Today we celebrate the gardener who turned his farm into a picturesque wonder and the Swiss botanist who survived a fall from a mountaintop that foreshadowed a life of highs and lows.
We'll learn about the American botanist Darwin confided in two years before he shared his theory with the rest of the world and the pop star who found restoration and health through gardening.
We'll hear some beautiful verses on gardening and the season from several writers associated with today's date.
We Grow That Garden Library with one of my new favorite books on the writer and gardener who wrote,
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
I'll talk about how you can repurpose a boot tray to great effect, and then we'll wrap things up with the fruit that was selling for around $6 about this time of year in 1843, and the sellers couldn't keep up with demand.
But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.
Les Lockhart’s photo of the Newtown Nature Reserve on the Isle Of Wight won the @nationaltrust photo competition. @Countrylifemag shared the top 15 photos - proving that the beauty of nature is unbeatable.
The National Trust manages over 600,000 acres of gardens.
Here's a great post by Sienna Vittoria Lee-Coughlin on @verilymag called The Forgotten Feminine History of Botany. Throughout history, women collected specimens & seeds, mastered botanical illustration (vital to scientific study), and were patrons & promoters of botany.
Now, if you'd like to check out these curated articles for yourself, you're in luck - because I share all of it with the Listener Community in the Free Facebook Group - The Daily Gardener Community. So there’s no need to take notes or track down links - the next time you're on Facebook, just search for Daily Gardener Community and request to join. I'd love to meet you in the group.
#OTD Today is the birthday of the poet and Landscape gardener William Shenstone, who was born on this day in 1714.
In the early 1740s, Shenstone inherited his family's dairy farm, which he transformed into the Leasowes (pronounced 'lezzoes'). The transfer of ownership lit a fire under Shenstone, and he immediately started changing the land into a wild landscape - something he referred to as an ornamented farm.
Shenstone wisely bucked the trend of his time, which called for formal garden design (he didn't have the money to do that anyway.) Yet, what Shenstone accomplished was quite extraordinary. His picturesque natural landscape included water features like cascades and pools, as well as structures like temples and ruins.
What I love most about Shenstone is that he was a consummate host. He considered the comfort and perspective of the garden from the eye of his visitors when he created a walk around his estate. Wanting to control the experience, Shenstone added seating every so often along the path to cause folks to stop and admire the views that Shenstone found most appealing. Then, he incorporated signage with beautiful classical verses and poems - even adding some of his own - which elevated the Leasowes experience for guests.
After his death, his garden became a popular destination - attracting the likds of William Pitt, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
It was William Shenstone who said,
"Grandeur and beauty are so very opposite, that you often diminish the one as you increase the other. Variety is most akin to the latter, simplicity to the former."
#OTD Today is the birthday of a son of Switzerland, Charles Leo Lesquereux, (pronounced "le crew"), who was born on this day in 1806.
Leo was born with a naturalist's heart. A self-described dreamer, Leo loved to go out into the forest, and he collected all kinds of flowers and specimens for his mother.
Yet, when Leo was just seven years old, he fell off the top of a mountain. He was carried back to his home completely unconscious, with multiple injuries to his body as well as head trauma. He remained motionless and unconscious for two weeks. His survival was a miracle, yet the fall resulted in hearing loss that would eventually leave Leo utterly deaf by the time he was a young man. Despite the tragedy, nature still ruled his heart. As Leo matured, he tried to provide for his family as a watchmaker. But, he found himself returning again and again to the outdoors.
Eventually, Leo began to focus his efforts on peat bogs, and his early work protecting peat-bogs attracted the attention of Louis Agassiz of Harvard, who invited Leo to bring his family to America. When he arrived, Leo classified the plants that Agassiz had discovered on his expedition to Lake Superior.
Then, on Christmas Eve, 1848, Asa Gray summoned Leo to help William Starling Sullivant. Gray predicted the collaboration would be successful and he wrote to his friend and fellow botanist John Torrey:
"They will do up bryology at a great rate. Lesquereux says that the collection and library of Sullivant in muscology are magnifique, superbe, and the best he ever saw."
So, Leo packed up his family and traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and settling near the bryologist, William Starling Sullivant.
Bryology is the study of mosses. The root, bryōs, is a Greek verb meaning to swell and is the etymology of the word embryo. Bryology will be easier to remember if you think of the ability of moss to expand as it takes on water. Mosses suited Leo and Sullivant's strengths. They require patience and close observation, scrupulous accuracy, and discrimination. Together, Leo and Sullivant wrote the book on American mosses. Sullivant funded the endeavor, and he generously allowed Leo to share in the proceeds.
In 1873, Sullivant contracted pneumonia - ironically, an illness where your lungs fill or swell with fluid - and he died on April 30, 1873. Leo lived for another 16 years before dying at the age of 83.
