July 12, 2020 A Garden at Maturity, the Water Lily, Henry David Thoreau, David Douglas, Charles Darwin, Ynes Mexia, Fern Poem, The Gardener & the Grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, and Yerba Buena

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the man who inspired National Simplicity Day (It's dedicated every July 12th).

We'll also learn about the tragic death of a Scottish botanist and prolific plant collector.

We celebrate the friendship between Charles Darwin and his mentor.

And, we also celebrate a woman who started botanizing late in life, yet made a significant impact on the world of horticulture.

In Unearthed Words, we celebrate the fern. By this time in July, you are either loving them or digging them out of your garden.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a grilling guide for gardeners.

And then we'll wrap things up with a sweet little story about the botanical name for San Francisco.

But first, let's catch up on some Greetings from Gardeners around the world and today's curated news.



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Gardener Greetings

Wedding Tulle from Amazon


To participate in the Gardener Greetings segment, send your garden pics, stories, birthday wishes and so forth to Jennifer@theDailyGardener.org

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Curated News

I feel as if my garden has finally come of age | Nigel Slater | The Guardian

The title of this post definitely caught my eye:  I feel as if my garden has finally come of age

I thought Nigel did such an excellent job of capturing why he felt that way and what that meant in terms of the evolution of his garden.

I wanted to give you a few excerpts that I thought were particularly touching and relatable.

"Getting rid of the rectangle of mown grass that passed for a garden was almost the first thing I did when I moved into my new home on a bitterly cold New Year's Day, 20 years ago. 

I learned quite quickly that every disaster in the garden is an opportunity in disguise.

Then, he writes about how he uses the Chelsea Chop in his garden. This is just a technique where you cut back your perennials to delay bloom time, and you also make the plant a little less leggy.

Of late, the garden has settled into a gentle rhythm. Once a year, on a dry spring day shortly after the Chelsea Flower Show, everything gets a serious trim – the "Chelsea Chop" as it is known. Hedges are clipped, topiary is shaped, and overhanging branches of the fig and medlar tree are pruned. A tidy-up that might appeal to the sort of gardener who power-washes their flagstones and scrubs the moss from their pots, but, to me, it feels as if a much-loved and elegantly aging friend has gone in for a round of cosmetic surgery. Not unrecognizable, but slightly cold and distant and, to my mind, a little dishonest. For a couple of weeks a year, the garden doesn't quite feel like mine."

I love Nigel's description of how  Chelsea Chopping  his garden makes him feel. It can be tough for gardeners to Chelsea Chop their gardens. New gardeners, especially, will feel a pang of uncertainty as they cut back perfectly good plants for the first time. I know, it seems counter-intuitive. I thought it was hilarious that Nigel likens it to a round of cosmetic surgery. Now, I will forever think of the Chelsea Chop through Nigel's eyes. 

Finally, I wanted to share Nigel's perspective on his garden today. I found it particularly touching:

I would like to say that the garden I have now will probably be my last. Twenty years on from digging up the lawn, I have a space that is more inspirational and restful than I could have ever imagined. I feel the garden has come of age.

Yet the space still refuses to stand still. Even now, there are changes afoot. This year I reintroduced the vegetables and sweet peas that I missed so much. Tomatoes and calendulas now grow in huge terracotta pots on the kitchen steps, and there is an entire table of culinary herbs. There are tubs of marigolds and stands of bronze fennel. Next year there may be more. The garden will never be "finished." I have no idea what will happen next. All I know is that there won't ever be a lawn."


July is the month of the lotus in China.

This reminded me of a video I shared last year in the Facebook Group for the Show from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which shows Senior Horticulturist, Pat Clifford, teaching their intern Hazel, how to remove the older leaves of the Giant Water Lily, so the pond does not get overcrowded.

Using a pitchfork, Pat carefully folds the giant lily pad first in half, then quarters, and then once more.

