September 13, 2019 The secret to beautiful begonias, Caspar Wistar, Roald Dahl, Beverley Nichols, English Cottage Gardening by Margaret Hensel, Dividing Bearded Irises, and for the Love of Toads

What's the secret to beautiful begonias?

I asked this to a friend recently who has gorgeous begonias every single year.

Her answer was simple: fish emulsion.

This means you should feed your begonias with fertilizer. Since we love that begonias flower and they do flower their hearts out, that makes begonias are heavy feeders. Since fish emulsion (5-1-1) is a low-intensity total fertilizer, it's perfect for promoting large, healthy, beautiful begonias. Just feed every 3-4 weeks and follow the label directions.

And remember, most begonias do best with plenty of filtered light but little or no direct hot sun. So don't fry them.

At the same time, water and begonias don't play nice together in the sense that begonias can rot pretty quickly. They need a soil that's going to drain quickly. They need to be in pots - like terra cotta- that breathe.

Add perlite or leaf mold to your soil mix to make a very coarse, quick-draining potting mix to add more air pockets to the soil. Then, don't forget that those air pockets mean you need to water more frequently - especially during warm weather. One thing you can also do is mist begonias. They like humidity - but too much of that can invite fungus or powdery mildew, so keep an eye on them.






#OTD Today is the birthday of Caspar Wistar, the Younger who was born on this day in 1761.

His grandfather was also Caspar Wistar, so the Younger distinction helps people tell them apart. Wistar was a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania.

The botanist Thomas Nuttall named the genus Wisteria in his honor (some people say Wistaria to reflect the proper spelling of Wistar's last name. Either is fine because guess what - the misspelling is preserved for all time under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature). It's like one of my kid's birth certificates - it can be amended, but the original is wrong and will be until the end of time.

Wistar had some pretty impressive friends: his best friend was probably Thomas Jefferson, and his most famous botany friend was probably Alexander von Humboldt.

Wistar died of a heart ailment unexpectedly on January 18, 1818. His final utterance was: "I wish well to all mankind."

During his life, every Sunday Night, Wistar would hold a salon - an open house - at his home on the corner of Fourth and Locust Street. His friends would stop by - along with any members of academia, or the elite or high society, along with other accomplished people who happened to be in Philadelphia that evening. They all knew that Wistar's house was the place to go to meet up with the best minds of the day.

When Wistar died, his friends continued holding Wistar parties for a core group of 50 members. They would each take turns hosting, and the kept the tradition going for another forty years.




#OTD Today is the birthday of the British author, Roald Dahl, who was born on this day in 1916.

Today, his birthday is celebrated all over the world as Roald Dahl Day.

Dahl was an avid gardener. In fact, his garden shed doubled as his writing nook, where he wrote many books, including Charlie and the Chocolate factory. As romantic a notion as this sounds to a gardener's ears, it was also a pragmatic decision on the part of Dahl's wife. Dahl chain-smoked as he wrote, and the garden shed kept the smoke out of the house. For Dahl's part, he loved the idea of using the garden shed as a place to write, especially after seeing the little writing hut used by the author Dylan Thomas.

Gardeners with a passion for roses will no doubt praise the Roald Dahl Rose, which honored Dahl's love of gardening. It's an absolutely stunning English shrub rose bred by David Austin. It's got a very blousy habit and scrumptious peach blooms that just go non-stop. They have a lovely fragrance as well - and not many thorns, so that's a bonus.

Dahl's diaries have marvelous entries about his garden, and he was often inspired by his garden, which you can ascertain when you read in his work. H ere are some examples:

From Matilda:

"I liked The Secret Garden best of all. It was full of mystery."

From My Year:

"There is just one small bright spark shining through the gloom in my January garden. The first snowdrops are in flower."

From James and the Giant Peach:

"And now suddenly, the whole place, the whole garden seemed to be alive with magic...”

From The BFG:

“But Mr Tibbs didn’t hesitate for long. ‘Tell the head gardener,’ he whispered, ‘that I require immediately a brand new unused garden fork and also a spade. And for a knife we shall use the great sword hanging on the wall in the morning-room. But clean the sword well first. It was last used to cut off the head of King Charles the First and there may still be a little dried blood on the blade.”

From Roald Dahl:

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary How does yr garden grow? 'I live with my brat in a high-rise flat, So how in the world would I know.'





Unearthed Words

All week long, The Daily Gardener has been sharing quotes from the author Beverley Nichols, who was born on Monday of this week in 1898.

A prolific writer, Nichols is best remembered for his gardening books. Today I'm featuring excerpts from his book called Forty Favourite Flowers. It is exactly as described, Nichols sharing his top selections; the flowers he loved most in his garden; which he described this way:

“A great deal of weeping goes on in my garden, but it is a happy sort of weeping, for all this bending of branches and bowing of heads is simply due to the fact that so much beauty is displayed on so small a stage.”

