July 19, 2022 Giuseppe Castiglione, Thermidor, William Pitt Fessenden, Vladimir Mayakovsky, All about Flowers by Thomas Mickey, and Mary Riddle


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Historical Events

1688 Birth of Giuseppe Castiglione, Italian Jesuit brother, missionary and artist in China.

After arriving in Macau China in 1715, the empower asked Giuseppe to paint him a picture. He apparently liked what he saw. Guiseppe served as an artist at the imperial court for three Qing emperors. He painted in China for over five decades.

Guiseppe's art is a blend of European and Chinese sensibilities, with the Chinese influence being stronger overall. Guiseppe was an excellent portraitist and his work with landscapes and still-lifes is amazing. Guiseppe painted classic Chinese blossoms like the crab apple, the peony, the poppy, lilies and roses. Naturally, his Album of Flower Studies is of special interest to gardeners. That said, Guiseppe was especially known for his horse paintings.


1793 On this day, the month known as Thermidor begins on the French Republican calendar.

The calendar was started during the French Revolution and used for a dozen years between 1793 to 1805.

Thermidor is derived from two Greek words: heat and gift.


1854 On this day, Maine Senator William Pitt Fessenden wrote a letter to a friend that included a snippet about his love of gardening before delving into politics, which was very draining for him.

He wrote,

I presume the glories of the garden have departed with the roses. Well, it was my own choosing to forego the pleasures of home for this empty life, and I have no right to complain.

I do miss our Northern atmosphere and sigh for salt air and the fog.

Perhaps there will be a cherry or two left. If not, I must content myself with a cabbage.


William was an American politician and lawyer from Maine. He was a leading antislavery Whig from Maine and he served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln during the Civil War.

Every chance he could get, William enjoyed spending time in his small garden located in the back of his house. His correspondence frequently references to his garden. He often expresses how much he missed being in his garden. He looked forward to garden time like a child looking forward to Christmas. In one letter, he wrote,

How refreshing it would be to have one hour in the garden to examine everything! to pass into the vinery and enjoy its fragrance. All these joys are in store for me...


Being a politician during the Civil War was not an easy task. The stress of the job often was draining for William - so much so that he would find relief just by imagining himself in his garden.

He wrote,

Waking early, my thoughts turned homeward as usual, and, shutting my eyes, I wandered for an hour in the garden thinking sweet thoughts. What a very, very hard lot is mine. I am deprived both of grace and of mercy.

In another letter, he wrote so vividly of a garden walk that the recipient could imagine being there with him.

After writing the above I laid down my pen, threw myself back in my chair, and began to think.

How much ground the mind can travel over in a short time?

For twenty minutes I have been seated in my library on a sweet September morning, and...

Finding myself in excellent spirits and condition, I started up for a garden walk.

You needn't be jealous, for I took you with me.

I went slowly up the middle walk, stopped a few moments on the outside of the summer-house, and contemplated the clustering foliage about it, and the beds of roses on each side (white roses, you remember), passed round and sauntered on between the clumps of syringas above, and now and then stopping to put delicious strawberry between my lips.

Pretty soon, however, I wandered back to the little summer-house, and quietly entered. How pleasant and sweet it was to be there, ...the world shut out,...[and] enjoy the beauties of my little garden until all my capacity was exhausted.


In another letter, William writes of the closeness he had to nature and how he even anthropomorphized the natural elements he encountered. He wrote,

Does it not seem to you sometimes as if inanimate things could and do speak to you? You remember the fellow who said he found 'tongues in trees' and " sermons in stones.' I belong to the same class.

Every leaf of that garden used to abound with pleasant words.

The very walks were eloquent, and the sound of those many voices are always in my ear; and though now covered with a snowy veil, I can see all the beauties of that spot as when spring has uncovered them all, and they are again beginning to swell and glow into life.

Fortunate, isn't it, that the mind's eye can see what is hidden from the natural one?


1893 Birth of Vladimir Mayakovsky, Soviet Georgian poet.

Vladimir left his mark on Russian and Soviet literature. He is remembered as one of the pioneers of modern poetry and the Russian Revolution’s most celebrated poet.

During the 1920s, the concept of the "Garden City" was used as Communist propaganda to create excitement for the future. Vladimir used the phrase in a refrain in one of his poems, writing,

in four years' time there'll be a Garden City here.


In his personal life, Vladimir fell in love with a number of unavailable women. Once, during a visit to Paris, he met Tatiana Yakovlev, a fashion icon and the leading hat designer for Saks Fifth Avenue. He proposed to her after two weeks. 

