January 21, 2020 The Winter Greenhouse, Ten Unusual Veggies to Grow, John Frémont, Robert Thornton, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, National Squirrel Appreciation Day, Snow Riddle, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Plastic Saucers, and Erwin Frink Smith

Show Notes

Today we celebrate a man known as “The Pathfinder” and the birthday of a man who impoverished himself writing a book in tribute to Carl Linnaeus.

We'll learn about the woman who was as passionate about botany as she was assisting with the war effort and today’s National Day that celebrates a garden creature. (Hint: it has a bushy tail)

Today’s Unearthed Words feature a riddle from an English-American writer and poet.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that helps us understand the language of flowers.

I'll talk about a garden item that comes in handy if you grow houseplants,

and then we’ll wrap things up with the birthday of a botanist who had an incredible love story and wrote beautiful poetry.

But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.



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Curated Articles

A Winter Greenhouse: A Productive Way To Harvest Vegetables All Winter | @savvygardening

Have you ever dreamt of harvesting fresh vegetables year-round?!

Get inspired by @savvygardening - a winter greenhouse is a project worth thinking about...

AND, they share this great tip: Keep a heat-generating compost pile INSIDE the greenhouse. 


10 Unusual Vegetables For Adventurous Gardeners | Mother Earth News | @MotherEarthNews

The list includes Cardoon, Shiso Perilla ("SHE-so per-ILL-ah"), Oca tubers, Celeriac ("sell-AIR-ee-ack"), Malabar Spinach, Kohlrabi, Seakale, Amaranth, Winter Radish, and Salsify & Scorzonera ("score-zah-NEAR-ah").


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.

There’s no need to take notes or search for links - the next time you're on Facebook, search for Daily Gardener Community and request to join. I'd love to meet you in the group.


Important Events

1813   Today is the birthday of the American explorer, soldier, and the first Presidential candidate of the Republican Party, John Charles Frémont.

Frémont is remembered as “The Pathfinder” after helping many Americans who were heading West by creating documents and maps of his expeditions West. John and his wife, Jesse, created an entire map of the Oregon Trail.  

When Frémont saw Nebraska, he didn’t see merely an endless prairie; he saw beauty. To Fremont, the entire state was one big garden, accentuated with fertile soil, swaying grasses, and wildflowers as far as the eye could see.

Fremont was one of the first explorers to write about cottonwood trees. He discovered them near Pyramid Lake in Nevada on Jan 6, 1844. Years later, botanists would name the cottonwood in his honor, calling it the "Populus fremontii."

Cottonwoods are the fastest growing trees in North America. After all of the beautiful elm trees at my childhood home succumbed to Dutch elm disease,  my parents selected cottonwoods because they knew they would grow quickly -  Up to six feet or more each year. They couldn't stand how naked the house looked without the beautiful large elm trees.  

In truth, there's no comparison between a cottonwood tree and an elm tree, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful trees by landscape painters. In addition, because the Cottonwood tree grows so quickly, it often has weak wood that can easily be injured or damaged.

Cottonwood trees are in the Poplar species. Only the female trees produce the fluffy cotton seeds that float through the air and collect in your garden and garage in June.


1837   Today is the anniversary of the death of the English physician and botanical writer Robert John Thornton.

Robert adored Carl Linnaeus. He was a huge fan. When Robert wrote his book called “The Temple of Flora,” he dedicated it to Linnaeus. Robert wanted his book to be the very best illustrated botanical book ever made, and his goal was that it would be a memorialization of Linnaeus’ work.

Robert’s idea was to have 70 large plates of exotic plants that would be organized according to Linnaeus’s classification system. Another unique aspect of Robert’s illustration concept was that the plants would appear in their native environment. Unfortunately, after working with the very best illustrators of his time, Robert had to stop production on the Temple book after only twenty-eight plant illustrations. He ran out of money, and the project stalled. Yet, even in its unfinished state, it remains one of the most excellent compilations of botanical illustrations that has ever been created. Although Robert was overly ambitious with his goals for the “Temple of Flora,” the work is still considered to be arguably one of the loveliest botanically Illustrated books in the world.

