November 18, 2022 William Shenstone, Leo Lesquereux, Asa Gray, Margaret Atwood, We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, and November Garden Work Inspires


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Historical Events

1714 Birth of William Shenstone, English poet, and landscape gardener.

In the early 1740s, Shenstone inherited his family's dairy farm, which he transformed into the Leasowes (pronounced 'lezzoes'). The transfer of ownership lit a fire under Shenstone, and he immediately started changing the land into a wild landscape - something he referred to as an ornamented farm.

Shenstone wisely bucked the trend of his time, which called for formal garden design (he didn't have the money to do that anyway.) Yet, what Shenstone accomplished was quite extraordinary.

His picturesque natural landscape included water features like cascades and pools and structures like temples and ruins.

What I love most about Shenstone is that he was a consummate host. He considered the
garden's comfort and perspective from his visitors' standpoint. When he created a walk around his estate, Shenstone wanted to control the experience. So, Shenstone added
seating every so often along the path to cause folks to stop and admire the views that
Shenstone found it most appealing. Then, he incorporated signage with beautiful classical verses and poems, even adding some of his own - which elevated the Leasowes experience for his guests.

After his death, his garden, the Leasowes, became a popular destination - attracting the likes of William Pitt, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.

It was William Shenstone who said,

Grandeur and beauty are so very opposite, that you often diminish the one as you increase the other. Variety is most akin to the latter, simplicity to the former.


1806 Birth of Charles Leo Lesquereux, Swiss botanist.

Leo was born with a naturalist's heart. A self-described dreamer, Leo loved going out into the forest, collecting all kinds of flowers and specimens for his mother.

Sadly, when Leo was seven years old, he fell off the top of a mountain. He was carried back to his home completely unconscious, with multiple injuries to his body and head trauma. He remained motionless and unconscious for two weeks. His survival was a miracle, yet the fall resulted in hearing loss that would eventually leave Leo utterly deaf by the time he was a young man.

Despite the fall, nature still ruled Leo's heart. As Leo matured, he tried to provide for his family as a watchmaker. But, he found himself returning again and again to the outdoors.
Eventually, Leo began to focus his efforts on peat bogs, and his early work protecting peat bogs attracted the attention of Louis Agassiz of Harvard, who invited Leo to bring his family to America.

When he arrived, Leo classified the plants that Agassiz had discovered on his
expedition to Lake Superior. Then, on Christmas Eve, 1848, Asa Gray summoned Leo to help William Starling Sullivant. Asa  predicted the collaboration would be successful, and he wrote to his friend and fellow botanist John Torrey:

They will do up bryology at a great rate. Lesquereux says that the collection and library of Sullivant in muscology are magnifique, superbe,and the best he ever saw.

So, Leo packed up his family, traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and settled near the bryologist, William Starling Sullivant.

Bryology is the study of mosses. The root, bryos, is a Greek verb meaning to swell and is the etymology of the word embryo.

Bryology will be easier to remember if you think of the ability of moss to expand as it takes on water. Mosses suited Leo and Sullivant's strengths. They require patience and close observation, scrupulous accuracy, and discrimination. Together, Leo and Sullivant wrote the book on American mosses. Sullivant funded the endeavor and generously allowed Leo to share in the proceeds.

In 1873, Sullivant contracted pneumonia - ironically, an illness where your lungs fill or swell with fluid - and died on April 30, 1873. Leo lived for another 16 years before dying at the age of 83.

It was Leo Lesquereux who said,

My deafness cut me off from everything that lay outside of science. I have lived with Nature, the rocks, the trees, the flowers. They know me. I know them.


1810 Birth of Asa Gray, American botanist.


As a professor of botany at Harvard University, Asa interacted with the top scientific minds of his time, including Charles Darwin.

In 1857, Asa Gray received a confidential letter from Charles Darwin. In the letter, Darwin confided:

I will enclose the briefest abstract of my notions on the means by which nature makes her species....[but] I ask you not to mention my doctrine.


Darwin revealed his concept of natural selection two years later in his book,  On the Origin of Species.

Asa and Darwin mutually admired each other. Although Asa's masterwork, Darwiniana, deviated from Darwin's because Asa purported that religion and science were not mutually exclusive.

