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1772 Birth of Friedrich von Hardenberg (pen name Novalis ("NO-vol-liss")), the German romantic poet-philosopher.
Friedrich's pen name, Novalis, was a nod to his 12th-century farming ancestors who called themselves the Novali, which translates to "people who cultivate new land," - and his first work under his pen name was Blüthenstaub (Pollen). In the book, Novalis advised his artistic friends to be prolific in their work, writing,
Friends, the soil is poor, we must scatter seed abundantly for even a moderate harvest.
Novalis is most remembered for his unfinished work Henry von Ofterdingen: A Romance. This work resulted in a nickname for Novalis as the poet of the blue flower. Henry von Ofterdingen was a fabled poet from the 13th century. In Novalis's story, his romantic yearning is symbolized by his love for a blue flower, which Novalis later revealed was inspired by a heliotrope.
For centuries, Novalis has been seen primarily as a love-struck poet who mourned the death of his first love, Sophie, only to be reunited with her in heaven after he, too, succumbed to the white plague or tuberculosis.
Today, blue flowers remain a symbol of desire and a striving for the unreachable. They also represent humanity's connection with nature - a rare and fragile relationship. Today, blue flowers remain among gardeners' most coveted color of blossoms - as in the Himalayan blue poppy, the delphinium, the cornflower, and the forget-me-not.
In Henry von Offerdingen, Novalis wrote,
I care not for wealth and riches. But that blue flower I do long to see;
it haunts me and I can think and dream of nothing else...
1853 Frederick Arther Walton, English nurseryman, cactus collector, and jeweler.
Born in Birmingham, Frederick owned one of the largest private cactus collections in England, and he started a cactus nursery called The Friary. He also created and edited The Cactus Journal - a monthly journal devoted exclusively to cacti and other succulent plants, which ran for 24 issues. Frederick also founded the first cactus society in England.
In 1899, he traveled to America and Mexico to collect cactus, and he wrote,
Possessing one of the largest collections in England, I decided to go to the native home of the cactus – California, Arizona, and Mexico. so on January 7th, 1899, I left Liverpool Fort New York; then I went to the great city of St Louis where there is a cactus a society and a very good collection of cacti in the Botanical Gardens. After spending a few pleasant days at St Louis I took the train to Kansas City… then through New Mexico and arrived at San Bernardino California where I met Andrew Halstead Alverson a very enthusiastic Cactus collector. He took me out into the desert, and for the first time in my life, I was in the midst of wild cacti.
The trip was the adventure of a lifetime for Frederick. He battled snakes, scorpions, pumas, centipedes, and the harsh desert sun in an exploration of cactus country covering over 20,000 miles in the western hemisphere.
In January 1900, for unknown reasons, Frederick's cactus journal and the cactus society abruptly ended. There was a mention in the final issues of The Cactus Journal that he was exploring the creation of a daffodil journal - but it was never printed.
At the turn of the century, European gardeners outside of Germany had no real interest in cactus or succulents - that interest wouldn't be rekindled until the 1930s.
And so, in 1905, Frederick's health was waning, and he sold his nursery. Frederick died in 1922.
1858 On this day, the poet, teacher, abolitionist, and writer Charlotte Forten started writing her poem called, To a Beloved Friend.
Charlotte was friends with Sarah Cassey Smith and had lived with the Smith family while attending school. In 1856, Charlotte became Salem State's first African American graduate.
Sarah and Charlotte shared a love for all flowers. The young women made and received May baskets in the springtime, and they both enjoyed spring nosegays or little bouquets.
Once when Charlotte's teacher gave her a little bouquet, Charlotte wrote in her diary.
Your voiceless lips, dear flowers, are living preachers.
The day before this day, in 1858 (May 1st), Charlotte found herself homesick for Salem. She disliked the noisy city life in Philadelphia, and she also confronted more significant restrictions on her activities as an African American in the City of Brotherly Love. She had noted in her diary that she had been "refused at two ice cream salons."
