November 16, 2022 Jean Chardin, Elizabeth Fox, Denys Zirngiebel, Amelie, The Revolutionary Genius of Plants by Stefano Mancuso, and Shirley Hibberd


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Historical Events

1643 Birth of Jean Chardin, French jeweler and traveler.

Jean is remembered for his ten-volume work, The Travels of Sir John Chardin, which is considered one of the most important early accounts of Persia and the Near East.

In Travels, Jean wrote about the Persian love language of tulips.

When a young man presents a tulip to his mistress he gives her to understand, by the general color of the flower that he is on fire with her beauty, and by the black base of it that his heart is burnt to a coal.


1845 Death of Elizabeth Fox, also known as Baroness Holland, English political hostess and flower lover.

When she was 15, Elizabeth married Sir Godfrey Webster, who was twenty years her senior. After having five children in six years, Elizabeth began an affair with a Whig politician named Henry Fox, the 3rd Baron Holland. When she had his child, she divorced Godfrey and quickly married Mr. Fox. Together they had six more children.

Elizabeth is remembered for her strong will and domineering nature. She was a zealous socialite and highly passionate about flowers. In garden history, Elizabeth is remembered for introducing the Dahlia to England.

In 1804 during a visit to Madrid's Royal Botanic Gardens, Elizabeth received Dahlia pinnata seeds from the botanist Antonio José Cavanilles ("Cah-vah-nee-yes"). When she returned to England, the little seeds were successfully cultivated in her gardens at Holland House.

Twenty years later, Elizabeth's beloved second husband, Henry Fox, was so proud of her effort to share the Dahlia with England that he wrote these words in a little love note:

The dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises forever shall speak;
'Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And in color as bright as your cheek.


1964 Death of Denys Zirngiebel, Swiss-born naturalist, florist, and plant breeder.

After establishing a home in Needham, Massachusetts, Denys sent for his wife and little boy. Denys and Henrietta had four children. Their only daughter (also named Henriette) married Andrew Newell Wyeth, and their son was NC Wyeth, the Realistic Painter.

During the 1860s, Denys worked for the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.

He later bought a 35-acre tract of land along the Charles River in Needham and started his floral business. An excellent businessman, Denys expertly marketed his inventory. Denys shipped flowers to the White House and the State Department each week.

In a nod to his Swiss heritage, Denys was the first person in America to cultivate the Giant Swiss Pansy successfully. Denys's Needham nursery grew so many Giant Swiss Pansies that
the town adopted the flower as their floral emblem, and Denys became known as the "Pansy King."


2001 On this day, the French Film Amelie was released in the United States.
In the movie, Amélie steals her father's garden gnome to help him escape his depression after losing his wife.

Amélie gives the gnome to an airline stewardess. Her father starts receiving photos of his garden buddy visiting iconic travel destinations like Monument Valley, The Empire State Building, Angkor Wat in ​​Cambodia, The Blue Mosque in Instanbul, and The Sphinx in Cairo, Egypt.

In the end, Amélie's plan works. In the last scene, her dad sets off on his own adventure inspired by a little garden gnome.


On a historical note, one of the earliest mentions of garden gnomes I could find was from July 9, 1928, in the Liverpool Echo. 

The article announced:

Quaint Garden Ornaments... a quaint littie tribe of people - garden gnomes, sixty in number - [were] sold by auction, in Liverpool. They were imported from the Continent.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants by Stefano Mancuso
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior.

The Wall Street Journal raved about this book in their review:

In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the 'higher' form of life.


The editor wrote, scientist Stefano Mancuso reveals the surprisingly sophisticated ability of plants to innovate, to remember, and to learn, offering us creative solutions to the most vexing technological and ecological problems that face us today. Despite not having brains or central nervous systems, plants perceive their surroundings with an even greater sensitivity than animals. They efficiently explore and react promptly to potentially damaging external events thanks to their cooperative, shared systems; without any central command centers, they are able to remember prior catastrophic events and to actively adapt to new ones.


