August 3, 2020 Dahlias 101 by The Empress of Dirt, Joseph Paxton, Michel Adanson, Louise du Pont Crowninshield, Alwyn Howard Gentry, Katharine Stuart, Watermelon Poetry, From Garden to Grill by Elizabeth Orsini and Gallant Soldiers

Show Notes

Today we remember the busiest man in London.

We'll also learn about the man honored by the Baobab tree.

We salute a daughter of Winterthur,

We also recognize a life cut short in the world of tropical botany.

And we'll look back on a letter from one garden writer to another written on this day in 1961.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that puts your focus on the grill for preparing your garden harvest.

And then we'll wrap things up with a story about Gallant Soldiers.

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



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Curated News

7 Best Tips for Growing Dahlias | Melissa J. Will

Here's an excerpt:

Melissa gathered these tips for growing dahlias from numerous sources including books, research papers, my own experience, and advice from professional growers whose livelihood depends on their success.

Melissa provides seven top tips and answered Frequently Asked Questions for an excellent overview of everything needed to grow dahlias.

  • Dahlias take 90 to 120 days to flower after planting, depending on the variety you are growing.
  • Generally, the larger the plant and flowers, the longer it takes.
  • If you want flowers before late summer, consider starting your dahlia tubers indoors in pots 4 to 6 weeks before last frost.
  • Pinching back (the same as cutting off) the main stem encourages the plant to become bushier.
  • Every enthusiastic dahlia grower will tell you their storage method works like a charm. And—they are right—for their specific conditions. The point is, it’s the health of the tuber and the overall environment that counts.
  • The optimum storage temperature is 40-45°F (4-7°C). We run into problems when the heating systems in our homes make the humidity level too low for the tubers.
  • Consider using the plastic food wrap method where each tuber is wrapped individually to keep moisture in. Growers who use this method report a higher number of viable tubers each spring.
  • Exposure to some cold is necessary for their development each year so we wait until early frosts have blackened the foliage before digging up the tubers and storing them for the winter.
  • Come spring, a handy rule is, if it’s the right time to plant tomatoes, it’s the right time to plant dahlias.
  • On a brighter note, while not entirely deer-proof, dahlias are not their first food choice when other plants are available.


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.

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Important Events

1803  Today is the birthday of the English gardener, architect, and Member of Parliament, Joseph Paxton.

Joseph Paxton was brilliant. It was Charles Dickens who dubbed him, "The Busiest Man in England."

Joseph designed the Crystal Palace, aka the People's Palace, for the first World's Fair. The Crystal Place was a large exhibition hall. It was an extraordinary and revolutionary building.

Joseph was the head gardener to the Duke of Devonshire in Chatsworth. Now, you might be wondering how Joseph's job as the head gardener had given him the experience he needed to create the Crystal Palace. Well, the answer is simple: he had built four massive greenhouses for the Duke over fifteen years from 1833 to 1848, and that made Joseph one of the top greenhouse experts in the world. And, English royalty knew it.

Don't forget that the beautiful Crystal Palace was essentially a large greenhouse. Gardeners will appreciate that Joseph's iron and glass architectural plans were inspired by the "transverse girders & supports" of the giant water lily - which itself is an architectural wonder.

Now Instead of creating a large empty building for exhibits, Joseph decided to build his greenhouse around and over the existing Hyde Park. The high central arch - the grand barrel vault you see in all the old postcards and images of the Crystal Palace - actually accommodated full-sized trees that were already in the park when Joseph began to build around them.

Joseph's Crystal Palace was built in a very short amount of time, and this was due again to Joseph's expertise and connections. He had built relationships with various iron and glass companies in building greenhouses for the Duke, and he had even designed many of the components needed to create a greenhouse. For instance, the large beautiful columns also served a purpose: drainage.

The Joseph Paxton biographer Kate Colquhoun wrote about the immensity of the Palace:

“[Paxton’s] design, initially doodled on a piece of blotting paper, was the architectural triumph of its time. Two thousand men worked for eight months to complete it. It was six times the size of St Paul's Cathedral, enclosed a space of 18 acres, and entertained six million visitors.”

The Crystal Palace was an enormous success and was open every day except Sundays all during the summer of 1851. Queen Victoria and Albert were there on the day it opened - May 1st. And by the closing day on October 11th, six million people had walked past the international exhibits at the Crystal Palace.

For his work with the Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton was knighted. Still, if I could knight Joseph Paxton, I would honor him for cultivating my favorite breakfast item: the Cavendish banana - the most consumed banana in the Western world. Naturally, Joseph cultivated the banana in the greenhouses he built for the 6th Duke of Devonshire - William Cavendish - who is honored with the name of the banana.

