Today in botanical history, we celebrate a British Spy/American Farmer, a social reformer and poet, and an American writer.
We’ll hear an excerpt from a book written by the beloved Canadian writer Lucy Maud Montgomery.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about homestead life - from growing great produce to canning and preserving.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a look back at Minnie Hite Moody’s garden column from this day in 1980. She made a bouquet of weeds and then wrote about it.
September 24, 1789
Death of Metcalf Bowler, British-American merchant, and politician. As a young man, Metcalf came to America with his father. He successfully marketed a local apple known as the Rhode Island Greening Apple as part of his business. The apple later became the official state fruit of Rhode Island. A gentleman farmer, Metcalf himself was an avid horticulturist, and he was purported to have the most beautiful garden in the state. Metcalf was a successful merchant until the revolutionary war, which ruined him financially. In the 1920s, after stumbling on letters and examining handwriting, historians accidentally learned Metcalf had spied for the British. His love of nature may have inspired his code name: Rusticus. After the war, Metcalf wrote a book called A Treatise on Agriculture and Practical Husbandry (1786). Metcalf, the spy, sent a copy to George Washington, who wrote him back and tucked the copy away in his library.
September 24, 1825
Birth of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, African-American suffragist, social reformer, abolitionist, writer, and poet. Her famous quote is, “we are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity.” Her writing was mostly dedicated to her work for justice, but occasionally she would write about nature. Here’s an excerpt from her poem The Crocuses:
Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.
September 24, 1913
Birth of Wilson Rawls, American writer. His embarrassment caused him to burn his manuscripts so his fiancee, Sophie, wouldn’t see them. Later she implored him to re-write one of the five stories from memory, which resulted in Where the Red Fern Grows (1961). The red fern was not an actual plant, but it served as the centerpiece of the novel. In the book, Wilson wrote,
I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred.
There were several things concerning which Miss Cornelia wished to unburden her soul. The funeral had to be all talked over, of course. Susan and Miss Cornelia thrashed this out between them; Anne took no part or delight in such ghoulish conversations. She sat a little apart and watched the autumnal flame of dahlias in the garden and the dreaming, glamorous harbor of the September sunset. Mary Vance sat beside her, knitting meekly. Mary’s heart was down in the Rainbow Valley, whence came sweet, distance-softened sounds of children’s laughter, but her fingers were under Miss Cornelia’s eye. She had to knit so many rounds of her stocking before she might go to the valley. Mary knit and held her tongue but used her ears. “I never saw a nicer-looking corpse,” said Miss Cornelia judicially. “Myra Murray was always a pretty woman—she was a Corey.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Rainbow Valley
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2017, and the subtitle is How-to Wisdom from The Elliott Homestead.
Shaye lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. She’s the founder of the blog, The Elliott Homestead. She is a beekeeper, gardener and enjoys preserving a variety of foods for the winter larder.
This book is truly a welcome to the Elliott Farm, and Shaye shares everything she’s gleaned about growing the good food right in her own backyard. Shaye teaches a ton in this book - how to harvest organic produce, plant an orchard, build a greenhouse, winter sowing and growing, make cider and wine, can jams and jellies, raise chickens and bees, and even milk a dairy cow (and make butter). ,
This book is 336 pages of jam-packed goodness from a mini-farm to help homesteaders and urban farmers alike.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
September 24, 1980
On this day, Minnie Hite Moody wrote in her garden column about her bouquet made of weeds:
Somehow or other I failed to get any flower seeds planted this past summer. June brought its plague of groundhogs, and what with replanting my beans and other necessities. July was here before I had caught up with myself, and then came the storms and rain. It was even too wet for me to go seeking Queen Anne's lace and daisies in the fringes of the golf course, though what with mechanical mowers and weed sprays, I would have had to search far and wide for the simple weed-blossoms once so familiar. So all through July and August I had to skrimish for enough blooms to enliven what in the Deep South is spoken of as the "eating table." I am used to flowers on the table, and while I receive more than my share of elegant hothouse flowers, they do not suit Grandma's plain white ash table with which she went to housekeeping in 1872. September, however, kindly improved my situation. Along my property frontage where the Ohio Electric railroad tracks predated the WPA sidewalk, the pale lavender blooms of soap-wort, commonly called Pretty Betty, began to peep out. Now soapwort, which the books call Saponaria, a genus of hardy annual and perennial Old-World herbs of the Pink Family, is regarded as just an old weed and not very special. Believe me, it was special in our great-grandmothers' day, for bar soap and detergents were far in the future, unless she made her own soap with grease and lye.l tried washing with soapwort myself one time, just to see how it worked, and was pleasantly sur prised. But I'm careful to call it Pretty Betty when I have it in a table bouquet. My friends seem to react to that name better than they do to soapwort. In some sections of the country, the name seems to be Bouncing Bet, which I mention as an alternate. The books say that soapwort (alias Pretty Betty or Bouncing Bet) comes in clusters of pink, white or red flowers. The only ones I ever have seen are pale lavender-blues, white, or pinkish. By themselves they don't make an especially stunning bouquet, so it is fortunate that ironweed blooms at the same time of year. Ironweed blossoms are purple, and I know Garden Club ladies who would swoon at the sight of the bouquet right now gracing my eating table, for it has purple ironweed, Pretty Betty of a questionable shade, maybe blue, maybe lavender, along with some bright yellow Rudbeckia blossoms and a spray or two of Eupatorim per-foliatum, which is acceptable by that name, but not as plain old good-for-nothing boneset. As a matter of fact, boneset used to ease aches and pains fully as well as some of the costly arthritis and rheumatism pills of the present. All the "old wife" of bygone days had to do was gather the herb when the bloom was brightest, tie it into a bunch and hang it from the ceiling beams. The late Euell Gibbons in his books claimed that he simply laid boneset for drying on newspapers placed on his attic floor. When the boneset is thoroughly dry. stalks and stems are discarded, and the dried leaves crumbled into airtight jars. If you don't need boneset tea for rheumatic ailments, it is said to be good for fevers, colds, catarrh, dropsy, general debility, dyspepsia, and "trouble arising from intemperance." In other words, hangover. Rudbeckia is that golden September bloom named in honor, of Swedish botanist Olaus Rud-beck (1830-1702).
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