February 9, 2022 Samuel Thompson, Henry Arthur Bright, Alice Walker, The Wardian Case by Luke Keogh, and Amy Lawrence Lowell


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Historical Events

1769 Birth of Samuel Thompson (books about this person), American self-taught New Hampshire holistic doctor, and herbalist. In 1809, he was tried and acquitted for the murder of Ezra Lovett after treatment with lobelia inflata, a herb commonly called puke weed that he regarded as a key to treating disease. Despite his iconoclast approach to medicine, Samual's herbal remedies and vapor baths were popular, and his followers were known as Thompsonians. In addition to lobelia, Samuel primarily used herbs like barberry bark, red clover, and cayenne. In his New Guide to Health (1833), Samuel wrote,

I have made use of Cayenne in all kinds of disease, and have given it to patients of all ages and under every circumstance that has come under my practice... It is no doubt, the most powerful stimulant known, but its power is entirely congenial to nature, being powerful only in raising and maintaining that heat on which life depends.


1830 Birth of Henry Arthur Bright (books by this author), English gardener and writer. Henry began a diary, which would become a book called A Year in a Lancashire Garden. In February 1874, Henry was doing what gardeners do this time of year: cleaning up and editing the garden for the new season, looking through garden catalogs, and mulling over unappreciated plants - like the humble spring Crocus.

But all things are now telling of spring. We have finished our pruning of the wall-fruit; we have ...sown our earliest peas… We have been looking over old volumes of Curtis's Botanical Magazine and have been trying to get... old forgotten plants of beauty, and now of rarity. We have found enough, however, to add a fresh charm to our borders for June, July, and August...

I sometimes think that the Crocus is less cared for than it deserves. Our modern poets rarely mention it, but in Homer, when he would make a carpet for the gods, it is of Lotus, Hyacinth, and Crocus.


1944 Birth of Alice Walker (books by this author), American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she published The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In her book, In Search of Our Mother's Garden (1983), Alice wrote,

In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.


Grow That Garden Library™
Book Recommendation

The Wardian Case by Luke Keogh

This book came out late in 2020, and the subtitle is How a Simple Box Moved Plants and Changed the World.

When Australian Luke Keogh ("Key-oh") set out to tackle the topic of the Wardian case, he was working in Munich on an Anthropocene Exhibit and curating a piece about how goods had been moved around the globe. This topic led him to the topic of the Wardian Case. Wardian Cases are a great topic, and original Wardian cases are getting harder and harder to find.

For all their miraculous functionality, Wardian cases are actually quite simple. They essentially are wood boxes with a glass top. The box could be filled with potted plants or be layered with bricks, moss, and soil and then have plants potted directly into the box.

Luke's book is a look back at not only the cases but the inventor of the Wardian case and the man they were named for: Nathanial Bagshaw Ward. Nathaniel's story began in 1829 when he was struggling to grow plants. He lived close to the London docks, and there was a lot of air pollution, which wasn't suitable for plants or people. Anyway, Nathaniel was a life-long naturalist, and he decided that he wanted to create this perfect environment for a moth to grow in. So he settled on using a large bottle, and then he put the moth pupa in the bottle along with some plants. As he was waiting for the moth to hatch, he realized that he had a beautiful little fern growing in the little biosphere he created, and he was suddenly struck by how well the fern had grown in that sealed environment (as opposed to his home garden). And that was the inspiration for the Wardian case, which was essentially the precursor to the terrarium.

Nathaniel experimented for years before finally creating a Wardian case that could be used on ships and long voyages and make it possible for explorers to bring back live specimens. His first case went all the way to Australia. Ward waited for seven months for the ship to return, and he was pleased to hear from the captain that his case was a grand success. In fact, halfway through the journey, the plants were doing so well that they had to prune back some of the growth during the voyage.

In his book, Luke shares many fascinating stories about Ward and his cases and how they transformed plant exploration, food, and the world. For instance, Ward was passionate about having windowsill boxes in the homes of the lower class so that they could grow plants in their home. Luke's book offers wonderful insights, history, images, and maps of trade routes to help contextualize the importance of this simple and yet profound invention.

You can get a copy of The Wardian Case by Luke Keogh and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for $25.


Botanic Spark

1874 Birth of Amy Lawrence Lowell (books by this author), an American poet of the imagist school. In 1926, she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for a collection that included her popular poem Lilacs.

In Madonna of the Evening Flowers, Amy wrote:

You tell me that the peonies need spraying,
That the columbines have overrun all bounds,
That the pyrus japonica should be cut back and rounded.
You tell me these things.


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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.

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