September 10, 2019 Time to Power Wash, David Hosack, Richard Spruce, George Bentham, Beverley Nichols, Oak by William Bryant Logan, Addressing Rot ASAP, and Plants on the Pill

Right about now is the perfect time to get out the power washer.

Clean your water features, edging, rocks, fountains, and your outdoor entertaining spaces. The reality is that once you start up that power washer, the list of things that you can clean with it goes on and on. As you're working, you invariably find more things to wash. When it comes to our maintenance free decking, I'll add a little Dawn dish soap to help release the dirt out of the grooves.

And, this week and next is the exact best time of year to get your ponds netted so you can catch those falling leaves and save yourself some major cleanup.

My neighbor has a huge maple tree that hangs over part of our yard. When that tree starts to let go the helicopter seeds, I'll cover some of the raised beds and planters with wedding tulle to minimize the number of baby maples growing in the garden.

 

 


Brevities

#OTD Today in 1806, the botanist David Hosack wrote to Thomas Jefferson about Lewis and Clark.

If his note brings a smile, it's because Hosack sounds just like every gardener through the ages. Here's what he wrote:

"If sir the gentlemen who are at present on their travels to the Missouri discover any new or useful plants I should be very happy in obtaining a small quantity of the seeds."

Like many botanists of his day, Hosack had been trained in medicine. If you've seen the musical Hamilton, you might recall that Hosack was the doctor who tended to Alexander Hamilton after his duel with Aaron Burr.

 

 

 


#OTD   Today is the birthday of the amateur English botanist who was obsessed with tiny and seemingly unexciting plants like mosses and liverworts, Richard Spruce, who was born on this day in 1817.

After attracting the attention of Sir Joseph Hooker and George Bentham, of Kew Gardens, Spruce left England to botanize in South America at their bidding. South America was a treasure trove and Spruce discovered thousands of plants. One of the plants discovered by  Richard Spruce was the Colombian coca plants. To illustrate the impact of Spruce's work; After he shipped the coco seed to Kew Gardens; they were dispersed around the world - ending up in far-off places like Java and Taiwan.

Richard Spruce, appreciated the beauty of the Amazon. He learned to speak 21 languages of the Amazon peoples. He reveled in the "gay flowers, butterflies, and birds," but what ultimately captured his heart were the small plants that cushioned the forest floor and blanketed the trees: complex formations of mosses and liverworts. He called them the "underdogs of the plant world."

During his time in the Amazon, Spruce suffered from constant serious health challenges - one after another - and it's incredible that he survived them all. It's supremely ironic that a man so afflicted ultimately saved millions with his collecting efforts. In particular, Spruce smuggled 100,000 seeds and 600 quinine-yielding plants to India in order to provide the remedy for malaria. Spruce was successful and people were saved; but Spruce found himself paralyzed from the waist down and bankrupt after his bank folded with all of his savings. The price for spending 15 years botanizing in South America was exacted on the health of Richard Spruce. He returned to England physically broken, penniless, and unheralded. Today posterity reveals that Richard Spruce was really an unsung hero of botany during the Victorian age.

Richard Spruce lived out the remainder of his days, 27 years worth, in a house located in the village of Coneysthorpe on the Castle Howard Estate in Yorkshire. For the last three decades of his life, Spruce spent his waking working hours mostly lying down - his useless legs had brought his exploring days to an end. After Spruce died shortly after Christmas in 1893 at the age of 76.

After Spruce died, some of his peers installed a commemorative plaque which was fixed to the side of his home. It reads, "Distinguished Botanist, fearless explorer, humble man."

Today Spruce's herbarium and collections are held at Kew. Richard Spruce has over 200 species named in his honor.

And, Spruce's letters and notes are quite incredible if you get the chance to see them - Spruce had beautiful and very legible handwriting. 

It was Richard Spruce who said,

"I like to look on plants as sentient beings ... which beautify the earth during life, and after death may adorn my herbarium." 

 

 


#OTD  Today is the anniversary of the death of the remarkable English botanist George Bentham who died on this day in 1884. 

