Today we celebrate a garden that transformed into a cemetery for our country’s military.
We'll also learn about one of America’s oldest gardens that oped on this day over a hundred years ago.
We hear an excerpt from one of the founders of the Garden Club of America about rescuing her family daffodils.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about the perfect plant partners in the garden.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the writer Daphne du Maurier - she loved gardens and incorporated them into her story.
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May 13, 1864
Today Private William Christman becomes the first person to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery didn’t start out as a cemetery. It was actually a property that belonged to the Custis family - the family of George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of the first president of the United States. His biological mother was Martha Washington.
Today, many people are unaware of the ties between the Custis family and the Lee family. It turns out that George’s daughter, Mary, married Robert E. Lee. When George died, Robert inherited Arlington House - a place Mary loved dearly. As many visitors to Washington D.C. can attest, Arlington house was situated on a grand hill and overlooked 1,100 acres of land.
When the Civil War started, Robert and Mary Lee abandoned the property. Since the Lees didn’t dare return to the city to pay taxes on the property for fear of being arrested, they sacrificed Arlington House to the North. Union soldiers immediately took occupancy and set up an advantageous position on the hill.
The burial of William Christman on a remote corner of the property on this day in 1864 marked the beginning of a new chapter for Arlington - it was becoming a graveyard for fallen Union soldiers. Soon the higher ranking soldiers and officers were being buried closer to the Mansion - around what was left of the Lee Family garden - where Mary had tended roses, honeysuckle, and jasmine.
Today, there are over 400,000 graves at Arlington.
May 13, 1911
On this day, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City opened to the public.
Today the garden is home to over 200 cherry trees representing forty-two different species. The garden is made up of several defined garden spaces. First, the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden was one of the first Japanese gardens to be created in an American botanic garden and the first Japanese garden to be accessible free of charge in America. Second, the Cranford Rose Garden came to be after being sponsored by the engineering company executive Walter V Cranford. The oldest garden on the property is the Native Flora Garden which started out as a wildflower garden before transitioning to a woodland garden. There’s also a Shakespeare Garden, a Fragrance Garden, and a Children’s Garden.
Before the pandemic, the garden welcomed nearly a million visitors every single year.
Narcissi and Daffodils live for generations. I know some double yellow Daffodils growing in my great-grandfather’s garden that were planted over seventy years ago. The place was sold, and the house burned about thirty years since, and all this time has been entirely neglected.
Someone told me that Daffodils and Narcissi still bloomed there bravely in the grass. With a cousin, one lovely day last spring, I took the train out to this old place and there found quantities of the dainty yellow flowers.
We had come unprovided with any gardening implements, having nothing of the kind in town, and brought only a basket for the spoils and a steel table-knife. We quickly found the knife of no avail, so we borrowed a sadly broken coal shovel from a tumble-down sort of a man who stood gazing at us from the door of a tumble-down house.
The roots of the Daffodils were very deep, and neither of us could use a spade, so the driver of the ramshackle wagon taken at the station was pressed into service. Handling of shovel or spade was evidently an unknown art to him. The Daffodil roots were nearly a foot deep, but we finally got them, several hundreds of them, all we could carry.
The driver seemed to think us somewhat mad and said, “Them’s only some kind of weed,” but when I told him the original bulbs from which all these had come were planted by my great-grandmother and her daughter and that I wanted to carry some away, to plant in my own garden, he became interested and dug with all his heart.
The bulbs were in solid clumps a foot across and had to be pulled apart and separated. They were the old Double Yellow Daffodil and a very large double white variety, the edges of the petals faintly tinged with yellow and delightfully fragrant. My share of the spoils is now thriving in my garden. By the process of division every three years, these Daffodils can be made to yield indefinitely, and perhaps some great-grandchild of my own may gather their blossoms.
― Helena Rutherfurd Ely, American author, amateur gardener, and founding member of the Garden Club of America
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2012, and the subtitle is The Garden Lover's Guide to Plant Combinations.
In this book, plantsman and garden writer Ken Druse presents his time-tested recipes for plant pairings. Some plants are beautiful all are on their own, but some really shine when set beside another plant. Plant pairings are also a wonderful way to complement bloom times or foliage. There is so much to consider.
Ken smartly organizes his book by theme within seasons. He covers color, fragrance, foliage, grasses, and edible flowers, just to name a few. In addition, his book shows the power of his plant combinations in real gardens in a variety of growing zones through photography.
Like all of Ken’s books, this book is filled with a ton of horticultural wisdom and guidance, in addition to garden lore, humor, and practicality.
This book is 256 pages of perfect plant partners for your garden.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
May 13, 1907
Today is the birthday of the English author and playwright Daphne du Maurier (“Mor-ee-aya”), who was born in London.
She was the middle daughter of a well-to-do family of creative bohemian artists and writers. Her father was a famous actor and a favorite of James Barrie - the author of Peter Pan.
Daphne’s writing inspired Alfred Hitchcock - especially her novels Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and her short story, The Birds. In 1938 Daphne published her popular book, Rebecca. It has never gone out of print. During the pandemic in 2020, Netflix released their movie version of Rebecca starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas.
In Rebecca, Daphne writes about the beautiful azaleas that grow on the estate at Manderley. And she says that the blooms were used to make a perfume for its late mistress. Yet, most azalea growers know that this is likely an example of artistic license since most evergreen azaleas have little to no fragrance. That said, some native deciduous azaleas can be very fragrant.
In the opening pages of Rebecca, Daphne’s narrator vividly describes the wild and wooly garden of Manderley:
“I saw that the garden had obeyed the jungle law, even as the woods had done. The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs, poor, bastard thing that clung about their roots as though conscious of their spurious origin. A lilac had mated with a copper beech, and to bind them yet more closely to one another the malevolent ivy, always an enemy to grace, had thrown her tendrils about the pair and made them prisoners.”
Daphne du Maurier incorporated gardens into many of her books. Her daughters recall that their mother loved flowers and flower arranging. Their home was always filled with flowers. In Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories, Daphne wrote:
“As soon as he had disappeared Deborah made for the trees fringing the lawn, and once in the shrouded wood felt herself safe…
It was very quiet. The woods were made for secrecy. They did not recognize her as the garden did."
In The King’s General, as in Rebecca, the garden feels like a dangerous place at times.
“I was a tiny child again at Radford, my uncle’s home, and he was walking me through the glass-houses in the gardens. There was one flower, an orchid, that grew alone; it was the color of pale ivory, with one little vein of crimson running through the petals. The scent filled the house, honeyed, and sickly sweet. It was the loveliest flower I had ever seen. I stretched out my hand to stroke the soft velvet sheen, and swiftly my uncle pulled me by the shoulder. ‘Don’t touch it, child. The stem is poisonous.”
Finally, in her work, The Parasites, Daphne showed a different side of herself - her cleverness and humor - with a brief commentary on what it was like sending flowers along with a telegram:
“Most people would send their letters and telegrams to the Haymarket. The flowers too. When you came to think of it the whole business was horribly like having an operation. The telegrams, the flowers. And the long hours of waiting.”
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