Today we salute the English orphan girl who wrote her own destiny with science fiction writing.
We also remember the English gardener who is still ghosting us after many decades.
We revisit a letter from Elizabeth Lawrence to her sister Ann.
We'll celebrate National Potato Day with some Potato Poems.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a gorgeous book about Dahlias.
And then we'll wrap things up with the birthday of a beloved American creator of light verse.
But first, let's catch up on some Greetings from Gardeners around the world and today's curated news.
To participate in the Gardener Greetings segment, send your garden pics, stories, birthday wishes and so forth to Jennifer@theDailyGardener.org
And, to listen to the show while you're at home, just ask Alexa or Google to play The Daily Gardener Podcast. It's that easy.
Here's an excerpt:
“When Michael Drolet submitted his vibrant vision for a Paris apartment for the Virtual Design Challenge, “we were all immediately impressed and drawn to his colorful and technically accurate proposal,” said Cass Key, creative director at Woodbridge Furniture, one of the contest sponsors along with Taylor King and KingsHaven. “He set the stage beautifully and let the story unfold like a professional, and the true plot twist came when we realized that he was a student, looking to start his career in the fall.
He pushed the boundaries by using a Taylor King fabric as a wall covering and imagining the outdoor space, which is exactly the type of inventive creativity that should be rewarded today and always, said Key."
Wallcovering: Taylor King's 'Secret Garden Passion' floral textile
Today is National Potato Day.
Here are some fun Potato facts:
The average American eats approximately 126 pounds of spuds each year.
And, up until the 18th century, the French believed potatoes caused leprosy. To combat the belief, the agronomist Antoine Auguste Parmentier single-handedly changed the French perception of the Potato.
How did Antoine get the French people to believe that the Potato was safe to eat? Good question.
Antoine cleverly posted guards around his potato fields during the day and put the word out that he didn't want people stealing them. Then, he purposefully left them unguarded at night. As he suspected, people did what he thought they would do; steal the potatoes by the sackful by the light of the moon. Soon, they started eating them.
And Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms in her hair.
The Idaho Potato, or the Russet Burbank, was developed by none other than Luther Burbank in 1871.
Today is also World Photography Day!
So, head out to your garden and take some photos.
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.
1807 Today is the birthday of Jane Webb, who married the prolific writer of all things gardening: John Claudius Loudon. Together they became magnificent partners in the world of botanical writing and publishing.
Jane was an extraordinary person.
She was a fantastic writer in her own right, but she also possessed an inner determination; she was a survivor. When her father lost the family fortune and died penniless when Jane was only seventeen, it was the beginning of her career writing Science Fiction.
Along with Mary Shelley, Jane was an early pioneer in science fiction writing. It's hard to believe, but this endeavor would set her on her life's path to garden writing.
Jane's book The Mummy was published anonymously, in 1827, in three parts. In her writing, Jane incorporated predictable changes in technology and society. For instance, she predicted that women of the future would wear pants. And, Jane also featured something agricultural that she imagined would come to pass: a steam plow.
Jane's vision of easier and less laborious farming is what attracted the attention of John Claudius Loudon - her future husband. Loudon wrote a favorable review of her book, but he also wanted to meet the author. Loudon didn't realize Jane had written the book using a nom de plume of Henry Colburn. Much to Loudon's delight, Henry was Jane; they fell in love and married a year later.
If you enjoy Victorian illustrations, you'll positively swoon for the frontispiece of Jane's 1843 publication Gardening for ladies: with a calendar of operations and directions for every month in the year. It shows a mother and her young child standing on either side of a lush arbor, and they are both holding garden tools.
Jane's garden books were very popular. She connected with her fans because she was always earnest and genuine. Jane wasn't raised as a gardener. She learned it as an adult. When it came to gardening, Jane was a conscious competent - and it made her an excellent gardening teacher. Jane was aware of this when she wrote,
“I think books intended for professional gardeners, are seldom suitable to the wants of amateurs. It is so very difficult for a person who has been acquainted with a subject all his life, to imagine the state of ignorance in which a person is who knows nothing of it…Thus, though it might, at first sight, appear presumptuous in me to attempt to teach an art of which for three-fourths of my life I was perfectly ignorant, it is, in fact, that very circumstance which is one of my chief qualifications for the task.”
