May 9, 2019 Your Impact on Your Garden, Alexandre Cassini, Lewis and Clark and Le Page, the Delaware State Flower, Hewett Watson, A Nation in Bloom, Matthew Biggs, Prune Time, and Erwin Frink Smith

Take two gardeners.

Have them grow up learning to garden from the same person.

Have them read the same books on gardening.

Have them go to the same gardening workshops.

Have them tour the same public gardens.


Yet, their gardens will look different from each other.


Gardens are art.

They are personal.

Remember that the next time you are trying to copy the look of another garden.


The difference isn't just topographical... When it comes to your garden: yes, consider microclimates, plant varieties, soil, sun, and so forth.

But also, make sure to add yourself to the list of variables.





#OTD Today is the birthday of botanist Count Alexandre Henri Gabriel de Cassini born on this day in 1781.

His second great grandfather was the famous Italian astronomer, Giovanni Domenico Cassini; he discovered Jupiter's Great Red Spot and the Cassini division in Saturn's rings.

By the time Alexander was born, his family had married into French nobility (that's why he was born in Paris). Unfortunately, it was a bad time to go to France. Their Italian heritage and scientific work would not insulate the Cassini's from public resentment as the stage was set for the French Revolution.

Cassini took a decidedly different path than his ancestors. He was the fifth generation in a family of star scholars, so Alexandre is often distinguished from the rest of his family as Cassini V.

Cassini pursued the bar instead of the stars; as in the legal profession. As a lawyer, Cassini worked his way to the highest legal position in France in his time; "President of the Chamber." Like many folks, botany was his hobby; not his day job. It is quite notable that Cassini's botanical accomplishments took place in his off time.

Cassini's heart belonged to the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and he focused pretty much exclusively on the Compositae. It was fitting then, that the genus Cassinia (the sunflower genus) was named in his honor by the botanist Robert Brown. Over two hundred years later, many of Cassini’s detailed descriptions are still valid.

Cassini married his cousin. At the age of fifty, Cassini died of cholera. His father outlived him by thirteen years. Alexandre Cassini was the last of his name; a punctuation mark on the wonderful Cassini legacy.




#OTD On this day in 1807, Lewis and Clark returned a book that they had borrowed from Benjamin Smith Barton.

Before they had started their great expedition, Meriwether Lewis had visited Barton at his home. Upon leaving, he left with a copy of The History of Louisiana by Antoine le Page.

Lewis memorialized the gesture in the flyleaf of the book. Here's what he wrote:

"Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton was so obliging as to lend me this copy of Mons. le Page's History of Louisiana in June 1803.

It has been since conveyed by me to the Pacific ocean through the interior of North America on my late tour thither and is now returned to its proprietor by his friends and obedient servant,

Meriwether Lewis.

Philadelphia, May 9, 1807."



#OTD On this day in 1888 in Delaware, the Peach Blossom was voted in as the State Flower.

Peach blossoms are a beautiful, deep pink color. The blooms appear very early in the year. Frost is always a concern.

The fruit is botanically known as a drupe; It has a fleshy outer layer that covers a hard shell that contains a single seed.

At the time, Delaware was known as the peach state and she boasted orchards containing more than 800,000 peach trees (Prunus persico, a native of China).

Delaware's peach trees were introduced by the Spanish. By the 1600s, peaches were so plentiful, it was said that Delaware farmers fed them to their pigs.

By 1875, Delaware was the country's top peach producer... until the yellows.

The yellows were a blight that destroyed Delaware's orchards. In the late 1800s, Delaware was knocked from the top spot as a peach producer. Today, Delaware produces roughly 2,000,000 pounds of peaches every year. America's leading peach grower in the state of California, producing 950,000 tons annually.




Unearthed Words

#OTD It's the birthday of botanist Hewett Cottrell Watson, the father of British plant geography born today in 1804.

Watson investigated the variability of British plant species across their ranges & compared the flora of Britain to the Azores.

In recognition of his great contributions, the botanical society of the British Isles named their journal Watsonia.

Beginning in 1834, Watson was one of the first botanists to research plant evolution. Watson's work also paved the way for a new science now known as ecology.

When Darwin created his theory of evolution, he was standing on the shoulders of curious early evolutionists like Watson.

Darwin's popularity and success overshadowed the folks like Watson who came before him. Yet, it's obvious that when Watson read Darwin's Origin, his reaction was one of wonder... and also self-reflection. He spent his adult life trying to reach Darwin's conclusion. Now as an old man, he could see the match he had lit being passed to a true torch-bringer.

After reading the origin, Watson wrote to Darwin. His letter is a part proud dad, part awed fan, and yet, he still takes time to advise Darwin on areas to improve or take heed. In two different passages, Watson points out that Darwin had succeeded where he had stopped short; saying Darwin had figured out the quo modo or the method to knit the strings of the theory of evolution together.