Even with the perfect growing conditions, it took Joseph five years to get a banana harvest. But, in November 1835, Joseph's banana plant finally flowered. By the following May, the tree was loaded with more than 100 bananas - one of which won a medal at the Horticultural Society show in London.

Today, bananas still grow on the Devonshire estate, and the Cavendish banana is the most-consumed banana in the western world. It replaced a tastier variety, which was wiped out by a fungal disease in the 1950s.

Today, work is underway to create a Cavendish banana replacement. Without attention to this matter, we will someday see the extinction of the Cavendish banana.

Now, if you'd like to read about Joseph Paxton - he's such a fascinating person - you should really check out the biographies written by Kate Colquhoun. Her first Joseph Paxton biography is called A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton (2003), and her second book is called The Busiest Man in England: The Life of Joseph Paxton, Gardener, Architect, and Victorian Visionary (2006). You can get a used copy of either of these books and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $10.


1806  Today is the anniversary of the death of the 18th-century Scottish-French botanist and naturalist Michel Adanson.

Michel created the first natural classification of flowering plants. In fact, Jussieu ("Juice You") adopted Michel's methodology to create his masterpiece that defined plant groups called Genera Plantarum (1789).

Although today we think mainly of Darwin and Linnaeus, they stood the shoulders of people like Michel Adanson. Michel was the first person to question the stability of species. When he saw breaks or deviations in nature, he came up with a word for it - and one we still use today - mutation.

One of the most profound experiences in Michel's life was the five year period he spent living in Senegal, where he collected and described many new plants and animals.

That experience provided the foundation for his most famous work - the two-part Familles des Plantes (1763). In the book, Michel classified plants by evaluating a variety of plant characteristics in contrast to Linnaeus' more straightforward sexual system. Again, Michel's perspective on this was revolutionary and was embraced by Jussieu and other botanists. Today, it is called the natural system of classification.

Linnaeus recognized Michel's contribution by naming the genus Adansonia, which features the spectacularly unique Baobab ("BOW-bab") trees of Africa, Australia, and Madagascar.

The Baobab tree is remarkable and memorable - it has a Seussical quality - and it is one of the most massive trees in the world. In Africa, they are called "The Queens of the Forest" or "The Roots of the Sky." The last name refers to a legend that tells how long ago, in a fit of anger, the devil pulled the Baobab tree out of the ground, only to shove it back into the earth upside down - leaving its roots shooting up into the air.

Although they seldom grow taller than forty feet and they are generally sparsely branched, the trunks have astounding girth - and they can be almost thirty feet wide. In fact, some large Baobab cavities have served as jails, post offices, and even pubs. And there is a massive Baobab tree in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe, that is called Shadreck's Office by the locals and was used as a safe by a famous poacher for keeping his ivory and rhinoceros horns.

And inside those enormous trunks, they can store up to 32,000 gallons of water. The outer bark is about 6 inches thick, but inside, the cavity is spongy and vascular. This is why animals, like elephants, chew the bark during the dry seasons.

The Baobab can grow to enormous sizes, and carbon dating indicates that they may live to be 3,000 years old. They go by many names, including boab, boa boa, Tebaldi, bottle tree, upside-down tree, monkey bread tree, and the dead-rat tree (referring to the appearance of the fruit).

Finally, the flowers of the Baobab bloom at night, and they are bat-pollinated. The fruit of the Baobab looks like an oblong coconut with a brown velvety hard outer shell. But inside, the flesh is sweet and tastes a bit like yogurt. The Baobab fruit contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more antioxidants than blueberries or cranberries, and more iron than steak.

And here's a fun fact: the cooking ingredient Cream of Tartar was initially made from Baobab seed pulp. Today, it is mostly sourced as a by-product of making wine.

In 1774, Michel Adanson wrote another masterpiece - an encyclopedic work covering all of the known plant families. Sadly, it was never published. But, that work was clearly meaningful to Michel, who requested that a garland for his Paris grave made up of flowers from each of the 58 plant families featured in his book.

And Michel's work - his papers and herbarium - were clearly treasured by his surviving family. They privately held his entire collection for over a century before transferring everything to the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in the early 1960s. The Hunt Institute was so energized and grateful for the gift that they republished Michel's Familles des Plantes in two volumes in 1963 in honor of the bicentennial.


1877  Today is the birthday of Louise du Pont Crowninshield, who was born on this day @WinterthurMuse.

Louise spent her life working on projects related to ecological preservation, charity, and horticulture. Aside from her philanthropic efforts, Louise is remembered as the last du Pont to live in the residence at Winterthur ("Winner-TOUR") before it became a museum and library.