But fate intervened and Vladimir was forced to return to Russia. Tatiana did not go with him.

Vladimir wrote many poems to her including the famous Letter to Tatiana Yakovleva. A viral online account of their love story says that Vladimir made arrangements with a Paris Flower Shop to send Tatiana flowers every year. The flowers kept arriving long after Vladimir's tragic suicide in 1930 at the age of 36.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

All about Flowers by Thomas Mickey
This book came out in 2021, and the subtitle is James Vick's Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

A nineteenth-century entrepreneur’s bold, innovative marketing helped transform flower gardens into one of America’s favorite hobbies.

Charles Birnbaum wrote the forward and shared a brief overview of James Vick's impact on horticulture and landscapes. Charles wrote,

James Vick (1818-82) was born three years after Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52) and three years before Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. (1822-1903).

Unlike these two enormously influential tastemakers who did so much to shape both the private and shared landscapes of nineteenth-century America, Vick's name is not commonly known in landscape architecture and horticultural circles today.

Among SO many other aspects of the man... Vick was a communication and marketing master. Mickey notes that by 1872, the Vick Seed Company sent out more than two hundred thousand illustrated catalogs each year, while "the total advertising bill in December 1870 amounted to $15,000," approximately $270,000 in current dollars.

Vick told customers that "anyone desiring goods in this line cannot do better than send 10 cents for the Floral Guide" and that they could "deduct the 10 cents from the first order sent for seeds." That is, Vick was pioneering direct marketing before Montgomery Ward, Sears, and L.L. Bean.

He also saturated the market: in 1870, when the US population was 38.5 million, one out of every 192 people received a Vick's catalog.

[Vick] ...spread the love of floriculture for the home landscape until [he] ceased publication in 1897.



Landscape historian David Schuyler... suggests that for Downing wisdom was "knowledge put into action." Downing's death positioned Olmsted to design the great New York City park. For others, like Vick, it fueled an attitude that, if the American landscape was to be afforded thoughtful stewardship - from rural to urban and from  private to public - then there was a call to teach people how to see it.

Vick's accomplishments as a horticulturist (crossbreeding flowers such as white-double phlox), seedsman (he was among the first in the United States to import rare seeds from Europe), nursery owner (his show gardens were a regional travel destination), publisher (Vick's Illustrated Monthly set a standard for horticultural writing), and author are well chronicled by Thomas Mickey in this illuminating book.


“There is much that is hard and productive of sorrow in this sin-plagued world of ours; and, had we no flowers, I believe existence would be hard to be borne.” So states a customer’s 1881 letter—one of thousands James Vick regularly received. Vick’s business, selling flower seeds through the mail, wasn’t unique, but it was wildly successful because he understood better than his rivals how to engage customers’ emotions. He sold the love of flowers along with the flower seeds.

Vick was genuinely passionate about floriculture, but he also pioneered what we now describe as integrated marketing. He spent a mind-boggling $100,000 per year on advertising (mostly to women, his target demographic); he courted newspaper editors for free publicity; his educational guides presaged today’s content marketing; he recruited social influencers to popularize neighborhood gardening clubs; and he developed a visually rich communication and branding strategy to build customer loyalty and inflect their purchasing needs with purchasing desire.


This book is 204 pages of the story of one of the Victorian era's greatest seedsmen.

You can get a copy of All about Flowers by Thomas Mickey and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $21..


Botanic Spark

1923 On this day, a pioneer woman of the American West, Mary Riddle wrote her final entry in her diary.

From her home in Swenson, Oregon, she wrote, 

Now I think I will write the last lines that I will ever write.


Mary Riddle lived an extraordinary life. In May of 1878, she left for Astoria, Oregon from Coon Grove, Iowa when she was 38 years old. 

Mary kept her diary for 46 years sharing her family’s trip across America in a wagon train. Mary's descendants donated her diaries to the Astoria Public Library.

The Riddle family built their forest home in the wilderness of Swenson. Mary wrote about her family and their pioneer life - sharing daily tasks, news of her neighbors, and, of course, the weather and its great impact on the family's ability to thrive.

Mary was a gentle soul who loved nature and had great compassion for others. When she heard of the great Astoria fire in December 1922, she wrote,

How I pity the poor, homeless people in Astoria, what is left of it. Astoria has now had its worst calamity of all.


At the end of her life, Mary couldn't hear or see very well. Despite these challenges, on her final day, she somehow managed to make her way out to her favorite place on earth: her garden. On April 20, 1929, her body was found among her beloved flowers. She was 88.


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

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