July 15, 2022 Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, Joseph Campbell, Iris Murdoch, St. Swithin’s Day, Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven, and Nellie McClung


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Historical Events

1793 Birth of Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, American scientist, educator, author, and editor.

Her botany writing influenced women in the 1800s to become botanists, including Eunice Newton Foote and her daughter, Augusta Newton Foote Arnold. She wrote The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide, regarded as a seminal work on intertidal biology of the United States.

Almira wrote about nature, but she is most remembered for her textbook, Familiar Lectures on Botany(1829).

Almira taught at Amherst Academy, and her textbook was undoubtedly known and used by Emily Dickinson, a student there.

The following quotes show us that she was hip to the idea of mindfulness over 200 years ago:

In the physical world mankind [is] prone to seek an explanation of uncommon phenomena only,
while the ordinary changes of nature, which are... equally wonderful, are disregarded.

How often are the beauties of nature unheeded by man, who, musing on past ills, brooding over the possible calamities of the future, building castles in the air, or wrapped up in his own self-love and self-importance, forgets to look abroad, or looks with a vacant stare.

Each opening bud, and care-perfected seed, is... a page, where we may read of God.


1879 Birth of Joseph Campbell, Irish poet, and lyricist.

He wrote under the Gaelic form of his name and is remembered for adding poignant lyrics to traditional tunes.

In his beautiful lyrics to The Gartan Mother's Lullaby, a very old folksong, Joseph wrote, 

Sleep oh babe, for the red bee hums the silent twilight's fall,
Aoibheall ("ee-vil") from the grey rock comes, to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbh ("Lan-iv") oh, my child, my joy, my love, my heart's desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.
Dusk is drawn and the Green Man's thorn is wreathed in rings of fog,
Siabhra sails his boat till morn, upon the Starry Bog.
A leanbhan oh, the pale half-moon hath brimmed her cusp in dew,
And weeps to hear the sad sleep-tune, I sing, oh love, to you.
Faintly sweet doth the chapel bell, ring o'er the valley dim,
Tearmann's peasant voices swell, in fragrant evening hymn.
A leanbhan oh, the low bell rings, my little lamb to rest,
And angel-dreams till morning sings, its music in your head.
Sleep oh babe, for the red bee hums the silent twilight's fall,
Aoibheall from the grey rock comes, to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan oh, my child, my joy, my love, my heart's desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.


1919 Birth of Dame Iris Murdoch, Irish and British writer and philosopher.

She was also a gardener. When her childhood home was sold, the one thing Iris made a point to salvage was an old teak bench. It found a new home in her Oxford garden.

Iris is remembered for her novels about life and living, covering morality, sex, right and wrong, and even the power of our unconscious thoughts. 

Her 1978 novel The Sea, the Sea won the Booker Prize, and in the book, she wrote of her characters,

They really wanted to remain always in their own house and their own garden.
There are such people.


In 1987, Iris was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for her significant contributions to literature.

Iris once wrote,

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.


In 2012, Iris's letters revealing her decades-long love and friendship with the philosopher Philippa Foote were released a decade ago.

In one letter to Phillipa from 1985, Iris wrote,

I imagine you now in the sun, surrounded by those magic trees, in a garden of flowers, looking out upon the glittering dolphin-crowded sea ...

Dear old Europe, poor old Europe.

(Dear old planet, poor old planet.)


In 1986, Iris had her portrait painted for the National Portrait Gallery. She sat for Tom Phillips, who had the idea to include a Ginkgo branch in the portrait. 

Tom recalled coming upon the idea this way,

Right from the start I had wanted a 'bit of nature' to be present.

In all her novels Iris Murdoch suddenly flings open the windows... and through some wangle of the plot... the characters escape to the countryside, which enables the writer to show her unrivalled sympathy with the world of living things, especially the plants of the English hedgerows.

To have featured an iris would have been too dumb.

At our second sitting I made a wild guess and suggested a ginkgo, and it turned out that we were both enthusiasts for the world's oldest tree.

Luckily there is a fine specimen in my own garden and towards the end of the sittings I therefore put in a ginkgo branch, painted in the manner of old botanical illustrations: I first made a separate study of it in case it might die. In the end the branch in the picture was painted directly from nature though slightly adapted to rhyme with other elements in the painting...

Once the plant was in and doing its work the picture was finished with only the nerve-racking business of varnishing left. All was well.


Shortly after her last book came out in 1995, Iris was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She died four years later in Oxford at the age of 79.

Today, outside Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford college is a garden and in that garden is a memorial bench that encircles a ginkgo tree. 

It was Iris Murdoch who once wrote,

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats. 


2022 Today is St. Swithin's Day. (Every July 15th)

St. Swithin is the patron saint of rain.

The sweet little flower known as the Cape Marigold or African Daisy is dedicated to St. Swithin. The little blossoms close their petals before it rains, and that's how they earned other common names like Rain Daisy or Weather Prophet.

