May 16, 2023 William Henry Seward, Martha Ballard, Luigi Fenaroli, Herbert Ernest Bates, Goldenrod, Of Rhubarb and Roses by Tim Richardson, and Jacob Ritner


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Historical Events

1801 William Henry Seward “Sue-erd", an American politician who served as United States Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869, is born.

He was also featured in the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in which she wrote about William as a naturalist. He loved his garden.

This little passage offers so many insights into William as a nature lover, and as a gardener and just to set this up, this is taking place during the civil war when there's a little break in the action for Seward and he accompanies his wife Frances and their daughter. Back to Auburn, New York, where they were planning to spend the summer. 

Seward accompanied Frances and Fanny back to Auburn, where they were planning to spend the summer. For a few precious days, he entertained old friends, caught up on his reading, and tended his garden.

The sole trying event was the decision to fell a favorite old poplar tree that had grown unsound. Frances could not bear to be present as it was cut, certain that she "should feel every stroke of the axe." Once it was over, however, she could relax in the beautiful garden she had sorely missed during her prolonged stay in Washington.

Nearly sixty years old, with the vitality and appearance of a man half his age, Seward typically rose at 6 a.m. when first light slanted into the bedroom window of his twenty-room country home. Rising early allowed him time to complete his morning constitutional through his beloved garden before the breakfast bell was rung. Situated on better than five acres of land, the Seward mansion was surrounded by manicured lawns, elaborate gardens, and walking paths that wound beneath elms, mountain ash, evergreens, and fruit trees.

Decades earlier, Seward had supervised the planting of every one of these trees, which now numbered in the hundreds. He had spent thousands of hours fertilizing and cultivating his flowering shrubs. With what he called 'a lover's interest," he inspected them daily.


Then I love what Doris writes next because she's contrasting Seward with Abraham Lincoln in terms of their love of working outside.

[Seward's] horticultural passion was in sharp contrast to Lincoln's lack of interest in planting trees or growing flowers at his Springfield home. Having spent his childhood laboring long hours on his father's struggling farm, Lincoln found little that was romantic or recreational about tilling the soil.

When Seward "came in to the table," his son Frederick recalled, "he would announce that the hyacinths were in bloom, or that the bluebirds had come, or whatever other change the morning had brought."


1809 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. Today Martha's marvelous journal gives us a glimpse into the plants that she regularly used and how she applied them medicinally.

And as for how Martha sourced her plants, she raised them in her garden or she foraged for them in the wild. As the village apothecary, Martha found her own ingredients and personally made all of her herbal remedies.

Here's what the writer, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Wrote about Martha's work back in May of 1809.

Martha's far more expansive record focused on the mundane work of gardening, the daily, incremental tasks that each season exacted.

In May of 1809, she "sowed," "sett," "planted,' and "transplanted" in at least half dozen places, digging ground "west of the hous" on May 15 and starting squash, cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons on "East side house" the same day.
She planted "by the hogg pen" on May 16 and 18 on May 23 sowed string peas "in the end of my gardin," and on May 26, planted "south of the hous." The plots she defined by the three points of the compass were no doubt raised beds, rich with manure, used for starting seeds in cool weather.

The garden proper had a fence, which Ephraim mended on May 12. Whether it included the plot near the "hogg pen" we do not know.

All of these spots, managed by Martha, were distinct from the "field." which Jonathan plowed on May 15, and DeLafayette and Mr. Smith on May 27 and May 31.

Martha's was an ordinary garden, a factory for food and med- icine that incidentally provided nourishment to the soul. "I have workt in my gardin, she wrote on May 17, the possessive pronoun the only hint of the sense of ownership she felt in her work.

The garden was hers, though her husband or son or the Hallowell and Augusta Bank owned the land.

"I have squash & Cucumbers Come up in the bed East side the house," she wrote on May 22.

The garden was hers because she turned the soil, dropped the seeds, and each year recorded in her diary, as though it had never happened before, the recurring miracle of spring.



