
pubesco pubui: (here): to be covered, to clothe itself (note that the translation below has the original meaning `immature’)
ex quibus (vaginis)
frugem spici: litt. the fruit of an ear
morsus -us (m.): biting, picking
ordine structam: set up in a row
munio munivi munitum: to defend
arista: beard of grain
Translation by Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (1843–1906)
15. I come now to the pleasures of the farmer, in which I take amazing delight. These are not hindered by any extent of old age, and seem to me to approach nearest to the ideal wise man’s life. For he has to deal with the earth, which never refuses its obedience, nor ever returns what it has received without usury; sometimes, indeed, with less, but generally with greater interest. For my part, however, it is not merely the thing produced, but the earth’s own force and natural productiveness that delight me. For having received in its bosom the seed scattered broadcast upon it, softened and broken up, she first keeps it concealed therein (hence the harrowing which accomplishes this gets its name from a word meaning “to hide”); next, when it has been warmed by her heat and close pressure, she splits it open and draws from it the greenery of the blade. This, supported by the fibres of the root, little by little grows up, and held upright by its jointed stalk is enclosed in sheaths, as being still immature. When it has emerged from them it produces an ear of corn arranged in order, and is defended against the pecking of the smaller birds by a regular palisade of spikes.