April 28, 2022 Floralia, Harry Bolus, Henri Frederic Amiel, Bonnie Marranca, The Perfect Specimen by Durlynn Anema, and Madeleine Françoise Basseporte
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April 28th marks the beginning of a six-day festival called Floralia in the Roman calendar. And it's held in honor of the goddess of flowering crops and plants, and she was known as Flora.
Now the goal of this weeklong festival was a satisfying appeal to Flora for a great growing season, a bountiful harvest, safety for workers, and probably a solid grape harvest for good wine.
1834 Birth of Harry Bolus, South African botanist, artist, businessman, and philanthropist.
If you've ever heard of the Bolus Herbarium in South Africa, it was named in honor of Harry.
Harry founded the Herbarium, and he bequeathed his extensive library and part of his fortune to establish the South African College, now known as the University of Cape Town.
Harry Bolus was not originally from South Africa. He was actually born in Nottingham, England. And the school that he attended, Castle Gate School, had a headmaster who corresponded with a plant collector named William Kensit.
When Kensit required an assistant, Harry Bolus was the student who was selected for the job.
Harry moved to South Africa and promptly fell in love with William's sister Sophia. The two were married, and they had three sons and a daughter.
In 1864, when their oldest son died at six years old, a friend and fellow botanist named Francis Guthrie suggested that Harry take up botany to help heal his broken heart.
Well, the rest, as they say, is history.
Harry started his great botanical collection in 1865, and he soon struck up a correspondence with the most famous botanists of his day.
And there's one other story about Harry Bolus that I thought you would enjoy.
In 1876, Harry and Francis Guthrie traveled together to the world's Mecca for botany - Kew gardens in England - along with a large collection of plants. Even though their ship hit a reef on their return voyage and their collection was lost, Harry always referred to that trip as "Forty happy days."
1852 On this day, Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher and poet, wrote in his journal:
Once more, I feel the spring languor creeping over me, the spring air about me. This morning the poetry of the scene, the song of the birds, the tranquil sunlight, the breeze blowing over the fresh green fields — all rose into and filled my heart.
1947 Birth of Bonnie Marranca, New York City-based critic, publisher, and writer.
In her book, American Garden Writing (1988), Bonnie wrote,
I judge a garden by the gardener who cares for it, the one who invests space with daydreams.
How well I know the downward gaze into the face of the earth, the feeling of a luxurious body and good, dark soil that slips through the fingers in the rush to return to its dirty delirium.
Each gardener creates an ideal world of miniature thoughts that drift languidly into each other like flowers on a dry afternoon. Hear silence has the rhythm of wishes.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
The Perfect Specimen by Durlynn Anema
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is The 20th Century Renowned Botanist: Ynes Mexia.
This book is a wonderful biography of Ynes Mexia - the Mexican American botanist born in 1870 and who discovered the Sierra Club at age 50. And that led her to her life's calling and her legacy as a botanist.
And so I love what Durlynn wrote and the dedication of this book because she wrote,
This book is dedicated to those people who gained confidence in their abilities later in life.
And that is certainly the case with Ynes Mexia. She loved her experience with the Sierra Club so much that she decided to enroll in botany classes at Berkeley.
In fact, over a 16-year period, she just kept taking botany classes on and off; She never had the goal of graduating. She just wanted to keep learning - so that's quite a paradigm shift. And as the mom of four young adults who are either in college or about to go to college, I love that perspective of being a lifelong learner - which is undoubtedly something that Ynes achieved.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that Ynes was all about coursework and classrooms because that's really only a very small portion of Ynes's story.
She was actually very drawn to fieldwork. She took countless trips through the Southwestern part of the United States into New Mexico and even into South America. She was very drawn to unique plants. She loved sunflowers, and she was a voracious collector. Many scholars argue that Ynes was one of the most accomplished collectors of her time. On her very first collecting trip, she collected over 500 specimens, which is essentially the same amount Darwin collected on his first expedition on The Beagle.
Over her lifetime, Ynes collected over 150,000 specimens -500 of which were brand new plant species that had never been identified before.