Asa was a prolific writer. His most famous work was his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and
Pennsylvania Inclusive, known today simply as Gray's Manual

During his long tenure at Harvard, Gray established the science of botany and guided American botany into the international arena. He also co-authored 'Flora of North America' with John Torrey.

When the botanist Joseph Trimble Rothrock arrived at Harvard, he worked every day in the
private herbarium of Asa Gray. And, of Dr. Gray, Rothrock said,

[He] was kindness personified, though a strict disciplinarian and a most merciless critic of a student's work. I owe more to him than to any other man, and I never think of him without veneration.


1939 Birth of Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, teacher, environmental activist, and inventor.

In Bluebeard's Egg (1986), Margaret wrote,

Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely pallid vestigial remnant. In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich
This book came out in 1942 (a 2007 reprint), and the subtitle is Simple Ideas For Small Outdoor Spaces.

Louise Dickinson Rich (14 June 1903 - 9 April 1991) was a writer known for fiction and nonfiction works about the New England region of the United States, particularly Massachusetts and Maine. This autobiographical book was her first and is regarded as her most famous and well-known work.

Louise once wrote, 

I feel displaced in towns and cities; although have never found myself in an uninhabited place where I did not at once feel perfectly at home.


We Took to the Woods is set in the 1930s when she and her husband Ralph, and her friend and hired help Gerrish, lived in a remote cabin near Umbagog Lake. It was described as "a witty account of Thoreau-like existence in a wilderness home."

In a 1942 review of the book in The Boston Globe, the story of how Louise met her husband Ralph came to light.

[Louise] taught school. She went on a holiday canoe trip to Maine and saw a man cutting wood. He saw her, too, for he asked the girls to stay and eat. Wasn't it lucky the wood lasted that long, for that is how Miss Dickinson met Mr. Rich.

Back in Massachusetts, she couldn't bear the distance between them. Neither could he, and pretty soon she was married and setting up housekeeping in a neighborhood of deer and bear and wildcats, a clearing on the Rapid River,
a carry between two lakes. The nearest community is Middle Dam, five miles away.


A 1987 review of We Took to the Woods shared the daily life of Louise and her younger sister Alice,

When other girls were spending cold winter afternoons stewing in the house, we were down at the pond skating, or out in the woods tracking rabbits ...or on hot summer afternoons, we were in the sun-drenched fields or shadowy woods, looking, listening, tasting, smelling.

[To be part of the natural world is] a thousand times more thrilling and beautiful than watching the most elaborate man-made spectacle on the biggest stage in the world.


A 1942 review in the Hattiesburg American revealed

[Louise] (who speaks of herself as an "obscure Dickinson' because she is distantly related to the late and famous Emily) has found content in the Maine woods. She describes herself, her family and her contentment in 'We Took to the Woods."

...she is so deep in the Maine woods that strangers practically never reach her house. And she likes it.

The cabin is in the Rangeley Lake Section. There were two cabins when Mrs. Rich wrote her book-- one for summer, and one for winter. The winter cabin looks like some- thing out of a fairy tale, imbedded as it is in snow too deep and too fluffy to be anything but a stage setting. There are animals all about deer and wildcats and foxes and skunks. Once she befriended a little skunk, and found it made perfect pet, gradually growing a bit wilder, however. Finally it took to the woods. But when by chance it saw Mrs. Rich it always trotted up to her to be fondled and talked to a bit.

Mrs. Rich's first baby was born in the deep woods with only the father as attendant-the doctor couldn't get to the house on time.


A more poetic review was featured in The Harding Field Echelon:

[Louise once] received a letter from a friend exclaiming, "Isn't it wonderful that you're at last doing what you always wanted." 

[At that moment, Louise realized with a start that she was living her... dream.

There is nothing at all on the hills but forest, and nobody lives there but deer and bear and wildcats. The lakes come down from the north like a gigantic staircase to the sea. Thisis the background for Mrs. Rich's unique and enchanting story.

Her friends are always asking her questions, the kind of questions anyone would put to a woman who lives in a remote wilderness out of choice:

How do you make a living?
Do you really live there all year round?
Isn't housekeeping difficult?
Aren't the children a problem?
Don't you get terribly bored?

Here the whole panorama of life in the wilderness unfolds: the drama of the spring drive when the logs are brought down the river from the upper lake; the fun of wood-cutting and ice-cutting; the zest of hunting and fishing when one is dependent of the results for food.

