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1771 Birth of Xavier Bichat ("bee'shah"), French anatomist and pathologist.
Remembered as the father of modern histology, or the study of tissues. In his work, Xavier did not use a microscope and still discovered 21 distinct types of tissues in the human body. His work accelerated and transformed the way doctors understood disease.
Sadly, Xavier died accidentally in his early thirties in 1802 after falling down the steps of his hospital. Today, Xavier Bichat's name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.
A lover of nature, Xavier's work was grounded in observations from the natural world. Charles Darwin quoted Xavier in his book The Descent of Man.
The great botanist Bichat long ago said, if everyone were cast in the same mould, there would be no such thing as beauty.
If all our women were to become as beautiful as the Venus de' Medici, we should for a time be charmed; but we should soon wish for variety; and as soon as we had obtained variety, we should wish to see certain characteristics in our women a little exaggerated beyond the then existing common standard.
The beauty of nature and the secret to that beauty is in nature's diversity and the ephemeral nature of all things - the seasons, flowers, the weather, etc.,
Xavier also wrote,
Life is the sum of forces resisting death.
1776 Birth of Henri Dutrochet, French physician, botanist, and physiologist.
After studying the movement of sap in plants in his home laboratory, Henri discovered and named osmosis. Henri shared his discovery with the Paris Academy of Sciences on October 30th, 1826.
Like the cells in our human bodies, plants don't drink water; they absorb it through osmosis.
Henri also figured out that a plant's green pigment, chlorophyll, is essential to how plants take up carbon dioxide. Hence, photosynthesis could not happen without chlorophyll. It turns out chlorophyll helps plants gather energy from light. And if you've ever asked yourself why plants are green, the answer is chlorophyll. Since it reflects green light, chlorophyll makes the plant appear green.
As for Henri, he was a true pioneer in plant research. He was the first to examine plant respiration, light sensitivity, and geotropism (How the plant responds to gravity, i.e., roots grow down to the ground.)
Geotropism can be confusing at first, but I think of it this way: The upward growth of plants - fighting against gravity - is called negative geotropism, and the downward growth of roots, growing with gravity, is called positive geotropism.
And there's a tiny part of the plant at the very end of the root that responds to positive geotropism, and it's called the root cap. So, what makes the roots grow downward? The small but mighty root cap - responds to positive geotropism.
1907 Birth of Astrid Lindgren, Swedish writer of fiction and screenplays.
Astrid is remembered for several children's book series, including Pippi Longstocking. She wrote more than 30 books for children and has sold 165 million copies.
In January 2017, Astrid's prolific work made her the fourth most translated children's author trailing Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm.
Astrid was a flower lover.
In her book, Mio, My Son, Astrid wrote,
He turned to the Master Rose Gardener and said something even more peculiar, "I enjoy the birds singing. I enjoy the music of the silver poplars."
In her book, Most Beloved Sister, Astrid wrote,
Then the flowers stopped singing and the trees stopped playing, and I could no longer hear the brook's melody.
"Most Beloved Sister," said YlvaLi. "When Salikon's roses wither, then I will be dead.'
And in Astrid's story Bullarbyn, the maid Agda tells a group of girls that if on Midsummer night, they climb over nine fences and pick nine different flowers in complete silence, without speaking a single word, and then return home to put the flowers under their pillow, they will dream of their future husband.
On Social Media, there's a marvelous photograph of Astrid climbing a pine tree. In the photo, Astrid is 67 years old. She apparently climbed the tree in her front yard after being dared by her 80-year-old friend Elsa. Astrid later quipped,
There's nothing in the Ten Commandments forbidding old ladies to climb trees, is there?
Astrid once wrote,
In our unknown past we might have been creatures swinging from branch to branch, living in trees.
Perhaps in the deepest depths of our wandering souls we long to return there...
perhaps it is pure homesickness that makes us write poems and songs of the trees...
1908 Birth of Harrison Salisbury, American journalist.
After World War II, Harrison became the first regular New York Times correspondent in Moscow. He went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
Harrison once wrote,
My favorite word is 'pumpkin.' You are a pumpkin. Or you are not. I am.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
The Heirloom Gardener by John Forti
This book came out in 2021, and the subtitle is Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World.
"Part essay collection, part gardening guide, The Heirloom Gardener encourages readers to embrace heirloom seeds and traditions, serving as a well-needed reminder to slow down and reconnect with nature."
- Modern Farmer
The publisher writes:
In The Heirloom Gardener, John Forti celebrates gardening as a craft and shares the lore and traditional practices that link us with our environment and with each other. Charmingly illustrated and brimming with wisdom, this guide will inspire you to slow down, recharge, and reconnect.