Ynes's story sadly came to an end in 1938 due to lung cancer. She was actually in Mexico on a plant collecting trip when she just could not go on any longer. So she cut her trip short, returned to the United States, and then died at Berkeley that summer on June 12th.
And aside from her staggering amount of work, Ynes left a legacy when part of her estate was donated to the Redwood Preserve in California (which I think of as kind of a full-circle moment - harkening back to her work with the Sierra Club.)
And so, forty acres of the Mexia estate were donated to the preserve, and one of the very tallest trees was named in honor of Ynes - a woman who is definitely worthy of a biography.
I also wanted to share just a bit of what Durlynn wrote in the author's note at the beginning of this book because I think it does a beautiful job of outlining the extraordinary nature of Ynes's story.
Most successful people, no matter their endeavor or occupation, find inspiration through either a parent, an important or inspirational person or an event. This is not the case with Ynes Mexia.
A shy, quiet girl. She seemed to fade into the background with both her parents. She led a lonely life, which ironically aided her in her later endeavors.
Mexia's is a story of retreat into self in the early years, and then blossoming to reach her highest potential after 50 years old. It is also the story of a doctor, who during the infancy of psychiatry and psychology, mentored this woman to her potential and became the father figure she never had.
Read Marvel. And enjoy. Ynes Mexia's story.
It's a good one.
This book is 174 pages about the life of the renowned botanist Ynes Mexia.
You can get a copy of The Perfect Specimen by Durlynn Anema and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $14.
1701 Birth of Madeleine Françoise Basseporte ("Mad-ah-lin Frahn-swahz Bass-ah-port"), French botanical artist, miniature painter, interior decorator, and teacher.
Madeleine was a student of Claude Aubriet, the man honored with the naming of the Aubrieta ("Aubreesha") genus. The only reason Madeleine was able to study with Aubriet was that her talent was undeniable.
Despite his lack of credentials, Claude himself had risen through the ranks to become the Royal Painter of France.
In 1741, Madeleine succeeded Claude as the Official Painter of the Royal Garden - an unprecedented appointment as Madeleine became the first woman to hold the position. It was a role she would carry out for over four decades. Madeleine was 40 years old when she took on this assignment. She never married or had children. Instead, she dedicated herself to her work. At a minimum, she was required to produce twelve botanical paintings for the King every year.
On top of that, King Louis XV also gave her the responsibility of teaching all the princesses how to draw and paint flowers. Madeleine also taught botanical art to many other artists and scientific illustrators throughout her career. She also became the godmother to several children from academic families she knew well.
Madeleine also had the honor of working as an artist and designer for the King’s official mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Pompadour was a major patron of creatives in architecture, porcelain, and decorative arts. Madeleine had an instant rapport with Pompadour. After Madeleine captured the beauty of the flowers around Madame Pompadour's chateau, Madame Pompadour insisted that the King give Madeleine a pay raise. And he did.
Now it's important to know that as the first female Official painter of The Royal Garden, Madeleine did not work in a bubble. She exchanged letters with the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc and the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who appreciated her work so much that he wrote, “nature gives plants their existence, but Mademoiselle Basseporte preserves them for us forever.” (Translation my own).
Madeleine was also a contemporary of Carl Linneaus. On January 30, 1749, Bernard Jussieu wrote a letter to Linnaeus teasing that Madeleine was "very proud of the title you give her, of your second wife.”
Despite her work alongside the top scientific minds of her time, her beautiful, botanically accurate art, and her groundbreaking appointment, Madeleine (unlike her predecessor Claude Aubriete) was never honored with the naming of any flower. But that doesn't mean she wasn't deserving of it. Today scholars hold Madeleine's work in esteem as scientific art - designed to show the structure and physiology of her plant subjects.
To me, Madeleine's art has a delicate, sensitive quality. Her expression of leaves, in particular, shows her depth of understanding regarding her plant subjects.
In 2021, Nina Gelbart wrote a book called Minerva's French Sisters by @yalepress. The book explores the biographies of six forgotten female scientists from 18th century France - including Madeleine Françoise Basseporte.
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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.
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