The Winterthur estate covers 1,000 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. A love-long lover of nature and a natural designer, Henry Francis du Pont got his bachelor's in horticulture from Harvard. Henry thoughtfully developed Winterthur, and he planned for the gardens to be a showpiece. When it came to sourcing plants, du Pont spared no expense to source top plants from around the world. Today, you can visit Winterthur Garden and see for yourself the Quarry, Peony, and Sundial gardens as well as the Azalea Woods and the Enchanted Woods.

You can get a lovely used copy of a book called Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur: A Daughter's Portrait and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for under $2.


1945  Today is the anniversary of the death of the American botanist Alwyn Howard Gentry.

It's been 75 years since Alwyn's life was tragically cut short when his plane crashed in fog into a forested mountain during a treetop survey in Ecuador. At the time, Alwyn was just 48 years old, and he was at the peak of his career. Alwyn was regarded as a towering figure in tropical biology and ranked among the world's leading field biologists. He also was the senior curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Theodore Parker III was also on the plane with Alwyn. Parker was a world expert ornithologist.

Parker's fiance survived the crash, and she told a reporter that both Alwyn and Parker had survived the crash as well. But sadly, they were both trapped in the wreckage of the plane, and without immediate medical attention, they passed away together the following morning. The only consolation for the many who knew and loved them was that Alwyn and Parker both died doing what they loved.

Throughout his professional life, Alwyn had been in awe of the powerful pull of the rainforest, writing:

"The Amazon is a world of lush green vegetation, and abundant waters has inspired naturalists, fortune hunters, dreamers, explorers, and exploiters."

According to Conservation International, Alwyn had collected more specimens than any other living botanist of his time - a staggering 70,000 plants.

To this day, botanists rely on Gentry's Guide to the Woody Plants of Peru for understanding and direction when it comes to neotropical and tropical plants.


1961  Today Katharine Stuart wrote to Elizabeth Lawrence.

My dear Elizabeth,

By now you will have given me up entirely as a friend. It is shocking that I have not written to you in so long and especially that I have never answered your letter offering me some of Mr. Krippendorf’s hellebores.

Perhaps you can forgive me, though, when you hear all the things that have been happening to me since May 24, the date of your letter. [Turns out, Katharine had an appendectomy.]

I enclose some of Andy’s snapshots of the garden in early spring. As you can see, it isn’t a garden — no plan, no style, no proper arrangement of colors — but at least the pictures give you the feel of the land in a cold, late Maine spring.

Everything is very different now. The picket fence hardly shows for the flowers, the grey windbreak is covered with the blossoms of Mme. Baron Veillard, Jackmarie, and Mrs. Cholmondley, and on the little terrace, the hybrid roses are full of bloom.

We lost one of our big Balm of Gilead trees in a fierce wind and rain storm and Andy has made a most ingenious birdbath from a section of its big trunk, into which he poured cement… yesterday, we could watch two song sparrows and a yellow warbler take their baths [in it] under the pear tree.

Even if I can't garden, I can enjoy the flowers in a maddeningly remote way. My first water lily is in blossom in the pasture pond..

Today, my first-ever hardy cyclamen is in bloom under the Persian lilac. It is enchanting and a triumph as I have failed so often with them. I finally raised this one indoors last winter and set it out this spring. I don't even know the variety, for the tag is lost. It has pink blossoms and variegated leaves. Everything else is at sixes and sevens—iris needs separating; one long perennial bed is too crowded; one is too skimpy thanks to winter losses. It has been a year of frustration. Andy finally sold our beautiful Herefords and there goes my source of manure. Oh, dear, we are crumbling badly! But just writing you gives me hope and I am determined that I shall get back to normal again. We really feel encouraged.

Ever affectionately, Katharine


Unearthed Words

Today is National Watermelon Day. Here are some words about Watermelon.


Go along, Mister Winter-
Crawl into your frosty bed.
I'm longing like a lover
For the watermelon red.
— Frank Lebby Stanton, American lyricist


And the windows opened that night,
A ceiling dripped the sweat
Of a tin god,
And I sat eating a watermelon
All false red,
Water like slow running
And I spit out seeds
And swallowed seeds,
And I kept thinking
I'm a fool
I'm a fool
To eat this Watermelon,
But I kept eating
— Charles Bukowski, American-German poet and novelist, Watermelon


Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.
— Charles Simic, American-Serbian Poet, Watermelons


Up from the South, by boat and train.
Now comes the King of Fruits again;
Lucious feast for judge or felon,
Glorious, sun-kissed Watermelon;
Green as emerald in its rind,
But cutting through it thou shalt find
Sweetest mass of crimson beauty
Tempting angels from their duty.
— Ode to Watermelon, anonymous


