Today we celebrate the Frenchman who designed the very first secateurs or pruners and the Italian orphan who grew up to discover the corpse flower.
We'll learn about the Dutch botanist who was trying to figure out what was going on with his tobacco plants and made a significant discovery for science.
We'll hear the Autumn Garden Poem that highlights the crimson of the sumac and the woodbine "For the pageant of passing days."
I'll talk about gathering up your empty containers and pots as well as protecting any ironwork, and then we'll travel back in time to 1875 to hear some thoughts about Autumn Work in the garden.
But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.
Earlier this month, on October 10th, the world celebrated World Mental Health Day.
"As a charity focussed on promoting the health benefits of gardening, Thrive knows how time spent in gardens and nature can bring significant mental health benefits. [They] see and hear how it helps people cope when times are tough."
"We see how gardening can reduce stress and anxiety, how the process of nurturing plants can give fragile people a sense of achievement which in turn builds confidence, self-esteem, quality of life and, ultimately, hope."
Most gardeners often joke that gardening is cheaper than therapy. But the truth is that gardening is therapeutic. Connecting with nature is restoratives.
"However you come at it, whoever prescribes it or gets you to do it, gardening heals."
- ‘Gardening takes my mind off things.’
- ‘I feel happier and less anxious.’
- ‘It has helped me be more sociable and to be able to distract myself when I feel bad.’
#OTD Today is the birthday of Count Bertrand de Molleville, who was born on this day - 275 years ago -in 1744.
During the French Revolution, Molleville escaped to England, where he developed the secateurs or the pruner. He created them to help with pruning grapevines - something he was all too familiar with back home in France. Before the secateurs, a knife or small machete was the primary tool used to prune grapes vines and fruit trees.
That said, by 1840, there was actually a riot over the use of the secateurs in a small French town. When the town agricultural committee met to decide whether the secateurs should replace the pruning knife in the vineyards, over 300 farm workers showed up and marched in the streets to protest the decision. The workers felt that the humble secateurs would replace the need for so many vinedressers. Ah, technology.
#OTD On this day in 1843 the New England Farmer shared a simple update to the nation:
Wisconsin, it is said, will have for sale this year, 1,000,000 bushels of wheat.
#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of Odoardo Beccari, who died on this day in 1920.
After growing up an orphan, Beccarri managed to get an education in his native Italy, and he eventually traveled to England to study at Kew.
Beccarri was friends with Hooker and Darwin, but he also befriended James Brooke, which meant he was able to spend three years exploring Borneo.
During his lifetime, Becarri traveled all over India, Malaysia, and New Zealand. But it was on a little voyage he took to central Sumatra (in Indonesia) in 1878 that Beccarri discovered the plant with which he will forever be associated: the Amorphophallus titanum - or the Titan arum- the largest flower in the world.
Seven years later, in 1885, the first Titan arum specimen bloomed at Kew, and when it happened, it created a sensation. Today, the Titan arum bloom still draws thousands of visitors. People love to take a selfie in front of the giant blooming plant.
The flower is commonly referred to as the corpse flower as it smells like rotting flesh. In a fascinating article, scent scientists recently identified the compounds that make up that terrible smell. The odor includes aspects of cheese sweat, rotting fish, decomposing meat, and garlic, among even worse items that I won't mention here.
And, it takes the corpse flower a decade before it can bloom. The putrid smell is meant to attract beetles and other insects to move pollen between blooming plants so that it can reproduce. Incredibly, the plants only bloom for 24-36 hours before collapsing.
Between that first bloom at Kew (back in 1885) and the year 2000, fewer than 50 Titan arum blooms had been recorded. But, in 2016, suddenly dozens of corpse flowers around the world bloomed within weeks of each other. Horticulturists are still attempting to discern the reason for the clustered bloom event.
#OTD During this week in 1990, the Longview Newspaper shared a cautionary article about the upcoming flu season.
Buried in the story was this reminder:
"A hundred years ago, a Dutch botanist discovered a disease-carrying micro-organism smaller than bacteria and called it a virus, the Latin word for poison."
The unnamed botanist was Martinus Beijerinck (pronounced “by-a-rink”), who was searching for the reason tobacco plants were dying.
In his research, Beijerinck ground up some diseased tobacco leaves and then pressed the juices through a bacteria filter. He was utterly shocked when the filtered, bacteria-free liquid still spread the disease.
After reviewing his experiment, Beijerinck concluded that a "contagious living fluid" was the culprit, and he called it a virus.
Today, two of the most common viruses are the flu and the common cold.
#OTD Today is the 8th anniversary of the death of the botanist Bernard Verdcourt or who died on this day in 2011.
For over 60 years, Bernard Verdcourt was known as "BV" to his colleagues at Kew. Verdcourt specialized in East African flora, and he had an unrivaled knowledge of around 4,000 species. He was also an expert on snails and slugs. (Kind of a unique combination of interests).
Verdcourt's passion for snails was a hobby he happily cultivated. Somehow he found time to publish work on mollusks in addition to the 1,000 articles he wrote about botany. He wrote all of his 1220 papers and books by hand. Rumor has it that the Kew typing pool felt BV had the second most terrible handwriting at Kew.
BV didn't shy away from controversy. He enjoyed bringing adversaries together to watch them work through their issues. He couldn't abide fools or sports. He could be cantankerous, but he was also kind and helpful to young botanists.
Shall we not grow with the asters? -
Never reluctant nor sad,
Not counting the cost of being,
Living to dare and be glad.
