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Friends of the Garden Meeting in Athens Georgia
1779 Birth of the physician, botanist, and American statesman, Joel Roberts Poinsett.
In the 1820s, President John Quincy Adams appointed Joel to serve as a US ambassador in Mexico. Joel was introduced to a beautiful plant that the Aztecs called the cuetlaxochitl ("qwet-la-SHO-chee-til”), but today it's better known as the Poinsettia (books about this topic).
Like most euphorbias, the Poinsettia has a white sap that the Aztecs used to treat wounds and skin issues, which is how it got the common name "Skin Flower."
In 1825, when Joel Poinsett sent clippings back home to South Carolina, botanists had new common names for the plant: "the Mexican Fire Plant" or "the Painted Leaf." The botanist Karl Wilenow ("Vill-ah-no") named the Poinsettia the Euphorbia pulcherrima. Pulcherrima means "very beautiful."
By 1836, English newspapers were reporting on the Poinsettia in great detail:
Poinsettia Pulcherrima.. are of the most brilliant rosy-crimson color, the splendor of which is quite dazzling.
Few, if any of the most highly valued beauties of our gardens, can vie with this.
Every year, we celebrate National Poinsettia Day on December 12th, the day Joel Poinsett died.
1859 Birth of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, better known under his pen name Sholem Aleichem ("Sholl-em A-LEK-em") (books about this person), Yiddish author and playwright. The musical Fiddler on the Roof (1964), was based on his stories. Sholom Aleichem wrote,
It’s as my mother says: If you want to learn how to grow cabbages, ask the gardener, not the goat.
1905 Birth of Geoffrey Grigson ("Jeffrey") (books about this person), British poet, and naturalist. Before publishing his own poems, Geoffrey edited a poetry magazine called New Verse. He once wrote:
We do not feel, as Humphry Repton, the landscape gardener, felt in his epitaph, that our dust is going to turn into roses.
Dust we believe simply to be dust.
1905 Birth of Alice O'Connor, Russian-American writer, and philosopher. Her pen name was Ayn Rand ("Eye-n Rand") (books about this person). She developed a philosophy called Objectivism. Her work The Fountainhead brought fame, but her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged is considered her magnum opus.
Ayn supported laissez-faire capitalism, and when she died in 1982, a 6-foot-tall dollar-sign floral arrangement was placed by her casket.
1887 On this day, Charles E. Bessey (books about this person), an American botanist and University of Nebraska botany professor. He helped pass the Hatch Act. The Act provides $15,000 for state land-grant colleges and universities in every state to establish experiment stations.
Named for Congressman William Hatch, the experiment stations were the forerunner to state Cooperative Extension Services. Today, Hatch Act funding accounts for roughly ten percent of total funds for each experiment station.
Nearly all Master Gardener programs in America offer training through a state land-grant university and its Cooperative Extension Service.
Charles is remembered as America's greatest developer of botany education. His motto was,
Science with Practice.
Charles enjoyed plant science, but he never intended to become a botanist. He wanted to be a civil engineer and surveyor. But he agreed to pursue botany at the urging of his professors, and when he told the President of his school about his decision, he commented,
Well, Bessey, I am glad of it, but you'll never be rich.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
By Any Other Name by Simon Morley
This book came out late in 2021, and the subtitle is A Cultural History of the Rose.
Simon Morley is a British artist and art historian. He's now Assistant Professor of Fine Art at Dankook University, Republic of Korea. He is also a keen rose gardener.
I've watched a number of interviews with Simon. He does a wonderful job of helping us understand the significance of the rose in our world - socially, politically, and religiously - and how we celebrate the rose in our writing and art.
Originating in the middle east and Asia, roses were associated with Venus or Aphrodite, the goddess of love in ancient times. This early association with love is why roses are the flower of Valentine's day.
In Western society, roses were bred in the early 1800s in France and then in the late 1800s in England. Both countries have a long and royal history with the rose.
Today, the rose is the national flower for many countries, including America, Iran, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Iraq, Maldives, Romania, Slovakia, and England.
Simon Morley's quest for a deeper understanding of the rose lead him to appreciate the duality in the meaning and symbolism of the rose. The rose offers incredible beauty and fragrance, but the prickles or thorns mean the rose can bring pain. This complexity of pleasure and pain gives the rose enhanced significance throughout history.
This book is 304 pages of an examination and a celebration of the rose.
1942 Birth of John Winslow Irving (books about this person), American-Canadian novelist and screenwriter.
Here's an excerpt from A Prayer For Owen Meany:
And if she wore cocktail dresses when she labored in her rose garden, they were cocktail dresses that she no longer intended to wear to cocktail parties. Even in her rose garden, she did not want to be seen underdressed.
If the dresses got too dirty from gardening, she threw them out.
When my mother suggested to her that she might have them cleaned, my grandmother said,
‘What? And have those people at the cleaners wonder what I was doing in a dress to make it that dirty?’
From my grandmother I learned that logic is relative.
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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.