May 24, 2019 Gardeners and Weeds, Ynes Mexia, Queen Victoria, Frank Cabot, Les Quatre Vents, Linda Leinen, The Naming of Plants, Anna Pavord, The Naming of Names, Photo Friday in the Garden, and Ynes Mexia’s Exploits in Mexico and South America

Emerson once wrote,

"To science there is no poison; To botany no weed; To chemistry no dirt."

As much as I like this quote, I know most gardeners will beg to differ. To gardeners, there are weeds. As I mentioned in an earlier episode this month, we often forget one key variable in gardening; the gardener. Each of us, as gardeners, has our own point of view when it comes to weeds.

On May 12, 1957, Vita Sackville West reached the same conclusion when she said,

"It was borne in on me, not for the first time, how the weeds of one country are the flowers of another. Recently in the tropics I had been shocked on seeing my host and hostess as they wandered round their garden tearing up green oddments as we should tear up groundsel, . . . saying, ‘That wretched thing! All over the place as usual!’ This was Gloriosa superba, which we have to grow carefully in heat if we want it at all."





#OTD It's the birthday of Ynes Mexia, A Mexican American botanist born in 1870.

After a lifetime of turbulent personal challenges, Mexia discovered the Sierra Club at age 50. Throughout her life, nature had been a balm to her. She decided to enroll at Berkeley in order to take botany classes. She would take classes there on and off over the next 16 years; her goal was not to graduate but simply to learn more about plants. Mexia fell in love with fieldwork, and she went on numerous trips through the southwestern part of the United States, Mexico, and South America.

Mexia was especially drawn to unique plants, and she absolutely adored sunflowers. In fact, on one of her botanizing trips, she discovered an entirely new genus of Compositae.

Although Mexia was a late bloomer as a botanist, her collecting efforts proved extraordinary. Many scholars argue that she was the most accomplished plant collector of her time.

Here are some highlights of her work:

  • Mexia collected and preserved 150,000 plants, flowers, and leaves
  • Her first trip yielded 500 specimens, the same number that Darwin brought back on the Beagle.
  • Mexia personally discovered 500 brand-new plant species.
  • Her botanist peers were well aware of her staggering amount of work and expeditions. Specifically, Mexia enjoyed the thrill of working with botanist Alice Eastwood.

Yet, not even lung cancer could stop her from collecting plants. In 1938, she had returned to Mexico in search of new specimens. But her illness got the best of her; she was forced to cut her trip short and returned to the United States. She died at Berkeley on June 12th.

Mexia's estate was donated in part to the Redwood Preserve in California. A 40-acre grove, home to one of the tallest trees, was named in her honor.

Today, some 80 years after her death, scientists are still processing the plants she collected.




#OTD It's the birthday of Queen Victoria.

Kensington Palace is marking the bicentenary, the 200th anniversary, of Victoria's birth with an impressive floral display at the sunken garden. The display will include Flowers from the Victorian period, such as heliotropes, cannas, pelargonium, and begonias.

There are many plants named after Queen Victoria, including the Victoria agave. The giant waterlily, Victoria amazonica, Is also named for her. Violets were Queen Victoria's favorite flowers.

When Victoria married Albert, she broke with protocol. Instead of wearing a crown, she wore a wreath of orange blossoms.




#OTD On this day in 2018, The Oakville Horticultural Society outside of Québec, offered a screening of the documentary "The Gardener" featuring horticulturist Frank Cabot and his masterpiece garden Les Quatre Vents or the Four Winds.

The film reflects upon the meaning of gardening and its impact on our lives. Cabot passed away at the age of 86, But before he died, he shared his personal quest for perfection on his 20-acre English style garden and the state. The Four Winds Garden has been in the Cabot family for over 100 years.

There's a wonderful video of an interview that Martha Stewart did with Frank. He tells about the moon bridge being a copy of a moon bridge from Seven Star Park in China.

"I'm a great believer in plagiarizing. I think all gardeners are. There's no reason why one shouldn't plagiarize. Why not take someone else's good idea and adapted to one's site. This garden really represents that; it's just Ideas that were gleaned from other sources."




Unearthed Words: The Naming of Plants by Linda Leinen

Linda was inspired to write this poem after reading T.S. Eliot’s poem delightful “The Naming of Cats.”

When I was researching yesterday's show, which honored Carl Linnaeus’s birthday and his system of categorizing plants by genus and species - or binomial nomenclature, I came across Linda's poem.

If you already know “The Naming of Cats,” you’ll hear its echoes below.

The naming of plants? It really does matter.
It isn’t correct to think all are the same.
You may think at first I’m indulging in patter,
but I tell you — a plant must have four different names!

First comes the name that tells us its genus —
Gaillardia, Solanum, Ilex or Phlox;

Clematis and Salvia, Silphium, Quercus —

the Latin is easy, not hard as a rock.

There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
some for the cactus and some for the canes —
Monarda, Justicia, or even Lantana

make lovely and sensible Latinate names.

And then, every plant needs a name more particular,
a name that’s specific and quite dignified —
else how could it keep all its stems perpendicular,
spread out its anthers, or blossom with pride?

For namings of this sort, I ‘ll give you fair dozens:
lyrata, drummondii, frutescens, and more —

crispus, limosa, luteola, texensis —

those names help describe what we’re all looking for.

Of course, there are names by which most people call plants,
like violet, hollyhock, iris, and thyme;
there’s nothing more common than sweet dandelions,
or peaches, or rhubarb for making our wine.

But above and beyond, there’s one name left over,
and that is the Name that you never will guess;
the Name that no researcher ever discovers —
which the plant itself knows, but will not confess.

When you notice a bloom in profound meditation,
its rays sweetly folded, or its leaves well-arrayed,
its mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
of the seed of a thought of a thought of its Name:
its sturdy and windblown,
sunkissed and shadowed,
deep and firm-rooted most singular Name.

Wasn't that delightful?

You can find Linda at her websites:

Lagniappe - I'll let you discover the marvelousness of that name and all of Linda's work there.

You can also find Linda at The Task at Hand, which is native plant-centered and mostly photographic in nature.




Today's book recommendation: The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord

A few words to describe this book: gorgeous. Indispensable.

Pavord traces the history of plant taxonomy from the ancient Greeks to 17th-century British botanist John Ray.

I'm down with anything by Pavord - and you can get used copies of this excellent book on Amazon through the link around $3. That's downright criminal.




Today's Garden Chore

It's another Photo Friday in the Garden: Today, take an inventory of your weeds.

That's right. Weeds are going to take center stage.


Because I bet, you need help identifying at least a handful. Now you'll have photos of your weeds with you, and you can get help identifying them.



Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

When I was researching Mexia, I learned that the concept of having plants named in her honor gave her immense satisfaction.

It was almost as if she was scrambling to leave a botanical legacy to ensure her place in history. As of today, 50 species have been named in her honor.

Like all plant explorers, Mexia had her war stories. The San Francisco Examiner had an article that featured Mexia, and they memorably titled it "She Laughs at Jungle Perils."

Once Mexia had had accidentally eaten a poisonous berry. The indigenous people shared an ingenious remedy with her: "Sticking a chicken feather down her throat to coax the berries back up." Mexia traveled the entire length of the Amazon River. During one of her breaks from the jungle, she had even climbed Mount McKinley.

When she nearly died after falling from a cliff, her team attempted to make her feel better, by naming two flowers after her: The Maxianthus mexicanas and the Mamosa mexiae.




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


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