October 4, 2019 The Restorative Power of Leaves, William Gilpin, Caspar Wistar, John Hendley Barnhart, The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, Bringing Houseplants Back Indoors, and a 1927 Advertisement for Rakes

Every autumn, we owe a debt of gratitude to our trees.

They give our gardens the best gift: leaves.

Over the past decade, there's been a resurgence of interest in the restorative power of leaves in the garden. For some gardeners, this is new news. Yet, we've known about the beautiful contributions of leaves in the garden for a long time.

As proof, here's a little post from The York Daily out of York Pennsylvania on October 23, 1879:

"Fallen leaves make excellent compost for the garden."

And, the Sunday News out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania from November 16, 1952, wrote this:

"Many city gardeners and suburban farmers... now realize the value of leaves as fertilizer and mulching material and are glad to take the leaves off the Street Departments hands...

This helps solve the problem of what to do with the fallen leaves, but it doesn't help the raking aches."





#OTD Today is the birthday of the English watercolorist and founding advocate of the picturesque landscape, William Gilpin, who was born on this day in 1762.

As an early headmaster and vicar of the Cheam School, Gilpin taught vegetable, as well as ornamental, gardening to the students.

In 1777, Gilpin became the parson at the Boldre church of St. John the Baptist in the New Forest district of Hampshire. The church dates back to the 11th century.

Gilpin was a font of knowledge about the area surrounding Boldre Church and its flora and fauna. Gilpin served as the Boldre church parson until his death in 1804 at the age of 80.

Gilpin is buried, alongside his wife, in the church cemetery beside an old maple tree. His inscription reads:

"It will be a new joy to meet several of their good neighbors who now lie scattered in these sacred precincts around them."


Gilpin would travel around the English countryside, creating beautiful watercolors of the landscape and keeping journals where he refined his thoughts on the picturesque landscape. Gilpin filled his sketchbooks with drawings and observations on landscapes and how to paint them.

Gilpin wrote,

"In order to color chastely and harmoniously, use only 3 tints: red, yellow, and blue..."


Gilpin's accounts of his travels were published in guidebooks and created widespread interest in natural beauty and the picturesque landscape. Gilpin's bestselling book, “Observations on the River Wye: And Several Parts of South Wales, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty: Made in the Summer of the year 1770" (often referred to as the River Wye guidebook), brought scads of tourists to the area during the 18th century.

Gilpin wrote:

"Every distant horizon promises something new; and with this pleasing expectation we follow nature through all her walks."


During his time, Gilpin was an arbiter of artistic taste, and he thought that artists should try to find the most "picturesque" view of a landscape. Gilpin didn't enjoy artificial creations and lines in the garden. He was a fan of more natural-looking landscapes that were often savage and less domesticated. To Gilpin, the best landscapes offered ruins and mountains along with trees. Gilpin's watercolors were created on-site, and he wasn't opposed to using a little artistic license to make the scene more compelling, adding a little bridge or tree or making a ruin ever more ruinous. In 1786, Gilpin wrote,

"A ruin is a sacred thing. Rooted for ages in the soil; assimilated to it; and become, as it were, a part of it ..."


A simple way to remember the picturesque style is to remember that Gilpin was a painter, and he saw the landscape with “a painter’s eye.” The picturesque was a view that was worthy of being painted, and Gilpin said it was "that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture." The bottom line is that the images were designed to get your attention.

Gilpin wrote:

"Our eyes are only glass windows; we see with our imagination."


Gilpin was the first president of The Royal Watercolor Society, and he is remembered for his books, including one of his most popular called "Forest Scenery" which included 45 watercolors and descriptions of trees and shrubs; and instructions for how to capture a picturesque effect through the clumping of trees.

Gilpin adored trees. He wrote:

"It is no exaggerated praise to call a tree the grandest and most beautiful of all productions on earth!"

For instance, the "roan-tree" was noted for having "glowing berries." Rowan was the common name for the Mountain Ash, also known as "the witch" or "quickening-tree." The origin of the word rowan comes from a German word meaning "to redden," and it refers to the little red berries.

On the other hand, Gilpin was not a fan of the Hawthorn, writing that it had,

"little claim to picturesque beauty... It is but a poor appendage. Its shape is bad. It does not taper and point like the Holly, but is rather a matted, round, heavy bush. Its fragrance indeed is great ; but its bloom, which is the source of that fragrance, is spread over it in too much profusion."

In 1832, Gilpin published Practical Hints upon Landscape Gardening: with some remarks on Domestic Architecture, as connected with scenery, which ran to a second edition in 1835. He wrote it because he said he felt there was little "practical information" in the books available at the time. One of my favorite parts of the book is where he discusses how to get a client to support ideas for their Landscape.

"It has ever appeared to me, that a very essential part of an improver's duty is to explain to the proprietor the principles upon which he suggests any plan of improvement. This, during the progress of the work, not only enhances the pleasure of the proprietor, and assists his general taste, but it also ensures his future care, through the periodical prunings and thinnings which must of necessity take place."


Gilpin encouraged landscapers, (he referred to them as improvers), to educate their clients, to overcome objections and prejudices. To Gilpin's view, educating customers was sufficient; once they understood the general design, they would surely come around.