In the preface, John shares how he came to be a gardener. Of his early experience, he wrote:
Work at a garden center in my teens further ignited my interest in horticulture; it also helped me save up enough money to travel to Japan as an exchange student, far from my river and deep pine woods. There I saw the Japanese veneration of the land made manifest in regional artisanal foods, historic preservation, and the Zen-like devotion to the craft of gardening, the art of placing a single stone in a garden wall or a budding branch in an ikebana arrangement. I witnessed firsthand how much we are all shaped by place.
When I returned, I explored garden history and ethnobotany with deep interest.
John introduces the art and practice of heirloom gardening this way:
Things like an old rhubarb patch, the remnants of an orchard, or a lichen-covered stone wall are talismans that help us read the landscapes we inherited. Through them, we catch a glimpse of how someone applied craftsmanship and the environmental arts to live in accord with nature. As heirloom gardeners in our shared backyard, we remember the work our hands were born to do, intuitively, like a bird follows its migratory path or a newly hatched turtle scrambles to the sea.
I may be a romantic, but I do not romanticize the past. In my work as a garden historian and herbalist, I am not blind to the shortcomings, biases, and errors of earlier times, but I also see families connected to seeds and soil, people connected to place, and a deep value for living in concert with our environment.
This book is an alphabetical collection of brief essays and artisanal images, each a seed, a way in to a different element of an heirloom gardening lifestyle; I see each entry as a point of connectivity-hand to hand, ancestor to descendant, seed to table. It's a love poem to the earth... a guidepost for gardeners... who want to cultivate common ground and craft new possibilities from local landscapes.
Here is a sample entry regarding Angelica; John writes,
A majestic herb is Angelica archangelica, cultivated through the ages for its flavor, fragrance, and stately beauty.
In the garden, the hollow and resinous stems of this regal herb, covered in broad leaves, can easily tower three to five feet, and the enormous flower umbels rise up to seven feet toward the heavens - perhaps one of the reasons that the plant was dedicated to the archangels in Medieval times.
Early each spring in centuries past, Europeans and Colonial Americans would harvest the tender stalks and simmer them in a simple syrup; eventually the stalks would become the translucent light green of sea glass, and the syrup would take on the color and herbaceous balsam flavor so unique to angelica.
As lovers of spring have done long since, I repeat the process and candy the stalks until they become tender; I then either slice the stems lengthwise, into short segments, or braid the long strands together before rolling them in finely ground sugar...They are excellent served like membrillo or marmalade with cheese and dessert platters... Like an herbal equivalent to candied ginger, candied angelica was often served as digestive at the end of feasts.
Throughout the growing season, but especially in spring and summer, I enjoy serving gin and tonics and other cocktails with straws made from thinner angelica stems. I also save the syrup that results from the candying process; it's an amazing herbal elixir to add into cocktails or serve atop vanilla ice cream.
John's book is 264 pages of marvelous garden essays and beautiful botanical art about traditional plants and skills for the modern gardener.
1805 Birth of Robert Buist (botanist) is born.
Robert Buist came to America from Edinburgh "Edinburgh," where his dad was a professional gardener. He had trained at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and immigrated to Philadelphia when he was 23.
One of his first jobs was working for a wealthy Philadelphia businessman named Henry Pratt, who had a tremendous summer estate named Lemon Hill. At the time, Lemon Hill was regarded as having one of the most beautiful gardens in the United States.
Eventually, Buist bought the history Bernard McMahon nursery - one of the oldest nurseries in the country and the nursery that supplied plants to President Thomas Jefferson.
Today, on the spot where the nursery used to be, is a large old Sophora tree known as the Buist Sophora. The tree was brought to the United States from France, and its origin can be traced to China.
In addition to the nursery, Buist grew his company to include a seed division and a greenhouse.
In 1825, the plant explorer Joel Poinsett sent some specimens of a plant he discovered in Mexico home to Charleston. Buist heard about the plant, bought himself one, and began growing it. Buist named it Euphorbia poinsettia since the plant had a milky white sap like other Euphorbias. The red bracts of the plant were so unusual and surprising to Robert that he wrote that the Poinsettia was "truly the most magnificent of all the tropical plants we have ever seen."
Of course, Robert gave his friend and fellow Scot, the botanist James McNab a poinsettia when he visited in 1834. McNab brought the plant back to Scotland and gave it to the head of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Robert Graham. Graham promptly changed the botanical name of the plant to Poinsettia pulcherrima - a move that greatly upset Robert Buist for the rest of his life.
And here's a fun little side note about Robert Buist; his gardening books were very popular.
When Stonewall Jackson discovered gardening in middle age, he relied heavily on Robert Buist's book The Family Kitchen Gardener: Containing Plain and Accurate Descriptions of All the Different Species and Varieties of Culinary Vegetables, which became Jackson's gardening bible, and he wrote little notes in the margins as he worked his way through the guide. Like most gardeners still do today, he'd write, "Plant this" or "Try this" in the margins next to the plants he wanted to try the following year.
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And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.