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1698 On this day, the English writer, landowner, gardener, courtier, and diarist, John Evelyn, went to Deptford to "see how miserably the Czar... left my house after three months [of] making it his Court."
Keep in mind John's appreciation for the amount of work a garden requires as I tell you this little story about him.
In 1698, John Evelyn had owned his estate for 40 years. Everyone who knew it said it was magnificent - both inside and out. It was decorated to the nines. Of all he had accomplished, John's garden was his pride and joy.
That year, the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, brought an entourage of 200 people to England to visit William III. In a gesture of hospitality, William volunteered John Evelyn's home to host the Czar and his people during their visit.
John and his wife graciously moved out to give the Czar his privacy. But it wasn't long before John's servants began sending urgent messages begging him to return.
And when John returned home, he walked into a nightmare. The whole estate had been trashed. Priceless paintings had served as dartboards. His floors were ruined, windows were smashed; even the garden was destroyed.
The servants told how the 6'8 Czar had played a game with his friends where they put him in one of John's wheelbarrows and then raced him through the garden beds, crashing into walls, trees, and hedges. It must have been a scene akin to the movie Animal House.
Clearly, the Czar had shown a complete disregard for the sanctity of John's garden. As gardeners, we can imagine how John must have felt.
For twenty years, John had nursed along a hedge of holly that had turned into a glorious living wall. John, who was an expert on trees, was particularly proud of that hedge, and he wrote,
Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind than an impregnable hedge of about 480 feet length, 9 feet high, and 5 feet in diameter
Sadly the hedge was also ruined by the Czar. And even the hardscapes were no match for the Czar's party, and part of a stone wall surrounding the garden was toppled over.
John immediately sent word to the king about what had happened, and arrangements were made straight away to move the Czar to other lodgings. King William made arrangements to have the Evelyn home fully restored - the house needed to be gutted and rebuilt from the floors up.
John Evelyn was 78 years old when this happened to him. I'm sure there was no amount of restitution that could restore the years of love he had spent in his garden. He lived for another eight years before dying in 1706.
Today John is remembered for his detailed diary that he kept for 66 years. As a passionate gardener, many of his entries pertain to plants, landscaping, and related garden topics. John believed that gardening was a year-long endeavor and that the experience of gardening provided immeasurable benefits. John wrote,
The gardener’s work is never at an end, it begins with the year and continues to the next.
Gardening is a labor full of tranquility and satisfaction; natural and instructive, and [aids the] most serious contemplation, experience, health, and longevity.
1714 Death of Sophia of Hanover, the Electress of Hanover. She died at 83.
Sophia was next in line to become the Queen of England, but she never got the chance. She was strolling through her magnificent garden in Hanover, Germany, when she was caught in a rainstorm, and after she rushed to find shelter, she collapsed and died of heart failure. Today a sculpture memorial of Electress Sophia stands on the southern edge of the garden.
In 1714, after Sophia died on June 8th, her cousin, Queen Anne, died just two months later at the beginning of August. And that is how Sophia's eldest son was able to claim the British throne as George I.
Today, both Sophia and her son, George I, are buried in the very garden she ran out of over three centuries ago. Incidentally, George I became the last British monarch to be buried outside Britain.
And while it is unfortunate that Sophia got caught in the rain, there's no doubt that the beautiful grounds she had installed at Herrenhausen Palace in Hanover brought her great joy. Sophia once said,
The garden is my life.
A patron of the arts, Sophia commissioned Herrenhausen Palace and the surrounding gardens, which remain the greatest treasure in all of Hanover. As one of the most important historical gardens in Europe, Herrenhausen Gardens is one of the few baroque gardens remaining in Europe. And the garden remains true to its original design and comprises four separate gardens that feature over 60,000 blooming flowers and 1,000 containers.
The baroque garden, also called the big garden, is home to thirty-two magnificent statues made of sandstone. The sculptures represent the four continents, the four seasons, the four elements, and the gods of the ancient world. A statue of Juno standing next to a swan is particularly stunning. Herrenhausen also encompasses Georgengarten, a beautiful English-style park, and Berggarten, a botanic garden featuring orchids and cactus.
In 2020, Ronald Clark, Director of Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover, presented Garden Thinking and Garden Behavior. Garden Thinking was defined as,
Tending a garden in the long term in such a way that it yields produce in harmony with nature. The eternal cycle of growing, thriving, and decaying can only work if I take care of the soil and plants.
And Garden Behavior was described as,
Garden thinking put into action.
Let us start small and look at a private garden. Which plants do we find there? Are there any at all? Many gardens reflect well how we deal with our surroundings.
A few decades ago, it was the three R's (Rasen, Rosen, Rhododendron = lawn, roses, rhododendron), today’s fashion are gravel gardens.
Again let’s start small and look just past our patio door. Is gardening really labor?
Of course... a garden takes time, but no generation before us has had this much leisure time, and caring for a garden is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling opportunities for leisure activities.
1908 On this day, a review of the Peterson Nursery in Chicago offered an update on their annual peony week.
...About 8,000 [peonies were] cut on June 8.
The next day there was a grand display of all the fine kinds for which Wm. Peterson is justly famed.