More quotes from Gilpin:


"The picturesque eye, in quest of beauty, finds it in almost every incident."

"The pleasures of the chase are universal. A hare started before dogs is enough to set the whole country in an uproar."





#OTD On this day in 1777, Caspar Wistar treated the wounded during the battle of Germantown and decided he would pursue medical training.

Wistar ("Wiss-Star")is the names of The Wistar Institute, the nation's first independent biomedical research center. Today, they focus on cancer, infectious disease & vaccine research to benefit human health.

The botanist Thomas Nuttall gave the name Wisteria to the genus in honor of Caspar Wistar. Some people pronounce it "Wis-star-is" to reflect the proper spelling of Casper Wistar's last name.




#OTD Today is the birthday of the Master Collector of Botanists, John Hendley Barnhart, who was born on this day in 1871.

Barnhart was an American botanist who specialized in the biographies of other botanists. Like many botanists, Barnhart came to botany through medicine. After training to be a doctor, he never practiced medicine and instead turned his full-time attention to botany.

Barnhart is remembered for his work at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), where he served as the Bibliographer of the Garden from 1913 to 1942. An amateur genealogist, his famous biographical index of botanists, included over 20,000 cards.

Barnhart's strength was Input; he collected vast amounts of information, stored it, and retrieved it for experts when called upon. His obituary stated that scientists all over the world leveraged Barnhart for their research.

An article featured in The Nebraska State Journal from December 12, 1919, had a fascinating headline, "Famous Botanists Who Never Breathed."

"Dr. Barnhart declares that the subjects of eleven biographical sketches of botanists in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American biography are figments; that their births, their names, their voyages, their scientific adventures and their numerous books, so solemnly given by title and number of volumes, existed only in the mind of some falsifier of the human record.

For instance, an Alexander Daniel Koehler, who, inspired by Humboldt, came to America, lived for seven years at Santa Fe, explored South America and wrote, among many other works, "Flora Brasiliensis," published in four volumes in Berlin in 1821-23."

Barnhart believed that the eleven fake botanist biographies were the work of one person... but we don't know who or why they did it.


The was another fun newspaper account of Barnhart. This one was from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from April 27, 1934. It gave a report of a lecture by Barnhart on the wildflowers of North America. He said,

"... buttercups and bright red columbines that once covered the countryside are in increasing danger of extinction as a result of the depredations of motorists. The only flowers free from danger are those which, like water lilies and marigolds, are naturally difficult of access.

The purplish-white blossoms of mountain laurel are generally conceded to be the loveliest of North American wild flowers.

Drosera, (commonly known as the sundews) the only carnivorous Northern flower, that trips and devours tiny insects by means of sticky, porous leaves, is a demure, deceptive yellow blossom.

The coy trillium and the strange, bloated pitcher flower are among the curiosities of this part of the world, while the airy white flower genially named Dutchmen's breeches looks the most nonchalant.

Certain flower names, like those of the rose and the lily, have come down to us almost unchanged since ancient times, and are practically similar in all European languages."






Unearthed Words


"Come said the wind to
the leaves one day,
Come o're the meadows
and we will play.
Put on your dresses
scarlet and gold,
For summer is gone
and the days grow cold."

- A Children's Song of the 1880s



"Trees enrich our lives throughout the year. They reassure us with the rustle of their leaves, give us shade to soothe our overheated bodies and they bring delight to us when we watch birds nest in their boughs. However, it is only during the fall that they wave flamboyant foliage that seems to demand our attention."

- Blue Ridge Parkway: A Guide to Trees





Today's book recommendation: The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

The 2010 book is the updated version of the best-selling classic. It features a dozen new projects.

The New York Times said this book was the "contemporary bible" on Urban Homesteading.

This book is an excellent resource. It's an idea book, and that gives you the tools to get started on a path to self-sufficiency. It offers fantastic examples of how, no matter the size of your space, you can support yourself and your family in an environmentally-responsible way.

The authors, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen are creators of the blog Root Simple, a green living and self-reliance resource for homesteaders, urban and otherwise. They live in Los Angeles.





Today's Garden Chore

Thoroughly wash and inspect your houseplants before bringing them back indoors.

My houseplants get a beautiful spa day in the kitchen sink when they come back inside for the winter. First, they get a little time to acclimate to the temperature inside before they get their turn at the sink. Then I wash the leaves with sharp streams of water and a little dawn dish soap. And don't forget about the bottom and sides of the pot; no need to track in extra dirt or insects.






Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

Today's show started with a bit of Monologue about leaves, and I thought I'd share this adorable short advertisement from WC Landon and Company in the Rutland Daily Herald out of Vermont From September 27, 1927:

Whether You Save Your Leaves for excellent cover for garden and lawn or whether you burn them you need a good rake to get them together.

Here are four different kinds, all good

The Japanese Sweep Rake, light and handy, but not for heavy work.......$1.00

The Wood Lawn Rake with 24 teeth, for heavy work .......$1.00

The Hoover Wire Lawn Rake is much favored at ....... 75c

The Brume Rake with flat steel teeth, shaped like the Japanese Sweep, priced at .......$1.00


So, there you go. That's a sweet, little summary of Rake options in Vermont in 1927.




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