April 9, 2019 Phebe Lankester, James Sowerby, Joseph Trimble Rothrock, Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, Gardeners Question Time, Charles Baudelaire, Katie Daisy, the Toronto Archives, and Joseph Sauriol

Today’s thought is exactly that: How we think when we garden.

Emerson wrote:

Blame me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought;
Every aster in my hand
Comes back laden with a thought.

How wonderful our gardens are for thinking.


Every bloom can be a vessel for an idea, a hurt, a solution.

I had a fight with my daughter the other day. We were getting nowhere. Exasperated and just plain tired, I had her help me with the houseplants. In case you’re wondering, we were spring cleaning all the greens - even the fake ones! There was no talk. No more disagreement. Just the plants and water and a little soap... and our thoughts.

Before we knew it, we were ready to come together. Our welfare and happiness restored by the thoughts knit together in the company of plants.





#OTD British botanist, author, pragmatist and survivor Phebe Lankester (Books By This Author) died today in 1900 and was born tomorrow in 1825.

Born Phebe Pope, she married the naturalist Edwin Lankester - who was a coroner and medical reformer. They had eleven children. When Phebe was 49, Edwin died; she had to keep producing work to take care of herself and her family. 

Phebe Lankaster wrote under a number of pseudonyms. Her books were published under the name Mrs. Lankester.  She wrote a syndicated column under the signature “Penelope” for 20 years.  Her energy and work brought friendships with the celebrities of her day: painters, actors, intellectuals, and writers.  In 1895, the painter Herman Herkomer painted a wonderful portrait of Phoebe Lankester - her warmth and wit captured on the canvas.

Her work appealed to the masses; she wrote in a friendly and conversational voice.

And, she wrote about what she knew: plants, educating children about health, and being financially smart.  Her books range from

A Plain and Easy Account of the British Ferns (1859) to The National Thrift Reader (1880) It was the widowed Phebe Lankester who said,

“Often the most thrifty persons are the most generous, because they can afford to be so.”

Phebe often partnered with illustrator James Sowerby and other members of the Sowerby family for illustrations in her books.  

She worked with James on her sweet, little book Wild Flowers Worth Notice; with 108 colored figures from drawings by James E. Sowerby 

An advertisement for the book in 1861 noted that Mrs. Lankester herself says in her charming preface, "what flowers are not worth notice?” Reviewers were happy with Mrs. Lankester’s selections calling them "the special delight of flower-gatherers, as for example, the sun-dew, the mistletoe, the bog pimpernel, the grass of Parnassus, flax, white water-lily, fly orchis, milk-wort, and germander speedwell, etc.

Lankester pays sweet tributes to her favorite plants, incorporating brevities: folklore, quotes, poems, and general Information.  

For example, in her preface, Lankester quotes Longfellow:

Wondrous truths, and manifold as wondrous,

God hath written in those stars above;

But not less in the bright flowerets under us

Stands the revelation of his love.

She also quoted Wordsworth:

Knowing that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,

Through all the years of this our life, to lead

From joy to joy.

One review said

”Mrs. Lankaster writes so easily and naturally, that no deliberate effort seems to have been made. It is a little book, but teaches a great deal, and in so pleasant a way that to be wearied is impossible.” 

This is in line with the last page of her book where Lancaster confesses she had thought about writing a book like this many times but lacked the courage because she didn’t want to offend.  She wrote

“Having now gone over the … collection of Wild Flowers, endeavoring to chronicle the chief attractions and virtues of each, I can but feel how little has been said when compared with all that remains unsaid, but felt.”



Happy Birthday today Joseph Trimble Rothrock (Books By This Author) born today in 1839.

Plagued by sickness as a child, Rothrock felt the call of the great outdoors,

“I just had to go to the woods. Throughout my entire life, I have sought the ‘out of doors’ as a refuge against impending physical ills."

Rothrock went to Harvard and worked every day in the private herbarium of Asa Gray who visited Rothrock’s hometown to collect botanical specimens.  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."

He also studied geology under Louis Agassiz who became his friend. (Agassi’s motto was, “study nature, not books”)

Rothrock suspended his studies at Harvard to fight in the Civil War.  His right thigh and hand were wounded at Fredricksburg in 1862 (Burnside's fight), he shook hands with President Lincoln at an army hospital.  Later in his life, in a photograph of Rothrock called “The old white pine and the Father of Forestry”, he stands in front of the trunk of a huge white pine.  With his signature long white beard and kind effect, the gentle expert's right hand is grasping a walking stick. The photo notes say that his right little finger was amputated at Fredricksburg.