1899 Luigi Fenaroli, the great Italian agronomist and botanist, is born.

Luigi wrote a flora of the Alps and he was an expert in forestry, but today we remember him for his work with chestnuts. Luigi wrote two books on chestnuts, and he was passionate about chestnuts as a good source of nutrition - especially for people who've lived in the mountains. Although today, of course, chestnuts are beloved in Italy, as well as other parts of the world.

Chestnuts are unique in that they contain very little fat and protein compared to other types of nuts, but they are an excellent source of both carbohydrates and water. There is about a 50-50 ratio there. And so it's not surprising to learn that Roman soldiers were given a porridge made of chestnuts before they went into battle. It gave them sustenance, that simple Chestnut porridge.

Today chestnuts are known as a superfood. They are healthy and irresistibly tasty. And so they rank near the top of the list for most nutritious snacks.


1905 Herbert Ernest Bates (pen name H. E. Bates) English author, is born.

He is remembered for his books, Love for Lydia (1952), The Darling Buds of May (1958), and My Uncle Silas (1939).

In his book, A Love of Flowers (1971), Herbert wrote,

It is wonderful to think that one of the few unbroken links between the civilization of ancient Egypt and the civilization of today is the garden.


Herbert also wrote, 

I shut my eyes it returns: evocation of a whole wood, a whole world of darkness and flowers and birds and late summer silence... more than the mere memory of a wood, the first and the best wood.


Herbert wrote about gardeners. He said,

The true gardener, like an artist, is never satisfied.


And he also once wrote this about gardens.

Gardens... should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises, and then still more curves.


1926 On this day, the state of Kentucky selected the Goldenrod for its Floral Emblem.

Prior to 1926, Kentucky's floral emblem had been the Bluegrass (which seems more fitting still today), but Kentucky gardening clubs felt Bluegrass wasn't representative of the whole state.
And here's a fun fact: Alabama and Nebraska also picked the native goldenrod to be the State Flower.
Goldenrod has a lot of haters because many people confuse it for ragweed. I hate to even write that - because it makes people think they must look similar. But that's just not true. Once you see Goldenrod and Ragweed them individually - you could never confuse them.
Ragweed flowers are green and not eye-catching, while goldenrods are golden and very pretty.
I saw an infographic a few years ago that said,
Goldenrod Warning: if I'm here, so is ragweed. Stay indoors! Achoo!


This is clearly maligning Goldenrod. It might as well say the black-eyed Susans are blooming, so is ragweed. Or the Joe Pye Weed is blooming - and so is ragweed - and so, by the way, are all the late summer bloomers - echinacea, helenium, oriental lily, asters, balloon flowers, sedums, tickseed, autumn crocus, Japanese anemones, blue mist shrub, hydrangeas, the list goes on and on. It's just an issue of timing.

The genus name Solidago is taken from the Latin "in solidum ago vulnera" and it means "I make wounds whole." And so it's not surprising to learn that Native Americans and herbalists have long recognized the curative power of goldenrod when it comes to wound care.
Now, If you want to plant some Goldenrod, keep in mind that it is an early autumn bloomer. It's also an important food source for honey bees and makes for a fantastic cut flower.
Finally, the botanical painter Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden once painted the goldenrod and observed,
Abundant it may be, but repugnant it is not. 


Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation

Of Rhubarb and Roses by Tim Richardson

This book came out in 2013, and the subtitle is The Telegraph Book of the Garden.

Well, this is such a happy and fun book for gardeners in the summertime. I love the cover, which shows a gentleman sleeping on a garden bench with a little golden Tabby cat beneath him. There's also a lawnmower and a wheel barrow full of produce. There are beautiful garden beds. There's a beautiful garden arbor. And then, of course, there's a newspaper of the daily Telegraph That's laid out on the wheelbarrow, right by the tomatoes and the carrots and the cabbage and so forth.

But this is a book that the Telegraph put together, and it is a compilation book - an anthology of garden essays by garden writers And so in this book, you will find fantastic garden essays from the likes of Stephen Lacey, Mary Keen, Helen Yemm, Bunny Guinness, Monty Don,  Rosemary Verey, and the like.