Then he stabs the large folded pad with the pitchfork, hoists it in the air to let the water drain out, and then flops the beast down on the edge of the pond.

The camera zooms in to reveal the most savage thorns that grow on the underside of the lily pad and all down the stem of the plant. It was so surprising to see how vicious the thorns are - rivaling the thorniest rose.


Propagate Pelargoniums Through Cutting

If you've never taken cuttings of your pelargoniums before, you will be delighted with the results. Pelargoniums are also known as cranesbills or hardy geraniums.

All you need to do is snip off short lengths of your favorite pelargonium, remove any leaves from the lower part of the stem that will get pushed into your growing medium, dip the stem in some rooting powder, and then place it in the pot. Pelargoniums root so quickly - you'll have many new plants in just a few weeks.


Alright, that's it for today's gardening news.

Now, if you'd like to check out my curated news articles and blog posts 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

1817   Today is the birthday of the American essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.

An advocate for living a simple life, National Simplicity Day is observed every July 12th in Thoreau's honor.

Thoreau said:

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

"Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw."


1834   On this day, about a month before his 35th birthday, the Scottish plant explorer David Douglas and his little Scottish terrier named Billy arrived at the northern tip of Hawaii. 

After landing, David met up with a man named Ned Gurney.

And I know it's hard to imagine, but Gurney actually made his living by trapping feral cattle in large pits. As a young man, Gurney had been convicted of stealing and had been shipped to Australia. But, somehow, he had made his way to Hawaii. It was on this day in 1834 that Gurney's path crossed with Douglas.

That morning, Gurney told authorities that he had breakfast with Douglas, gave him directions, and sent him on his way.

Tragically, by noon, Douglas's body, along with an angry bull, was found in one of the pits. And sadly, Douglas's dog Billy, who traveled with him on almost all of his expeditions, was sitting there, above the pit, all alone by his master's pack.

Today we realize that how Douglas ended up in the pit remains a mystery. We will never know for sure what happened. But, we do know that Douglas was responsible for the identification of over 200 new plant species in North America, including the famous Douglas-fir. Despite his lack of formal training, Douglas sent more plants back to Europe than any other botanist of his time.

There is a memorial to Douglas in Honolulu which says:

"Here lies Master David Douglas - an indefatigable traveler. He was sent out by the Royal Horticultural Society of London and gave his life for science."

And on the second bronze tablet there is a quote by Virgil:

"Even here the tear of pity springs,
And hearts are touched by human things."


1835  On this day, Charles Darwin wrote a letter to his friend John Stevens Henslow.

He wrote:

"In a few days time the Beagle will sail for the Galapagos Islands. I look forward with joy and interest to this, both as being somewhat nearer to England and for the sake of having a good look at an active volcano."

Throughout his life, Darwin exchanged many letters with Henslow, who was a professor of Botany and Mineralogy at Cambridge University. His correspondence was a powerful influence on Darwin, shaping his thinking about the natural world.

When they were young men, Henslow and Darwin had walked the Cambridgeshire countryside together. Their walks inspired Darwin to study the natural world and to travel.

And, it was thanks to Henslow that Darwin received the invitation to join captain Robert FitzRoy on the HMS Beagle. Henslow had recommended Darwin for the journey because of his likable personality.

Once Darwin was officially part of team Beagle, Henslow gave him a gift, a copy of Humboldt's Narrative, an account of Humboldt's travels in South America. In it, Henslow had inscribed these words:

"J. S. Henslow to his friend C. Darwin on his departure from England upon a voyage around the world. September 21st, 1831."

Well, needless to say, Darwin treasured this gift above all others. At his death, the book was safely brought to Cambridge University Library  - where it remains to this day.


1938   Today is the anniversary of the death of the botanist Ynes Mexia ("EE-nez Muh-HAY-ah").

In terms of her botanical career, Ynes was a late bloomer.