Shall we not lift with the crickets
A chorus of ready cheer,
Braving the frost of oblivion,
Quick to be happy here?
The deep red cones of the sumach
And the woodbine's crimson sprays
Have bannered the common roadside
For the pageant of passing days.
These are the oracles Nature
Fills with her holy breath,
Giving them glory of color,
Transcending the shadow of death.
- Bliss Cameron, Canadian Poet Laureate
As Susan reminds us in the intro to her cookbook,
"Petals or whole blossoms of many common garden flowers add color, flavor, and drama to simple recipes."
Susan incorporates 50 different flowers into her recipes - from Borage and Fennel flowers to Marigolds and Pineapple Sage flowers. Each flower is introduced with a photo followed by growing hints and instructions for preparing them for the recipe that follows.
This book intrigued me so much that I went back and looked at what newspapers were saying about it in 1990. When they featured Susan's book, newspapers shared some of her go-to recipes like:
Golden Corn Muffin with Calendula Petals, Herbed Cucumber Dip with Borage Blossoms (the borage supposedly echos the taste of the cucumber), Berries with Sweet Woodruff, Dandelion Mushrooms, Nasturtiums Stuffed with Albacore Tuna, Nasturtiums with Guacamole, and my favorite, Marigold Rice - which I think sounds perfect for the holidays.
Today's Garden Chore
Todays a great day to gather up your collections in the garden; look for empty containers, pots, and garden ornaments.
There are a few things I use outside to keep my extra pots and garden items looking great.
First, I like to use ironwork like an old bakers rack or iron stand of some kind for stacking my clay pots. I line the inside of the pot with burlap before stacking the pots, so they don't stick together.
Second, for my ironwork, all of that will get one last shot of clearcoat (ideally) before winter sets in. This year, it sounds like the cold is really coming early - just in time for Halloween.
Lastly, consider bringing a few items indoors to enjoy during the winter. Some of my favorite pieces are things that weren't necessarily the star of the show outside - but they transform into something wonderfully grounding when you bring them indoors. Think of old cracked containers or items with patina. I love to pair an older, smaller container with one of the robin's nests that survived over the summer. They all come indoors and add a touch of something natural and rustic, which is quite lovely when layered in with the more refined decor of a home.
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
We're going to travel back in time, about 144 years ago, and read William Taylor's thoughts on Autumn Work that he shared in The Nottinghamshire Guardian on this day in 1875.
WHAT a relief to the flower gardener to bid farewell to the summer of 1875!The work has been quite double that of ordinary seasons; weeds and grass have grown as they never grew before, while the more tender plants in beds have scarcely grown at all.Now and then, we had a gleam of sunshine to cheer and encourage us to make another effort, and again and again, as soon as we began to get a little tidy came a thunderstorm or a hurricane, thwarting all our attempts at neatness.Gardeners, however, never give up for [such] trifles, and it is not till October is here that we acknowledge ourselves beaten.The trees are now putting on their autumnal tints; Elms and Tulip Trees are being arrayed in the brightest of gold, [...]Leaves of every hue are playing about in the gentle breeze as they fall to rustle beneath our feet. What a mistake to run after every leaf with a barrow and a besom as it falls! What a waste of time and a want of taste!Gather them up certainly before they begin to decay on the walks and so discolor them. But, employers, please remember that October is a month in which trimness is impossible out-of-doors, and if it were not impossible, it would still be undesirable.And there is another reason for not insisting on too much trimness in October; it is a month in which the professional gardener has two seasons at once. In one respect, his new year begins somewhere about Michaelmas, the same time as the Russian Violet commences flowering. Forcing has to be prepared for in earnest, planting pushed forward with all possible speed—evergreens first, and fruit trees immediately afterwards.Pruning has also to be finished, with the modern gardener, before Christmas, and where there is much to do must be commenced with early. Currants are already fit for the secateurs; Gooseberries will shortly be, then Plums, Morellos, and Peaches. After the first leaves are ripe, the sooner such trees are pruned, the better.The secateurs, or French pruning-shears, is a very handy little instrument; its total length is about 9 inches, and its weight half a pound. It can be gripped with the whole hand, and consequently does not tire the operator like the ordinary shears; it cuts clean as a knife, and by its aid, the pruner can do his work much faster than with a knife. No one who has used it for one season will go without it till a better instrument is invented, which will probably be some time first.Digging, trenching, potting bedding plants, planting box-edging, laying turf, storing fruit and vegetables, sheltering tender plants, and a multiplicity of other things too numerous to write of, all want doing now, and it is altogether an exceedingly busy month.Gardeners generally have [less work] during August and September. They are enabled to look round themselves at home, and often to make a little tour and pick up useful hints from others of the fraternity; they then begin about October with renewed vigor to work for another year.This year, however, I know many have found it impossible to keep up with their work, and consequently, anything like relaxation has been out of the question. [...] The work is so exciting and so intensely satisfying that it is almost impossible for an enthusiast to think of his health while he is behind with his work, and consequently, many go on till nature can no longer stand it. I would ask employers, then, if they happen to possess an excellent and enthusiastic gardener whom they value, to be careful just now and not tax him too much, for there are some hundreds at this moment which if they had another straw placed on their backs would breakdown. But enough of this.Autumn is here. Bright and breezy autumn, I give you a hearty welcome; you shut out of sight forever our dismal wintry summer; you release me from floricultural millinery, and put an end for a time to my polychromatic disappointments. I go to enjoy my vacation with a spade and a pruning-hook, for the most perfect rest is a change of occupation.—William Taylor.
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