The Garden Writer
Today is the birthday of the botanist and garden writer Alice Lounsberry who was born on this day in 1868.
(Note: Online accounts, based on a Who's Who biography have the date of her year of birth as 1873 - which is incorrect as she was already two years old on an 1870 census with her brother and parents.)
Lounsberry was a New Yorker, and she developed a love for botany as a young girl. In her mid-twenties, she was already serving as a board member for the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).
Lounsberry is forever linked to her friend and collaborator - the Australian botanical illustrator, Ellis Rowan.
In the late 1890s, Rowan (b. 1848) decided to travel to New York. She caused a bit of a sensation during her first trip to the States a few years earlier. This trip was no different - except that after her arrival, Rowan contracted influenza, and she needed to be hospitalized.
New Yorkers, like Lounsberry, read about Rowan's illness, and they sent cards and flowers to her hospital room to cheer her. But Lounsberry had an enormous sense of admiration for Rowan, and she felt she needed to do something more personal. So, Alice personally brought a box of fresh-picked wildflowers to the hospital and gave them to Rowan's nurse. Rowan was thoroughly charmed by the bouquet and the card which read, "From one flower seeker to another - and an admirer of your work."
The following day, Alice visited Rowan. Even though Alice was twenty years younger than Rowan, the two hit it off. They spent an entire afternoon discussing botany and their work. When Alice offered to show Rowan where she liked to botanize for wildflowers, it was the incentive Rowan needed to get her health back on track. When Alice invited her to illustrate a book on Wildflowers she had been asked to write, their fates as writer and painter were jointly sealed.
Together, they produced three books:
"A Guide to the Wild Flowers" (1899) describing around 500 wildflowers. "A Guide to the Trees" (1900) describing nearly 200 trees & shrubs. And, "Southern Wild Flowers & Trees" (1901) where Alice wrote in the preface:
"To learn something of the history, the folk lore and the uses of southern plants and to see rare ones growing in their natural surroundings, Mrs. Rowan and I traveled in many parts of the south, exercising always our best blandishments to get the people of the section to talk with us. Through the mountainous region we drove from cabin to cabin, and nowhere could we have met with greater kindness and hospitality."
While they were working on their book on Southern Wildflowers, Alice and Rowan's time together was marred by tragedy. They were surrounded by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains when a telegram came for Rowan. Her only son, Eric, had died in South Africa. He was 22 years old.
After finishing these books, the two went their separate ways.
After working with Rowan, Alice continued to write - but without Rowan's artwork, her books failed to attract the same level of popularity.
After suffering a stroke, Alice Lounsberry died at the age of 81 on November 20, 1949.