September 18, 2019 The Secret Garden, Bernard McMahon, John M. Darby, Abel Aken Hunter, Prose on Autumn Denis Mackail, Straw Bale Gardens Complete by Joel Karsten, Winterizing Strawberry Beds, and the Mary Statue in South Natick

Last night I shared the trailer for The Secret Garden remake, which just dropped. 

It is a visual feast for lovers of gardens everywhere.
The new adaptation of the children's classic stars Colin Firth and Julie Walters and is set for release in April (2020).
It looks fantastic.

The Secret Garden is a children's novel written by American author and gardener Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was first released in the early 1900s as a serial in The American Magazine.

The story is about a young girl, Mary Lennox, who was living in India with her wealthy British family. She is a spoiled, neglected little 10-year-old girl. When cholera kills her parents, she is sent to England to live with a widowed uncle, Archibald Craven, at his vast Yorkshire estate.
Mary learns that her dead aunt had a walled garden that has been locked away ten years, ever since her death. Determined to find it, Mary finds the key to open the garden, and she discovers a lost paradise.  Spending time in the garden is transformational for her; she becomes softer and kinder and more optimistic. 

That's why the trailer ends with this quote,

"This garden; it's capable of extraordinary things. Now will you believe in the magic?" 





#OTD  Today is the birthday of the Irish-born botanical steward of the plants collected by Lewis and Clark; the Philadelphia nurseryman, Bernard McMahon, who was born on this day in 1816.

McMahon's lasting legacy was his American Gardener's Calendar. Packed with monthly directions and information about all things gardening, McMahon's Calendar was the most popular and most comprehensive gardening publication of the first half of the nineteenth century. Through his work, McMahon was helping to shape the gardening identity of America, which was becoming more distinct and defined as it transitioned away from English traditions. The Calendar was like a gardening bible to Thomas Jefferson, and it was that connection that led McMahon to become his gardening mentor. It also meant that when it came time for Jefferson to pick a curator for the Lewis and Clark expedition, McMahan was his pick.

Lewis and Clark are forever remembered for their famous expedition, which led to many botanical discoveries. The live plants and the seeds they had collected were expertly curated by McMahon, who didn't dither, especially with the seeds. Once the specimens were in his hands, he immediately set about cultivating them. 

There were constraints placed on McMahon. As the sole nurseryman fortunate enough to steward the collection, he could not propagate the plants for profit (they were the property of the United States Government) and he could not tell anyone about the collection (at least not until Lewis and Clark had a chance to write about it).

In honor of his work, the botanist Thomas Nuttal named the genus Mahonia for McMahon. Mahonia is an evergreen shrub, also known as Oregon holly. The low-growing shrub can be kept tidy with pruning and looks like holly, although it belongs to the barberry family. The Mahonia produces yellow flowers followed by clusters of bluish-green berries that turn red in the fall. The red berries attract birds, and gardeners love that it is a favorite of cardinals. Mahonia has a glossy, dark green foliage that turns a gorgeous bronze in autumn.





#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of the botanist and chemist John M. Darby, who died on this day in 1877.

In 1841, Darby wrote one of the earliest floras, and he focused on the southeastern United States. His flora was practical and regional, so it's no surprise that his work became a textbook for botany in the South East. After John Torrey and Asa Gray had released their North American Flora, Darby's work was one of many regional floras that started popping up all over the United States. Sadly, Darby's work was basically dissed by Asa Gray, who felt that Darby's work was amateurish. This dismissal was too hasty and ignored the rigorous botanizing performed by Darby throughout the South East and his evident grasp of the distribution of plants throughout the South.

Darby taught at Auburn University; at the time, it was known as the East Alabama Male College. Darby was the "Julia Ann Hamiter" Professor of Natural Science. Darby taught there until 1861 when the college closed due to the Civil War. It reopened again in 1866, and Darby resumed teaching botany.





#OTD   Today is the birthday of the Panama Orchid Hunter and son of Lincoln, Nebraska, Abel Aken Hunter, who was born on this day in 1877.

In a biography of his older brother, it was mentioned that all the kids in the Hunter family were "born naturalists, for they knew all the birds and many of the plants and insects around Lincoln, [Nebraska]."

When Hunter was just 15 years old, he was appointed to the United States Postal Service. It was a career choice that would supplement his collecting efforts all through his life.

Hunter was like many Plant Collectors; he worked his regular job with the post office for almost 30 years while pursuing his passion for botany on the side.

Hunter attended the University of Nebraska to study botany. Hunter was appointed botanical collector for the University of Nebraska in 1899.

In 1905, when Hunter was promoted to mail clerk, he was making $58 a month. Eighteen months later, Hunter transferred to the post office in Gorgona in the Canal Zone in Panama. The move was an excellent one for Hunter; his pay jumped to $1,250 a month, and he was smack dab in the middle of a botanical paradise.

1910 brought a fateful friend to Hunter. The amateur horticulturist Charles Powell was a nurse, and he had been transferred to Gorgona. Although he was two decades older than Hunter, the two got on famously. They shared a mutual passion for fishing. Early on in their friendship, while they were fishing, they spied an incredible sight. Hunter is recorded as saying,

"Look, Powell–orchids! Oodles of orchids! Treefuls of orchids! Let's get some of 'em."

Needless to say, that day, they literally brought home a "boat-load of orchids," and the orchids made their way to collectors across the globe.

A year or two later, the Canal work in Gorgona wrapped up, and both Hunter and Powell transferred to Balboa. From that point on, the two men would coordinate their vacation requests so that they could go on botanizing trips together in Panama. Powell created a special relationship with the Missouri Botanical Garden after he gave them 7,000 plants. In return, MOBOT established a Tropical Station in Balboa, Panama. Powell was its first director, Hunter was his successor, and the Station became a jewel in the crown of MOBOT. 