Stefano introduced the controversial topic of plant memory this way,

After years spent investigating the many aspects of plant intelligence, I have been consistently surprised and fascinated by plants' clear capacity for memory. Maybe that sounds strange, but think about it for a moment. It isn't too difficult to imagine that intelligence is not the product of one single organ but that it is inherent to life, whether there is a brain or not. Plants, from this point of view, are the most obvious demonstration of how the vertebrate brain is an "accident," evolved only in a very small number of living beings-animals-while in the vast majority of life, represented by plant organisms, intelligence-the ability to learn, understand, and react successfully to new or trying situations--has developed without a dedicated organ.

All plants are capable of learning from experience and therefore have memorization mechanisms. If you submit a plant, for example an olive tree, to a stress such as drought or salinity, it will respond by implementing the necessary modifications to its anatomy and metabolism to ensure its survival. Nothing unusual in that, right? If, after a certain amount of time, we submit the same plant to the exact same stimulus, perhaps with an even stronger intensity, we notice something that is surprising only on the surface: this time, the plant responds more effectively to the stress than it did the first time. It has learned its lesson. Somewhere it has preserved traces of the solutions found and, when there was a need, has quickly recalled them in order to react more efficiently and accurately. In other words, it learned and stored the best answers in its memory, thereby increasing its chances of survival.


Stefano's clarity and conversation tone take these scientifically modern concepts and help us to see plants on a new plane of understanding.

This book is 240 pages of the latest plant research and gorgeous botanical photographs to illustrate some wild ideas about the plant world.

You can get a copy of The Revolutionary Genius of Plants by Stefano Mancuso and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $4.


Botanic Spark

1890 Death of Shirley Hibberd,  English journalist and garden writer.

He is remembered as one of the most successful gardening writers of the Victorian era.

Shirley edited three enormously popular gardening magazines, including Amateur Gardening, which is still published today.

Shirley's life story was lost to time until the garden historian Anne Wilkinson wrote his biography after fifteen years of painstaking research. Anne shares a wonderful timeline of what she could piece together about Shirley's life. The result is a wonderful and poignant mix of gardening passion and personal tragedy, as evidenced by the events between 1877 and 1885.

1877 The Amateur's Kitchen Garden.

1878 Home Culture of the Watercress leads to Shirley Hibberd being awarded a gold medal by the RHS.

1879 'Water for Nothing Every House its own Water Supply'; Familiar Garden Flowers starts to be issued.

1880 Shirley Hibberd and Sarah move to Brownswood Park, Highbury.
Sarah dies of
heart disease and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

1881 Feud between Shirley Hibberd and William Robinson generated by Shirley Hibberd's criticism of William Robinson's asparagus competition.
Shirley Hibberd
 invited to edit Amateur Gardening, a new cheap paper, published by Collingridges.
Marriage to Ellen Mantle, his cook.

1884 They move to Priory Road, Kew.
Shirley Hibberd works for the RHS on
renovating their garden at Chiswick; is a member of the Floral Committee and the Garden Committee. 

1885 Birth of Shirley Hibberd's daughter Ellen, and death of Ellen, his wife; she is buried in Abney Park.
The Golden Gate and Silver Steps. Shirley Hibberd
organises a Pear Conference.


Shirley was a champion of amateur gardening during an era when it was thoroughly rebuked by horticultural high society. But Shirley's curiosity and passion for gardening and its ancillary interests overpowered any scorn. When it came to gardening, Shirley was a conscious competent, and he was eager to educate others about gardening, a topic of many of his books. Shirley's topics ranged from town gardening and aquariums to beekeeping and conservation. Shirley was ahead of his time.

Shirley Hibberd once wrote,

...the social qualities of flowers [are so many] that it would be a difficult ... to enumerate them.
... [Upon] entering a room, [we always feel welcome when] we find a display of flowers on the table.
Where there are flowers about, the hostess appears glad, the children pleased, the very dog and cat are grateful...
the whole scene and [all souls seem] more hearty, homely, and beautiful, [in the presence of] the bewitching roses, and orchids and lilies and mignonette!


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

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