April 16, 2019 Truly Lovely Aprils, Robert Frost, Sir Hans Sloane, William Stearn, Ellen Nellie Thayer Fisher, Mary Gibson Henry, Sir Edward Salisbury, Aphra Behn, Penny Colman, and William Austin Dickinson

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.

~ Robert Frost

April can be a challenging time in the garden.

How many truly lovely Aprils does one get in a lifetime?

I’d venture to say maybe five or six.

Often, the gardens are too wet to get into, provided you could even get to them. Even with the rain, the snow hasn’t completely melted away.

It’s too cold to turn the spigots on, so you’ll have the thrill of trooping through the residue of a long winter: grit and grime, salt, and mush.

Until it dries up, there’s really no sense going out.

Content yourself with planning or growing seeds indoors.

Unless you’re having a once in a decade kind of April…

then pinch yourself and get going.





#OTD We’ve got a big birthday today: Sir Hans Sloane, (16 April 1660 – 11 January 1753), was an Irish physician, naturalist, and collector.

He bequeathed his collection of 71,000 items to the British nation, thus singlehandedly establishing the British Museum, the British Library, and the Natural History Museum, London.

How was his collection so large? First, he lived into his 90’s and outlived many of his collecting friends. Second, when his friends passed away, they gave Hans Sloane their herbariums and other materials. He was a one-man repository for horticultural knowledge.

Fun fact: Sloane is credited with adding milk to cacao to make drinking chocolate.

There are many botanical birthdays today. Perhaps Hans Sloane has blessed this day.



OTD Happy birthday to British botanist William Stearn (16 April 1911 – 9 May 2001).

The author of “Botanical Latin” as well as the Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, a popular guide to the Latin names of plants. He was mainly self-educated, which was probably a by-product of being a librarian for the Royal Horticultural Society in London for almost 20 years.

Highly esteemed, he is THE expert on over 400 plants that he named and described.




#OTD American botanical illustrator Ellen "Nelly" Thayer Fisher was born today in 1847 (April 16, 1847 – October 15, 1911).

The daughter of a doctor, she learned her craft from her brother Abbott. To make a living, she painted pictures for the exhibition, but she also gave “lessons by letter” to aspiring artists. Additionally, her paintings of flora and fauna were widely reproduced as chromolithographs by Boston publisher Louis Prang.




#OTD Mary Gibson Henry died today in (1884 – April 1967).

She was born to be a plants-woman. Her family’s roots in horticulture went way back. Her great-grandfather, George Pepper, was a member of the First Council of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society.

She became an avid botanist and plant collector and also served as president of the American Horticultural Society. The daylily Hymenocallis henryae is named in her honor.

In 1909, she married Dr. John Norman Henry. She had a large backyard garden and greenhouses. She had a splendid kitchen garden, native rock plants, and orchards.

Starting in 1929, she went on biannual plant collecting trips. On her first trip, she brought the family - 4 kids and her hubby. Not sure if she continued that, but over the next forty years, she went on over 200 botanical expeditions.

And, she figured out that plant collecting wasn’t for sissies, saying,

"I soon learned that rare and beautiful plants can only be found in places that are difficult of access ... Often one has to shove one's self through or wriggle under briars, with awkward results to clothing and many and deep cuts and scratches ... Wading, usually barelegged, through countless rattlesnake-infested swamps adds immensely to the interest of the day's work.”

On this day in April, Mary died in North Carolina doing what she loved to do: collecting plants




#OTD Born on 16 April 1886, Sir Edward Salisbury was the youngest of nine children.

His passion for plants started as a child. On outings, Salisbury would collect flowers to grow in his own patch at home. Get this: He attached a label to each one, giving its Latin name. His brothers called his garden ‘The Graveyard.’ Typical brothers.

One of the leading British botanists of the twentieth century, he was the director of Kew during the Second World War. He was not simply an expert on plants themselves. He was supremely interested in their natural habitat.

He wrote many books - my favorite of all of his books is “Weeds & Aliens.” In it, he goes for a walk in the countryside and discovers when he gets home that the cuffs of his wool trousers were full of seeds. He decides to try to grow them and is astounded to discover that he was able to grow more than 300 plants, “comprising over 20 different species of weeds."

It was Sir Edward Salisbury who said,

“The double lily was and is a crime against God and man."

He lived to be 92.




Unearthed Words

Aphra Behn (Books By This Author), the first professional woman playwright in Britain, whose novel 'Oroonoko,' played a crucial role in the development of English fiction, was buried in Westminster Abbey #OTD in 1689.

'All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds' - Virginia Woolf.

Aphra was one of the first women in England to earn a living through writing, inspiring future generations of women to write.

'That perfect tranquility of life, which is nowhere to be found but in retreat, a faithful friend and a good library' – Aphra Behn




Today's Book Recommendation: Adventurous Women: Eight True Stories About Women Who Made a Difference By Penny Colman

(There’s a profile of Mary Gibson Henry in this book.)



Today's Garden Chore

Today's chore is to get ready to direct sow.

Radish, turnip, and parsnip seeds - get ready to suit up!




Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

#OTD Emily Dickinson's brother, William Austin Dickinson, was born today (1829-1895). Of her brother she said,

“There was always such a Hurrah wherever you was”

William was the oldest of the three Dickinson kids. William was about eighteen months older than his sister Emily. He tried his hand at teaching but ended up becoming a lawyer, following in the footsteps of both his grandfather Fowler and his father, Edward.

When they were young, Emily was very close to her brother. When he was away from home, her letters to him show their common interests and her love for him. She wrote,

"Our apples are ripening fast—I am fully convinced that with your approbation they will not only pick themselves, but arrange one another in baskets, and present themselves to be eaten".



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

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