April 6, 2022 Albrecht Dürer, José Mutis, Johann Zinn, Difficult Fruit, Private Gardens of South Florida by Jack Staub, and Alfred Lord Tennyson


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Historical Events

1528 Today is the anniversary of the death of the German painter, engraver, printmaker, mathematician, and theorist from Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer (books about this person).

Albrecht's work was extraordinary, and by the time he was in his 20s, he was already quite famous.

During Albrecht's lifetime, explorers shifted their focus from medicinal plants to ornamental plants. As an artist, Albrecht captured many new exotic plants with incredible attention to detail.

If you're looking for bunny art, you should check out Albrecht Dürer's watercolor called Young Hare. It's a beautiful piece, remarkable for its accuracy and realism.

One of Albrecht's most famous pieces is The Great Piece of Turf (German: Das große Rasenstück), which he created in 1503. This exceptional watercolor shows a very natural grouping of natural plants together in community and features grass that has gone to seed, plantain, and dandelion.


1732 Birth of José Celestino Mutis (books about this person), Spanish priest, botanist, and mathematician.
He's remembered as the architect of the Royal Botanical Expedition of the Kingdom of Granada (what is now Columbia) in 1783.

For almost 50 years, José worked to collect and illustrate the plants in Colombian lands.
In Columbia, José created an impressive botanical library and a herbarium with over 24,000 species. During his lifetime, only Joseph Banks had a bigger herbarium than José. 

José's study of the Cinchona tree (Cinchona officinalis) at the Bogota Botanical Garden helped develop a cure for yellow fever or malaria. The Cinchona tree grows in the cloud forests of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. The bark of the cinchona tree contains quinine, the chemical used to create medicines. During José's lifetime, Cinchona was believed to have the potential to cure all diseases, and so the Spanish crown encouraged José to continue his work with Cinchona.

José sent thousands of specimens back to the Madrid Botanical Garden. He also used local artisans to create over 6,500 pieces of botanical art. The majority of the collection remained in shipping crates until 2010 when they were finally exhibited at Kew.

Today, thousands of pieces of the Mutis collection are housed at the Botanical Garden in Madrid, Spain. The pieces are significant - mostly folio size - and since they haven't seen much daylight over the past two centuries, they are in immaculate condition.

The old 200 pesos banknote in Colombia bears the portrait of José Mutis, and the Bogota Botanical Garden is named in his honor.


1759 Death of Johann Zinn, German anatomist and botanist. He died young from tuberculosis at 32.

Johann accomplished much in his short life, and he focused on two seemingly disconnected areas of science: human anatomy and botany.

From an anatomy standpoint, Johann focused on the eye. He wrote an eye anatomy book and became the first person to describe the Iris. Today, several parts of the eye are named in Johann's honor, including the Zinn zonule, the Zinn membrane, and the Zinn artery.

As a young man, Johann was appointed the University Botanic Garden director in Göttingen (pronounced "Gert-ing-en"). He initially thought the University wanted him to teach anatomy, but that job was filled, so he took the botany job instead.

One day, Johann received an envelope of seeds from the German Ambassador to Mexico. After growing the plants, Johann wrote about them, drew the blossoms, and shared the seed with other botanists throughout Europe. Those seeds were the Zinnia (click here to order Zinnia seeds)

When Johann died so young, Linnaeus named the Zinnia in his honor.

The Aztecs had a word for Zinnia, which basically translates to "the evil eye" or "eyesore." The original Zinnia was a weedy-looking plant with a dull purple blossom. This is why the Zinnia was initially called the crassina, which means "somewhat corse."

Once the French began hybridizing Zinnias, the dazzling colors began turning the heads and hearts of gardeners. This gradual transformation of zinnias from eyesores to beauties is how Zinnias earned the common name Cinderella Flower.

Zinnia's are a favorite flower of gardeners, and it is Indiana's state flower. In addition to their striking colors, zinnias can be directly sown into the garden, they attract pollinators like butterflies, and they couldn't be easier to grow.


2021 On this day, The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly by Kate Lebo was released. 

In her book, Kate Lebo - essayist, poet, and pie lady - shares a natural, culinary, medical, and personal history of twenty-six fruits, including:

  • Aronia or chokeberry - a member of the apple family and it is not poisonous. Like raspberries, the Aronia pigment stains clothes.

