August 19 National Potato Day, Jane Webb, Phlox from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Ellen Willmott, Willis Linn Jepson, Henderina Scott, Ogden Nash, Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman, Fall Herbs, and a Letter From Elizabeth Lawrence

Today is National Potato Day.

Here are some fun potato facts:

The average American eats approximately 126 pounds of spuds each year.

And, up until the 18th century, the French believed potatoes called leprosy. To combat the belief, the agronomist Antoine Auguste Parmentier became a one-man PR person for the potato.
How did Parmentier get the French people to believe that the potato is safe to eat? Good question.
Parmentier cleverly posted guards around his potato fields during the day and put the word out that he didn’t want people stealing them. Then, he purposefully left them unguarded at night.
As he suspected, people did what he thought they would do; steal the potatoes by the sackful by the light of the moon, and they started eating them.

Later, Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms in her hair.

The Idaho Potato, or the Russet Burbank, was developed by none other than Luther Burbank in 1871.


#OTD Today is the birth of Jane Webb, who married the prolific writer of all things gardening: John Claudius Loudon.

Jane was special.

She was a fantastic writer in her own right, but she also possessed an inner determination; she was a survivor. When her father lost the family fortune and died penniless when Jane was only seventeen, it was the beginning of her career writing Science Fiction.
For her time, Jane uniquely wrote Science Fiction. She incorporated predictable changes in technology and society. For instance, the women in her books wear pants. In any case, her book The Mummy was published anonymously, in 1827, in three parts.

In her book, Jane featured something she imagined would come to pass: a steam plow. That’s what attracted the attention of John Claudius Loudon - her future husband. Loudon wrote a favorable review of her book, but he also wanted to meet the author. Loudon didn’t realize Jane had written the book using a nom de plume of Henry Colburn. Much to Loudon’s delight, Henry was Jane; they fell in love and married a year later.

The Loudons were considered high society, and their friends included Charles Dickens.

John’s arms stopped working as he grew older, after an attack of rheumatic fever. As a result, Jane became his arms, handling most of his writing. When his arms got so bad that surgeons needed to amputate his right arm, they found him in his garden, which he said he intended to return to immediately after the operation.

Two weeks before Christmas 1843, John was dictating his last book called, A Self Instruction to Young Gardeners. Around midnight, he suddenly collapsed into Jane’s arms and died.

Jane completed the book on her own.

#OTD It was on this day in 1843, that the Massachusetts Horticultural Society held their exhibition of flowers.

They kicked things off by writing about their phlox.

Here’s what they said:

“The Phloxes were very splendid, and it gives us great pleasure to see that our friends are engaged in raising seedlings of this beautiful class of plants. Instead of importing Phloxes from England, as we have heretofore done, we hazard but little when we state that it will not be many years (if our friends persevere in raising seedlings) before we shall be able to send our English friends varieties, that will surprise them for their beautiful form and richness of color.”

#OTD Today is the birthday of Ellen Ann Willmott, who was an English horticulturalist who was born in 1858.

Ellen was the oldest in her family of three daughters. In 1875, her parents moved to Warley Place, which was set on 33 acres of land in Essex. Ellen lived there for the rest of her life.

All of the Willmott’s were gardeners, and they often gardened as a family. They created an alpine garden complete with a gorge and rockery. This was something that Ellen’s father allowed her to do to commemorate her 21st birthday.

When her godmother died, she received some pretty significant money. When her father died, Warley Place went to her. Ellen planted to her heart's content, and given the size of the property, it’s no wonder that she hired over 100 gardeners to help her tend it.

Ellen was no shrinking violet. She had a reputation for firing any gardener who allowed a weed to grow in her beds. And, she only hired men. There’s a famous quote from her that is often cited, “Women would be a disaster in the border.”

It was a good thing that Ellen had so much money because she sure liked to spend it. She had three homes: one in France, Warley Place, and another in Italy.

Ellen also paid for plant hunting expeditions. Since she paid for them, the plants that were discovered on those expeditions were often named in her honor. And, Ellen hired some pretty impressive people to do her plant collecting. For example, Ellen even sponsored Ernest Henry Wilson.

When Ellen received the Victoria Medal of Honor in 1897, she was honored alongside Gertrude Jekyll.

In the end, Ellen died penniless and heartbroken. Warley Place became a nature preserve.

#OTD Today is the birthday of The Botany Man - Willis Linn Jepson - who was born on this day in 1867.

