May 22, 2019 A Gardener’s Bedtime Ritual, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Florence Meier Chase, Victor Hugo, Gardentopia, Jan Johnsen, Living Mulch, and the death of Conan Doyle

Here's a gardener's bedtime ritual for this time of year:

Take sandpaper or a nail file and nick those nasturtium seeds before you soak them overnight; then sow them outside. They grow well in poor soil. The leaves and flowers are edible and are great in salads.





#OTD It's the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - born in 1859.

Ten years ago, in 2009, a violin made from a dying sycamore tree in Conan Doyle's garden was played to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. The violin was a nod to Conan Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes, who played the violin while solving cases.

If you search for "Conan Doyle Garden" on twitter, you'll see a fantastic photographic portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden with his Irish terrier Paddy sitting beside him on a bench.

Doyle and his wife, Jean, purchased a quaint, thatched cottage they called Bignell House. Running along the boundary of the garden was a trout stream, and it also had a wicket gate leading directly to the forest. There were a miniature golf course and a croquet lawn. Jean added a number of garden gnomes and statuary to the garden.

The Doyles were spiritualists. They believed in garden fairies, pixies, and elves. During the First World War, when two girls took created fake photographs of fairies, Doyle fell for the pictures. They inspired him to write The Coming of the Fairies, a book making a case for the existence of fairies.

The garden influenced Doyle's writing. He wrote about monkshood and other poisonous plants. When he has his character John Watson writes a list of Sherlock Holmes' limitations; Watson mentions he knew nothing of practical gardening. However, he did note that Sherlock was, "Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally." In The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, Sherlock Holmes solves the case thanks to footprints in the garden.

In Doyle's Through the Magic Door, he wrote about the value of understanding botany:

"A very little botany will enable you to recognize every flower you are likely to meet in your walks abroad, and to give you a tiny thrill of interest when you chance upon one which is beyond your ken.

In an interview with Doyle published in The Strand Magazine in march 1919, he shares his understanding of an odd message that had come to him during a séance. It said, "Food comes before etymology." He said,

"On the day before that on which I attended this seance, I had told my two little boys, aged nine and seven (these are children of Sir Arthur's second marriage) that they must go to work and kill all the caterpillars and other predatory insects in our garden. They were not inclined to do it, for they are very tender-hearted little fellows, but I explained to them that these insects were just as much a menace to our food supply as the German submarines then were. They understood the necessity then and started at once. So now you can see the significance of the message that I received: 'Food comes before entomology,' "

Aside from his belief in the supernatural, Doyle greatly enjoyed being in his garden. He did most of his writing in the garden. He once remarked, "What a lovely thing a rose is!"

And, Doyle once gave a speech heartily supporting the Early Rising Bill or Daylight Saving Bill which was published in the Daily Mail on April 21, 1909, where he stated:

"Of every 100 people in the country, ninety-nine would benefit by its passing. The only real objection is that it would set all the sundials wrong. (Laughter.) The need of this age is that people should get more in touch with nature; that they should have a little more fun in their lives; and I think that a measure which sends a man home one hour earlier to his wife and children, gives him a chance to cultivate his garden... would be of great benefit to the country."




#OTD It was on this day in 1978 that the botanist Florence Meier Chase died.

Meier studied the relationship between sunlight and algae at the Radiation Biology Laboratory (RBL), a part of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

Meier and her fellow botanists used rooms in the tower and basement of the Smithsonian Castle for their research.

"In the early days, scientists traveled between floors of the tower by climbing up and down a ladder through a trapdoor, often carrying trays of specimens or scientific equipment. In 1929, a very small elevator was installed in the tower to make the trip safer and easier."

In 1937, on Valentine's Day, Meier was giving people a tour around the Smithsonian Castle. She was demonstrating how she and her group used the ladders and trapdoors to get around. As the tour wrapped up, Meier let the group take the elevator down as there wasn't enough room for her. As the elevator door closed, Meier waved goodbye, stepped backward, forgot that the trap door was left open, and fell through to the floor below, breaking her back.

While she was recovering at Garfield Memorial Hospital, her doctor was Dr. William Wiley Chase, the head of the surgery department. They married in 1939.





Unearthed Words

Today in 1885, Victor Hugo died, the author of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame as well as Les Miserables.

A gardener, Hugo had many wonderful garden-inspired quotes:

"Life is the flower for which love is the honey." "Sorrow is a fruit. God does not make it grow on limbs too weak to bear it."

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in--what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

"How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said."





Today's book recommendation: Gardentopia by Jan Johnsen

If you are looking to refresh your garden, or simply looking for Inspiration, Jan Johnsen’s new book, Gardentopia: Design Basics for Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces, is the perfect choice.

Jan's a fabulous designer and a popular speaker. She was featured on The Still Growing Gardening Podcast in Episode 588, and Jan is such a delight. She's a pragmatist, highly intuitive, and she's known for her positive and collaborative approach to “co-creating with nature."

In her book, solutions are divided into five categories: Garden Design and Artful Accents", Walls, Patios, Walks and Steps, Theme Gardens, Color in the Garden and Plants and Planting.

There's plenty to inspire gardeners - the cover is spectacular, the advice is fantastic - this should be on your wish list and on your go-to gardener gift list for 2019 and beyond.





Today's Garden Chore

Incorporate more living mulch - ground covers - into your garden.

Take a second to chat with any experienced gardener, and they will tell you that they value ground covers more with each passing year. Dependable and hardworking, these plants solve many landscape problems.

Vita Sackville West was one of the first people to use the term "living mulch." She said,

"But, I added, in my reply to my correspondent, why restrict your rosebeds to a mere edging? Why not allow plants to encroach all over the beds? It will do the roses no harm; in fact, it will supply a living mulch to keep the ground moist and the roses cool at the root."





Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

In researching Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I learned that the Spring before he died, Conan Doyle was bedridden.

However, one morning, unattended, he got up and managed to go out to the garden. His family found him lying on the ground with one hand clutching his heart and the other holding a single white snowdrop. He languished until July 7, 1930, when he passed away with his family at his bedside. His last words were to his wife. He whispered, "You are wonderful."

Newspaper accounts shared that, on a beautiful summer day, he was buried in the garden where he had been so much at home - next to his garden hut, which was erected for him as a writing room.

Over 200 people attended the funeral. So many wreaths were sent from all over the world that they were spread over the large paddock west of the home, covering an acre of land with blooms.

When Conan Doyle's coffin had been placed in the grave, "Lady Doyle kissed a rose and threw it in."

Lady Jean Conan Doyle continued to live at Windlesham until her death on 27th June 1940. She was buried next to Sir Arthur.




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

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