Today, people often forget that Jane was not only a wife but a caretaker. John's arms stopped working as he grew older, after an attack of rheumatic fever. As a result, Jane became his arms, handling most of his writing. As with all of the trials she faced, Jane managed John's challenges head-on and with pragmatism. As for those who felt gardening wasn't ladylike, Jane wrote,
“…a lady, with the assistance of a common laborer to level and prepare the ground, may turn a barren waste into a flower garden with her own hands.”
Eventually, John's right arm got so bad that surgeons needed to amputate it. They found him in his garden when they came to perform the surgery. John replied he intended to return to the garden immediately after the operation.
Two weeks before Christmas 1843, Jane was helping John write his last book called, A Self Instruction to Young Gardeners. Around midnight, he stopped dictating and suddenly collapsed into Jane's arms and died. True to form, Jane completed the book on her own.
The orphan girl who never knew financial security, Jane Loudon, is remembered with affection to this day for her beautiful illustrations and garden writing for the people.
1858 Today is the birthday of Ellen Ann Willmott, who was an English horticulturalist who lived in Brentwood.
Ellen was the oldest in her family of three daughters. In 1875, her parents moved to Warley Place, which was set on 33 acres of land in Essex. Ellen lived there for the rest of her life.
Now, the entire each member of the Willmott family enjoyed gardening, and they often gardened together as a family.
Ellen once wrote,
“I had a passion for sowing seeds and was very proud when I found out the difference between beads and seeds and gave up sewing the former.”
The Willmott's created an alpine garden complete with a gorge and rockery. They also created a cave for their ferns. This was an activity that Ellen's father had approved to commemorate her 21st birthday.
When her godmother died, Ellen received some pretty significant money. And, when Ellen's father died, Warley Place went to her. With her large inheritance and no love interest save her garden, Ellen planted to her heart's content. It was a good thing that Ellen had so much money because she sure liked to spend it. She had three homes: one in France, Warley Place, and another in Italy. Given the size of Warley Place, it's no wonder that Ellen hired over 100 gardeners to help her tend it.
Now, Ellen was no shrinking violet. She was very demanding and impatient. She had a reputation for firing any gardener who allowed a weed to grow in her beds. And, she only hired men - at least before the war, that is.
There's a famous quote from her that is often cited,
“Women would be a disaster in the border.”
Ellen's gardeners worked very hard - putting in twelve hours a day. And, Ellen made them wear a uniform that included a frog-green silk tie, a hat with a green band, and a blue apron. She could easily spot them as they worked in the garden. Ellen's favorite flower was the narcissus, and she asked her gardeners to let their children scatter them all around the garden.
With such a large staff and maniacal devotion, Ellen's garden at Warley Place was revered, and her guests included Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, and Princess Victoria.
Ellen delighted in novel plants, and to acquire them, and she also paid for plant hunting expeditions. As the financier of these ventures, the plants that were discovered on these expeditions were often named in her honor. For example, Ellen sponsored the great Ernest Henry Wilson. When he returned, he named three plants after her: blue plumbago (Certostigmata Willmottianum), a yellow Corylopsis (Corylopsis Willmottiae), and a pink rose (Rosa Willmottiae).
When Ellen received the Victoria Medal of Honor in 1897, she was honored alongside Gertrude Jekyll. This was a significant accomplishment for both women during this time.
Yet, at the end of her life, Ellen died penniless and heartbroken. She had spent her entire inheritance on her gardens. After Ellen died, the house at Warley Place was demolished, but Warley Place, along with its grand row of 17th-century chestnut trees, managed to stay protected and became a nature preserve.
And, there's a little story about Ellen that I thought you would enjoy.
Ellen always carried a handbag. Now, in this handbag, She allegedly always carried two items: a revolver and thistle seeds. Obviously, the former was for protection, but the latter was put to far more sinister use. Allegedly, when Ellen would go to other people's gardens, she discreetly scattered thistle seed about the garden during her visit. To this day, the giant prickly thistle has the common name Miss Willmott's ghost.
1934 On this day, Elizabeth Lawrence wrote a letter to her sister Ann. In the letter, she mentions their mom, Bessie, who shared both her daughters' love of the garden.
"I am so happy to get back to my rickety Corona; Ellen’s elegant new typewriter made anything I had to say unworthy of its attention.
