November 30, 2022 Martha Ballard, Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Frank Nicholas Meyer, The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel, and the Crystal Palace Fire


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Historical Events

1791 On this day, Martha Ballard recorded her work as an herbalist and midwife.
For 27 years, Martha kept a journal of her work as the town healer and midwife for Hallowell, Maine. In all, Martha assisted with 816 births.

Today, Martha's marvelous journal gives us a glimpse into the plants she regularly used and how she applied them medicinally. As for how Martha sourced her plants, she raised them in her garden or foraged them in the wild. As the village apothecary, Martha found her ingredients and personally made all of her herbal remedies.

Two hundred twenty-nine years ago today, Martha recorded her work to help her sick daughter.
She wrote,

My daughter Hannah is very unwell this evening. I gave her some Chamomile & Camphor.


Today we know that Chamomile has a calming effect, and Camphor can help treat skin conditions, improve respiratory function, and relieve pain.


1835 Birth of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (known by his pen name Mark Twain), American writer and humorist.

Samuel used the garden and garden imagery to convey his wit and satire. In 1874, Samuel's sister, Susan, and her husband built a shed for him to write in. They surprised him
with it when Samuel visited their farm in upstate New York. The garden shed was ideally situated on a hilltop overlooking the Chemung ("Sha-mung") River Valley.

Like Roald Dahl, Samuel smoked as he wrote, and his sister despised his incessant pipe smoking.

In this little octagonal garden/writing shed, Samuel wrote significant sections of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, and many other short works.

And in 1952, Samuel's octagonal shed was relocated to Elmira College ("EI-MEER-ah") campus in Elmira, New York. Today, people can visit the garden shed with student guides daily throughout the summer and by appointment in the off-season.

Here are some garden-related thoughts by Mark Twain.

Climate is what we expect; the weather is what we get.

It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream and as lonesome as Sunday.

To get the full value of joy
You must have someone to divide it with.
After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve
in the beginning; it is better to live outside the garden
with her than inside it without her.


1874 Birth of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canadian writer and author of the Anne of Green Gables series.

Lucy was born on Prince Edward Island and was almost two years old when her mother died. Like her character in Ann of Green Gables, Lucy had an unconventional upbringing when her
father left her to be raised by her grandparents.

Despite being a Canadian literary icon and loved worldwide, Lucy's personal life was marred by loneliness, death, and depression. Historians now believe she may have ended her own life. Yet we know that flowers and gardening were a balm to Lucy. She grew lettuce, peas, carrots, radish, and herbs in her kitchen garden. And Lucy had a habit of going to the garden after finishing her writing and chores about the house.

Today in Norval, a place Lucy lived in her adult life, the Lucy Maud Montgomery Sensory Garden is next to the public school. The Landscape Architect, Eileen Foley, created the garden, which features an analemmatic (horizontal sundial), a butterfly and bird garden, a children's vegetable garden, a log bridge, and a
woodland trail.

It was Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote,

I love my garden, and I love working in it. To potter with green growing things, watching each day to see the dear, new sprouts come up, is like taking a hand in creation, I think. Just now, my garden is like faith, the substance of things hoped for.


1875 Birth of Frank Nicholas Meyer, Dutch-American plant explorer.

Frank worked as an intrepid explorer for the USDA, and he traveled to Asia to find and collect new plant specimens. His work netted 2,500 new plants, including the beautiful Korean Lilac, Soybeans, Asparagus, Chinese Horse Chestnut, Water Chestnut, Oats, Wild Pears, Ginkgo Biloba, and Persimmons, to name a few.

Today, Frank is most remembered for a bit of fruit named in his honor - the Meyer Lemon. Frank found it growing in the doorway to a family home in Peking. The Lemon is suspected to be a hybrid of a standard lemon and mandarin orange.

Early on in his career, Frank was known as a rambler and a bit of a loner. 

Frank once confessed in an October 11, 1901, letter to a friend,

I am pessimistic by nature and have not found a road which leads to relaxation. I withdraw from humanity and try to find
relaxation with plants.


Frank was indeed more enthusiastic about plants than his fellow humans. He even named his plants and talked to them.

Once he arrived in China, Frank was overwhelmed by the flora. A believer in reincarnation, Frank wrote to David Fairchild in May 1907:

[One] short life will never be long enough to find out all about this mighty land. When I think about all these unexplored
areas, I get fairly dazzled... I will have to roam around in my next life.


While China offered a dazzling landscape of new plant discoveries, the risks and realities of exploration were hazardous. Edward B. Clark spoke of Frank's difficulties in Technical World in July 1911. He said,

Frank has frozen and melted alternately as the altitudes have changed. He has encountered wild beasts and men nearly
as wild. He has scaled glaciers and crossed chasms of dizzying depths. He has been the subject of the always-alert
suspicions of government officials and strange peoples - jealous of intrusions into their land, but he has found what he
was sent for.