There are amusing sidelights on everyday events - [like] the time Mrs. Rich felt she was being watched and in spite of her husband's amusement, went to the door and saw a wildcat eyeing her, no more than three feet from where she had been knitting.

We Took to the Woods is more than an adventure story, more than a simple nature study; it is a shining, refreshing picture of an entirely new way of life. Written with warmth and enthusiasm and great charm, it is a book to stir the imagination of every reader and kindle his heart with envy. 


This book is 368 pages of Louis Dickenson's precious life in the Maine woods.

You can get a copy of We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $2.


Botanic Spark

2000 On this day, The Indianapolis Star shared an editorial called November Garden Work Inspires by Jean L. McGroarty.

Jean lives in Battle Ground with her husband and three teenagers. She is the director of education at the Tippecanoe Humane Society

She wrote,

I can't remember a Thanksgiving when I haven't been able to go to my garden and dig carrots or pull scallions for my after-holiday turkey soup. My garden, SO often neglected in July and August, still gives what can in November.

I am not a good gardener, but I enjoy doing what little I do. My favorite chore is digging my little plot, a pleasure I have twice a year, once in March and once in November. I have a tiller but never use it. I prefer to use a garden fork, with wide, flat tines, a short stem, and a bright red handle.

Digging my small garden is a lesson in patience, in small and gradual accomplishment. It gives me time to stop and reflect. It's a thinkless job. There IS no mental work involved, just the rhythm of tapping soil with the tines to find the right spot, pushing the fork Into the soil, lifting it up, and turning it over again and again and again.

I can easily see my progress, for each fork full takes me closer to the garden put to bed for winter or ready for spring planting. I like this. I can't do it all at once and only work a little bit at a time, doing as much as I can, measuring my success, loving the feeling of inching my way to the goal. When I do this, I can turn my mind to other thoughts, listen to other sounds, see other things than the fork and the soil.

It's a time to reflect, on seasons and work and growth deferred but growth that will come again someday. I count the earthworms because they give me an inkling of how fertile my soil will be in the spring. I listen to squirrels rustling in the dry leaves, the neighbors calling the wayward dog, and the sound of the wind In the bare trees.

During the summer, when the weather is hot and it's easier to stay indoors than work and sweat in the sun, the weeds grow foxtails, plantain, dandelions, and crabgrass.

In November, they're still in the garden, sand-colored and dry and spiky and full of seeds. I turn them into the soil and put them on my scraggly compost pile. Either way, there are thin stems sticking out of the soil or the top of the pile. I turn and turn, giving more to the worms, in the hope that more will come to wind their way through my garden so I can grow bigger and better tomatoes and foxtails next summer.

There are still green things. There are the carrots and the onions that I didn't harvest in the summer. There are chamomile plants, their new growth leaves creeping along the ground, unaware that snow and ice and below zero are coming. I let my lettuce go to seed last spring, and lo, there are some tiny pale green lettuce plants hoping to grow bigger before the snow comes. My snow peas are up and beautiful and blooming with a dozen colors of purple, but I know won't find any pea pods before Christmas. There's still a little bit of parsley left and will pick sprigs of it until it's covered with snow. Most of these green things are turned under, to feed the worms, to feed the soil, and green manure to make the garden better.

There are two stubborn trees that continue to live In my garden, despite my efforts: a mulberry and a hackberry. They are ruthless survivors and I've learned to leave them where they are. There's the aster that plunked in the middle of the beets, not knowing what else to do with it. If it returns in the spring, I'll decide then.

I turn one row at a time, moving from left to right, then back from right to left, tapping, plunging, turning, and thinking. About time. About the sadness of summer lost. About gray skies and cold weather. About the little miracles found in a November garden.

I listen and sniff the air and feel the moisture of the dirt under my fork. In three afternoons of work, all the soil in the garden is turned, except for that holding the carrots, scallions, peapods, parsley, and one little lettuce plant. The carrots, scallions, and parsley are useful. The snow peas are beautiful. The lettuce gives me hope that spring will come again.

The garden is ready. Ready for sleep. Ready for snow. Ready to wake up in the spring and start again. I pull some of those carrots for vegetable soup, along with a small onion and a bit of parsley. My November garden keeps giving me gifts, and for that, I'm grateful. 

Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener

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

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