July 30, 2020 A Call to Decolonise Botanical Collections, Castor Bean, Emily Brontë, Ellis Rowan, the Arkansas State Flower, Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Natural Living Style by Selina Lake and Disney’s Flowers and Trees

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the author and poet who wrote some beautiful garden verses.

We'll also learn about a magnificent Australian artist and botanical illustrator, and her art is now part of Australia's national library.

We celebrate the selection of the State Flower for Arkansas - and the very cute story of how it came to be picked.

We honor the life of the poet and WWI soldier who wrote what is probably the most popular poem ever about trees.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about living naturally with eco-friendly ideas that don't sacrifice style, function, or sustainability.

And then we'll wrap things up with the story of first academy award-winning animated cartoon that gardeners will love.

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

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Curated News

Director of science at Kew: it's time to decolonize botanical collections

Professor Alexandre Antonelli is the Kew Gardens director responsible for the world's largest collection of plants and fungi. He was born and raised in Brazil and wrote this landmark piece for The Conversation research website. Alexandre believes that the time has come to decolonize botanical collections by ridding the field of "structural racism."

Here's an excerpt:

“I’ve often struggled to answer the simple question, “Where are you from?” As I was born and raised in Brazil, like many people my origin is mixed… I dislike pre-defined labels.

At school, I was taught that Brazil was “discovered” in 1500 by the Portuguese. The fact that several million people lived there prior to that was barely mentioned in our books. We were told of a long history of brutal exploitation of our natural resources, including vast amounts of gold, rubber and timber. All this was achieved through the exploitation of our native people and African slaves – including my own ancestors.

…[That] Brazil is … the world’s most biodiverse country... astounded colonial botanists. Charles Darwin was astonished at our “lands teeming with life”, as was Alfred Russel Wallace, who spent years in the Amazon. It is not lost on me that these were both white British men.

And Britain is also where I ended up professionally. After two decades studying biodiversity across the world, I’m now head of science at Kew, responsible for the world’s largest collections of plants and fungi.

For hundreds of years... colonial botanists would embark on dangerous expeditions in the name of science but were ultimately tasked with finding economically profitable plants. Much of Kew’s work in the 19th century focused on the movement of such plants around the British Empire, which means we too have a legacy that is deeply rooted in colonialism.

...Scientists continue to report how new species are “discovered” every year, species that are often already known and used by people in the region – and have been for thousands of years.

...The first inhabitants of Brazil and the first users of plants in Australia often remained unnamed, unrecognised, and uncompensated. They are quite literally invisible in history. This needs to change.

By opening up our collections and practices, we will give voice to a past that includes troubled chapters, but one that will hopefully contribute to a brighter future.”


Have you tried growing Castor Bean?

It's one of Michael Pollen's favorite plants.

Check out the way he starts his article on the plant called, "Consider the Castor Bean":

"Pretty they are not, but a garden can labor under a surfeit "surfut" of prettiness, be too sweet or cheerful for its own good. Sometimes what’s needed in the garden is a hint of vegetal menace, of nature run tropically, luxuriantly amuck. For this, I recommend the castor bean."

While most of us have heard of castor oil (extracted by crushing and processing the seeds), growing the castor bean plant can be a new adventure for gardeners.

The castor bean plant is the only member of the genus Ricinus communis and belongs to the spurge family. Unlike other members of the euphorbia family, castor bean does not have that milky latex sap, the sap of castor bean is watery.

The giant, tropical leaves and peculiar seed pods make the plant an exotic addition to your garden. A native plant from Ethiopia, castor bean can grow to 40 feet tall when it can grow year-round. For most gardeners who grow castor bean as an annual in a single season, castor bean will grow quickly and vigorously, but it will only reach about 8-10 feet.

If you grow castor bean, you need to be aware that the seeds are extremely poisonous. If you have kids around, keep plants out of reach, and eliminate the seeds altogether by cutting off the flowering spike. As you probably suspected from the Latin name, the toxin in castor seeds is ricin (RYE-sin), one of the world's deadliest natural poisons.