It is pure water, distilled, and put up by nature herself,
who needs no government label
to certify to the cleanliness of her methods
and the innocence of her sun-kissed chemistry.
It is the tiniest trace of earth salts.
It has a delicate aroma.
It is slightly a food, generously a drink, and altogether poetry.
Not altogether is it poetry.
Not in respect of price.
Not even the most hard-working of the poets
can afford to buy the early Watermelon.
— The Citizen-Republican, Scotland, South Dakota, Watermelon


On Saturday, he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of Watermelon. That night he had a stomach ache.
— Eric Carle, American designer, illustrator, and writer of children's books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Grow That Garden Library

From Garden to Grill by Elizabeth Orsini

This book came out in 2017, and the subtitle is Over 250 Vegetable-based Recipes for Every Grill Master.

From kebabs and salads to made-from-scratch sauces and seasonings, bring your garden to your grill with more than 250 mouthwatering vegetarian grilling recipes!

Bring your garden harvest to the grill! Backyard barbecues aren't just for burgers and hotdogs. Delicious vegetables can be part of every diet with From Garden to Grill--featuring more than 250 mouthwatering, vegetable-based grilling recipes, variations to add meat, tips to make meals paleo, and changes to go gluten-free or vegan! With everything from sauces and salads to small plates and main courses, this book shows grill masters how to incorporate fresh produce into healthy and hearty meals:

*Grilled Zucchini Salsa *Kale and Feta Pita Pizza *Caramelized Corn *Eggplant Ratatouille *Foil Pack Vegetables *Quinoa Veggie Wraps *Grilled Romaine Salad *Grilled Veggie Paninis *Butternut Squash Kebabs *Artichoke Pizza *Portobello Mozzarella Caps

Whether you are dedicated to a lifetime of healthy living or just love bringing that freshly grilled char to seasonal veggies, this is the cookbook for you.

This book is 320 pages of grilled garden goodness.

You can get a copy of From Garden to Grill by Elizabeth Orsini and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $13


Today's Botanic Spark

1948 On this day, The Guardian posted a brief snippet about the Gallant Soldiers plant.

Now before I read the post, here's a primer.

Gallant Soldiers is loosely derived from its Latin name: Galinsoga parviflora (gal-in-SOH-guh), and it's also known as Quickweed. Gallant Soldiers is a herbaceous plant in the Asteraceae or Daisy family. Over a single summer, a single specimen of Gallant Soldiers can produce over 7,000 seeds - so they'll be marching on.

Galinsoga was named for Mariano Galinsoga, who was a botanist and a Spanish doctor for royalty during the 1700s, and he famously observed that women who wore corsets had more health problems than peasant women who did not wear them.

Now, Galinsoga is a trooper when it comes to medicinal uses. Galinsoga is a super coagulator, antibiotic agent, and a healer. And the next time you run into stinging nettle, grab some Galinsoga, and you'll be all smiles.

Rich in iron, Galinsoga is also edible. In fact, every part of the plant, except the root, can be eaten. In the United States, foragers are beginning to add Galinsoga to their list, but in China and South America, Galinsoga is already regularly added to soups, stews, and salads.

On the Forager Chef website, it says

“Galinsoga can be used raw or cooked. Got a call from a farmer that the spinach was killed by hail?
Don’t worry, just toss some Galinsoga in that pasta.
While you’re at it, put it in the salad mix and on the fish entree, then throw the purchased microgreens in the compost where they belong, as fodder to grow interesting, edible weeds.

Like so many other greens sans watercress, It’s shelf life shames conventionally harvested salad greens.
I would regularly get two weeks of shelf life from what I picked or more...

Galinsoga tastes mild and fades into the background, there’s not even a hint of bitterness.
It’s a blank canvas for whatever you like.
This also means from a health/diet perspective you can consume mass quantities cooked, unlike other aggressive growers like garlic mustard, whose bitterness I tend to blend with other plants.”


Great information there.


Now let's hear that post from The Guardian on Galinsoga from 1948:

“In some gardens, near Kew and Richmond, there flourishes an unusual weed which nine out of ten people will call "Gallant Soldiers." It has escaped from Kew, where it was introduced some years ago from Peru under the name of Galinsoga parviflora. Local gardeners made the name easier to pronounce, but the corruption did not stop there. Sir Edward Salisbury, the director of Kew Gardens, tells how he found a gardener one day pulling out Galinsoga from his borders. He asked its name. The gardener replied, " I don't rightly know, but I have heard it called Soldiers of the Queen.”

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