Carved on his tombstone are the following words:

“Profound Scholar, Inspiring Teacher, Indefatigable Botanical Explorer, ... In the ordered beauty of nature, he found enduring communion.”

Jepson attended college at Berkeley. During his junior year, he decided to start a diary. He collected everything, too - not just dates, but as much as he could. It was a practice Jepson never abandoned and resulted in over fifty Jepson field books.

In 1894, Jepson began to think seriously about creating a Flora of California.

As long as he was working on the flora, Jepson thought he might as well create a herbarium, which he considered to be his legacy.

Although Jepson often said he disliked common names, he came up with many on his own. He once named a plant Mountain Misery after suffering the after-effects of walking through it.

By the early 1900s, automobiles were becoming mainstream, but Jepson warned,

“You must still go afoot if a real botanist. No field botanist should become soft and travel only in an auto.“

Jepson had started numbering plants for his flora in 1899. His last specimen was No. 27,571 - the Salsola kali - a little plant commonly known as Prickly Russian Thistle. Jepson collected it on October 28, 1945.
Earlier that year, Jepson suffered a heart attack when he attempted to cut down a dead Almond tree on his ranch. He never fully recovered from it. Jepson passed away her November 7, 1946.

#OTD Today is the birthday of Henderina Victoria Scott, who shared her images of time-lapse photography of plants in 1904.

Scott exhibited her pictures at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She described her set up and her method for taking the photos.

Then, she proceeded to show animated photographs of flowers opening and closing their buds, and expanding and developing into flowers. She also explained the movements of climbing plants and of insects visiting flowers.

None of her films or plates are known to exist.

Scott’s work allowed botanists and horticulturalists to see the changes that happen slowly over time in the plant world.

Unearthed Words

Today is the birthday of Ogden Nash, the American poet, who said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

He also wrote a number of poems about gardening and flowers.

by Ogden Nash

Today, my friends, I beg your pardon,
But I'd like to speak of my Victory Garden.
With a hoe for a sword, and citronella for armor,
I ventured forth to become a farmer.

On bended knee, and perspiring clammily,
I pecked at the soil to feed my family,
A figure than which there was none more dramatic-er.
Alone with the bug, and my faithful sciatica,
I toiled with the patience of Job or Buddha,
But nothing turned out the way it shudda.

Would you like a description of my parsley?
I can give it to you in one word--gharsley!
They're making playshoes out of my celery,
It's reclaimed rubber, and purplish yellery,
Something crawly got into my chives,
My lettuce has hookworm; my cabbage has hives,
And I mixed the labels when sowing my carrots;
I planted birdseed--it came up parrots.
Do you wonder then, that my arteries harden
Whenever I think of my Victory Garden?

My farming will never make me famous,
I'm an agricultural ignoramus,
So don't ask me to tell a string bean from a soy bean.
I can't even tell a girl bean from a boy bean.

Today's book recommendation: Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman

The Healing Herbs provides an easy-to-use A-to-Z herb encyclopedia. It explains where to find the herbs, how to use them, store them, work with them, and how to grow them.

Today's Garden Chore

It’s never too late to plan a fall herb garden.

Here are some herbs that don’t mind the cold, and they’re quickly grown from seed; I’m talking about dill, parsley, spinach, lettuce, and cilantro. I always include lettuces among my herbs - wherever I’ve got a spot.

Now, when I make my salads, I love to include little snippets of dill. I get a little perturbed when I forget to clip some - it's ruined me. I can hardly make a salad at home without including dill. Since my son John loves Chipotle, I can’t make rice anymore without incorporating cilantro.

Parsley is included in so many things I cook, I always like to have Parsley around, and it's terrific that it can hang out in the garden until the bitter end.

Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

Today, in 1934, Elizabeth Lawrence and wrote a letter to her sister Ann:

"I am so happy to get back to my rickety Corona; Ellen’s elegant new typewriter made anything I had to say unworthy of its attention.
The Zinnias you raised for us are magnificent. There are lots of those very pale salmon ones that are the loveliest of all, and some very pale yellow ones that Bessie puts in my room. The red ones are in front of boltonia and astilbe (white).

I knew how awful the garden would be. I have come back to it before, and I knew Bessie wasn’t going to do anything by herself. But that doesn’t mitigate the despair that you feel when you see it. I worked for two days and almost got the weeds out of the beds around the summer house. There isn’t much left. There has been so much rain that the growth of the weeds was tropical."

(Bessie was Elizabeth's mom. She shared her love of the garden.)

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

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