During the Cold War, the Bulgarian journalist, Georgi Markov, was killed when an umbrella rigged as a pellet rifle, shot a small BB into his leg as Markov stood in line at a bus stop. After he died in 1978, Scotland Yard investigated and found the BB; it was the size of a pinhead, and it had been drilled with two holes producing an X-shaped cavity, and the holes had been packed with ricin. The holes had been coated with a sugary substance that trapped the ricin inside the BB. The coating was designed to melt at body temperature, at which time the ricin was free to be absorbed into the bloodstream and kill him.

Despite their unnerving history, castor beans are still good garden plants. They look beautiful with cannas, bananas, and elephant ears for a tropical garden. They make a beautiful backdrop for grasses. And, they shine at the back of the flower border where they create a magnificent screen in no time.

Castor Beans do best in full sun, and they don't like wet feet - so plant them high and dry or in well-drained locations.


When you are done harvesting blackberries or boysenberries, it is time to do a little housekeeping.

Cut this year's fruit-bearing canes back to the ground and tie up the new green canes to take their place.

Once all the fruiting has finished, you can begin to trim back your blackberries and boysenberries. The canes that just produced the fruit will start to dry and become woody and brown. Now is the time to cut them right back to the ground.

While you're at it, cut back any diseased or damaged canes.

Next, look for anything too long or out of control. Try to make your plants have a beautiful, pleasant form.

Take the new canes and train them where you want them to go. Make sure to spread them out so that they get good airflow. Remember, taking the time to do this right now will make them easier to pick from next season.

Thornless varieties make the job of pruning blackberries and boysenberries much easier. Don't forget: The fruit grows on new wood.

And be sure to remove all dead or broken limbs - and suckers as well.


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

1818 It's the birthday of the author and poet Emily Brontë.

Emily's older sister, by two years, was Charlotte. Her younger sister and closest friend was Anne. They were two peas in a pod.

Emily's mom died when she was three. She lost two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth when she was six. The result of this loss was an exceptional closeness between the four surviving Brontë children: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell.

Emma Emmerson wrote a piece called the Brontë Garden. In it she revealed:

“The Brontës were not ardent gardeners, although… Emily and Anne treasured their currant bushes as ‘their own bit of fruit garden’."

Charlotte [once wrote:] "Emily wishes to know if the Sicilian Pea (Pisum sativum)and the Crimson cornflower are hardy flowers, or if they are delicate and should be sown in warm and sheltered situations."

Emily's father, Patrick, once wrote;

Oh why, in the snow and storms of December,
When the branches lie scattered and strewn,
Do we oftest and clearest and dearest remember
The sunshine and summer of June?


Emily Brontë wrote:

Reason, indeed, may oft complain
For Nature's sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart, how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown.

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.

Friendship is like the holly tree.
The holly is dark when the rose-brier blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.


1848  Today is the birthday of the Australian artist and botanical illustrator Ellis Rowan.

In a 1994 newspaper article, Sarah Guest described Ellis this way:

"She was an explorer. She set off alone at 68, for Papua New Guinea - and died in 1922.

She dyed her hair red; had a face-lift; left her husband (the suggestion is that she was bored); was a member of one of Victoria's great pastoralist families; was a much-admired, prolific, technically proficient and joyous painter of plants and birds; and a conservationist she campaigned to stop the slaughter of birds for the decoration of ladies' hats... in her day she was known as "Australia's brilliant daughter" which, indeed, she was."

Ellis discovered painting after her botanist husband, Frederick, encouraged her to develop a talent. Ellis developed her passion into her profession, and it led her into unknown parts of Australia. During the First World War, Ellis was living in New Guinea. At one point, she painted 45 of the 62 known species of birds of paradise.

As a woman living during the mid-1800s, Ellis followed the dress code of her era. Wherever she went, whether on an expedition or at home, she was always impeccably dressed, wearing heavy ankle-length dresses, high collars with full sleeves - complete with crinolines, corsets, whalebone stays, and a hat.

Just before Ellis died, the federal parliament in Australia debated whether or not to buy 1,000 of Ellis' paintings. The Australian artist and novelist, Norman Lindsay, called Ellis' work vulgar art. Lindsey didn't think wildflowers were worthy subjects for real art. Ultimately, Ellis' paintings were purchased for $5,000. They are now a treasured part of Australia's national library.


