Today we celebrate a man who was an avid gardener and a friend of John Bartram's, and we learn about the founder of bacteriology and modern microbiology.
We'll learn about The impact of Wardian Cases on plant exploration and the American playwright who designed her own garden on her estate.
Today’s Unearthed Words feature winter poems from the author of Anne of Green Gables.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a memoir from a modern scientist whose unique commentary on the natural world challenges our thinking, our responsibilities, and our actions.
I'll talk about new tech to help you listen to podcasts - no matter where you are, and then we’ll wrap things up with a moving editorial about Skunkweed.
But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.
You guys - this is still quite the house. Aside from the seamlessness with nature - check out the hidden bar, the light fixtures, the bathroom - basically all of it!
This original three-story residence designed in 2017 by Fieldwork is situated in Melbourne, Australia.
What should you feed birds in winter?
Now is the time of year when gardeners can expect to see lots of visiting birds in their gardens.
Great post from @tegmagazine Kate Bradbury: "Birds need fat, and plenty of it: peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds are ideal, while grated cheese, chopped apples, and cake-crumbs help ground-feeding species such as the song thrush and wren."
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.
1735 Today Peter Collinson wrote to John Bartram after receiving Skunk Weed (Symplocarpus foetidus).
My good friend, John Bartram:
I am very sensible of the great pains and many toilsome steps [you took] to collect so many rare plants scattered at a distance. I shall not soon forget it;
...in some measure to show my gratitude… I have sent thee a small token: a calico gown for thy wife and some odd little things that may be of use amongst the children and family. They come in a box of books… with …. waste paper which will serve to wrap up seeds, etc
[You cannot believe] how well the little case of plants survived the [journey], being put under the captain's bed, and not [exposed to any] light [until I received them].
The warmth of the ship [caused] the Skunk-weed to put forth two fine blossoms - very beautiful - it is of the Arum genus.
As I hope to make a present of part of the seeds, to a very curious person, Lord Petre, I hope to procure thee some present for thy trouble of collecting.
I am thy very sincere friend, P. Collinson.
Skunk Weed was one of Bartram’s favorite flowers. It is also known as Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), and it’s a low growing wetland or marsh plant from eastern North America. The bruised leaves of Skunk Weed release a fragrance reminiscent of Skunk. The botanist William Niering wrote about the odor of Skunk Cabbage in the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Wildflowers:
"It's strong, and fetid odor resembles decaying flesh."
Skunk Cabbages are thermogenic, meaning they have the ability to generate temperatures up to 15–35 °C (27–63 °F) above the surrounding air temp so that it thaws the frozen ground and snow as it grows in the early spring.
Thanks to its ability to thermoregulate, Skunk Cabbage emerges out of the earth and looks like a little teepee of leaves. Inside that teepee, the Skunk Cabbage is warm and working on sending up a bloom. Once it does - on a 42-degree day - you can reach under the hood of a Skunk Cabbage flower, and the spadix will feel warm to the touch.
As Collinson mentioned in his letter, the Skunk Cabbage is a member of the Arum family, which makes it a cousin to Jack-in-the-pulpit.
In the Pacific Northwest, Skunk Cabbage leaves are still called "Indian wax paper," because the leaves were used to line baskets. And, the leaves were used in steaming pits and in food preservation.
In the great Japanese bogs of Hokkaido, 10,000 visitors a day stop to see the emerging Skunk Cabbage in bloom. The visit is a traditional celebration of spring.
1828 Today is the birthday of the Prussian biologist, botanist, and writer Ferdinand Cohn. Regarded as one of the founders of bacteriology and modern microbiology, Ferdinand recognized bacteria as plants.
Thanks to Ferdinand, we understand the life cycles of bacteria as well as their metabolic limitations. And, we learned that microbes could be classified by their shape (round, short rods, threads, and spirals).
1842 Today the botanist John Smith wrote a letter to Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward.
Royal Botanic Garden, Kew,
January 24, 1842.
In reply to your inquiry [regarding] the ... results obtained by [using] close-glazed cases for the transfer of living plants from one country to another, I beg to say that the several cases which have arrived… have shown that although all [some of the] plants [did not make it], still, the deaths are … few in proportion to the number that we have witnessed in cases having open lattice or wire-work lids, covered with tarpaulin (“tar-PALL-in”) or some such covering.
It is much to be regretted that close-glazed cases were not in use during the years ... botanical collectors were employed in New Holland and the Cape of Good Hope.
For this garden: a very great number of the plants which they sent home were … dead on their arrival, [as a result of] the imperfect protection during the voyage to this country; therefore, from my experience, I have no hesitation in considering your [cases] the best for the purpose desired.
I am, Sir,
For plant explorers, Wardian cases made all the difference.
1862 Today is the birthday of the American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and designer Edith Wharton.
In 1904, Edith wrote Italian Villas and Their Gardens. Edith thought gardens should be a series of outdoor rooms and she wrote,
“…In the blending of different elements, the subtle transition from the fixed and formal lines of art to the shifting and irregular lines of nature, and lastly, in the essential convenience and livableness of the garden, lies the fundamental secret of the old garden-magic…”
Edith’s summer cottage estate in Western Massachusetts was called The Mount. From The Mount, Edith could look down over her property and see her flower gardens. She designed the gardens herself. There’s a sizeable French flower garden, a sunken Italien Garden, a Lime Walk with Linden trees, and even grass steps.