That beautiful variety, Golden Harvest, is well known as one of the most constant and excellent varieties and an English firm [bred] Duchess of Somerset, [which is] supposed to be an improvement on it.
...Trials cost a lot of money and trouble, but... it eventually pays [as] is evident by the class of orders Mr. Peterson is now receiving.
Perhaps the finest sight of all the varieties at the time of our call was... the good old Festiva Maxima, (with its snowy white flowers with red flecks) consisting of 500 fine five-year-old plants, every one covered with flowers. For sereral days [before our visit] about 1,500 flowers per day had been cut from this lot of plants, but they were still very fine.
Another grand thing from landscape or border point of view is Gloria. The flowers are pink and very beautiful, but they do not all come double.
Peonies are a beloved flower. They are the national flower of China, where they are native and where they are called sho-yu, which means most beautiful.
There are two main types of peonies: tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. Tree peonies are deciduous shrubs that can have huge colorful dinner-plate-sized blossoms. Herbaceous peonies die back every winter and return every spring. Herbaceous peonies make the gorgeous cut flowers we all know and love, and the blowsy blooms come in shades of white, pink, coral, and crimson.
The largest peony cut flower operation is in Holland, which sells 50 million peonies annually. The most popular variety by far is "Sarah Bernhardt," which accounts for 20 million stems. The ruffly pink-petaled Sarah Bernhardt peony with emerald green foliage was bred by the French plant breeder Victor Lemoine. The Sarah B peony debuted in 1906, and Victor named the peony in honor of the famous French stage actress.
And don't forget two crucial herbaceous peony planting tips for flourishing blossoms: plant them in full sun and plant them high. If you bury the peony crown too deeply, it will not flower.
Finally, don't forget that those pretty peony petals are edible. You can impress your guests and children by elevating a humble salad with peony petals or using crystallized petals to dress up baked goods like cupcakes or a basic sheet cake.
1947 Birth of Sara Paretsky, American mystery writer.
In her book Fallout, Sarah's character Doris imagines heaven as a garden in this excerpt:
Doris thought life was like a high-speed train where you kept leaving friends and brothers and lovers at stations along the route. Maybe when you died, you walked back down the tracks until you met each of the people you’d lost. You collected them all, brother Logan, mother, father, Lucinda, and you got to find a quiet garden where you sat and watched the sun go down, the huge red-gold Kansas sun sinking behind the waves of wheat, while you sipped a little bit of a martini that your beloved had mixed for you.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
Take It Outside by Mel Brasier, Garrett Magee, and James DeSantis
This book came out in 2021, and the subtitle is A Guide to Designing Beautiful Spaces Just Beyond Your Door.
Mel, Garrett, and James are the hosts of Bravo's Backyard Envy. They have been called the "plantfluencers" by the New York Times, and they also own the Manscapers landscaping company. Their main differentiator is viewing outdoor spaces the way interior designers evaluate rooms. And in this book, Mel, Garrett, and James take you step-by-step through their process of transforming outdoor spaces - no matter the size.
In the introduction, they write,
The three of us came to the landscape business with backgrounds in design, not degrees in horticulture: Mel and James are interiors experts, and Garrett trained as a graphic designer. Together, we decided to pool our talents and take our collective skill set outside. We learned to transform city lots into lush hideaways, tiny terraces into chic outdoor lounges, and suburban yards into anything-but-cookie-cutter retreats. Along the way, we realized that no matter the size, location, or budget of any outdoor location, the makeover process is pretty much the same.
Rather than be put off by the unpredictability of garden design, we fell in love with its ever-changing nature. Today we are constantly inspired by the prospect of working outside, where every project mirrors the seasons and offers the promise of transformation and progress. Nothing is stagnant outside.
Time and again, we're faced with many of the same landscape design conundrums, but we're always up to the challenge of solving them. With this book, we're stoked to share our tried-and-true tricks and solutions with anyone who wants to design and build their own outdoor oasis.
Whether you are a seasoned or brand-new gardener, a semiskilled DIYer, or someone who just wants to turn things over to the pros, we'll help unpack the process for you. Now, let's take this outside and get started!
This book is 272 pages of planning outdoor spaces worthy of an episode of Backyard Envy - and the authors are quick to point out that,
There's no "one size fits all" approach to landscape design. You don't have to become a gardening expert (you don't even have to love flowers!). You just need to understand a few basic landscaping principles and how to apply them to the space you're working with. We've streamlined the process into manageable steps that can work in any area. Feel free to follow each step or cherry-pick them as you please-whatever works for you. Remember: the goal is to experience your home in a different way-from the outside in.
2009 On this day, Martha Stewart's peonies bloomed.
In her book, Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations (2011), Martha wrote,
For the last few years, I have had a "peony party," scheduling the date to coincide with what I thought would be the apex of the blooming of the hundreds of peony plants.
Unfortunately, global warming has played havoc with such "schedules" and it is now almost impossible to judge accurately when a plant is going to bloom.
Two years ago the peonies bloomed on June 8. One year ago, they bloomed on May 28. This past year they bloomed closer to May 20. I am now trying to find more varieties with longer blooming periods, and more with early, midseason, and late-blooming properties.
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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.