July 18, 2022 Caterina de’ Medici, Nelson Mandela, Edward Giobbi, Elizabeth Jennings, Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer, and Elizabeth Gilbert


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Historical Events

1499 On this day, Caterina de' Medici, the third wife of Giovanni de' Medici, wrote to the abbess of the Florentine convent, Elena Bini.

Caterina's letter was a thank you for a gift basket of fruit and flowers. The convent sent regular gifts from their garden, including pomegranates, which would have been used medicinally to treat persistent cough, fever, and colic. 

Caterina had a garden of her own as well as an orchard. It's entirely possible that she learned some medicinal herbal remedies from the women at the convent. The nuns practiced herbal medicine to fulfill their earthly obligations of helping the sick while ensuring their convent's financial health and survival.

Daughters of Alchemy (2015), Meredith Ray wrote,

By the mid-sixteenth century Florence was home to six convent-run apothecaries. Given the time Caterina spent as a boarder at Le Murate, her enduring connection to its nuns, and her interest in medicinal recipes, it is likely that at least some of her prescriptions originated there.


1918 Birth of Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist.

Nelson served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Regarding his twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson wrote in his book Long Walk to Freedom (1994),

A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control.
To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it, and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction.
The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.


1926 Birth of Edward Giobbi ("jee-OH-bee"), Italian painter, award-winning chef, and cookbook author.

One of the world's great home cooks, Edward also enjoyed gardening.

Edward was profiled in Diane Lewis's book, The Great Healthy Yard Project (2014). In her profile, Diane wrote of Edward's appreciation for Dandelions as a healthy ingredient for many of his family recipes.

Diane wrote,

Ed Giobbi is a dandelion fan - a fan of that much-maligned "weed" we now know to be both edible and nutritious. Giobbi thinks dandelions are beautiful and fun for children when they go to seed, but his favorite attribute of dandelions is their culinary versatility.

One of his favorite recipe creations is a vegetable dish he calls "Verdura Trovata," or found vegetables. He was served Verdura Trovata for the first time at his aunt Zia Pippina's farm in the town of Le Marche, in central Italy.

Giobbi would accompany her into the fields in the springtime, after all of the root vegetables were harvested and before the spring planting had begun, and they would harvest wild greens such as the dandelion. Giobbi says dandelion greens are most palatable in the spring, and that wild dandelion greens are tastier than those grown in a garden with purchased seeds.


In addition to his Aunt Pippina's recipe, Diane shared Ed's recipe for a Dandelion Fritatta:

Collect dandelion greens and wash thoroughly. Chop. Boil in water or stock for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size and age of greens.
Scramble several eggs; add milk, salt, and pepper. Mix with greens and make a soft frittata. If desired, add a little Parmesan cheese prior to cooking.


Edward once wrote,

I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring.

Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature's rebirth?


1926 Birth of Elizabeth Jennings, English poet.

A devout Roman Catholic, Elizabeth struggled with mental illness. Both aspects of her life figured prominently into her work.

Here's an excerpt from her poem, Song at the Beginning of Autumn.

Now watch this Autumn that arrives
In smells. All looks like Summer still;

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia. We give names -
Autumn and Summer, Winter, Spring
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said Autumn, Autumn broke.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer
This book came out in 2021, and the subtitle is Life, Nature, and a Country Garden.

Marc is the author of the popular books Late Migrations and H is for Hawk.

The publisher wrote,

Marc Hamer has nurtured the same 12-acre garden in the Welsh countryside for over two decades. The garden is vast and intricate. It’s rarely visited, and only Hamer knows of its secrets. But it’s not his garden. It belongs to his wealthy and elegant employer, Miss Cashmere. But the garden does not really belong to her, either. As Hamer writes, “Like a book, a garden belongs to everyone who sees it.”

In Seed to Dust, Marc Hamer paints a beautiful portrait of the garden that “belongs to everyone.” He describes a year in his life as a country gardener, with each chapter named for the month he’s in. As he works, he muses on the unusual folklores of his beloved plants. He observes the creatures who scurry and hide from his blade or rake. And he reflects on his own life: living homeless as a young man, his loving relationship with his wife and children, and—now—feeling the effects of old age on body and mind.

