May 14, 2019 Garden Experts, Mary Delany, Edward Jenner, John Cushnie, Hal Borland, Ruth Hayden, Slowing Growth in Shade, and the Mayapple

Most gardeners share a common secret: they never feel like they know enough about gardening to call themselves an expert.

If you feel this way after years of gardening, you're not alone.

Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to his friend, the painter Charles Wilson Peale. He's lamenting the limitations of his garden at Monticello. He concludes with one of my favorite garden quotes of all time:

"But tho, an old man, I am but a young gardener."





#OTD It's the birthday of Mary Delany Born today in 1700.

Mary Delany leads an extraordinary life. The family had forced her to marry a very old man when she was 17. He was an alcoholic. To make matters worse, when he died, he forgot to include her in his will.

Despite her lack of inheritance, Mary realized that, as a widow, she had much more freedom than she had as a single young lady. In society, she could do as she pleased.

Love came knocking on her door in June 1743 when she married a doctor named Patrick Delany - an Irish clergyman. Her family wasn't thrilled with the idea of her getting married again. But, Delany did it anyway. She and Patrick moved to Dublin, where Delany had a home. They both shared a love for gardening.

When Patrick died, Mary was widowed again; this time at the age of 68.

But Mary's life was not over.

She hit it off with Margaret Bentinck. Bentinck was the Duchess of Portland, and together they pursued botanical activities. They loved to go out into the fields and collect specimens. It was thanks to the Duchess that Mary got to know Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

When Mary was in her early 70s, she took up decoupage - which was all the rage at the time - and she created marvelous depictions of flowers. Today, historians believe Mary probably dissected plants in order to create her art. Botanists from all over Europe would send her specimens. King George the Third and Queen Charlotte were her patrons. They ordered any curious or beautiful plant to be sent to Delany when in blossom so she could use them to create her art.

Her paper mosaics, as she called them, were made out of tissue paper. She created almost 1000 pieces of art between the ages of 71 and 88.

If you ever see any of her most spectacular decoupage pieces, you'll be blown away at the thought of them being made from tiny pieces of tissue paper by Mary Delany in the twilight of her life in the late 1700s.




#OTD Today, in 1796, Edward Jenner injected his gardener's son with cowpox.

The boy's name was James Phipps. James was eight years old.

Jenner injected him with fluid from a cowpox blister from a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, and she had contracted cowpox from a cow named Blossom.

In the late 1700s, people thought the folks who took care of cows and had been infected with cowpox would then not be able to catch smallpox.

What Edward Jenner essentially did was to vaccinate James against smallpox. The word vaccinate is from the Latin word for cow.




#OTD It's the birthday of John Alexander Montgomery Cushnie, born today in 1943.

Cushnie was a landscape designer, writer, and broadcaster.

He was a tall, good-looking Irishman. Listeners were often surprised to see how handsome he was after just listening to his voice on the radio for so many years.

Cushnie became a household name in England once he became a regular panelist on the show gardeners question time for 15 years.

Cushnie was 66 years old when he appeared on the show for his final broadcast right before Christmas. He was enjoying his first week of retirement when it was cut short by his sudden death from a heart attack on New Year's Eve In 2009.

On the show, Cushnie cultivated a wicked sense of humor. He was not a fan of poinsettias.

He reacted to a discussion about dogs peeing in the garden by saying, "The dog is simply marking his territory... the only thing [the urine of] a male dog will not kill is a lamppost."

When asked about lawn damage by playing children, John said, let the children play. They aren't young for long.

Many times, his ultimate response to a problem posed by a gardener would simply be - "just dig it up."




Unearthed Words

It's the birthday of Harold Glenn Borland Born today In 1900. Borland was known as the chronicler of the seasons.

He went by Hal, and he was a naturalist as well as the writer.

Borland wrote an editorial column in the New York Times for 35 years. His last column appeared the day before he died in 1978. He never signed his work, but everyone knew it was written by Borland.

Like John Burroughs, Borland had sympathy for and simple communion with the natural world. His writings reflected his essence. Here's a sample of springtime according to Borland:

“The violets will come, in their own time. That is all that was written in the sky by Friday's equinox. The sun's summons will not be answered overnight, but the answer is inevitable. The first hungry bee at the first crocus hums of June, and the first green leaf forecast cool summer shade. All is in order. Spring is the earth's commitment to the year.”

And here are some of Borland's most famous sayings:

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”

"April is a promise that May is bound to keep" "If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees." “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” "You fight dandelions all weekend, and late Monday afternoon there they are, pert as all get out, in full and gorgeous bloom, pretty as can be, thriving as only dandelions can in the face of adversity."




Today's book recommendation: Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden

In 1980, a descendant of Mary Delany's sister Anne, Ruth Hayden, published a book on Delany's work: Mrs. Delany and Her Flower Collages, which was reissued in 2000 as Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers(British Museum Press).




Today's Garden Chore - Yesterday, we talked about herbs that grow in the shade, but shade can also be used to slow down the growth of some herbs and plants that grow quickly - the ones that can get away from you.

Think about basil or swiss chard. I always plant these in my southern kitchen garden - but I plant a few backup containers on the east and west sides of my house. It will grow slower there; that means I can be more leisurely about harvesting there.




Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

When I was researching Borland, I came across this little passage he wrote about Podophyllum peltatum, the Mayapple.

“In a painful time of my life I went often to a wooded hillside where May apples grew by the hundreds, and I thought the sourness of their fruit had a symbolism for me. Instead, I was to find both love and happiness soon thereafter. So to me, [the May apple] is the mandrake, the love symbol, of the old dealers in plant restoratives.”

Mayapple is in the barberry family. These plants contain a toxin used to treat the plantar wart. The Mayapple also goes by other common names like American mandrake, wild mandrake, and ground lemon. Today, this native perennial is grown as ornamental plants for their attractive foliage and flowers, which bloom in May. It bears an egg-shaped fruit whose common name is “Mayapple,” "love apples," or “American mandrake.” Folklore says the mandrake root is an aphrodisiac.

According to Emma Darwin’s diary, Charles Darwin started taking ‘pod.’, an extract or resin from the root of Podophyllum peltatum or Mayapple, on 24 March 1864 - probably using it for his stomach troubles since it was a purgative. But take heed—mandrake is poisonous.




Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
and remember:
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."

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