And so, when Sarah's bouquet arrived on May 1st, Charlotte quickly interpreted the meaning of each flower according to floriography or the language of flowers - a common way for people to communicate in the 1800s. Sarah's handpicked Mayflowers symbolized welcome. The little Violets represented constant friendship, and the delicate Columbine was a reference to separation. The message of friendship and love across the miles of separation was received loud and clear.
From her diary, we know the bouquet lifted Charlotte's mood and inspired Charlotte's poem called To a Beloved Friend.
1923 On this day, Robert Frost's poem "Our Singing Strength" was first published in the New Republic. The poem begins,
It snowed in spring on earth so dry and warm
The flakes could find no landing place to form.
Hordes spent themselves to make it wet and cold,
And still they failed of any lasting hold.
They made no white impression on the black.
They disappeared as if earth sent them back.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
The Land Gardeners by Bridget Elworth and Henrietta Courtauld
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Cut Flowers.
Let me begin by setting the table for you - because that's precisely the cover of this book. There's a table with a beautiful tablecloth and then a variety of porcelain vases on the table, all of different sizes and shapes. Behind that is a gallery of botanical art. Resting on the table are cut tulips, all kinds of tulips. And, then in two of the vases are different arrangements of these beautiful, fresh-picked tulips. It's just an absolutely stunning cover.
The Land Gardeners is a five-star book on Amazon as well.
Together, Bridget and Henrietta are English gardeners, and they established a firm that they call Land Gardeners. So, the book references their work - as well as their shared passion - which is, of course, flowers.
In the real world, The Land Gardeners is a cut flower operation. The book, The Land Gardeners, provides everything you need to know to set up your own cut flower garden - and then everything that comes after, including gathering the flowers, even arranging.
Vogue was a fan of this book, saying,
A peak into their blossom-filled world. The book reads like a meander through their tumbling English gardens.
The Sunday Times wrote,
One of the Best Gardening Books of the Year.
And The Oregonian said,
Packed with ideas and inspiration, passion and beauty... This large-size, hardcover book is filled with stellar photographs that will also inspire you to display a vase filled with flowers you grew and arranged yourself.
This book is a big one. It's almost five pounds, 391 pages of cut flowers from the garden to the vase.
1893 Birth of Norman Bor, Irish botanist and explorer.
He was awarded the Linnean Medal of the Linnean Society in 1962 and served as an Assistant Director of Kew.
His wife, Eleanor, accompanied him to Assam and Tibet and then wrote a fabulous book about the adventure called The Adventures of a Botanist's Wife - a book I own multiple copies of - it's a favorite of mine.
In 1952, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, featured Eleanor's book in an article called "On Top of the World." Here's an excerpt:
Mrs. Bor had expected to share exciting plant discoveries and, at least, to give her name to a rare orchid. Instead, she found her husband was a specialist in grasses, and it was a new species of grass - extremely rare - but, to her, looking no more than a "mangy bit of fur" that finally bore her name.
Once [ on a mountain] stepping from mist and snow, they saw below them... a blaze of rhododendrons and magnolias, and In their camp that night burned rhododendron logs.
Their mountain trips were often dangerous... The Rupa bridge was especially terrifying, with only strands of cane for a foothold and tall hoops set a yard apart for the hands to grip.
More menacing than cane bridges and cliff tracks were the insects. Wild animals were not alarming, but the hornets, centipedes, horse flies, dam dims, and above all, the leeches made camping in the jungle foothills a nightmare.
One reviewer wrote:
Here is a story told with the charm and simplicity of a life spent in the foothills of the Himalayas where Eleanor Bor and her botanist husband tramp through jungled terrain establishing friendly relations with hill tribes and villagers, discovering the enchantments of mysterious undergrowth and carrying with them the domestic problems of household pets and family happenings. Their years in the jungle...are those of a true traveler.
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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.