The most famous engraving in the book is of a night-blooming cereus cactus plant. The bloom takes up almost the entire width of the image, and in the background (in the dark), you can see the ruins of a castle. The night-blooming cereus is known as "The Queen of the Night."

The flowers of the night-blooming cereus don't last long, but they are stunning. The night-blooming cereus is native to Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. Most people would be surprised to know a cereus cactus can get to be ten feet tall. Outside the Southwest, the cereus is generally grown as a houseplant.

If you're waiting for your cereus plant to bloom, just know that it won't start flowering until it's at least five years old. Initially, you may only get one or two blooms for a few years. That said, once you do get a flower, you will be in love because the bloom is seven inches across, and the scent is heavenly.


1879   Today is the birthday of Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan - a prominent English botanist and mycologist. She died in 1967.

Gwynne-Vaughn also helped form the University of London's Suffrage Society - where she was the first female professor. During #WWI, she also helped establish the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Due to her extraordinary wartime leadership, Gwynne-Vaughan was one of the first women to receive a Military Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award.

Early on in her botanical career, Gwynn-Vaughan researched rust fungi. Rust is a plant parasite that invades a plant and uses it as a host for its survival. Rust actually invades the plant's cells, and it steals nutrients from the plant. The plant treats the rust like an infection. Sometimes the plants are able to fight off the rust. Other times, the rust wins, and the plants succumb to the Rust. Rust destroys 15 million tons of wheat each year.

The University of London recently released a lovely article about Gywnne-Vaughan called "Fungi and the Forces," which revealed that Gwynne-Vaughan was as accomplished in the armed forces as she was in the theater of fungi. In fact, a handful of fungi are named for her - like Palaeoendogone gwynne-vaughaniae and Pleurage gwynne-vaughaniae.


2001 Today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day, which was founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator in Asheville, North Carolina. Christy created the special day to acknowledge that food sources for squirrels are scarce in mid-winter.

Gardeners are generally of two minds when it comes to squirrels. They either don't mind them, or they really dislike them.

Squirrels can be a challenging pest in the garden because of their tremendous athleticism. Squirrels have a 5-foot vertical.  Nowadays, their ability to leap is well-documented on YouTube. And, squirrels are excellent sprinters and swimmers. Squirrels are master zig-zaggers when they run - a skill that comes in handy when they need to evade predators.

A squirrel nest is called a drey. Squirrels make their nests with leaves, and the mother lines the inside of the drey with grass. 

Squirrels perform an essential job for trees. They help the forest renew itself by caching seeds and burying them. The caching of seeds by squirrels is vital for many tree species. As squirrels bury acorns and other seeds, they either sometimes forget or simply don't return to some of their buried food. Although squirrels have tremendous ability to source buried food, they can smell an acorn buried in the ground beneath a foot of snow.


Unearthed Words

Today’s poem is a winter riddle from James Parton. The answer is snow:

"From Heaven I fall, though from earth I begin.
No lady alive can show such a skin.
I'm bright as an angel, and light as a feather,      
But heavy and dark, when you squeeze me together.
Though candor and truth in my aspect I bear,      
Yet many poor creatures I help to insnare.
Though so much of Heaven appears in my make,      
The foulest impressions I easily take.
My parent and I produce one another,      
The mother the daughter, the daughter the mother."

- James Parton, English-born American biographer, A Riddle - On Snow


Grow That Garden Library

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Today’s book is a fiction book. Vanessa weaves the Victorian language of love into a love story: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love.

For the main character, Victoria Jones, flowers are more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. An unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger forces her to confront a painful secret from her past.

Brigitte Weeks of The Washington Post gave my favorite review of this book:

“ I would like to hand Vanessa Diffenbaugh a bouquet of bouvardia (enthusiasm), gladiolus (you pierce my heart) and lisianthus (appreciation). . . . And there is one more sprig I should add to her bouquet: a single pink carnation (I will never forget you).”

This is a lovely fiction book for gardeners who are looking for something light and fun to read over the winter. This book came out in 2012.

You can get a used copy of The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for under $1.