The Zinnias you raised for us are magnificent. There are lots of those very pale salmon ones that are the loveliest of all, and some very pale yellow ones that Bessie puts in my room. The red ones are in front of Boltonia and astilbe (white).
I knew how awful the garden would be. I have come back to it before, and I knew Bessie wasn’t going to do anything by herself. But that doesn’t mitigate the despair that you feel when you see it. I worked for two days and almost got the weeds out of the beds around the summer house. There isn’t much left. There has been so much rain that the growth of the weeds was tropical."
Today is National Potato Day. Here are some poems about the humble Potato.
Three days into the journey
I lost the Inca Trail
and scrambled around the Andes
in a growing panic
when on a hillside below the snowline
I met a farmer who pointed the way—
Machu Picchu allá, he said.
He knew where I wanted to go.
From my pack, I pulled out an orange.
It seemed to catch fire
in that high blue Andean sky.
I gave it to him.
He had been digging in a garden,
turning up clumps of earth,
some odd, misshapen nuggets,
He handed me one,
a potato the size of the orange
looking as if it had been in the ground
a hundred years,
a potato I carried with me
until at last I stood gazing down
on the Urubamba valley,
peaks rising out of the jungle into clouds,
and there among the mists
was the Temple of the Sun
and the Lost City of the Incas.
Looking back now, all these years later,
what I remember most,
what matters to me most,
was that farmer, alone on his hillside,
who gave me a potato,
a potato with its peasant's face,
its lumps and lunar craters,
a potato that fit perfectly in my hand,
a potato that consoled me as I walked,
told me not to fear,
held me close to the earth,
the Potato I put in a pot that night,
the Potato I boiled above Machu Picchu,
the patient, gnarled Potato
— Joseph Stroud, American poet, The Potato
In haste one evening while making dinner
I threw away a potato that was spoiled
on one end. The rest would have been
redeemable. In the yellow garbage pail,
it became the consort of coffee grounds,
banana skins, carrot peelings.
I pitched it onto the compost
where steaming scraps and leaves
return, like bodies over time, to earth.
When I flipped the fetid layers with a hay
fork to air the pile, the Potato turned up
unfailingly, as if to revile me—
looking plumper, firmer, resurrected
instead of disassembling. It seemed to grow
until I might have made shepherd's pie
for a whole hamlet, people who pass the day
dropping trees, pumping gas, pinning
hand-me-down clothes on the line.
— Jane Kenyon, American poet, Potato
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is Beautiful Varieties for Home & Garden.
The dahlia is a fabulous cutting flower for the home garden. Cut one bloom, and ten more appear on the plant. Blooming late summer to the first frost of autumn, this native of Mexico provides explosions of color in home gardens.
Naomi Slade is a biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and she has a lifelong love of plants.
Georgianna Lane is a leading garden photographer whose work has been widely published, and she's one of my favorites.
This book is 240 pages of delicious dahlias - a gorgeous gift from Naomi and Georgianna.
Today's Botanic Spark
1902 Today is the birthday of Ogden Nash.
Ogden is the American poet, who said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker." He also said, "Parsley is Gharsley."
Ogden wrote several poems about gardening and flowers. His poem called My Victory Garden is a standout favorite with gardeners.
Today, my friends, I beg your pardon,
But I'd like to speak of my Victory Garden.
With a hoe for a sword, and citronella for armor,
I ventured forth to become a farmer.
On bended knee, and perspiring clammily,
I pecked at the soil to feed my family,
A figure than which there was none more dramatic-er.
Alone with the bug, and my faithful sciatica,
I toiled with the patience of Job or Buddha,
But nothing turned out the way it shudda.
Would you like a description of my parsley?
I can give it to you in one word--gharsley!
They're making playshoes out of my celery,
It's reclaimed rubber, and purplish yellery,
Something crawly got into my chives,
My lettuce has hookworm; my cabbage has hives,
And I mixed the labels when sowing my carrots;
I planted birdseed--it came up parrots.
Do you wonder then, that my arteries harden
Whenever I think of my Victory Garden?
My farming will never make me famous,
I'm an agricultural ignoramus,
So don't ask me to tell a string bean from a soy bean.
I can't even tell a girl bean from a boy bean.
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