He was going to be an attorney, but he decided to pursue botany after a time spent living in the country. Bentham wrote a Flora of the British Islands - which he claimed was written bit by bit every morning before he had his breakfast. Bentham wrote the book for beginners; he wanted amateurs to be able to recognize basic differences in plants and his descriptions were written simply and used ordinary everyday language. Bentham also worked together with Sir Joseph Hooker on the production of their masterpiece "Genera Plantarum". It was completed a year before his death.  It was the only book he ever co-authored. And, Bentham was a teacher as well. He taught botany and botanizing to many students.  His lifelong friend was the botanist John Stuart Mills who was five years younger than him. Mills had lived with the Bethams as a teenager during the year 1820.

The Botanist Asa Gray remarked that Bentham could, "fairly be compared with Linnaeus, de Candolle and Robert Brown" for his accurateness and variety of work.  

Bentham kept a diary for over 50 years. All of his correspondence with Sir William Hooker has been preserved through the years. 

If you're a fan of Opal Basil, the purple basil, you'll be pleased to know it was first discovered in 1830 by none other than George Bentham.

 

 

 


Unearthed Words

All week long The Daily Gardener is sharing excerpts from the author Beverley Nichols, who was born on this day in 1898.
 
Nichols is remembered for his writing and his love of gardening and cats. Nichols wrote over 60 books - but he is best remembered for his gardening books. 
 
In the book we discussed yesterday, Down the Garden Path, Nichols wrote about his adventures with a country garden; in Green Grows the City, Nichols described how he planned and created a garden in a suburb of London.
 
In his book, Nichols told how he changed a London "backyard" into a thing of beauty. The first thing Nichols did was to carry many of his shrubs, plants and seeds to his City Garden. When Nichols first spied the property, he said it was "the ugliest, most desolate strip of ground that can ever have been trodden by human feet, outside the no man's land of the Great War."
 
Nichols wrote the book during wartime. I ran across an ad for Green Grows the City that was featured in The Observer on October 2, 1939 and it said this about the book:
 
"An Ideal book for the Blackout. It will help you to forget war and to think only of the lovely things of this earth."
That's why today's excerpt from this book alludes to war. Nichol's wrote:
 
“We both know, you and I, that if all men were gardeners, the world at last would be at peace.”
 
And, it was Beverley Nichols who said, “To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat."

 

 

As a professional arborist and award-winning nature writer Logan captures the reciprocal relationship between humans and oak trees for centuries. Oak is a fascinating book and Logan's prose sometimes reads almost like poetry. In the book, Logan even writes about the mighty acorn and its little known use as an edible. Logan tries to make acorn jelly and acorn flour and he writes that the acorn has a unique characteristic as an edible; it makes you feel full for hours after eating it. Logan says, " There is some basic sympathy between oaks and humans. We invented a whole way of living out of their fruit and their wood, and by that token, they too invented us."

Logan is the author of the simply-titled books Dirt, Oak, Air, and Sprout Lands. 

Written in 2006, you can get used copies for under $8 on Amazon using the link in today's show notes.

 

 


Today's Garden Chore

Address any rot in your garden or containers right away.

The first thing you want to do is recognize the areas where water is prevalent in your garden. Second, you want to scout for plants that look unhappy. Often, you'll find plants suffering from rot or wet feet look a pretty miserable. If you think of wet soil as suffocating, you'll realize you need to act quickly to save plants that need well-drained soil. Finally, remove those suffering plants from that wet environment and place them in soil amended with perlite to add air pockets and improve drainage. If you're using a container, it's hard to beat the breathability of terra cotta, and let that plant dry out a bit before adding more water. You'll know if you did the right thing just by looking at the plant. Plants rescued in time from rot practically smile at you when you come near them. 🙂

 

 


Something Sweet 
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

On this day in 1981, the newspaper out of Lancaster Pennsylvania published this news out of Cape Town:

"South African botanists have discovered that a birth control pill pushed into the soil next to a plant stem can produce dramatic effects on growth and improve foliage. Research has shown that hormones in the pill accelerate fertilization and development of plants."

 

 


Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
and remember:
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."

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