Frank improved the diversity and quality of American crops with his exceptional ability to source plants that would grow in the various growing regions of the United States. He was known for his incredible stamina. Unlike many of his peers who were carried in sedan chairs, Frank walked on his own accord for tens of miles daily. And his ability to walk for long distances allowed him to access many of the most treacherous and inaccessible parts of interior Asia - including China, Korea, Manchuria, and Russia.

Frank died on his trip home to America. He had boarded a steamer and sailed down the Yangtze River. His body was found days later floating in the river. To this day, his death remains a mystery. But his final letters home expressed loneliness, sadness, and exhaustion. He wrote that his responsibilities seemed "heavier and heavier."

The life of a Plant Explorer was anything but easy.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood.

John Lewis-Stempel is a farmer and a countryside writer - he prefers that title to 'nature writer.' The Times calls him Britain's finest living nature writer. Country Life calls him "one of the best nature writers of his generation.' His books include the Sunday Times bestsellers The Running Hare and The Wood. He is the only person to have won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing twice, with Meadowland and Where Poppies Blow. In 2016 he was Magazine Columnist of the Year for his column in Country Life. He lives in Herefordshire ("heh-ruh-frd-shr") with his wife and two children. And The Wood was a BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week' 

The Wood is written in diary format, making the whole reading experience more intimate and lyrical. John shares his take on all four seasons in the English woodlands, along with lots of wonderful nuggets culled from history and experience. And I might add that John is a kindred spirit in his love of poetry and folklore.

John spent four years managing Cockshutt wood - three and a half acres of mixed woodland in southwest Herefordshire. The job entailed pruning trees and raising livestock (pigs and cows roam free in the woods). 

John wrote of the peace and privacy afforded him by his time in the woods.

Cockshutt was a sanctuary for me too; a place of ceaseless seasonal wonder where I withdrew into tranquility. No one comes looking for you in wood.


The Woods covers John's last year as the manager of Cockshutt. The publisher writes, 

[By then], he had come to know it from the bottom of its beech roots to the tip of its oaks, and to know all the animals that lived there the fox, the pheasants, the wood mice, the tawny owl - and where the best bluebells grew.

For many fauna and flora, woods like Cockshutt are the last refuge. It proves a sanctuary for John too.

To read The Wood is to be amongst its trees as the seasons change, following an easy path until, suddenly the view is broken by a screen of leaves, or your foot catches on a root, or bird startles overhead. This is a wood you will never want to leave.


The Wood starts in December - making it the perfect holiday gift or winter gift. John writes about the bare trees and the gently falling snow. The landscape becomes still and silent. 

John writes,

Oddly aware, walking through the wood this afternoon, that it is dormant rather than dead. How the seeds. the trees and hibernating animals....are locked in a safe sleep against the coldand wet.


By January, the Wood stirs to life with the arrival of snowdrops.

If snowdrops are appearing, then the earth must be wakening. Of all our wildflowers the white hells are the purest, the most ethereal. the most chaste... Whatever: the snowdrop says that winter is not forever.


As The Wood takes you through an entire year, the book ends as another winter approaches. The trees are losing their leaves. Animals are preparing for their long sleep. John is preparing to leave the woods for his next chapter as well.

Looking back, he writes, 

I thought the trees and the birds belonged to me. But now I  realize that I belonged to them.


This book is 304 pages of a joyful, poetic, and soul-stirring time in the woods with the elegantly articulate John Lewis-Stempel as your guide - he's part forest sprite providing a dash of delightful nature-soaked inspiring tidbits.

You can get a copy of The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $6.


Botanic Spark

1936 On this day, the Crystal Palace in London was destroyed by fire. The spectacular blaze was seen from miles away. 

Joseph Paxton, the English gardener, architect, and Member of Parliament designed the Crystal Palace, aka the People's Palace, for the first World's Fair - the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Joseph had built four elaborate glass greenhouses for the Duke of Devonshire in Chatsworth, which provided valuable experience for creating the Crystal Palace. 

The Joseph Paxton biographer Kate Colquhoun wrote about the immensity of the Palace:

"[Paxton's] design, initially doodled on a piece of blotting paper, was the architectural triumph of its time. Two thousand men worked for eight months to complete it. It was six times the size of St Paul's Cathedral, enclosed 18 acres, and entertained six million visitors."


The Crystal Place was an extraordinary and revolutionary building. Joseph found extra inspiration for the Palace in the natural architecture of the giant water lily.

Instead of creating just a large empty warehouse for the exhibits, Joseph essentially built a massive greenhouse over the existing Hyde Park. The high central arch of the Palace - the grand barrel vault you see in all the old postcards and images of the Crystal Palace - accommodated full-sized trees that Joseph built around.

Another innovative aspect of the Crystal Palace was the large beautiful columns. Joseph designed them with a purpose: drainage.

By all accounts, the Crystal Palace was an enormous success until the fire started around 7 pm on this day. The manager, Sir Henry Buckland, had brought his little daughter, ironically named Chrystal, with him on his rounds of the building when he spied a small fire on one end of the Palace.

Newspaper reports say the flames fanned wind through the Handel organ as the Palace burned to the ground. A sorrowful song to accompany the end of an era in plant exhibition.


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

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