Great Gifts for Gardeners

Universal Products 10 Pack of 6 Inch Clear Plastic Plant Saucers for Indoor and Outdoor Plants $9.49

  • Make sure this fits by entering your model number.
  • MADE IN THE USA - 10 pack of 6" clear, round, plastic plant saucers. Each plant saucer measures 6" at the top and 4-7/8" at the bottom.
  • SUPERIOR PROTECTION - Never worry about excess water or spilled soil staining or damaging your household surfaces again! These drip trays will catch excess debris and moisture with their waterproof design.
  • OPTIMAL PLANT DRAINAGE - Ensure your favorite houseplants, pots, planters, and flowers have an ideal drain tray while not having to worry about over or under watering them.
  • EXCELLENT FOR DIY - These saucers are great for gardening projects and home décor. You can decorate around the base of your favorite potted plants and flowers while protecting your surfaces against moisture.
  • SATISFACTION GUARANTEE - Take advantage of these benefits for multiple home garden locations around your house with this 10-pack of saucers! They are backed by a 90-day manufacturer warranty.


Today’s Botanic Spark

1854   Today is the birthday of the Washington DC-based USDA botanist Erwin Frink Smith.

Smith had attempted to solve the problem of the peach yellows. Peach Yellows is a disease caused by a microorganism called a phytoplasma that was affecting Peach Orchards. It became known as the Peach Yellows disease because the main symptom begins with new leaves that have a yellowish tint.  Had Smith solved the problem of the Peach Yellows, he would have become world-famous - but he didn't. Years later, it was actually the botanist Louis Otto Kunkel who discovered that a type of leafhopper was carrying the disease.

Now Smith may not have solved the Peach Yellows problem, but he was a peach of a guy. In researching Smith, I discovered a rare combination of kindness and intellect. He developed a reputation for hiring and promoting female botanists as his assistants at the Bureau of plant industry in Washington DC. Smith gave these women tasks based on their strengths instead of their job descriptions, and in many cases, they were able to work on projects beyond the scope of their job description.

Smith’s friend, Dr. Rodney True,  revealed Smith’s unique combination of strength in a tribute after he died. He wrote:

“Erwin developed a knowledge of French, German, and Italian literature that opened to him worlds of intense pleasure… He read his Bible in a copy of the Vulgate, and Dante was a favorite … in Dante's own great language. Goethe was often quoted in the original. Seldom have I known a man who brought such joy and understanding to the works of great writers. His library was a sort of map of his mind. In it were all manner of noble things. He was quick, enthusiastic, and strangely appealed to by beauty in all its forms.”

The happiest day in Smith’s life was no doubt when he married the pretty Charlotte Mae Buffet on April 13, 1893. They shared an epic love for each other and for reading and poetry. Tragically, after twelve years of marriage, Charlotte was diagnosed with endocarditis. She died eight months later on December 28, 1906.

Smith dealt with his grief by putting together a book of poetry, stories, and a biography of Charlotte. The book is called “For Her Friends and Mine: A Book of Aspirations, Dreams, and Memories.” Smith wrote,

"This book is a cycle of my life— seven lonely years are in it. The long ode (on page 62) is a cry of pain." There are many touching passages – too many to share here now.”

There's one passage from Smith describing Charlotte’s fantastic ability to attune to the natural world, and I thought you'd find it as touch as I did when I first read it:

“Charlotte’s visual powers were remarkable. They far exceeded my own.

Out of doors, her keen eyes were always prying into the habits of all sorts of living things: ants, spiders, bees, wasps, fish, birds, cats, dogs.

Had she cared for classification, which she did not, and been willing to make careful records, she might have become an expert naturalist. Form in nature seemed to interest her little or at least comparative studies of form.

What did interest her tremendously was the grade of intelligence manifested in the lower forms of life. She would spend hours watching the habits of birds and insects, and never without discovering new and interesting things.

Whether she looked into the tops of the tallest trees, or the bottom of a stream, or the grass at her feet, she was always finding marvels of adaptation to wonder at and links binding the world of life into a golden whole.

She made lists of all the birds that visited her neighborhood. She knew most of them by their songs, and some times distinguished individuals of the same species by little differences in their notes, as once a song-sparrow at Woods Hole, which had two added notes.

She knew when they nested and where, how they made their nests, and what food they brought to their young.

In studying birds, she used an opera-glass, not a shotgun.

She was, however, a very good shot with the revolver.”

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