Happy May Day! Today, the tradition in France is to give a sprig of Lily of the Valley to loved ones.
Originally from Japan, Lily of the Valley has long been considered lucky. It's a sweet scent, belies its high toxicity.
Other names for Lily of the Valley include May Bells, Our Lady's Tears, and Mary's Tears. The French name, Muguet, is a diminutive form mugue or muguete and means “musk.”
#OTD Today, we celebrate the May 1st birthday of French Botanist Aimee Antoinette Camus ("kah-MEW") in 1879.
In terms of ranking among female scientists, Camus is second in authoring land plants - with a total of 677 species. It's especially impressive, given that only 3% of land plants are authored by women!
Best known for her study of orchids, Camus was the daughter of botanist and pharmacist Edmond Gustave Camus.
Together, Camus and her father collected more than 50,000 specimens for their family herbarium.
Her father sparked her passion for orchids and plant anatomy. More than that, he offered connections with some of the best French botanists of her day.
She gave the name of Neohouzeaua ("Neo-who-zoh-ah")to a genus of seven tropical bamboos, in honor of the lifelong work that Jean Houzeau de Lehaie ("Who-zoh-do-lou-ay")had devoted to the understanding of the botany and propagation of bamboo in Europe and Africa.
Camus also authored horticulture books to appeal to the masses, and she was always forecasting the latest in botany. When plants arrived from the French colonies, she would attempt to calculate the economic value of the plants.
She spent her entire professional career at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. To this day, Camus's monumental work remains the most comprehensive classification of the oak genus Quercus ("Qirkus").
Her book is simply called, The Oaks, and Camus wrote this in her introduction,
“The oak forest that enabled our ancestors to fight against hunger, cold, darkness, that gave them shelter, weapons, construction materials, furniture, boats, means of transport, is today in part free from these obligations.
Coal, iron, cement, concrete are all replacing wood; but the Oak with its qualities remains of great usefulness to man and its protection is of the utmost importance.
Further, while industrial expansion has brought ugliness to so many places, is not the forest one of the last havens of beauty?”
#OTD On this day in 1893, The Chicago World's Fair opened and drew in more than 27 million visitors.
Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, designed the Exposition’s landscape.
The vision for Chicago was to have it live up to its founding motto, “urbs in horto,” or “City in a Garden.”
Flower Painter Augusta Dohlmann's work was displayed at the Fair.
The Fair itself was a display of flora, the likes of which the world had never seen.
Designed by the inventor of the skyscraper, William LeBaron Jenney, the Horticultural building covered more than 4 acres of the fairgrounds.
There were eight different greenhouses at the Fair to help coordinate the elaborate schedule of flowers to be displayed over the Fair's six-month run.
The various state buildings brought their own native flowers and fruits.
The Midwest exhibit had a building made from corn-on-the-cob, and Missouri created a St. Louis Bridge made entirely out of sugar cane.
In the Agricultural Building, the Japanese exhibit included a garden.
Denise Otis wrote in her book Grounds for Pleasure:
“After Americans saw the Japanese garden ..., they became prized features on the estates of those who collected gardens in different styles.”
#OTD On this day in 1943, botanist Arthur Galston realizes that excessive use of a plant growth hormone causes catastrophic defoliation.
Galston recognized that the effects of using the hormone could be harmful to humans and the environment. Nonetheless, the Army moved forward, using Galston's work to develop herbicides during the war to destroy enemy crops, and it would be shipped in steel drums marked with an orange stripe, inspiring in the common term for the herbicidal weapon: Agent Orange.
Galston decried the use of his early research, saying:
“I thought it was a misuse of science. Science is meant to improve the lot of mankind, not diminish it - and its use as a military weapon I thought was ill-advised.”
#OTD It's the birthday of Wolcott Andrews, a New York City landscape architect who lived in Wiscasset ("Wis-cass-it"), Maine.
Andrews received a master's degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard School of Design in 1930.
Andrews started out working with New York City's Parks Department. That experience afforded him the chance to partner with Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in designing and constructing Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan, the site of the Cloisters.
Andrews eventually became the senior landscape architect for the New York City Housing Authority for more than 20 years, retiring in 1966.
A noted NYC landscape architect, Andrews was president of the New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and of the American Federation of Fine Arts of New York City. He was also a trustee of the Municipal Arts Society.
Back home in Wiscasset, Maine's prettiest town, Andrews left his mark. He teamed up with fellow Wiscasset resident Marguerite Spilsbury Rafter, a direct lineal descendant of José Maria Castro Madriz, the first president of Costa Rica.
Together, they accomplished their proudest achievement in 1977, registering Wiscasset in the National Register and creating the Wiscasset Historic District.