The first half of her life was turbulent, but at the age of 50, Ynes joined the Sierra Club. Nature had always been a balm to her.

Eager to get some formal training, Ynes decided to enroll at Berkeley to take botany classes. She would take classes there on and off over the next 16 years. Ynes's goal was not to graduate but simply to learn more about plants.

When she wasn't in school, Ynes fell in love with fieldwork. She said,

"I found a task where I could be useful and really produce something of lasting worth; while living out among the flowers."

Ynes was especially drawn to unique plants, and she absolutely adored sunflowers. In fact, on one of her botanizing trips, she discovered an entirely new genus of Compositae. And, Ynes's ability to speak Spanish came in handy as she botanized in the southwestern part of the United States, Mexico, and South America.

Ynes's collecting efforts proved extraordinary. Many scholars argue that she was the most accomplished plant collector of her time. Ynes's first botanizing trip alone netted 500 specimens - the same number that Darwin brought back on the Beagle. Over Ynes's career, she collected 150,000 specimens and discovered over 500 brand-new plant species.

Now, her botanist peers were well aware of her staggering amount of work, but not many liked her. Still, she did work closely with botanists Alice Eastwood, John Thomas Howell, and Agnes Chase.

In 1938, Ynes had returned to Mexico in search of new specimens. But the pain in her stomach got the best of her; she was forced to return to the United States, and she died at Berkeley from lung cancer.

Ynes' estate was donated in part to the Redwood Preserve in California. And there's a forty-acre grove there that has one of the tallest trees on the planet. Today, if you visit, that grove is named in Ynes's honor.

Today, some 80 years after her death, scientists are still processing the plants she collected. And there's an excellent PBS short about Ynes Mexia ("EE-nez Muh-HAY-ah") that was narrated by narrator Julianna Margulies.


Unearthed Words

Here is the fern's frond, unfurling a gesture,
Like a conductor whose music will now be pause
And the one note of silence
To which the whole earth dances gravely –
A dancer, leftover, among crumbs and remains
Of God's drunken supper,
Dancing to start things up again.
And they do start-up – to the one note of silence.
The mouse's ear unfurls its trust.
The spider takes up her bequest.
And the retina
Reins the Creation with a bridle of water.
How many went under? Everything up to this point went under.
Now they start up again
Dancing gravely, like the plume
Of a warrior returning, under the low hills,
Into his own kingdom.
— Ted Hughes, English writer and Poet Laureate, Fern


Grow That Garden Library

The Gardener & the Grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig

This book came out in 2012, and the subtitle is The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill.

Dr. Mark Knoblauch said,

"Americans have become so accustomed to firing up their backyard grills for all sorts of meats, from large joints to everyday burgers, that they forget that vegetables, flourishing in the nearby garden, profit equally from the punch of flavor that barbecuing bestows. Grilling potato slices before tossing them with strongly herbed French vinaigrette adds a level of flavor often lacking in mayonnaise-dressed potato salads. Grilling green tomato slices before sandwiching them with cream cheese delivers a somewhat less heavy alternative to frying. For all their imaginative ways of grilling greens, Adler and Fertig by no means ignore fish and meat. Fish tacos brim with leafy greens and blackened fish pieces, and there's even a comforting burger. The authors advocate grilled slices of bread, and they present examples from Afghan, Indian, and Italian traditions. Searing fruits such as peaches, apples, and figs underlies a number of sweet desserts."

This book is 224 pages of recipes and tips - all shared with today's gardener in mind.

You can get a copy of The Gardener & the Grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $1.


Today's Botanic Spark

1969   During this week in 1969, newspapers across the country were sharing this little snippet about San Francisco.

"San Francisco was originally known as Yerba Buena. Spanish for "good herb," a small mint-like plant early explorers found."

Over the years, people have left their hearts in San Francisco.

As the author Rudyard Kipling said,

"San Francisco has only one drawback –' tis hard to leave."

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