Watson's letter to Darwin is quite something to read – even after all this time:

21 Nov 1859

My dear Sir

Once commenced to read the ‘Origin’ I could not rest till I had galloped through the whole. I shall now begin to re-read it more deliberately. Meantime I am tempted to write you the first impressions, not doubting that they will in the main be the permanent impressions.

1st. Your leading idea will assuredly become recognized as an established truth in science, i.e. “natural selection”. (It has the characteristics of all great natural truths, clarifying what was obscure, simplifying what was intricate, adding greatly to previous knowledge). You are the greatest Revolutionist in natural history of this century, if not of all centuries.

2d. You will perhaps need in some degree to limit or modify, ... the principle of ‘natural selection’.

3d. Now these novel views are brought fairly before the scientific public, it seems truly remarkable how so many of them could have failed to see their right road sooner...

A quarter-century ago, you & I must have been in something like the same state of mind, on the main question. But you were able to see & work out the quo modo of the succession, the all-important thing, while I failed to grasp it. ...

How greatly this, with your chronology of animal life, will shock the ideas of many men!

very sincerely | Hewett C. Watson C. Darwin | Esqe

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2540,” accessed on 26 April 2019,



Today's book recommendation: A Nation in Bloom: Celebrating the People, Plants & Places of the Royal Horticultural Society by Matthew Biggs

This is an excellent book for gardeners. The photos are glorious and it's really the best of gardening at the RHS. If you get yourself a copy, you'll love it! Great gift, too.

Here's a brief overview from the publisher:

"The foreword is written by Alan Titchmarsh. This is a book about the RHS; the world's largest gardening charity but what it does and why is little understood and rarely celebrated. From defining new gardening trends at the Chelsea Flower Show, to ranking the best dahlias to grow at the Wisley trial grounds, to inspiring communities with Britain in Bloom, educating children to grow and eat their veg through the Campaign for School Gardening, the RHS works tirelessly to improve the gardener's lot.

With the use of evocative archive images and contemporary photos by award-winning Jason Ingram, this beautiful book explores the past, present and future of this most influential organization by listening to the voices of those working today. From the thousands of volunteers in the society's five unique gardens (Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Hyde Hall in Essex, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and new addition Bridgewater in Salford), to the one million visitors to its inspirational flower shows (including Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton Park, Cardiff, Wisley and Chatsworth); the society gives meaning to more than 475,000 members, millions of television viewers and visitors from around the world.

The RHS is the best of gardening, and this book presents the best of the RHS. Behind the scenes, access all areas, this book will give lasting pleasure to anyone who enjoys their garden."




Today's Garden Chore

Repeat after me: Prune time follows bloom time.

Not sure when to prune spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs, and climbing roses?

Prune time follows bloom time.

Just after the blooms fade, it's time to prune.

Spring flowering shrubs set their buds in the fall on last year's growth. If you prune them in fall or winter, you remove next spring's flower buds.




Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

While I was researching the adoption of the Peach Blossom as the Delaware State Flower, I ran across a botanist named Erwin Frink Smith.

Smith had attempted to solve the problem of the peach yellows. Had Smith solved the problem, he would have become world-famous. But, he didn't. Years later, it was actually the botanist Louis Otto Kunkel who discovered that a type of leafhopper was carrying the disease.

In researching Smith, I discovered a rare combination of kindness and intellect. Smith married the pretty Charlotte Mae buffet on April 13, 1893. They were quite happy together. They shared a love for reading and poetry. Tragically, Charlotte was diagnosed with endocarditis and she died eight months later on December 28, 1906.

Smith dealt with his grief by putting together a book made up of poetry, stories, and a biography of Charlotte. The book is called for her friends and mine: A book of aspirations, dreams, and memories. Of it, Smith says,

"This book is a cycle of my life— seven lonely years are in it. The long ode(on page 62) is a cry of pain."

There are many touching passages – too many to share here now. (There's a link to it in the show notes that you can use to access it.)

But there's one passage from Smith describing her amazing ability to see the world with profound clarity and I thought you'd like it:

Her visual powers were remarkable. They far exceeded my own.

Out of doors her keen eyes were always prying into the habits of all sorts of living things: ants, spiders, bees, wasps, fish, birds, cats, dogs.

Had she cared for classification, which she did not, and been willing to make careful records, she might have become an expert naturalist. Form in nature seemed to interest her little, or at least comparative studies of form.

What did interest her tremendously was the grade of intelligence manifested in the lower forms of life.

She would spend hours watching the habits of birds and insects, and never without discovering new and interesting things.

Whether she looked into the tops of the tallest trees, or the bottom of a stream, or the grass at her feet, she was always finding marvels of adaptation to wonder at, and links binding the world of life into a golden whole.

She made lists of all the birds that visited her neighborhood. She knew most of them by their songs, and some times distinguished individuals of the same species by little differences in their notes, as once a song-sparrow at Woods Hole, which had two added notes.

She knew when they nested and where, how they made their nests, and what food they brought to their young.

In studying birds she used an opera glass, not a shotgun.

She was, however, a very good shot with the revolver.




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"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."

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