  • Durian - fruit from the tree of the hibiscus, or mallow, family. The unique rind contains a sweet freet. But the durian is very pungent - the odor subtly shifts between sweet and stringent on a spectrum from peaches to garlic.

  • Medlar - a very squishy and very sweet fruit. It tastes similar to an over-ripe date, toffee apples, or apple butter. Medlar is beloved by gardeners for its flowers.

  • Quince - has a bright fragrance of pear, apple, and citrus. Once cooked, quince softens and the flesh transforms from white to pink.

Kate's book includes one essay along with recipes for each fruit.

The fruits that Kate profiles are notoriously challenging. They might be difficult to grow or harvest. The window of ripeness might be very brief. The fruit may have a toxic aspect. Or, it may be invasive and not suitable for the garden.

But in Kate's book, these fruits make the cut, and she shares all kinds of insights and culinary uses for these fruits.

Kate reveals all kinds of tips, including why Willa Cather included the pits in her plum jam.

Great book. The Book of Difficult Fruit was named a Best Book of the Year by The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and NPR.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

Private Gardens of South Florida by Jack Staub

By the way, I should mention that Rob Cardillo took the fantastic photographs in this book.

This book is a treat, and I am thrilled to share it with you on today's show. It's been out for about six years, which means that this book's used prices have gone down. This was a $50 book when it came out, but you can now get copies for about $12, which is such a deal.

In this book, twenty-two private gardens from South Florida are featured. And if you love tropical gardens, you've got to get this book because it's the only way you'll see some of these secret gardens and grounds that are so unbelievably designed.

For instance, you'll meet a painter-turned-horticulturist who transformed her garden into a mysterious forestlike escape. There's a couple that created their garden after being inspired by the Near East, so their garden is something that you might see in a Persian Royal Garden. And of course, all the gardens are set in Florida, so you're going to see all kinds of pools, fountains, ocean views, and just incredible vistas - not to mention avenues of palms. (That's something I love because clearly, we will never have that here in Minnesota.) The palms add such a stately majestic aspect to tropical gardens.

Now, of course, Jack himself gardens on Hortulus Farm in Pennsylvania. His main concern was finding diverse gardens to feature in his book. Jack really wanted to show the full spectrum of private gardens - everything from a grand estate to tiny, hidden oases. Jack also wanted to find gardens that had owners that were very invested in them, that actually cared about them, and had a significant relationship with their gardens. And I think to me, that makes all the difference in the way these gardens are portrayed because you can tell that these gardens are loved.

One other thing I want to mention about Jack Staub and his writing is that he is such a compelling writer. Jack, himself is passionate about gardens, which comes through in how he writes about gardens. For instance. One garden is introduced by Jack this way:

There is something very Hansel and Gretel about this garden as it reveals itself so slowly and circuitously. One is nearly sufficiently disoriented to strew a trail of crumbs behind one so that one is guaranteed away out of the forest.

People just don't write like that about gardens - and so I appreciate that about Jack and his writing.

And while you might be sitting there going, why would I get a book about the gardens of South Florida?

Well, I would say stretch yourself.

This book may show you gardens that are out of your growing zone - that are a little foreign -but you will learn a ton about composition, design, and how to look at gardens through the wise eyes of Jack. And that, my friends, is very much worth investigating.

This book is 256 pages of enchanting properties that will inspire you not only to partner with nature and design in new ways but also to create your little slice of paradise right in your backyard.

You can get a copy of Private Gardens of South Florida by Jack Staub and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $12.


Botanic Spark

1809 Birth of Alfred Lord Tennyson (books by this author), English poet. During most of Queen Victoria's reign, he was England's Poet Laureate.

Today, you can take a tour of Tennyson's walled garden on the Isle of Wight. Both his home and the garden have been restored to their former glory, and the property gets top ratings on TripAdvisor.

Tennyson loved his "careless-ordered" garden. In 1863, he wrote,

I hope no one will pluck my wild Irises which I planted. ...if they want flowers there is the kitchen garden — nor break my new laurels, etc. whose growth I have been watched... I don't like children croquetting on that lawn. I have a personal interest in every leaf about it.

And here's Tennyson's most quoted sentiment is a favorite among gardeners:

If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.


Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener

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

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