If, throughout the summer, you found yourself driving down the road and spying a little electric blue blossom by the side of the road, chances are, you are looking at chicory.

Listener Danny Perkins shared a post at the end of August sharing beautiful photos of chicory. A few years ago, I used to drive the boys into St. Paul for basketball camp, and when I pulled off the freeway, there it was. Chicory. Impossibly growing in between cracks in the cement along the sidewalk. I went straight to my Mac when I got home and order seeds on the spot.

The blue of chicory is positively luminescent. The plant is where chicory coffee and tea come from. Listener Diane Lydic posted this:

"My father used to pick it on his way home from work. He made a map of all the patches so he could remember for next year. Delicious with olive oil and vinegar with hard-boiled eggs. Always a treat!"

Diane's father is a man after my own heart. Anyone who makes a map of roadside patches of precious plants is a friend in my book!

 

 

 


Brevities

#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of Rudolph Jacob Camerarius, the botanist who demonstrated the existence of sexes in plants. He died in 1721.

Camerarius was born in Germany. He was a professor of natural philosophy.

He identified and defined the male parts of the flower as the anther, and he did the same for the female part; the pistol. And, he figured out that pollen made production possible. His work was recorded for the ages in a letter he wrote to a peer in 1694 called On the sex of plants.

 

 

 


#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of the Spanish priest, botanist, physician, and naturalist José Celestino Mutis who spent almost 50 years in Columbia, where he is regarded as a national treasure for his scientific work.

In the 18th century, Columbia and the area around it was known as New Granada. Given his lifetime spent in Granada, Mutis was able to leave a lasting legacy. He created an impressive library complete with thousands of books on botany and the natural world. He also built a herbarium with over 24,000 species. Only Joseph Banks had a herbarium that rivaled Mutis, and Banks had more resources and more support from the English government.

Mutis approached the job of documenting the flora of Granada in a unique way; he accomplished his mission by enlisting others. During his time in Granada, Mutis worked with over 40 local Creole artists. He recruited them and trained them. He brought them to a studio where they could work all day long in silence. In short, Mutis set up a botanical production machine that was unsurpassed in terms of the output and the level of excellence for the times. At one point, Mutis had up to twenty artisans working all at one time. One artist would work on the plant habit while another would work on specific aspects or features. The Mutis machine created over 6,500 pieces of art - including botanical sketches and watercolors painted with pigments made from local dyes, which heightened their realism.

On the top of the Mutis bucket-list was the dream of a Flora of Bogata. Sadly it never happened. Mutis died in Granada in 1808. Eight years later, the King of Spain ordered all of the output from the Mutis expedition to be shipped back home. All the work created by the Creole artisans and the entire herbarium were packed into 105 shipping crates and sent to Spain where they sat and sat and sat and waited... until 1952 when a handful was used in a large folio series. Then the Mutis collection waited another 60 years until 2010 when they were finally exhibited at Kew.

Today, the thousands of pieces that make up the Mutis collection are housed at the Botanical Garden in Madrid, Spain. The pieces are significant - mostly folio size - and since they haven't seen much daylight over the past two centuries, they are in immaculate condition.

 

 


#OTD Today is the birthday of the Harvard and Smithsonian botanist, taxonomist and plant collector Lyman Bradford Smith who was born on this day in 1904.

Although his mother homeschooled him, it was his mother's Aunt Cora that nurtured his love of horticulture. He went to college and pursued botany at Harvard, where he found another passion: wrestling. Smith continued wrestling into his 60's. When he started his Ph.D., he attempted to focus on grasses. But that work required the use of a microscope, and Smith didn't have good eyesight. It was the botanist Ivan Murray Johnston who encouraged Smith to choose Bromeliaceae because they didn't require so much microscope time.

When he married his wife in 1929, their honeymoon was a tour of European herbaria.

After his honeymoon, Smith worked at the Asa Gray herbarium at Harvard. All through the Depression, Smith rode his bike to and from the Gray; 14 miles round trip.

Smith began focusing on four Brazilian plant families Bromeliaceae, Begoniaceae, Velloziaceae, and Xyridaceae early in his career. Despite discouragement from older academics who felt the topic of North American Bromeliaceae was too broad for a new taxonomist, Smith proceeded anyway. His work ethic surpassed most of his peers. He was known for saying, "Press it, and I'll identify it." Smith was a publishing master. He wrote extensively on his signature genera. Much of what is known about bromeliads is thanks to Lyman Bradford Smith. It is his lasting legacy. Today, twenty-one bromeliads are named in Smith's honor.

1947 brought significant changes to the Smith family after an offer from the Smithsonian to be the curator of South American Plants. It was an offer that was too good to refuse - better pay, the chance to travel, and more stability. Yet, Lyman brought the same work ethic and habits to the Smithsonian - riding his bike to the Smithsonian Castle every day until his seventies.

When Lyman arrived at the Smithsonian, he hired Alice Tangerini to be an illustrator - it's a position she still holds.

 

 

 


Unearthed Words

All week long, The Daily Gardener is sharing quotes from the author Beverley Nichols.

Today I'm sharing some excerpts from his fabulous book Merry Hall. Merry Hall was part of Nichol's later trilogy written between 1951 and 1956. It shares Nichols's highs and lows of renovating Merry Hall, a Georgian manor house in Surrey. Nichols lived here for ten years from 1946 to 1956.

Here are two excerpts from Merry Hall:

“...If you are picking a bunch of mixed flowers, and if you happen to see, over in a corner, a small, sad, neglected-looking pink or peony that is all by itself and has obviously never had a chance in life, you have not the heart to pass it by, to leave it to mourn alone, while the night comes on. You have to go back and pick it, very carefully, and put it in the center of the bunch among its fair companions, in the place of honor.”

“Long experience has taught me that people who do not like geraniums have something morally unsound about them. Sooner or later, you will find them out; you will discover that they drink, or steal books, or speak sharply to cats. Never trust a man or a woman who is not passionately devoted to geraniums.”

 

 

 


Today's book recommendation: Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening by Matt Mattus

When I first saw the book Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, I knew it would be amazing. Mattus is a conscious competent in the world of vegetables, and his advice, along with the images, will make even an ornamental gardener want to grow these beautiful, common to unusual, great-tasting vegetables.

Mattus will appeal to new gardeners who need a master to teach them the basics. But he'll also appeal to seasoned growers who are looking for more sophisticated techniques or higher-level insight.

Mattus writes with a pleasant, helpful voice. He's funny, and he shares great stories as well. This book could only come from someone like Matt, who has grown each vegetable himself and truly loves gardening.

 

 


Today's Garden Chore

Prepare your cold frames, shed, and greenhouse in preparation for fall if you haven't already.

Autumn sowing and growing time for late autumn greens, radishes, and other shoulder-season crops are right now.

 

 

 


Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

September's birth flower is the aster.

Asters offer that happy yellow face encircled with rayed petals. Asters are part of the sunflower or daisy family. The Aster is named from the Greek word for star. In the 'Language of Flowers', reflecting the changing season, it signifies 'farewell.' Farewell to the lazy days of summer, to swimming pools and picnics, and farewell to the summer harvest.

There was a little anonymous poem about September and asters printed in The Bluff City News out of Kansas in 1903. Here's what it said:

"September's fields are golden. Her skies are azure fair.
And In her beauty holden
Are gifts beyond compare.
Who cares for roses sweet?
When all September's asters
Are flowering at our feet."

 

 


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

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