March 7, 2022 Luther Burbank, Robert Fortune, Edmund Hope Verney, The Art and Science of William Bartram by Judith Magee, and Kurt Bluemel


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Historical Events

1849 Birth of Luther Burbank (books about this person), American botanist and horticulturist.

During his 55-year career, Luther developed over 800 varieties of plants. He is remembered for many plants, including the Shasta daisy and the white blackberry.

A russet-colored variant of a Luther potato became the world's predominant potato in food processing and was called the Russet Burbank Potato. Luther hoped the potato would help revive Ireland's potato production after late blight destroyed potatoes all across Europe.

Luther once said,

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.


1858 On this day, Robert Fortune (books about this person) left for his fourth trip to China.

Months earlier, he had sent thousands of tea seeds to the United States.

The Americans didn't feel they required Fortune's oversight to cultivate the plants, although the distribution of the little seedlings wasn't very strategic.

Most of the seeds and plants were distributed via members of congress from southern states who sent the plants home to their farming constituents.

James Rion of South Carolina wrote,

In the fall of 1859, I received from the Patent Office, Washington, a very tiny tea plant, which I placed in my flower garden as a curiosity. It has grown well, has always been free from any disease, has had full outdoor exposure, and attained a height of 5 feet, 8 inches There cannot be the least doubt but that the tea plant will flourish in South Carolina.

Two years later, the start of the Civil War derailed those early hopes for tea production in the United States.


1865 On this day, Edmund Hope Verney received a letter.

By this point, Edmund had been botanizing Vancouver Island for three years. All throughout his expedition, he was gobsmacked by the beauty of the landscape - especially during spring and had written,

I cannot believe that any part of the world can show a greater variety and number of wildflowers than this.

As much as he could, Edmund sent specimens back home to Claydon in England. Occasionally, he would get discouraged if he didn't hear back - sometimes not even a thank you.

But on this day, 1865, Edmund's stepmother wrote with words of praise,

Your seeds are excellent - just what we wanted - the Colony is celebrated for its Pines and Cypresses.
The Bishop says bulbs, too.
If [possible], perhaps you can bring some with you - all lilies are valuable.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

The Art and Science of William Bartram by Judith Magee
This book came out in 2007, and it's one of the best authoritative books on William Bartram.

William was an eminent artist and naturalist, and he was one of the first people to explore the flora and fauna of the American Southeast between 1773 and 1777. Bartram's work was sent to his patron back in London, and today the London Natural History Museum houses most of William Bartram's drawings.

Judith's book showcased for the first time all sixty-eight Bartram drawings from the Natural History Museum, along with other pieces from his contemporaries.

This book also shares some of Bartram's writings and letters, proving that Bartram was influential during his lifetime and a beacon for the next generation of American naturalists. Bartram's work had an impact beyond the world of science. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and other writers found in the significance of Bartram's drawings and writing a source of inspiration.

Bartram accomplished so much during his lifetime, especially because he was entirely self-taught. Bartram's humility and compassion made it possible for him to spend time with Native Americans during his explorations. He became an authority on the birds of North America. In 1773, William collected and propagated seeds from the Franklinia or the Franklin tree. The tree survives today, thanks to William Bartram.

This book is 276 pages of William Bartram's life and contributions in the context of modern scientific thinking.

You can get a copy of The Art and Science of William Bartram by Judith Magee and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for $46.


Botanic Spark

2001 On this day, The Baltimore Sun shared a story called Maryland's Mr. Grass Plantsman: Kurt Bluemel ("Blu-MEL") by Nancy Taylor Robson.

Nurseryman and landscaper Kurt Bluemel had dealt with groundhogs, rabbits, and rapacious deer.
But nothing in his career prepared him for the destructive powers of elephants and giraffes.
"They are like organic lawnmowers!" he [said].

Kurt Bluemel (the company) is one of the largest, most extensive wholesale growers of ornamental grasses in the nation, which is why six years ago the Disney company asked him to help design, supply and plant the 125 acres of Savanna at its new Animal Kingdom in Florida.

He assumed the animals would graze the landscape, so he was careful to avoid poisonous plants.
But, he was unprepared for their voraciousness.

"We planted acacias they have very long thorns as part of the permanent landscape, but the giraffes ate them down to the ground. Thorns and all!"

Another surprise was the soil or lack of it.

"Florida only has sand," he says.
"It's like hydroponic growing. As soon as you stop giving things water and fertilizer, they stop growing.
But with food and water, in three months, the vegetation was unbelievable!
We miscalculated planting distances as a result."

Kurt died of cancer in 2014 at the age of 81. He was known as Mr. Grass and The King of Grasses after a lifetime spent championing ornamental grasses and perennials to bring nature, movement, and vibrancy to the landscape.


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