William Kent wrote:
"A garden is to be a world unto itself,
it had better make room
for the darker shades of feeling
as well as the sunny ones.”
I’ve usually thought about my garden as my happy place.
It’s a natural mood changer for me.
But I remember one time when I was out in the garden with feelings of a definite darker shade.
I was very pregnant with John, and I was wearing a hideous, striped, maternity tank top.
It was super hot out, and I looked like an absolute mess.
I wasn’t out there long before I realized my new neighbor kept trying to catch my attention; I didn’t want to meet him looking such a fright.
I kept my eyes down on my plants. But, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he kept coming out of his house to stand on his deck - expecting me to acknowledge him.
Finally, an older man joined him, and, together, they approached the back fence.
I walked over to say hello.
Here it was my old principal from middle school and his son-in-law, my new neighbor.
So much for my garden as a world unto itself.
#OTD On This Day in 1823, botanist Allan Cunningham departs Bathurst to find an easier route to the Liverpool Plains.
Born in Wimbledon, England, Cunningham came to Australia with tuberculosis and happily discovered Australia's climate helped him feel better.
#OTD It’s the birthday of George Harrison Shull, who was born on this day in 1874.
An American botanist, he is regarded as the "father of hybrid corn."
#OTD, It’s the birthday of Francis Hallé born today in 1938.
He is a French botanist and biologist, and his specialty is tropical rainforests and tree architecture. Atlas Obscura wrote an article about Halle called, "The Botanist Who Made Fantastical Sketches of Rain Forest Flora.””. It’s true. Halle’s work in his book, “The Atlas of Poetic Botany” is otherworldly - possessing an almost Seussical charm. Of equatorial forests, Halle says they are full of magical allure and little marvels.
Check out this passage from the Atlas Obscura piece,
"On Robinson Crusoe Island, part of an archipelago off the coast of Chile, he found Gunnera peltata, which looks like a rhubarb plant so enormous that it dwarfs whoever stands below its wide, veined leaves. Analyzing it was a thrilling challenge. “Normally, a scalpel is used for dissecting plants,” Hallé writes. “This time, I had to wield a meat cleaver!” A photo would convey the size and the “nest of ruby-red fibers,” but the author eschews snapshots. “I cannot think of a better way to present it than with a drawing.”
#OTD It’s the death day of Alexander Garden, of Charleston, South Carolina, who was a steady and delightful writer of letters to other eminent botanists of his day.
The Gardenia flower is named for him.
His letters provide a glimpse into his life; one of which is to John Bartram, the botanist:
"Think that I am here, confined to the sandy streets of Charleston, where the ox, where the ass, and where man, as stupid as either, fill up the vacant space, while you range the green fields of Florida.”
Here’s a letter he wrote to John Ellis :
"I know that every letter which I receive not only revives the little botanic spark in my breast, but even increases its quantity and flaming force."
When the Revolutionary War began, Garden sided with the British, even though he sympathized with the colonists. When the war was over, his property was confiscated and he had to leave South Carolina. After losing everything, he and his family went to live in London where he became vice-president of the Royal Society. He died of tuberculosis, at age 61, on this day in 1791.
There’s a sad little aside to the Alexander Garden biography: "He had a
little granddaughter, named appropriately ‘Gardenia.' Her father, Alexander, Garden's only son, joined Lee's legion against the British (so going against his father) and was never forgiven; nor was the little girl, his granddaughter with the flower name, ever received into her Grandfather’s house.
Here’s a little known poem for today about springtime
called “Nothing Perfect on Earth" by Francis Quarles
Even as the soil (which April's gentle showers
Have filled with sweetness and enriched with flowers)
Rears up her sucking plants, still shooting forth
The tender blossoms of her timely birth;
But if denied the beams of cheerly May,
They hang their withered heads, and fade away.
This Atlas invites the reader to tour the farthest reaches of the rainforest in search of exotic―poetic―plant life. Guided in these botanical encounters by Francis Hallé, who has spent forty years in pursuit of the strange and beautiful plant specimens of the rainforest, the reader discovers a plant with just one solitary, monumental leaf; an invasive hyacinth; a tree that walks; a parasitic laurel; and a dancing vine.
Further explorations reveal the Rafflesia arnoldii, the biggest flower in the world, with a crown of stamens and pistils the color of rotten meat that exude the stench of garbage in the summer sun; underground trees with leaves that form a carpet on the ground above them; and the biggest tree in Africa, which can reach seventy meters (more than 200 feet) in height, with a four-meter (about 13 feet) diameter. Hallé's drawings, many in color, provide a witty accompaniment.
Like any good tour guide, Hallé tells stories to illustrate his facts. Readers learn about, among other things, Queen Victoria's rubber tree; legends of the moabi tree (for example, that powder from the bark confers invisibility); a flower that absorbs energy from a tree; plants that imitate other plants; a tree that rains; and a fern that clones itself.
Hallé's drawings represent an investment in time that returns a dividend of wonder more satisfying than the ephemeral thrill afforded by the photograph. The Atlas of Poetic Botany allows us to be amazed by forms of life that seem as strange as visitors from another planet.
Today's Garden Chore
I can’t let tax day pass us by without suggesting you get with your significant other and negotiate your budget for the garden this season.
Pick a number and try to stick to it; Base your number on reality, so you get honest about what you spend on the garden. It can’t be good karma to bring shame about overspending on plants into the garden.
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
#OTD Here’s a fascinating post from the Hartford, Courant newspaper published on this day in 1977:
Headline: Doctor Used Moss To Bandage Wounds
Sphagnum moss, used by florists to keep seedlings and stems moist, was used during the Revolutionary War to bandage wounds; and as recently as World I.
Acidulous preservative water runs from the moss when squeezed and, no matter how often it is squeezed - it never becomes dry.
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"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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