It was Leo Lesquereux who said,
"My deafness cut me off from everything that lay outside of science. I have lived with Nature, the rocks, the trees, the flowers. They know me, I know them.”
#OTD Today is the birthday of one of the leading American botanists of his time and a member of Team Darwin, Asa Gray, who was born on this day in 1810.
In 1857, Asa Gray received a confidential letter from Charles Darwin.
In the letter, Darwin confided:
"I will enclose the briefest abstract of my notions on the means by which nature makes her species....[but] I ask you not to mention my doctrine."
Two years later, Darwin revealed his concept of natural selection in his book, "On the Origin of Species."
Early adopters of natural selection, like Asa Gray, helped to advance the march of all science.
It was Asa Gray who said,
“Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course.”
During his long tenure at Harvard, Gray established the science of botany and guided American botany into the international arena. He also co-authored 'Flora of North America' with John Torrey.
When the botanist Joseph Trimble Rothrock arrived at Harvard, he worked every day in the private herbarium of Asa Gray. And, of Dr. Gray, Rothrock said,
“[He] was kindness personified, though a strict disciplinarian and a most merciless critic of a student's work. I owe more to him than to any other man, and I never think of him without veneration."
#OTD Today is the birthday of the pop singer Kim Wilde who was born on this day in 1960.
After a successful music career, thanks to hits like “Kids in America” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Wilde bought a 16th-century barn and began gardening at the age of 30. Her move to the countryside, not only brought her new challenges thanks to the restoration of the barn and property, but the connection with the outdoors - especially working her garden - was a balm to her anxiety.
In an article in the independent, Wilde said,
"Spending time outdoors, learning about plants and nurturing them, really helped me find balance and gave me a greater sense of confidence and peace. I love the way that plants are always changing and growing, just like us. [Gardening] can help people get back on top of things and restore balance when it feels like life is veering out of control.”
In 2005, Wilde won a gold medal and an award for Best Courtyard Garden at the Chelsea.
Today is the anniversary of the death of the French writer Marcel Proust (pronounced “proost”) who died on this day in 1922 and is remembered with this quote:
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
Today is the birthday of the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939. She wrote:
"Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant. In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."
And, listen to what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal about Yarrow on this day in 1855:
"[The] yarrow is particularly fresh and perfect, cold and chaste, with its pretty little dry-looking rounded white petals and green leaves. Its very color gives it a right to bloom above the snow, —— as level as a snow-crust on the top of the stubble. It looks like a virgin wearing a white ruff."
The subtitle to the book is The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet.
I love what Tovah Martin says about this book:
“In these pages, you are beside Emily Dickinson’s elbow—feeling the dense heat of summer, learning the skills of an ultra-observant plantswoman, finding the poetry in nature.”
Emily Dickinson was a keen observer of the natural world. Still, less well known is the fact that she was also an avid gardener—sending fresh bouquets to friends, pressing flowers in her letters, and studying botany at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke. At her family home, she tended both a small glass conservatory and a flower garden.
The author, Marta McDowell, traces a year in her garden, and the book reveals details few know about Dickinson. Marta masterfully weaves together Dickinson’s poems, excerpts from letters, contemporary and historical photography, and botanical art. And McDowell gives an enchanting new perspective on one of America’s most celebrated but enigmatic literary figures: Emily Dickinson.
Marta McDowell lives, gardens, and writes in Chatham, New Jersey. She consults for public gardens and private clients, writes, and lectures on gardening topics. She teaches landscape history and horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, where she studied landscape design. Her particular interest is in authors and their gardens, the connection between the pen and the trowel.
Repurpose a boot tray and create a substantial pebble tray corral your houseplants and provide humidity.
When I saw it in the store, it has almost an oil rubbed bronze look. It's quite large - perfect for the top of a buffet or table - it's 15.3 inches by 31 inches.
The description says, "The raised edges on this tray keeps water and dirt contained to protect your tables or floors from stains."
Anyway, the minute I saw this tray, I fell in love with the size and the durability - no water is going to leak through this baby. Best of all, it is substantial enough for you to group your plants and create a lovely pebble tray for easy watering and to create a care-free water reservoir beneath your plants.
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
Back in 1843, cranberries were causing a sensation in towns and cities around the country.
The New England Farmer shared a charming update on the demand for the seasonal fruit, saying:
"Cranberries. This pleasant fruit is now received in large quantities from the West. The crops at the East are said to have been cut off in a great measure by frost; and the market is now supplied by the western railroad and the connecting links westward ; and no doubt Michigan cranberries will be eaten in the very headquarters of cranberries, Barnstable, Mass.
We had no idea, until today, of the quantity sold in this city. One house in Front street, sold within a few days, 250 barrels, received from Michigan, at $6 - $6.50 per barrel, and have had application for more than they can supply. Of the same lot, 300 barrels, went over the western railroad to Boston, and were there sold as soon as received."
Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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