As the seasons change, Hamer also reflects on the changes he has observed in Miss Cashmere’s life from afar: the death of her husband and the departure of her children from the stately home where she now lives alone. At the book’s end, Hamer’s connection to Miss Cashmere changes shape, and new insights into relationships and the beauty and brutality of nature emerge.

Just like all good books and gardens, Seed to Dust is filled with equal parts life and death, beauty and decay, and every reader will find something different to admire.


As someone who archives garden information by season and by date, this is my favorite kind of book. Marc's book is organized by months, and in each month, he profiles the plants and stories that speak of the season. For instance, in July, Marc writes about Stoics, Wabi-sabi, Pelargoniums, Flying Ants Day, Swifts Leave, Pine Cones, Carp, and Green Flames. In August, his sections are titled Cofiwch Dryweryn (Coffee-ookh Dre-weh-rin), Umbellifers, Fountain, Cats and Dogs, Distant Sounds, Pond Scum, Laurels, A Break and Gathering Seeds.

And just to give you a taste of Marc's melodious writing voice, here's an excerpt from his chapter called Climbing Hydrangea.

I'M HEADING BACK to get the big three-legged ladder from behind the sheds to start pruning the hydrangea that grows up the front
of the house. I reconsider for a moment. Miss Cashmere is out, and a fall could leave me on the ground until she returned or Peggy started to worry about me as darkness came down.

This is a long but simple job. On the way up, I cut off all the old flower heads, prune the hydrangea hard just above a strong pair of buds. There are dried and faded winter-bitten flowers, all the way from the ground to the bedroom windows. Decay is SO often the colour of rust. Like a careless child's paintbox, all the colours mix to become the chaotic brown of the earth that gives birth to life and cosmos and colour. The shiny new buds are rust-coloured, too. With my old red-handled secateurs I cut off the crispy flowers that fall slowly to the ground, and earwigs and spiders scuttle away from my hands, and snails who love their privacy simply stay where they are, glued to the wall while they wait for the warmth.

The weather has been getting warmer and wetter in recent years, so the hydrangea grows faster and thinner than it used to; tough white aerial roots of new pale-green stems grasp firmly to the stone, tiny white hairs snaking deep into the texture of the wall for its moisture and security. I have to pull hard to peel them away and cut them off. I'm nervous, tugging with both cold hands, gripping the trembling aluminium steps with my knees so hard that my legs get bruised. Then down and back on stable land, I rattle the ladder along a yard or so and clatter my way back up. The pile of fluffy heads grows and, as the light is starting to fade, I finish by raking and forking them all into a corner, ready for barrowing down to the compost.


This book is 416 pages of small essays arranged by month that take the shape of a garden memoir incorporating natural history, philosophy, and meditation. It's a lovely book written simply by a man who has found contentment and creativity quietly tending a garden.

You can get a copy of Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $ 11.


Botanic Spark

1969 Birth of Elizabeth Gilbert, American journalist, and author.

She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which has sold over twelve million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages.

Elizabeth's love of gardening and learning lead her to write The Signature of All Things (777). The story is about an 18th-century woman who becomes a world-renowned botanist thanks to her work with mosses.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I was nineteen years old, I discovered a collection of books in the Harvard library written by Jacob Boehme ("Bur-mah"). Do you know of him?"

Naturally she knew of him. She had her own copies of these works in the White Acre library. She had read Boehme, though she never admired him.

Jacob Boehme was a sixteenth-century cobbler from Germany who had mystical visions about plants. Many people considered him an early botanist. Alma's mother, on the other hand, had considered him a cesspool of residual medieval superstition. So there was considerable conflict of opinion surrounding Jacob Boehme.

The old cobbler had believed in something he called "the signature of all things" namely, that God had hidden clues for humanity's betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code, Boehme claimed, containing proof of our Creator's love. That is why so many medicinal plants resembled the diseases they were meant to cure, or the organs they were able to treat. Basil, with its liver-shaped leaves, is the obvious ministration for ailments of the liver. The celandine herb, which produces a yellow sap, can be used to treat the yellow discoloration brought on by jaundice. Walnuts, shaped like brains, are helpful for headaches. Coltsfoot, which grows near cold streams, can cure the coughs and chills brought on by immersion in ice water. 'Polygonum,' with its spattering of blood-red markings on the leaves, cures bleeding wounds of the flesh.


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

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