Now here's what Tim wrote in the introduction to this book.

I'm not sure quite what I was anticipating, but I know it was not diatribes against melon frappé or the best places to find wild chives on the Lizard peninsula. I'm not sure, either, that I was quite ready for the fact that a garden column appeared in the newspaper every single day from the late 1950s on. The result was bulging file after file brought up from the Telegraph's distant archive, each filled to bursting with carefully snipped clippings. Snow, drought, storm, new plants launched, old plants rediscovered, the latest furore at the Chelsea Show - the garden columnist falls upon everything that makes one year different to the last, for with a cyclical subject such as horticulture there is the ever-present danger of repeating oneself. The Telegraph's writers have avoided this for the most part, though I was amused to come across at least four versions of a 'May I introduce you to euphorbias?" piece by the same author. One of the fascinations of gardening is the way the same issues arise year after year while always seeming different, somehow - perhaps because of the vagaries of the seasons.


Thomas walks us through some of the history of garden writing over at the Telegraph. And he concludes with these words.

The best writers can achieve this balance between practical advice and lyrical appreciation - in the case of newspapers, all to a strict deadline. 

I suppose this theme of writing to order looms large for me today since the deadline for this introduction is suddenly upon me and I find myself writing during a weekend away. As it happens the place is Sissinghurst, and the borrowed desk I am sitting at was Vita's, my view through casement windows that of burnished orange echinacea, crimson salvias, clipped yew, and the beatific, wondering smiles of the visitors gliding by. Their expressions make me think, Does anything in life give as much pleasure as a beautiful garden?'
Last night, the white garden at midnight was a revelation. But that is not a subject to be enlarged upon now; I am going to write it up in the next day or two. It will, I hope, become another garden article fit for publication in the pages of the Daily Telegraph.

If you like garden writing and you love anthologies, this is the perfect book for you.

Personally, I think this is a great summer gift for gardeners because this book has already been out for a decade already -it came out in 2013 and so used copies are readily available on Amazon for a song.

But again, this is a beautiful and fun book. One reviewer wrote,

[It's] an assorted box of chocolates. I happily skipped between essays by the likes of Vita Sackville-West, Germaine Greer and Sir Roy Strong, greedily consuming one after the other in quick succession. For those with more restraint, this is a book that promises many hours of savoured delights.


This book is 464 pages of funny and well-informed garden writing dating back to the 1950s.

You can get a copy of Of Rhubarb and Roses by Tim Richardson and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $2.

Botanic Spark

1861 Jacob Ritner, a Union captain in the civil war, wrote to his wife Emeline.

In fact, there's a great book that features all of the letters that he wrote to his wife Emeline during the Civil War, and it's called  Love and Valor: Intimate Civil War Letters Between Captain Jacob and Emeline Ritner by Charles Larimer.


Anyway, I stumbled on this letter that Jacob wrote on this day during the civil war when I was reading an excerpt from a book by DC Gill called How We Are Changed by War.

In this excerpt, Gill reveals how soldiers survived the war, not only physically but also mentally, and quotes Kirby Farrell:

"To preserve their sanity," writes Kirby Farrell, "soldiers [often] concentrated on a prosthetic "reality" by which to ground themselves" (Farrell 1998, 179).


We already know that the garden is grounding.

DC writes that mental images of happy places, like gardens, can mitigate bad environments, such as a war zone.

An artificial image of home can substitute for the deficiencies of a present-day environment in a war zone. It allows soldiers to mentally project themselves into a more comforting geography.

Soldiers' letters repeatedly ask for details to furnish these environments of the mind.

"Now Emeline dear," writes Union Captain Jacob Ritner on May 16, 1861, "you must write me a great long letter next Sunday.. .. Tell me all the news, how the trees grow, the garden and grass, what everybody says"


The power of the garden to anchor us extends past space and time and even merely thinking of our gardens can lift our spirits and calm our worries.


Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener

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

The Daily Gardener
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