Nichols arranged this book simply, using alphabetical order. Then he just shares some of his favorites. Here are some excerpts for you:

Algerian Iris:

One of my grandfathers died of a clump of Iris stylosa; it enticed him from a sickbed on an angry evening in January, luring him through the snow-drifts with its blue and silver flames; he died of double pneumonia a few days later. It was probably worth it.


"I must confess that, for me, the flower of the magnolia is most beautiful when life has almost ebbed from it. These are the twilit hours when the petals flag and falter when their immaculate ivory texture dims when they glow with a ghostly radiance that seems to come from another world."

Regal Lily:

"The regal lilies do indeed praise the Lord. Some of my own, last summer were so exultant that they praised Him through no less than thirty snow-white trumpets on a single stem, and even the most accomplished angel could not do much better than that."

Iris Siberica:

<pdir="auto">How can one ignore... that singular infinitely sinister blossom Iris siberica? This latter flower can undoubtedly claim to be exclusively dressed, for the petals of no other blossom has Nature designed so curious of fabric, vein with slate and violet and purple.


Each Stage of our lives has its "signature" flower, and those of us who keep diaries would have a little difficulty in assigning to each year those flowers which are especially evocative... Fritillairies are linked with my years as an undergraduate... Year after year, for generation after generation, these flowers have danced in the background through the lives of England’s youth.


The flower is a startling proof of the fact that when nature decides to be vulgar - really vulgar - she can achieve the effects of almost blinding beauty. For nothing could be more opulent, more blatant, more shamelessly exhibitionist than a bed of the Mesembryanthemum in full bloom. Magenta jostling scarlet, screaming at cinnamon, fighting with shocking pink, yelling against a dozen shades of orange and vermilion.


Paradoxically, blue is the color that makes many people see red, by which I mean that fears arguments are continually developing as to which flower is the bluest... The Caryopteris is radiant in any weather... The blue of its petals seems to have the quality of caring for great distances, as though it were some sort of floral evangelist with a message of good tidings for all the world.

Summer Hyacinth:

On an August night, when the moon is full, there is an almost ectoplasmic radiance around its petals.

Golden-bell clematis:

If I had to confine my choice of creepers to a single-family – what a hideous thought! – I should probably choose the family of clematis. And if I were limited to a single member of the family, I should probably select Clematis tangutica. I said "probably" because these hypothetical decisions are so excruciating.

Finally, in FFF, Nichols offered some sweeping thoughts that will undoubtedly strike a chord:

“One of the many reasons why gardens are increasingly precious to us in this day and age is that they help us to escape from the tyranny of speed. Our skies are streaked with jets, our roads have turned to race-tracks, and in the cities, the crowds rush to and fro as though the devil were at their heels. But as soon as we open the garden gate, Time seems almost to stand still, slowing down to the gentle ticking of the Clock of the Universe.”





Today's book recommendation: English Cottage Gardening by Margaret Hensel

This book is a wonder for anyone who loves the intimacy of the English cottage garden and who endeavors to capture the feel of that for their own space. Hensel has come up with core elements from ten cottage gardens―eight in England and two in the United States. Once you master those elements, you are well on your way to having a cottage garden of your own. Hensel explains each aspect and how to achieve it, and she shares the stories of beginners that are sure to inspire new gardeners.

The last part of this book is especially helpful; It reviews 76 selected cottage-style plants and how to use them to create the cottage garden.

Hensel wants her readers, "[to] feel moved, even inspired, to imagine what magical things might happen in their own front and backyards." The books are chockfull of information and photos. Hensel is an exceptional photographer in her own right, which makes her photographs of the gardens and plants extra meaningful. So overall, there's tons of information and Inspiration for gardeners looking to create their own cozy cottage garden.





Today's Garden Chore

Just because it's September doesn't mean you can't divide bearded irises because you can - and I just recently did this myself.

If you have older clumps of irises or irises out of place, it's a great time to divide them and move them. Be sure to remove any bad parts of the rhizomes and then plant them high. I like to nestle mine on top of the soil and then stake them in instead of digging them or half-burying them. To each his own - but no matter what - do not bury them deep.





Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

On this day in 1843, the New England Farmer out of Boston, Massachusetts, published this little article about toads.

"Never destroy the toad. In the season of bugs and flies, a toad will do more towards the preservation of a garden, than a man, and all that ho requires at your hands for this valuable assistance, is the freedom of your garden walks and beds, and the small shelter of a chip or turf. He meddles with no one's business but his own constantly avoiding company, and intent only on extirpating those voracious insects by whose jaws the beauty of the garden is so frequently laid low."





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

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