Edith’s niece was the garden designer Beatrix Jones Farrand.
Here are children's poems from the beloved author of the Anne of Green Gables series:
Frosty-white and cold it lies
Underneath the fretful skies;
Snowflakes flutter where the red
Banners of the poppies spread,
And the drifts are wide and deep
Where the lilies fell asleep.
But the sunsets o'er it throw
Flame-like splendor, lucent glow,
And the moonshine makes it gleam
Like a wonderland of dream,
And the sharp winds all the day
Pipe and whistle shrilly gay.
Safe beneath the snowdrifts lie
Rainbow buds of by-and-by;
In the long, sweet days of spring
Music of bluebells shall ring,
And its faintly golden cup
Many a primrose will hold up.
Though the winds are keen and chill
Roses' hearts are beating still,
And the garden tranquility
Dreams of happy hours to be –
In the summer days of blue
All its dreamings will come true.
— Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Garden in Winter
Above the marge of night a star still shines,
And on the frosty hills the somber pines
Harbor an eerie wind that crooneth low
Over the glimmering wastes of virgin snow.
Through the pale arch of orient the morn
Comes in a milk-white splendor newly-born,
A sword of crimson cuts in twain the gray
Banners of shadow hosts, and lo, the day!
— Lucy Maud Montgomery, A Winter Dawn
Grow That Garden Library
Lab Girl is the story of Hope Jaren, who is an award-winning scientist. Hope has been studying paleobiology since 1996. In this book, Hope writes about trees and plants and soil in scientific yet passionate prose. (Hope's mom has a degree in English literature, and her influence made Hope a voracious reader.) Hope writes:
“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
Hope’s book is part-memoir and part-commentary on the natural world. Personally, Hope has worked tirelessly to find funding for her research. Professionally, Hope has worked up close and personal with plants - both the living and the fossilized - learning their secrets and remaining curious about their mysteries.
What I loved about Hope's book are the little asides that she makes while she's trying to make a point. She may reference popular culture icons, or a TV show, or a video game; while at the same time, explain how plants dominate our world.
And I love what Hope wrote after losing a beloved childhood tree. She said
“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”
This book came out in 2017. You can get a used copy of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for under $3.
Great Gifts for Gardeners
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Today’s Botanic Spark
1954 Today is the anniversary of the death of the American newspaper editor, essayist, short story writer, and poet, Ben Hur Lampman.
Today we began the show by talking about one of Bartram’s favorite plants - Skunkweed. In researching Skunkweed, I stumbled on an article from March 2, 1942, and it was a column that Lampman wrote in defense of the Skunkweed or Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)(Symplocarpus foetidus) that appeared in the Medford, Oregon newspaper. It’s magnificent, and I thought you would enjoy it:
“What a flower [the Skunk Cabbage] is, to be sure. When it lifts to burn coolly in the swampy wayside, there are few wayfarers who do not exclaim to see It. It is singularly compelling in its carved golden stillness. There seems to be something votive about it, as perhaps there is.
It is as though the artificer had shaped a great mellow candle flame out of wetness and marsh loam. The reason one is sure that people care about it, when first these are lifted, is simply because they must. There is no other choice; for the elder law is that people must always care about beauty. A Skunk Cabbage [is a] kind of calla lily, and though its odor is faintly mephitic, you don't have to sniff it.
One of the advantages of having Skunk Cabbages about is that the candles are kindled between pussy willows and trilliums. The Skunk Cabbage is of the first to feel that faintest footfall of the returning spring, and the pasture is lighted by it in the swales where the cattle stand to stare southward.
It may be supposed that the farmer who tends the cattle thinks he has little use for a Skunk Cabbage if he meditates in the least on its utility - but if ever the year should come when the golden cool candles were not kindled, the farmer would be first to remark this and worry about it. For a farmer can't plow, and a farmer can't plant until the Skunk Cabbage is up everywhere.
When the redwings see it afar, they hasten; they come down with a weave and a rush, talking silver for they know by this sign that it has permitted the redwing, to remain, and pay court one to another, and choose their nesting places in the sedges.
The farmer looks from the knoll where his barn stands, he looks over the lowlands, and there are the golden cousins of the calla lily. It's getting along toward the spring of the year. The red cow will be coming in soon.
One mentions these somewhat instinctive reactions to Skunk Cabbages only to show that people do think about them, even when it is not confessed, and that Skunk Cabbages have contact, and useful contact, with the commonplace contentment of our lives.
You take now a hillside and let it slope down to the road, and make itself a sort of bowl set in green grass, and lean a few alders toward it, gray and gentle you take that place, with a plenty of Skunk Cabbages planted there by the dark woman's hand and you get a real garden.
There isn't anything to equal it; not that comes directly to mind. Those cool, golden candle flames, that seem so still, so still. Listen. A fellow can hear the water somewhere hurrying down to the creek. That place, with all those candle flames lighted and lifted, is a good deal like a prayer.“
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