Rothrock attempted to return to Harvard but discovered that his professors - including Asa Gray - had formed a military company and wanted to serve in the war.  Rothrock insisted that Dr. Gray was too old to serve, took his place in the company, and served for another three months.

Rothrock taught botany and went on to become a surgeon. He went on a number of important expeditions and wrote the Flora of Alaska. 

His passion for forestry ignited when he was named a Michaux Lecturer on Forestry and he took a nine-month sabbatical to study under renowned botanist Anton Debary at the University of Strasbourg in Germany.  

In 1893, Rothrock began an expedition to investigate the challenges affecting Pennsylvania’s forests or "Penn's woods” as he called them. For two years, Rothrock and his associate engineer, William Shunk, investigated the condition of forests in Pennsylvania.

Destructive forest fires were all too common during the logging era, and long before “Smokey the Bear”, Rothrock lead the effort to prevent forest fires.  Rothrock said that

“almost every forest fire is the result of ignorance, carelessness, or crime, and that there is some one to punish for it.”

Rothrock reported the problems of deforestation; he also educated the public on tree propagation and forest restoration.  Facing opposition from farmers and timber barons, Rothrock’s relentless focus on forestry aimed at making a policy change.  In 1901, he wrote,

“Twenty years ago I began agitation upon the forestry question, I have kept at it ever since; […] you have no idea of the amount of work it requires to change a generation from tree destroyers to tree restorers; it is something akin to a second birth.”

In 1909, Rothrock, at age seventy, sold his vast herbarium and library to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The collection reportedly contained 22,207 specimens including specimens named in his honor:  Artemisia Rothrockia, Halenia Rothrockii, Nama Rothrockii, Pentstemon Rothrockii, Stachys Rothrockii, Toivnsendia Rothrockii and from Lower California a genus Rothrockia which belongs to the family Asclepiadaceae.

Rothrock State Forest in Pennsylvania is also named in his honor and Joseph Trimble Rothrock’s birthday - April 9th - is commemorated annually in Pennsylvania schools as Arbor Day.




#OTD The first episode of Gardeners Question Time was broadcast from the Broadoak Hotel in the 'singing room' on April 9th, 1947.

Originally named "How Does Your Garden Grow?", it was an offshoot of the wartime Dig for Victory campaign. On the first panel were Bill Sowerbutts, Fred Loads, Tom Clark and Dr. E. W. Sansome. Over the years, the panelists have changed.  But as they told the audience at their 40th-anniversary Episode, “ times change so do people - but gardening goes on forever”. And so do Gardening worries caused by gardening problems. The program is still broadcast today to millions of listeners and has answered over 35000 questions to date.



Unearthed Words

#OTD Charles Baudelaire (Books By This Author), the French poet, was born on this day in 1821.

"A book is a garden,
an orchard,
a storehouse,
a party,
a company by the way,
a counselor,
a multitude of counselors." 




Today's Book Recommendation: The Wildflower's Workbook by Katie Daisy

Brimming with gorgeous artwork from New York Times bestselling author and artist Katie Daisy, this fresh-as-a-daisy guided journal features thoughtful prompts to encourage engagement with the natural world. From bird-spotting advice to camping checklists, each exercise is executed in the artist's lovely signature style.




Today's Garden Chore

Take Inspiration from Phebe Lankaster and buy some wildflowers for your garden. Chicory. Hepatica. Dutchmen’s Breeches. Indian paintbrush. Let their charm flood your garden.




Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

Here’s a sweet diary entry for today by Canadian Naturalist Charles Joseph Sauriol (“Sar-ee-all”) from 1938 shared by the Toronto Archives on their fabulous twitter feed - which is a wonderful thing to follow:  

"There are five frames in all, three are for herbs, the other two are for Wild Flower seeding. The frames are 3 feet by 3 feet… In each section, and prior to planting I can duplicate the exact growing conditions of the subject.....It will be quite possible to fill the spaces with soil, moss, bog, etc., taken from locations where the plants to be seeded are now growing or have been known to grow. Thus, a few frames can represent a whole Wild Flower garden in seed."#Saurioldiaries"



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