Today in botanical history, we celebrate an English earl, an English poet, a forgotten garden, and a national floral emblem.
We hear a floral excerpt from a best-selling fiction book - it’s a little love story about an extraordinary woman who gave birth to a painter who became the Father of Impressionism.
We Grow That Garden Library™, with a book that came out in 2015 and seems to grow ever more relevant.
And then we’ll wrap things up with an American poet and some of his garden-inspired work.
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September 23, 1717
Birth of Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, English writer, art historian, and Whig politician. His father served as the first British Prime Minister. As an adult, he designed a picturesque summer home for himself in southwest London, which he called Strawberry Hill. Horace’s little castle caused a sensation, and he opened his home to four lucky visitors each day. An 1842 admission ticket spelled out rules for tourists:
The House and Garden are never shown in an evening;
and persons are desired not to bring children with them.
The Gothic Revival architecture complete with a round tower was a nod to his accomplished ancestry and is gorgeous inside and out. The stained glass and the library are two favorite aspects among visitors. Horace was a hardworking writer and a serious scholar. Horace coined the word serendipity after he finally located a painting he wanted for his home. He wrote the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), ten years later.
In addition to his other works, Horace wrote The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1771). A fan of natural gardens, he famously observed that his garden hero William Kent was the first garden designer to “[leap] the fence, and [see] that all of nature was a garden.”
Horace immensely enjoyed his five-acre romantic garden at Strawberry Hill, which he affectionately called his “enchanted little landscape” and his “land of beauties.” In addition to a grove of lime trees, the garden featured a sizeable Rococo shell seat with a back designed to look like an enormous shell. Today the one-of-a-kind bench has been recreated, and copies are available for gardeners to place in their own gardens. The oldest tree on the grounds is called the Walpole Oak, and a servant is said to have hung himself from the tree after stealing silver.
In 2019, the first Strawberry Hill House Flower Festival offered local florists a chance to share their creations inside Horace’s Gothic masterpiece. The event is now an annual celebration of flowers. Today Strawberry Hill House hosts a community garden. Rose lovers can enjoy their own nod to Horace Walpole with the bubblegum-pink David Austin rose Strawberry Hill.
As for Horace, this industrious man often found inspiration in gardens, and he once wrote,
One's garden... is to be nothing but riant, and the gaiety of nature.
Horace was also a fan of greenhouses and, in particular, the control they afforded gardeners. In a letter to William Mason on July 6, 1777, he wrote,
Don't let this horrid weather put you out of humour with your garden, though I own it is a pity we should have brought it to perfection and [then] have too bad a climate to enjoy it. It is strictly true this year, as I have often said, that ours is the most beautiful country in the world, when [it is] framed and glazed...
Finally, it was Horace Walpole who wrote,
When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.
September 23, 1861
Birth of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (pen name Anodos), English writer, polyglot, and poet. She was the great-grandniece of the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In her poem September, she wrote,
Now every day the bracken browner grows,
Even the purple stars
Of clematis, that shone about the bars,
Grow browner; and the little autumn rose
Dons, for her rosy gown,
Sad weeds of brown.
Now falls the eve; and ere the morning sun,
Many a flower her sweet life will have lost,
Slain by the bitter frost,
Who slays the butterflies also, one by one,
The tiny beasts
That go about their business and their feasts.
She also wrote an utterly charming little garden poem called Gibberish.
Many a flower have I seen blossom,
Many a bird for me will sing.
Never heard I so sweet a singer,
Never saw I so fair a thing.
She is a bird, a bird that blossoms,
She is a flower, a flower that sings;
And I a flower when I behold her,
And when I hear her, I have wings.
September 23, 1958
On this day, the Dayton Daily News (Ohio) shared a little article about an old park that had been created to teach botany students.
Back in 1930, Brother William Beck, a member of the University of Dayton biology department, filled two purposes with one park. The campus green needed re-landscaping and botany classes needed nearby, well-stocked gardens to study. [William] set to work on his project, with the aid of local nurseries, and collected over 200 varieties of plants and shrubs in the central campus park, labeling all of them with their Latin names and English derivatives. Since that time, the University of Dayton… tended such out-of-the-ordinary plants as a Logan elm (a transplanted sprout from the famous tree); a coffee tree; pyramidal oaks; black alders; and ginkgo trees, to name a few. Brother Beck's well-worked-out plan seems to have been practically forgotten through the years. Botany classes no longer wind among the shrubbery...
September 23, 1986
On this day, Congress selected the rose as the American national flower. The Journal News (White Plains, New York) reported that,
The House, brushing aside the claims of marigolds and dogwood blossoms, corn tassels and columbines, ended decades of indecision Tuesday and crowned the rose, that thorny beauty, America's national flower. The voice-vote decision... [ended] a debate over an appropriate "national floral emblem" for the United States that had flickered off and on since the late 19th century.
Even now, as the graves of these women went untended and their passings unmourned, the seeds they had scattered turned the hillsides red and orange from May to September. Some called the pirates’ bounty flame trees, but to us, they were known as flamboyant trees, for no one could ignore their glorious blooms, with flowers that were larger than a man’s open hand. Every time I saw them, I thought of these lost women. That was what happened if you waited for love.
― Alice Hoffman, The Marriage of Opposites
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2015, and the subtitle is Innovative Techniques for Growing Vegetables, Grains, and Perennial Food Crops with Minimal Fossil Fuel and Animal Inputs.
In this book, Maine farmer and homesteader Will Bonsall shares his expertise in self-reliance. In this aspect of living (along with energy), Will is a master.
As Will likes to say,
"My goal is not to feed the world, but to feed myself and let others feed themselves."
Will is open to experimentation, and he shares his hard-fought wisdom in a friendly and conversational way. Will’s an inventive pragmatist, and his flexibility and innovative thinking have allowed him to tackle seemingly impossible challenges in his down-to-earth way.
If you’re ready to become more self-reliant and less swayed by world supply chains, economic bubbles, and food scarcity, Will’s book is a reference you will want to have on your shelf.
This book is 400 pages of back to the land and garden prosperity with Will Bonsall as your personal guide.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
September 23, 1869
Birth of Edgar Lee Masters, American attorney, poet, and writer. His most famous work was his collection of poems that narrate the epitaphs of a fictional town named Spoon River in The Spoon River Anthology (1915). Edgar grew up in Lewistown, Illinois, which is near an actual Spoon River. The book features an epitaph for a fictional nurseryman - a lover of trees and flowers - named Samuel Gardener, which ends with these words:
Now I, an under-tenant of the earth, can see
That the branches of a tree
Spread no wider than its roots.
And how shall the soul of a man
Be larger than the life he has lived?
Edgar once wrote a poem about love, which began,
Love is a madness, love is a fevered dream,
A white soul lost in a field of scarlet flowers.
His poem, Botanical Garden, is a conversation with God and ends with these words:
“If it be comforting I promise you
Another spring shall come."
"And after that?"
"Another spring - that's all I know myself,
There shall be springs and springs!"
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