November 4, 2020 Frederick Orpen Bower, the California Fan Palm, November Folklore, Dorothy Parker, Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, and Henry David Thoreau

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the man who is remembered in the botany building at the University of Glasgow.

We'll also learn about the mystery behind the California Fan Palm.

We’ll salute the Folklore of November, along with a witty poem about November by an American poet and satirist.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about some incredible private gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And then we’ll wrap things up with a charming 1855 journal entry from an American writer.



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Important Events

November 4, 1855 
Today is the birthday of the English botanist and Primitive Plant Expert Frederick Orpen Bower.

Bower served as the Regius chair of botany at the University of Glasgow "Glahs-go." When he arrived in 1885, the department was housed in two rooms, and the herbarium was stuffed into a small attic space. To make matters worse, when Bower lectured, he had to vie for a lecture hall with other departments and faculty.

Fifteen years later, the University finally constructed a new botany building, and when it was finished, the building served as England’s first botanical institute. The 1901 grand opening for the Glasgow botany building was lumped in with the University's 450th-anniversary celebration. The eminent botanist Sir Joseph Hooker opened the building. Almost a century later, the building was renamed to honor Frederick Orpen Bower, and that’s how the building became known as the Bower Building.

Tragically, on October 24, 2001, the Bower building was significantly damaged by a fire. The losses included first editions of Darwin's Origin of the species and Hooker and Bower's works. Many of the oldest botanical manuscripts and books were impacted because they were stored on the third floor under the roof space. After almost four years of continuous work, the building reopened in November 2005.

The 2001 Bower Building fire is a cautionary lesson for archivists and curators to digitally preserve our most precious historical artifacts before they are lost to time.


November 4, 1984
On this day, the Arizona Republic newspaper shared an article about the history of the native palm of Arizona written by Vic Miller, a professor of agriculture at Arizona State University.

The article starts this way:

"Yes, we do have a native palm. Seeds of it were collected in Arizona; taken to Belgium and grown in a nursery; [where it was observed] and named by a German botanist, but [it is not called the Arizona Fan Palm,] it is called the California Fan Palm."

The mystery of the California Fan Palm was not about how it got its name but rather where it came from - California or Arizona.

In 1976, researchers made a discovery that helped solve the 100-year-old mystery.

Here's the fascinating backstory:

In 1879, a German botanist, Herman von Wendland, saw the palms growing in a Belgium nursery. He named the palm Washingtonia filifera “Washing-TONE-ee-ah fill-IF-er-ah”  in honor of George Washington. The name seemed appropriate since Wendland only knew that the seeds for the palms had been collected in America. Wendland had no idea which state was home to the palms.

Three years earlier, in 1876, the German botanist Georg Drude had noted that the seed was collected in Arizona, along the Colorado River. An [Italian botanist, Dr. Francesco Franceschi, also said that the palms were] from Arizona.

But a Stanford botanist named Samuel Parish disagreed. Parish knew that the area where the seeds were supposedly collected was near Prescott. According to Parish, this was "a region of pines rather than of palms." To Parish, the seeds had to come from California. But what Parish didn't realize is that there were small groves of Arizona palms roughly 38 miles from Prescott - near Castle Creek.

Next, the researchers wondered how the Arizona Palm seeds ended up in Belgium?

Well, it turns out, the 1870's stagecoach line went right along Castle Creek to Prescott, Arizona, and then onto Santa Fe, New Mexico. In September 1872, the Czech botanist and Extreme Orchid Hunter Benedict Roezl was in that part of the Southwest on his way to Mexico. Roezl likely bought some of the ripe purple fruit from those Castle Creek Arizona Palms and then sent the fruit back to Germany with his other specimens.

And that is how the Arizona Fan Palm was named the California Fan Palm by a German Botanist who saw them growing in Belgium.


Unearthed Words

Today’s Unearthed Words are a collection of folklore and sayings about November.

  • Thunder in November, a fertile year to come.
  • A heavy November snow will last till April.
  • Flowers in bloom late in autumn indicate a bad winter.
  • If there’s ice in November that will bear a duck, There’ll be nothing after but sludge and muck.
  • November take flail; let ships no more sail.
  • If trees show buds in November, the winter will last until May.
  • There is no better month in the year to cut wood than November.
  • Ice in November brings mud in December.


In May, my heart was breaking-
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
And sore it split in sleep.

And when it came November,
I sought my heart and sighed,
"Poor thing, do you remember?"
"What heart was that?" it cried.
— Dorothy Parker, American poet, writer, critic, and satirist


Grow That Garden Library

Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner

This book came out in 2017.

This fantastic book was written by two incredible and accomplished garden writers: Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner. The marvelous landscape photographer Marion Brenner took all the photos. Together, this team toured over thirty-five private gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now, whether you’re from this part of the country or not, you will surely be seduced by the enchanting beauty of Northern California—it's a dreamscape for landscape designers and gardeners.

Susan and Nancy organized their book geographically. We get to follow along as they make their way from the San Francisco Peninsula, to San Francisco, into Berkeley and Oakland, and then wrapping up in Napa, Sonoma, and Marin. You’ll gain an appreciation for so much about this area: the micro-climates, the range of plants, the drought-tolerant natives, the rock gardens, and the endless supply of gorgeous backdrops.

This tour includes the 1911 masterpiece garden known as Green Gables, the salvia haven known as Big Swing, a jaw-dropping vertical garden in San Francisco, and many more. Susan and Nancy reveal the goals of each gardener and design secrets behind every garden.

This book is 256 pages of garden ideas. Susan and Nancy’s coffee-table book would be a fine gift for an avid California gardener or anyone who would enjoy touring this horticultural paradise vicariously.

You can get a copy of Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $35


Today’s Botanic Spark

November 4, 1855   
On this day, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal:

"The winter is approaching. The birds are almost all gone. The note of the 'dee de de' sounds now more distinct, prophetic of winter, as I go amid the wild apples on Nashawtuc. The autumnal dandelion sheltered by this apple-tree trunk is drooping and half-closed and shows but half its yellow, this dark, late, wet day in the fall...

Larches are now quite yellow, — in the midst of their fall...

When I look away to the woods, the oaks have a dull, dark red now, without brightness.
The willow-tops on causeways have a pale, bleached, silvery, or wool-grass-like look."

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