June 2, 2022 Martha Washington, Ann Pamela Cunningham, Stephen Sears, Mahdi Obeidi, Where We Bloom by Debra Prinzing, and Vita Sackille-West


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Historical Events

1731 Birth of Martha Washington (books about this person), the inaugural first lady of the United States.

At Mount Vernon, Martha was in charge of the kitchen garden. As mistress of the plantation, she was in charge of entertaining guests and planning the evening meal. This meant that a robust kitchen garden was an absolute necessity. Thus, the kitchen garden is the oldest garden at Mount Vernon. It was installed in 1760, and the grounds have produced edibles now for over 250 years. So while other areas of Mount Vernon have gone through some changes, the kitchen garden or the lower garden remains primarily unchanged from how it was initially used back when the Washingtons lived there.

Now George and Martha spent a great deal of time away from the estate. And whenever George Washington would send letters back to Mount Vernon, the last paragraph was reserved for instructions from Martha to the gardener about the kitchen garden. Martha would ask about different crops and suggest planting or collecting seeds. Martha really was a knowledgeable plantswoman, and when it came to the kitchen garden, she was not afraid to make suggestions or changes. Martha knew that the kitchen garden was a reflection of her As George's wife and as the president's wife. And when George and Martha were at Mount Vernon, they hosted an average of 600 guests every single year. And most of those people enjoyed supper at the plantation, and the meal No Doubt featured produce from the kitchen garden.

William Spence was the gardener at Mount Vernon. He continued working at Mount Vernon after George Washington's death. In addition, William was s a witness to Martha Washington's will, which he signed on September 22, 1800.


1874 On this day, Ann Pamela Cunningham, founder of the MVLA, gave her farewell address

MVLA stands for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which was founded in 1853. In 1858, less than five years later, this group of indomitable women purchased Mount Vernon from the George Washington family. By so doing, they saved George Washington's eighteenth-century plantation home from development or destruction.

Together with encouragement from tourists, the MVLA worked to restore the home and grounds to their full glory. 
Ann spoke of the need for continued work in her address:

Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge see to it that you keep It the home of Washington!

Let no irreverent hand change it; let no vandal hands desecrate it with the fingers of "progress"!

Let one spot, in this grand country of ours, be saved from change. Upon you rests this duty.


Today we can say definitively that Ann's advice was followed. Washington's home is in top condition along with the outbuildings and the grounds. The greenhouse, which
was in a fire in 1835, was fully restored in 1952.

To preserve Washington's view of the Potomac, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association purchased nearly 500 acres on the other side of the Potomac River, thanks to Mrs. Frances Payne Bolton. The latter ended up organizing one of the country's earliest land trusts.

When it came to Mount Vernon, George Washington always dreamed of a fine landscape and beautiful gardens. Many enslaved people and trained gardeners made his dream a reality. George hired his first gardener in 1762. A decade later, he posted an ad that said, "a good Kitchen Gardener is what I want."

After seeing the one that Margaret Tilghman Carroll installed at her home, Mount Clare, near Baltimore, George added a greenhouse. In turn, Margaret sent the plans and some plants to help the Washingtons christen their greenhouse.

In 1799, one guest at Mount Vernon wrote, "[There] I saw ...English grapes, oranges, limes, and lemons... as well as a great variety of plants and flowers... exquisite in their perfume and delightful to the eye..."


1893 On this day, a witty, thoughtful, and upright citizen of South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, Stephen Sears wrote in his journal about his garden. 

Stephen kept a journal for posterity, and nature entries are sprinkled throughout his writings in between notes on work, worship, and family. 

Stephen was a Sunday School teacher, and he wrote that he thought it was "the best thing I can do for the coming generation."

On this day in 1893, Stephen was 71 years old. He built a cage around a tree and burned caterpillars. He must have thought them destructive (maybe tent caterpillars?)

That spring, he had "plowed [the] garden and planted peas."  

On June 6, he noted that "summer is here, hot and dry," and then he "transplanted [his] tomato vines and hoed [his] watermelons."

Almost every day, Stephen worked in his garden. He watered daily and occasionally added seaweed as a fertilizer.

On June 17, after three weeks of no rain, Stephen wrote, "The ground is wet again, and vegetation smiles." 

At the end of the month, he was clearly frustrated with one particular garden pest: potato bugs. Stephen wrote, 

If I were to offer [a] sacrifice to the Devil it [w]ould be potato bugs in Lager Beer.



2003 On this day, an Iraqi scientist named Mahdi Obeidi led US officials, including David Kay, out to his rose garden. 

Over a decade earlier, in February of 1992, Uday Hussein had told Mahdi Obeidi to hide all the evidence of Iraq's efforts to pursue a nuclear program. So Mahdi gathered up his documents and prototypes and packed them in a fifty-gallon drum. Then Mahdi buried the drum beneath a lotus tree in his backyard. The entire stash remained there undisturbed until America declared war on Iraq.