By the mid-1920s, Hunter was collecting with MOBOT experts like George Harry Pring. They once traveled to a remote part of southwest Panama to hunt for orchids where Pring recalled the perilousness of their quest and the natural instincts of Hunter. He said,

"To obtain varied genera and new species it is necessary to climb the 'barrancas' [steep, rocky slopes], ford streams, cut one's way through the jungle, and hunt for the coveted orchid, and it is truly a hunt. Hunter's sharp eyes detected almost everything within range."

A week before Thanksgiving in 1934, the Director of Mobot sent a party of three researchers, including Paul Allen, down to work with Hunter; their primary mission was to find where the Sobralia powellii orchid originated. Hunter's gut told him it would be near the headwaters of the river they were exploring. For three days, they made their way through rapids and a tropical rainstorm. Nothing was going their way; they were ready to give up. They were standing at the edge of a natural pool of water near the crater of an ancient volcano when Allen decided to jump in for a swim. As he climbed out, Allen's journal records this fantastical moment:

"Climbing out [of the pool] on the opposite side my astonished gaze was met by a plant with great milky white buds nearly ready to open. The long-sought prize, Sobralia powellii, had been found. Its native home was no longer a mystery."

Allen called this area "a garden of orchids" and would not disclose the exact location. Allen and Hunter found hundreds of small orchids in this spot; incredibly, many were new to even Hunter. It was a veritable orchid treasure trove.

This trip was everything to Hunter. He had been diagnosed with intestinal cancer. It was his last run. When it was clear he could not go on, Allen brought him to a hospital in Panama City, where he died on April 6, 1935. Allen finished the expedition alone.

After his death, Hunter's wife, Mary, operated the station at Balboa for 18 months until, fittingly, Paul Allen was appointed Director. Allen went to Balboa with his new bride, Dorothy. They had been married for ten days.

As for Abel Aken Hunter, many orchids have been named in his honor, including the Coryanthes Hunteranum, or the Golden Bucket orchid.





Unearthed Words

“Caught in the doldrums of August we may have regretted the departing summer,

having sighed over the vanished strawberries and all that they signified.

Now, however, we look forward almost eagerly to winter's approach.

We forget the fogs, the slush, the sore throats, and the price of coal. We think only of long evenings by lamplight,

of the books which we are really going to read this time,

of the bright shop windows and the keen edge of the early frosts.” 

― Denis Mackail, Greenery Street





Today's book recommendation: Straw Bale Gardens Complete by Joel Karsten

In May of 1994, Joel Karsten experimented with 50 straw bales on his childhood farm in Southwest Minnesota.  He was trying to come up with a new way to grow vegetables at his new home in the Twin Cities, which was on terrible clay soil. By June, he realized the plants in the bales were twice as tall as the plants growing in the soil. He kept refining his methods until his Straw Bale Gardens were discovered by a local reporter in 2007. Now, twenty-five years later, Joel Karsten is the recognized pioneer of Straw Bale Gardening, with his first book, an acclaimed NY Times Best Seller and fans around the world.

You can hear Joel's incredible story on the Still Growing gardening podcast. I interviewed Joel in a three-part episodes 515 - 517, and you can hear his incredible personal story and his method of growing in straw bales. And, you can hear about the fantastic impact his technique has had around the globe in Episode 556.

Today's featured book, Straw Bale Gardens Complete contains all of the original information from Joel's first books, but it also goes much deeper, with nearly 50 pages of all-new advice and photos on subjects such as growing in a tight urban setting and making your straw bale garden completely organic. There is even information on using straw bale techniques to grow veggies in other organic media for anyone who has a hard time finding straw.

If you've attempted a straw bale garden without using Joel's expertise, you really should get his book, or at least listen to those in-depth interviews we did, and give it another go. It's an incredible way to garden in the most challenging situations, and in Cold Climates, you can gain extra growing time - somewhere around 6-8 weeks - in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall - that alone makes it worth doing. 




Today's Garden Chore

Winterize your strawberry beds.

Prune out runners that you don't want for next year. You can begin the thinning process by potting up your strawberry runners so that you can have even more strawberry plants next year to share at a plant swap, to share with friends or to add to your own garden. I just sink my pots into the ground, and then I can deal with them in the spring by snipping them off the mother plant - I let them remain tethered to her throughout the winter.

While you're at it, now is the perfect time to clean up the bed. It's also THE time to add a final boost of fertilizer.
This time of year, I like to add a fresh layer of protective mulch around my plants to help them survive the winter. 




Something Sweet 
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

On this day in 2005, The Boston Globe shared ashorte Q&A Segment written by Matt McDonald. 

A reader had asked, Why is there a large statue of a woman on the south bank of the Charles River in South Natick?

Matt's Answer was as follows:

"The 9-foot-tall statue represents Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic name for Mary, the mother of Jesus. It can be seen from a dirt pullover area on the shoulder of Route 16. But, from a distance, it's not obvious that the statue is of Mary. And its placement, on a rock outcropping overlooking the river with no structures nearby, is unusual. So, the statue has led to imaginative theories about why it's there. "I can't tell you how many call up and ask who it was that drowned," said Janice Prescott, president of the Natick Historical Society."

It turns out the statue was put in place by Daniel Sargent, a grandson of the wealthy horticulturist Horatio Hollis Hunnewell. Sargent converted to Catholicism as a graduate student at Harvard. He placed the statue in the back of his beautiful property overlooking a bend in the river.

"A 1938 newspaper clipping shared the Latin inscription at the [base of the statue which translates] as "May flowers bloom on this earth."

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

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