Today we celebrate a forgotten West Chester nurseryman and entrepreneur who pioneered the mail-order plant business.
We'll also learn about the Russian botanist who made a startling discovery from the sap of diseased tobacco plants.
We salute the Welsh poet and writer who died on this day in 1953 after drinking 18 straight martinis.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a really lovely book on garden design - it’s one of my favorites.
And then we’ll wrap things up with some words on the natural world from an American astronomer.
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November 9, 1832
Today is the birthday of the West Chester Pennsylvania nurseryman, entrepreneur, and Quaker, Josiah Hoopes.
Josiah loved nature from an early age. As a young man, Josiah had a desire to propagate and sell plants. After his 30th birthday, Josiah built a greenhouse on his father’s property. Within a few years, Josiah’s growing customer base prompted him to start his nursery, named Cherry Hill Nurseries. Over time, Cherry Hill grew to be known as Hoopes, Bro., and Thomas (HB&T) after Josiah recruited his brother Abner and his neighbor, an accountant named George B. Thomas.
With its gravelly loam soil, West Chester has cultivated some important botanical figures through the years. The West Chester botanists David Townsend and Dr. William Darlington were lifelong friends with Josiah. Together, the three men founded Marshall Square Park, named after the colonial botanist Humphry Marshall. The three men also worked on cataloging the trees and plants in their home county.
Now, for their efforts, the town appointed all three men to form the first park committee. Later, Josiah (who was younger than the other men) was tasked with improving the park. Josiah added flower beds and walking paths - as well as an extraordinary amount of “resting stations.” A history of the park shared that at one point, the park had 70 benches - 50 more than today’s total count. And today, in Josiah’s hometown, the 16-acre Hoopes Park is named for Josiah. He served as that park's original park supervisor.
In addition to his local efforts, Josiah became nationally known when he developed a way to ship his nursery stock by railroad. Using moss and paper to wrap his plants, Josiah began to hire salesmen to market his plants and trees across the country. After securing a contract with the federal government, Josiah’s nursery shipped trees and shrubs to all the national cemeteries. Within a decade, H B&T became the largest commercial grower in America. Before the turn of the century, HB&T was shipping plants to Europe, Australia, and the West Indian Islands. They even had a sales rep stationed in Mexico. By 1913, the nursery occupied over a thousand acres, and it even offered a pleasure garden with a boardwalk for the locals - complete with manicured shrubs in the shape of spears and a Maltese cross. One newspaper reported,
"There is no more attractive place in our borough than the grounds of this firm, including their private residences adjoining, and we as a people owe them a vote of thanks for the privilege extended us in visiting them."
Josiah had a special love for trees. At Hoopes, Josiah’s fruit trees were a top seller, appealing to new homeowners in America’s growing suburbs. An 1870’s record book shows old order sheets with the words “send at once” and “immediately” handwritten on the receipt. After mastering packaging and shipping, the nursery could boast of sales to nearly every state in the union, and customers even included President Grover Cleveland at the White House. And, by the late 1800s, the nursery was the number one grower of peach trees.
Like his friend Townsend, Josiah’s botanical writing was geared toward encouraging a love for growing plants and trees. Josiah regularly wrote botanical articles for the New York Tribune, and he also wrote a book called Book of Evergreens.
In terms of posterity, Asa Gray named the plant Hymenoxys hoopesii (ii = "ee-eye") commonly known as Owl's Claws for Josiah Hoopes. This plant is a marvelous native mountain wildflower offering large golden-yellow flowers all summer long. The bloom is made up of long, drooping petals (resembling owl’s claws) and a button-like center cone.
Josiah Hoopes died on January 16, 1904. HB&T closed for good in the 1940s.
November 9, 1864
Today is the birthday of the Russian Botanist Dmitry Ivanovsky.
In 1892, Dmitry researched the cause of an infection called “Wildfire” in tobacco plants in Crimea. Dmitry made a startling discovery when he learned that even after running through a filter, sap from an infected plant could still infect healthy plants. Dmitry’s testing led to the realization that the cause was something smaller than bacteria. Years later, Martinus Beijerinck ("BY-ah-rink”) would call the filtered, infectious substance a "virus,” and Dmitry’s infection is now known as the tobacco mosaic virus.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we owe a debt of gratitude to botanists like Dmitry Ivanovsky and Martinus Beijerinck ("BY-ah-rink”) and all the rest of the virology pioneers.
November 9, 1953
Here’s a quote from the Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas, who died on this day in 1953 at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He had consumed 18 straight martinis.
Nothing grows in our garden, only washing. And babies.
― Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet and writer
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Transform your outdoor space into a beautiful and practical escape.
In this book, the award-winning garden designer Kate Gould offers refined solutions and crazy-good ideas for urban gardens. I appreciate Kate because she loves the challenge of small spaces, and she is a total maximizer in terms of her approach to design and plant selection.
Kate is also passionate about helping her clients create a garden that is both personal and unique. And one of Kate’s superpowers is connecting the outside design back to the home's interior to create a cohesive feel.
This book is a stunning guide for gardeners keen to transform small and awkward outdoor spaces into beautiful and practical spaces.
This book is 176 pages of spot-on guidance for gardeners who want to transform their little piece of heaven in the city into a private escape from the world.
Today’s Botanic Spark
November 9, 1934
Today is the birthday of the American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author Carl Sagan, born on this day in Brooklyn, New York.
Carl helped explain space to the masses through his articles, books, and popular public television series “Cosmos."
Here on earth, gardeners delight in his words about the natural world.
We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.
— Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author
A book is made from a tree.
It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years.
Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you.
Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another.
Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.
— Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author
The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.
We are made of starstuff.
― Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author, Cosmos
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