And, the saying goes, if it rains on St. Swithin's Day, it will rain for another forty days.

St. Swithin was a beloved English monk who lived during the last half of the 9th century.

When St. Swithin died, he asked to be buried outside. He didn't want to be buried inside a building or cathedral. He said he wanted his grave to be able to experience the rain.

But one hundred years after he was buried, the church decided to move his body to the inside of a cathedral, something Swithin never wanted.

For the next forty days after his body was disturbed, it rained.

It poured. 

And there were storms.

And that's the origin story of the legend of St. Swithin.

 Thus, this little rhyme was passed down through the ages.

St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain,
Full forty days, it will remain.

St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair,
For forty days, t’will rain no more.


So, we'll see if it will rain for the next forty days.

And Venetia Jane's Garden tweeted,

According to English folklore, rain on St. Swithin's Day was a symbolic 'christening' of the apples in the country’s orchards by St. Swithin.
Rain on St. Swithin’s Day portended a good apple crop for the harvest.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven
This book came out in 2019 and became an instant garden classic.

Sarah Raven's masterwork on Wild Flowers is organized by habitats, which is handy for gardeners who have a passion for wildflowers. 

Sarah explained the origins of her passion for wildflowers this way.

In the Seventies, as a girl, I used to go botanising with my father, John Raven, who was a Classics don at Cambridge.

My father was an expert amateur botanist. He inherited his love of the natural world from his father, Charles Raven. Between them, astonishingly, they painted almost every plant in the British flora. On their expeditions, whenever they found a new example, they would get out their paints and record it that night in their lodgings or, if it was too rare to pick, paint it in situ. I still have 18 volumes of their watercolours.

I have less patience than my father ever did, but he taught me how to look with an eagle eye and, even more usefully, how to botanise at 30mph. We used to drive along lanes – not too fast and not too slow – me looking out of the window at one verge, him at the other, shouting out whenever we spotted a cracker.

My father died when I was 17, and that was the end of my formal botanising trips for 20 years. I did not stop loving wild flowers, I just stopped hunting them. Particularly on trips abroad, I still would find myself wandering down a lane just to see what wild flowers were there. Then, recently, it struck me that this was how I was spending my most absorbed, relaxed and happy times. That moment of realisation is what lies behind my book Wild Flowers. 

Sarah also explains why an appreciation for wildflowers is so essential.

Getting to know wild flowers adds a new layer to the way you experience the world. An ordinary walk is suddenly full of a new cast of characters. Some you will know already, plants that appear reassuringly in the same places year after year: primrose, bluebell and dog-rose. These will become old friends. But you will also gather your favourite rarities, high-glamour creatures, such as frog orchid, fly orchid, white water-lily and the perfect single flowers of grass-of-Parnassus, each stem exquisite and strange.

Of course, there are bores, as in any party. I do not love dog’s mercury, and I can take or leave dandelions. But if you look, you will find their more intriguing relatives, hawkbits, just round the corner, some pale and modest, others a bit racy – a touch of orange here, a splash of lemon there. Even the thugs are interesting: Indian balsam, butterfly bush and Japanese knotweed, all shockingly brutal in their way. The point is that a party where you know half the guests is always going to be more fun. What was just background becomes a world in itself.


In making this book, Sarah traveled throughout the British Isles, tracking down 500 different specimens of beautiful wildflowers. You'll discover little-known blossoms in addition to the familiar - like bluebells, comfrey, deadly nightshade, forget-me-nots, foxgloves, fritillaries, harebells, purple cranesbill,  orchids, pulsatillas, silverweed, St John's wort, snowdrops, wild garlic, wood sorrel, and wood spurge, name a few. After grouping them by habitat, Sarah shares the plant name and helpful descriptions.

Sarah writes,

Inevitably, I had to make some tough choices when choosing which plants to put in, and which to leave out. I decided to profile the species that you were most likely to see when going about your daily life, as well as a few that are rare but extraordinary.

Photographer Jonathan Buckley and I travelled to more than 100 different sites to track down the flowers. Sometimes I would find 20 or 30 plants in one place, and Jonathan would lie on his stomach for hours at a stretch photographing them. We agreed his pictures should not take the usual botanical specimen approach, which always seems to involve standing above the plant and photographing it like a shot rabbit.

My greatest hope is that my book might encourage you to look at wild flowers with fresh eyes.

To start your own love affair with wild flowers, embark on your own Spring wild flower adventure ...

This book is a whopping 512 pages of British wildflowers - an epic celebration - by award-winning garden writer Sarah Raven.

You can get a copy of Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $29.


Botanic Spark

1939 On this day, Nellie McClung shared a poignant garden story in the Victoria Daily Times in Canada.

The grass on the lawns was barbered; the paths were swept;
the fountain performed in rhythmic whirls;
the birds sang discreetly; a squirrel looked over the fence, and disappeared on the other side.

There was a bed of pansies, the largest blossoms I had ever seen — yellow, purple and blue — in the form of a Maltese cross.

