September 16, 2019 National Indoor Plant Week, Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, Charles V of France, Robert Fortune, Charles Darwin, Robert Finch, The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray, the Final Push to Plant Perennials, Kate Furbish, and 19th Century Female Scientists

#NationalIndoorPlantWeek is this week!

Be sure to follow my friend, Lisa Steinkopf - the @HouseplantGuru - on twitter for a chance to win copies of her books and some houseplants. And remember, it's all week long - so Happy Indoor Plant Week. Go get yourself something new for the Indoor season, which is just around the corner if you live in a colder climate.





#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of Charles V of France, who died on this day in 1380.

He commissioned his cook, Guillaume Tirel, to create the first cookbook. The full title of the book is an exceptionally long one. In English, it translates to:

"Hereafter follows the [recipe collection] describing the preparation of all manner of foods, as cooked by Taillevent, the cook of our noble king, and also the dressing and preparation of boiled meat, roasts, sea and freshwater fish, sauces, spices, and other suitable and necessary things as described hereafter."

As the Culinary World was getting underway, it is interesting to note that during Charles V's reign, the first forks were found to be included in an inventory. And gardeners with some knowledge of mushrooms will find the death of Charles V intriguing; some historians believe that Charles V died as a result of eating the highly poisonous amanita mushrooms.




#OTD   Today is the birthday of the Scottish plantsman Robert Fortune who was born on this day in 1812.

Robert Fortune's name is inextricably bound to China and tea and the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. 

For centuries, China had a monopoly on tea. They, alone, grew the plants. They made black tea and green tea, and the rest of the world had no idea how they did it.

By the 1700s, the British had started enjoying exports from China: porcelain, silk, and yes, tea. But China was not interested in goods from Britain. 

The lop-sided relationship was a problem.

This is where Robert Fortune enters the scene. By the early 1800s, he was a trained botanist learning at the hem of some of England's most exquisite gardens, and he gets hired to go to China by the Royal Geographic Society, the RGS. At the time, China was off-limits to foreigners. So, in order to collect plants, Fortune figured out a way to blend in: he shaves his head and wears clothing like the locals, he picks up some of the Mandarin languages, and he learns about China more than any other westerner at the time. China is vast, and Fortune stayed for three years before returning home to England.  

When he returned, Fortune wrote about his time in China, and he drew the attention of The British East India Company. They were serious about obtaining tea plants from China.  And, they were desperate to learn how to make tea. So, they wisely select Fortune, with his unique combination of botanical and Chinese expertise, and they send him back to China.

This time Fortune was on a much more specific mission, and he knew what he needed to do to. He went to China incognito, dressed like a Mandarin. He had shaved the front of his head. He basically had extensions sewn into the hair on the back of his head, so he looked like he has this amazingly long ponytail. He looked 100% the part. Then, he hired guides to do the talking for him, and since there was no national language, it all flew under the radar.

Once in China, Fortune immediately began visiting tea plantations. He learned the methods and ways of harvesting tea plants to make tea. He learned that green tea and black tea come from the same plant; it's just the processing method that makes them different. Thanks to the Wardian case, Fortune was able to get live plants to India. All told, Fortune managed to smuggle out 20,000 tea plants and ships them to India. He even managed to get some of the Chinese tea farmers with their tools to leave China and help set up tea production in India. 

Sara Rose, one of the authors who has written a biography on Fortune, said that what Fortune accomplished was no less than the most significant single act of corporate espionage in the history of the world.

Today, China is still the top tea producer with over 2.4 million tons of production. Followed by India at a little less than half and then Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam make up the next spots. So, tea being grown outside of China is a direct result of Robert Fortune and India, as the number 2 tea producer in the world (behind China) was a feat that was accomplished in less than two centuries. And, again, it wouldn't have happened without Robert Fortune.




#OTD  1835 Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands on board a ship called the HMS Beagle.

Once he's on the islands, Darwin begins to check out all of the different and unique plants, and it gets him thinking.  The experience basically shapes his theory of natural selection.




Unearthed Words

"But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head ... The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on."

- Robert Finch, Nature Writer




Today's book recommendation: The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Back in 2018, I had the opportunity to interview Wendy, and it remains one of my favorite conversations about growing and using edibles from the garden.

The Chinese Kitchen Garden is half how to grow, half how to cook, and half a fantastic glimpse into the wonderful Kiang-Spray Family - so that’s 150% worth of yummy, beautiful, love in one book.  

As gardeners, sometimes we can get a little restless - searching for a new variety - something new to try - and when nothing strikes our fancy, we can feel unsatisfied.  Well, Wendy's introduction to Asian Vegetables is a spark, and it opens the door to growing a whole new cast of edibles. What I learned from Wendy is that the Asian vegetables she learned to grow and eat are upgrades from the standard varieties. Now THAT's exciting.

If you are looking for something new to grow, if you’re a foodie or if you want to start a kitchen garden, The Chinese Kitchen Garden is perfect for you. And, if you want to check out my interview with Wendy over at the Still Growing podcast, just search for Episode 601 and hit play. 

During that episode, Wendy read excerpts from many of my favorite parts in the book, and she’ll also share many of the Chinese vegetables — like lotus root, bitter melons, stem lettuce, daylilies, and Chinese cucumbers — and traditional recipes that will make you drool. Finally, Wendy’s book is organized by season, so handy - you’ll learn what to grow in spring and what to cook in winter.




Today's Garden Chore

Make one last push to plant the trees, shrubs, and perennials that are on your list or that you find discounted at the store.

Do it now, so they can get established. And remember to water them well. Depending on where you are at, you have 3-4 weeks before the sprinkler system needs to get shut off.



Something Sweet 
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

On this day in 1978, the New Castle News out of New Castle, PA, shared an article written by Mike Finsilber with a headline that read: Exhibit depicts female scientists.

"When curator Deborah Warner suggested to her superiors at the Smithsonian Institutition that she put together an exhibit documenting the accomplishments of American women in science in the 19th century, her superiors were skeptical.

Women scientists in the 19th century?

Would there be enough of them to fill an exhibit?

They doubted it.

Ms. Warner didn’t.

Yesterday her display opened in the Museum of History and Technology, telling of, among others:

—Kate Furbish, the botanist who discovered the now-famous Furbish Lousewort. It is now famous because it is endangered and for a time threatened to block construction of the Lincoln-Dickey Dam in Maine."



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

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