Today - The Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival in Buffalo, New York, kicks off. The festival runs May 1st - 5th.
Today is the birthday of the poet Phoebe Hinsdale Brown, poet, who was born at Canaan, New York, in 1783, of New England parentage.
A religious woman, she was the first notable American female hymn-writer.
The story of how she came to compose the lines, " I love to steal awhile away F\from every cumbering care," will pierce your gardener's heart.
She'd developed a ritual of going to the edge of the neighbor's garden for meditation and prayer. When her well-worn path along her neighbor's garden was discovered, she was ridiculed. In tears later that evening, Brown wrote "Twilight Hymn," and she recalled,
"After my children were all in bed, except my baby, I sat down in the kitchen, with my daughter in my arms, when the grief of my heart burst forth in a flood of tears. I took pen and paper, and gave vent to my oppressed heart... In the original, the first stanza was: 'I love to steal awhile away from little ones and care.'
This was strictly true.
I had four little children; a small, unfinished house; a sick sister in the only finished room; and there was not a place, above or below, where I could retire for devotion, without [being] interrupted...
But there was no dwelling between our house and the one where that lady lived. Her garden extended down a good way below her house, which stood on a beautiful eminence,...
I used to steal away... going out of our gate, [strolling] along under the elms that were planted for shade on each side of the road. And, as there was seldom any one passing that way after dark, I felt quite retired and alone with God.
I often walked quite up to that beautiful garden, and sniffed the fragrance of the peach, the grape, and the ripening apple, if not the flowers. I never saw any one in the garden, and felt that I could have the privilege of that walk and those few moments of uninterrupted communion with God without encroaching upon any one; but, after once knowing that my steps were watched and made the subject of remark and censure, I never could enjoy it as I had done. I have often thought Satan had tried his best to prevent me from prayer, by depriving me of a place to pray.
Here is the original version of her poem.
Yes, when the toilsome day is gone,
And night, with banners gray,
Steals silently the glade along
In twilight's soft array,
I love to steal awhile away
From little ones and care,
And spend the hours of setting day
In gratitude and prayer.
I love to feast on Nature's scenes
When falls the evening dew,
And dwell upon her silent themes.
Forever rich and new.
I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear,
And all God's promises to plead
Where none can see or hear.
I love to think on mercies past.
And future ones implore,
And all my cares and sorrows cast
On Him whom I adore.
I love to meditate on death!
When shall his message come
With friendly smiles to steal my breath
And take an exile home?
Straight from the Des Moines Botanic Garden - hosting their first-ever Botanical Book Club today on May 1st, they will discuss “The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession” by Susan Orlean.
It's a fascinating story - why would someone steal orchids? The Orchid Thief is based on Orlean's investigation of the 1994 arrest of John Laroche ("La Rōsh") and a group of Seminoles in south Florida for poaching rare orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. The book is based on an article that Orlean wrote for The New Yorker, published in the magazine's January 23, 1995 issue. Plant dealer Laroche was determined to find and clone the rare ghost orchid for profit.
Today's Garden Chore
Learn to plant bare-root roses.
There's a first time for everything, and once you get comfortable with planting bare root stock, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. Chris Van Cleve over at The Redneck Rosarian has a nice step by step guide. And, I love this piece of advice he shares - a good general reminder for us all: When you are working with bare root stock,
"Notice the large and then small fibrous type roots. The fibrous roots are feeder roots. Do not remove them, they are essential for taking in nutrients to the plant."
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
While I was researching the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, I learned that it was the origin of the concept of the state flower.
At the Fair, each state was asked to choose an emblematic flower for a national garland. Remember, this was the floweriest Fair the world had ever seen.
After the Fair, states began adopting floral emblems. Some states were acting quickly, others taking their time. Some picking flowers that other states had already adopted. Others were insisting on something unique. Seldom were the selections made without some controversy.
May 1st has seen the adoption of State Flowers for two states: Illinois and Massachusetts.
On this day in 1908, Illinois adopted the Purple Violet as the State Flower.
On this day in 1918, Massachusetts adopted the Mayflower (Epigaea repens), also commonly known as trailing arbutus or ground laurel, like the flower or floral emblem of the Commonwealth.
And, here's a quick final thought about the trailing arbutus. It is often mentioned as a sweet harbinger of spring.
Longfellow referred to the arbute in his lines "To a Child," from 1846.
He tells how an Indian peasant made a discovery of silver when he fell and accidentally grabbed the trailing arbutus to break his fall:
In falling, clutched the frail arbute,
The fibres of whose shallow root,
Uplifted from the soil, betrayed
The silver veins beneath it laid,
Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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