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April 1, 2019 A Brand New Gardening Podcast, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, Southwood Smith, Louis MacNeice, Peter Cundall, and Tovah Martin

It's the 1st of April - April Fools Day!

April is derived from the word aperit- which means to open. 

Yet, every Prince fan, or northern gardener, knows that, sometimes it snows in April.  

So, April flowers should take heed; open at your own risk.


April is National Pecan Month, Lawn and Garden Month, Fresh Celery Month, National Garden Month, Soy Foods Month, National Landscape Architecture Month, and National Safe Digging Month.

  • Add 811 in your phone contacts.
  • Save it under "Digging"
  • In the notes, add a reminder to call at least three days before you dig.  

In 1851, a note was written to Nathanial Bagshaw Ward (of Wardian case fame).  The note was from Southwood Smith; an eminent English doctor, minister, and the father of sanitary reform (public health) in England.  During his time, Southwood Smith was recognized as the originator of preventive medicine and he was constantly writing about health in ways the masses could easily understand and remember.  He wrote numerous reports on cholera and he introduced the system of house-to-house visitation to prevent outbreaks.  His obituary stated that Smith's work,

"brought him much in contact with the poor, his penetrating and benevolent mind readily perceived how greatly physical suffering contributes to moral degradation." 

When Smith wrote to Ward on April 1, 1851, he  was part of the successful effort to get the Window Tax repealed.  Ever since 1696, England had imposed a tax based on, of all things,... wait for it...the number windows on a house.  Crazy, right?

On the plus side, the window tax was a no-brainer. Assessors just walked down the street and counted the windows on the house... and Bob's your uncle and there's your tax bill. But, then... the window tax story took a dark turn.

Folks started bricking up their windows (nooo!)or building homes with fewer windows - simply to avoid the tax. 

No windows means no light... or ventilation.  And, that created stuffy, sick living spaces.

By the mid-1800's, doctors like Smith realized that the window tax had to go.

So why would Smith (a doctor fighting the window tax) reach out to a plant guy like Ward?

Well... it just so happened that Ward conducting experiments on the influence of light on plants and animals.Ward showed that light acted,"chemically on the blood of animals, and also on the sap of plants." Essentially, Ward was proving Smith's point: light was vital to health.

Ward shared a story of how he had once grown two identical geraniums in different conditions - one in the light and the other in darkness.  The geranium grown in dark, was stunted and sickly. It had a skinny thread-like stem and it was studded with pathetic excuses for leaves (that were no bigger than the head a pinhead). Smith realized that plants were enjoying better living conditions than the people. Like plants, people need light.

Here's Smith's to-the-point note to Nathanial Ward:


My Dear Sir,
     If you should have recently made any additional observations on the influence of light in health or disease, I should be glad if you would favor me with it, as it may just now, perhaps, be turned to account with reference to the Repeal of the Window Duties.
I am very faithfully yours,
                                                  Southwood Smith

It's the birthday of Peter Cundall (Books by this author). Born in 1927 - the big 92 this year.  A Tasmanian gardener, Peter was the friendly host of the long-running TV showGardening Australia - one of the first shows committed to 100% organic practices and practical advice.  Peter inspired both young and old to garden.  In his epic "lemon tree episode," Peter got a little carried away and essentially finished pruning when the tree was little more than a stump. Thereafter, Cundallisation was synonymous for over-pruning. 

Peter learned to garden as a little boy.  His first garden was a vegetable patch on top of an air raid shelter in Manchester, England.  His family was impoverished.  His father was an abusive alcoholic. Two of his siblings died of malnutrition.  Through it all, the garden brought stability, nourishment, and reprieve.  Of that time, Peter's recalls,

"Lying in bed in the morning waiting for it to be light, so I could go out and get going in my garden.  I used to think there was some gas given out by the soil that produced happiness."  

Unearthed Words

In honor of Smith's note on the influence of light, here's a poem from Louis MacNeice (Books by this author), called Sunlight on the Garden. 

Louis wrote this poem in 1936, after his divorce from Mary Ezra and it is probably one of his best-known works. At the time, Louis lived at number 4, Keats Grove - just down the street from the romantic poet John Keats' impeccable white, Georgian villa (where Keats wrote his best-loved poems.) If you're ever in London, check out Keats House and gardens - it's a veritable time capsule. It has awesome reviews on Trip Advisor. Then, drive past Keats Grove Number 4 and peak at Louis MacNeice's home and front garden - it's still very charming.

The poem contrasts lightness and darkness.Lightness is life and our experiences; the garden on a sunny day, a sky good for flying, and sitting with a loved one the rain. The darkness is the march of time, the sunlight that fades, and the sounds of sirens and church bells that often accompanies tragedy.


“Sunlight on the Garden” 

by Louis MacNeice


The sunlight on the garden

Hardens and grows cold,

We cannot cage the minute

Within its nets of gold;

When all is told

We cannot beg for pardon.


Our freedom as free lances

Advances towards its end;

The earth compels, upon it

Sonnets and birds descend;

And soon, my friend,

We shall have no time for dances.


The sky was good for flying

Defying the church bells

And every evil iron

Siren and what it tells:

The earth compels,

We are dying, Egypt, dying


And not expecting pardon,

Hardened in heart anew,

But glad to have sat under

Thunder and rain with you,

And grateful too

For sunlight on the garden.

Today's book recommendation would have surely gotten a five-star review from Nathanial Bagshaw Ward: The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature by Tovah Martin (books by this author) Tovah offers lots of excellent ideas for using everyday objects as terrariums - which is something I love to do as well.

Some of my homemade terrariums include clear cake plates stands and covers for miniature aquatic plants, display boxes which I line with plastic, and using a huge clear vase turned upside down on an old silver platter is a stunning way to showcase a small orchid or fern.

Today's Garden Chore

Today's chore is to do a trellis check. 
What is still standing?
What is installed?
What needs to be repaired?
What needs to go?

Something Sweet

to revive the little botanic spark in your heart

What do you call it when a lighthouse, a trellis, a windstorm, a dune, and Halloween costume get together? A beacon, lattice, and tornado sand witch.

Today's Featured Book


Today's Garden Thoughts...


Today's Unearthed Words


Today's Garden Chore

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