We stopped to admire them and said something about their beauty.

“Do you know anything about pansies?” the lady of the garden asked me sharply, looking up from her grass cutting.
“I mean,” she went on, “have you any scientific knowledge of them?”

I confessed I had not. I only knew them as early bloomers, hardy and satisfying.

“You’re well off,” she said bitterly. “We know too much around here and have too high a standard, even in pansies.
We began by liking flowers and raising a few, but soon we began to find out there were better varieties, and we had to have the best.
We couldn’t let them just grow — we had to start them in the greenhouse, throw away the small ones and force the others by fertilizing.

“Our sweet peas could not even show a tendril, but we clipped it off, and tied it up to the support by artificial means, so it can have all its strength for bloom, and even then a certain percentage of the bloom is picked off."

“We had nice lavender, good enough for anyone, but someone told us there was a better kind, so we threw ours away and got this, which has a bigger flower, though it does not look just right to me.
We’re never satisfied, never at rest, for there is always something better ahead of us.
Now we are working like mad to get the lawns cut and every dead flower off because tomorrow is Sunday and we will have visitors.”


“Why don’t you sit down and enjoy it?” I asked her. “If I had a bed of pansies like this I would never ask for more!”


“That’s what you think,” she said sadly, “but it does not work out in reality. The more you have, the more you want. My mother lived in Manitoba when I was a little girl, and we always had a bed of portulaca and one of nasturtiums and cans of balsam in the house, and geraniums, and we enjoyed them. They did not ride us. Now we would not give room to any of these — they are too easy to grow.

“This garden has really got us down — I begrudge the time I have spent talking to you, for I should be clipping the edge here — it is untidy, and tomorrow is Sunday.”


“Why don’t you hire someone to help you? It’s too much for two people to look after.”


“We cannot trust anyone,” she said. “We’ve done it all ourselves from the beginning, and that’s another pit we have fallen into. We think no one else knows how to handle these superfine, extra special plants, some of which are not found anywhere else in Canada.

“I know what you’re thinking, and you are quite right. We are like the people who moved into a new house and are so busy keeping the silver polished and the furniture dusted, they cannot enjoy it. It was not so noticeable while we were young and strong, but it is a weariness of the flesh now, and sometimes I wish someone else had it.

“It holds us like a bad habit. The grass there behind you is so sacred we do not step on it, and don’t you dare to! Do you see the sign. ‘No Children Allowed?’ That’s how far we have gone! It is not a garden any more — it is a shrine and exhibition and treadmill combined.

“I’ve had to give up my Women’s Institute and church work and the literary club — I have lost my interest in them some way, and cannot get it back. If I had done as much for them as I have for this ungrateful garden, they would not leave me desolate now. But all we have got out of this is a picture in the paper, blisters on our hands, a backache and a sense of frustration.

“But now you must go,” she said firmly. “I haven’t talked as much as this all summer.”


“Sell it,” I said. “If a garden does not give you pleasure, what is the use of it?”


“Sell it!” she repeated, drawing her head across her forehead. “This garden has cost us the best years of our lives. Who’ll pay us for that?”


When I came home that day, the untidy bloom at Lantern Lane came out to meet me like a friendly dog.
I looked lovingly at a stalk of Canterbury bells in the lavender bed.
It should have been removed long ago, but there it was, unabashed, in full bloom.

Then I saw the cheerful faces of the clump of calandula coming out among the lilies — volunteers from last year.
Someone should do something about it, I know.

I went around to the roses and cut off the worn ones with a pair of scissors, and revelled in their beauty.
They need trimming, I know; they are top-heavy and shapeless, but the blooms are gorgeous and the perfume fills the air.

And down from the roses are three long rows of cucumbers, planted on June 13, according to the best traditions of an old gardener who lived near us in Manitou, Man. Every year we plant them on this date, and never once have they failed.

The bird houses have each a family, and the bird baths are used every hour of every day.

The cherries are ripe on the trees and we do not begrudge the birds their share.

The flowers are not too good to cut and the grass is just right for children to play on.

Above it all there is a feeling of comfort, companionship and freedom — unhurried and serene.

It will never get its picture in the paper, but what of that?

A garden is something to live with and work in, with pleasure.

These regimented gardens look well around public buildings.
Their severe and ordered beauty belongs there, and gives pleasure to the passerby.

When I am in Regina I always walk through the lovely public garden there, with its artistic grouping of flowers, its shaven lawn and radiating paths. It is a delight to the eye. Last year, I saw the public gardens at Halifax in their midsummer glory.

And I want now to see the Good Neighbor Garden on the Turtle Mountain plateau between Manitoba and North Dakota, which commemorates the 115 years of peace between Canada and our Good Neighbor.

Gardens like these are part of our national life. We are proud of them and show them to our visitors, but for living with, day by day, I prefer the easygoing, carefree rhythm which allows Canterbury bells to bloom inside a lavender bed.


Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener

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

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