1901  On this day, the General assembly of Arkansas selected the apple blossom as the floral emblem.

This selection was not without controversy.

The Floral Emblem Society, led by Love Harriett Wilkins Barton, had supported the apple blossom.

The Arkansas Federation of women's clubs wanted the passionflower. The disagreement between the two groups became known as the battle of the blooms.

Love became a one-woman crusader for the apple blossom, writing articles and memos to newspapers - even personally mailing letters to affluent citizens. Whenever she sent anything, she included a promotional pamphlet that she had created praising the apple blossom. In an ingenious move, she not only promoted the apple blossom, but she also dissed the passionflower, saying it was "as pretty as a non-native of Arkansas," and saying that it would "grow anywhere the farmer's hoe let it." Ouch.

When the legislature was set to vote, Love appeared at the capital wearing ... wait for it.... a bright apple red dress.

And, she pulled a Martha Stewart and personally gifted every lawmaker with an apple and a note that said,

"These are the results of our beautiful apple blossoms. But, what is the result of a passionflower? A dried, shriveled pod."

Well played, Love.


Unearthed Words

Today is the anniversary of the death of the journalist, poet, and World War I soldier Alfred Joyce Kilmer, who was born in Brunswick, New Jersey. He was killed in action while serving as a sergeant in the 165th Infantry regiment on July 30, 1918

Every year on his birthday in April, Kilmer's childhood home at 17 Joyce Kilmer Ave. in New Brunswick, holds an Open House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Joyce is best remembered for his poem, Trees:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


Joyce also wrote these gems:


The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.
— Joyce Kilmer, Spring


If I should live in a forest
And sleep underneath a tree,
No grove of impudent saplings
Would make a home for me.
I'd go where the old oaks gather,
Serene and good and strong,
And they would not sigh and tremble
And vex me with a song.
— Joyce Kilmer, Old Poets


Grow That Garden Library

Natural Living Style by Selina Lake

This book came out in March of 2019, and the subtitle is Inspirational ideas for a beautiful and sustainable home.

In her review of this book Julie from Try Small Things said,

"They say change starts at home. What I've come away with from Natural Living Style are all kinds of ideas for reducing plastics and waste around the home in favor of natural or greener alternatives. As it turns out, they can be functional, sustainable, and that's inspired living."

Selina's book is divided into sections, Inspirations, Textures, Natural Living Spaces, and The Natural Garden, where Selina writes about green gardening, growing your own food, and exploring, enjoying, and living in the natural world. The book is sprinkled with lots of earthy-friendly tips and inspiration to help you create an eco-friendly home and garden.

This book is 160 pages of eco-living without sacrificing style.

You can get a copy of Natural Living Style by Selina Lake and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $16.


Today's Botanic Spark

1932  On this day, Walt Disney premiered his first academy award-winning animated cartoon.

The short was called "Flowers and Trees," and it was the first cartoon to use technicolor.

Flowers and Trees was supposed to be a black-and-white cartoon, but Walt Disney decided it would make the perfect test film for the new technicolor process. The vivid colors of the natural world were the ideal subject for a technicolor production. Meanwhile, the Mickey Mouse short features were judged to be successful enough; they remained in black-and-white until 1935.

Flowers and Trees premiered at the Chinese theater in Los Angeles on this day and won the Academy Award for animated short subject.

In the movie, the trees and flowers are anthropomorphized, and they wake up at the beginning of the day and begin lifting their heads and stretching.

In this short film, a beautiful lady tree is wooed by a suitor tree, while an evil old leafless tree attempts to steal her away.

The two trees duel for her affection. When the old tree loses the battle, he sets the forest on fire. Together, all the plants in the forest work together to put the fire out.

In the end, the two trees are together and happy; they get engaged in the final seconds of the movie. The gentleman tree presents the lady tree with a ring made from a curled up caterpillar. And, as the trees embrace, bellflowers begin to play the wedding march, while the other flowers dance around the hugging trees.

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