Mahdi's story became a book called, The Bomb in My Garden and tells how Saddam Hussein pursued nukes only to be thwarted by his invasion of Kuwait and honorable people in his own government.

After the fall of Baghdad, Dr. Obeidi felt it was finally safe to reveal the secret he had buried in his garden, under a lotus tree, no less.

Lotus trees have a long history and are known scientifically as the Ziziphus lotus. 

In Greek mythology, in the Odyssey, the Lotus tree fruit was eaten by the Lotus-Eaters to make them sleepy and to create a false sense of peace and apathy. 

It was said Romulus planted a sacred Lotus near the temple of Vulcan and that it was still standing seven centuries later, in the time of Pliny the Elder.

The English explorer Richard Francis Burton saw a lotus on his travels through the middle east. The Lotus leaves were used to wash the bodies of the dead, and the fruit was sold as a cash crop to travelers.

Today the Lotus tree is used as fodder and for hedges. The thorny branches create an effective barrier. The flowers are a favorite of pollinators of all kinds.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

Where We Bloom by Debra Prinzing
This book came out in 2022, and the subtitle is Thirty-Seven Intimate, Inventive and Artistic Studio Spaces Where Floral Passions Find a Place to Blossom.

The publisher writes,

Step inside the places where flowers come to life. Slow Flowers Society founder Debra Prinzing's new book showcases the beautiful plant- and flower-filled settings of Slow Flowers designers, farmer-florists, and growers. Each environment reflects the personality and aesthetic style of its owner, offering great ideas to inspire the design, organization, and functionality of your creative studio. Visit their spaces and read about their floral passions.


Debra profiles thirty-seven studio spaces for floral aficionados of all kinds in this book. Here's how she introduces Lori Poliski's Woodinville, Washington, modern homestead - a former horse barn converted into a studio with function and beauty in mind:

Lori Poliski was a gardener long before she formed Flori, her design studio based in a suburb of Seattle.

She has made posies and arrangements since she was five, drawing from roots that began on a family farm in New Jersey where her mother grew lilacs, peonies, and roses.

Lori worked for a flower shop in the Bay Area after college and later, during a technology career, she continued to design flowers for family and friends' weddings.

In 2017, she formalized a business, naming the studio "Flori" ...and rhymes with her name.

Lori said, "My husband designed my first business card and it read: "Garden-style Bowers for small weddings and events."

The frustration of producing wedding flowers in a garage filled with sports equipment and bicycles inspired dreams of having a dedicated design space. Lori's solution? A 12-by-24-foot covered storage area at one end of the horse barn where three animals also are stabled.

The space now has two sets of white French dooms and windows, which look charming against the blue-gray shingle siding, complete with striped awning,

I can only imagine how fun it was for Debra to roam the country scouting these 37 flower-filled locations for her book. All the stories and the people behind these magical spaces are a true joy to discover. If you are thinking about creating or redoing a floral space of your own - a simple she shed or a little corner in the garage or attic, well, then you'll find plenty of inspiration in the spaces profiled in Debra's book.

This book is 127 pages of pure eye candy and dreams made real for modern floral artists and creatives.

You can get a copy of Where We Bloom by Debra Prinzing and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $9.


Botanic Spark

1962 Death of Vita Sackville-West (books by this author) English author, and garden designer. 

In 1960, Vita wrote of her marriage and death:

..now in our advancing age, we love each other more deeply than ever, and also more agonizingly, since we see the inevitable end. It is not nice to know that one of us must die before the other.


Vita died first.

Three weeks later, Harold wrote,

Oh Vita, I have wept buckets for you.


Vita Sackville-West was a talented and complex woman. An excellent writer, Vita found success as a poet, writer, and broadcaster.

After she and Harold purchased Sissinghurst, Vita became one of the most influential gardeners of her time. For over twenty years, they worked together to create a garden where none ever grew before. And for over a decade, she wrote a weekly column about her life as a gardener at Sissinghurst for the Observer. Vita was at once relatable, admirable, witty, and removed. 

Vita knew love and loss in her personal life and had relationships with both women and men, but through it, all Harold remained the true north of her heart. 

Today the fruit of their labor and their shared dream, Sissinghurst, is beloved worldwide, and Vita's garden wisdom still holds sway. 

In her book called The Garden, Vita wrote,

I tried to hold the courage of my ways
In that which might endure,
Daring to find a world in a lost world,
A little world, a little perfect world…

And in her Poems of West & East, Vita wrote a loving tribute to their efforts at Sissinghurst in a poem called The Garden.

We owned a garden on a hill,
We planted rose and daffodil,
Flowers that English poets sing,
And hoped for glory in the Spring.

We planted yellow hollyhocks,
And humble sweetly-smelling stocks,
And columbine for carnival,
And dreamt of Summer's festival.

And Autumn not to be outdone
As heiress of the summer sun,
Should doubly wreathe her tawny head
With poppies and with creepers red.

We waited then for all to grow,
We planted wallflowers in a row.
And lavender and borage blue, -
Alas! we waited, I and you,
But love was all that ever grew.


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

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