Today we celebrate a 17th-century Scottish botanist who used the structure of a plant's fruits for classification.
We'll also learn about a mobster florist killed while working with his Chrysanthemums (Dendranthema grandiflora).
We salute the American author and clergyman who gave us an epic gardener’s quote about spring.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a swoon-worthy garden classic.
And then we’ll wrap things up by Celebrating National Split Pea Soup Week.
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November 10, 1683
Today is the anniversary of the death of the 17th-century Scottish botanist Robert Morison.
A contemporary of the English naturalist and writer, John Ray, Robert helped to devise the modern system of plant classification by relying mainly on the structure of a plant's fruits for classification.
After fighting on the losing side of the Civil Wars in Scotland, Robert left his home country to go to France, where he got a job as the Royal Gardens director at Blois (“Blue-ah”). Blois was foundational for Robert. The experience gave him a close personal understanding of a vast number of plants. Between his encyclopedic knowledge of plants in Scotland and France, Robert quickly became one of the most knowledgeable botanists of his time. Robert stayed in France for a decade between 1650 and 1660. Like many botanists of his time, Robert was a physician, and he served both French and English royalty as a private doctor.
By 1669, Robert began teaching botany at Oxford, and he released his groundbreaking book Praeludia botanica, followed by additional valuable references like his plant history book and his book on herbs. Through these works, Robert voiced his criticism of the old ways of classification - which were based on habitat, the season of flowering, leaf shape, or medicinal uses, for example. Robert felt that his system could best be learned hands-on by observing nature day after day as he had in Blois's gardens. But Robert also thought that the proper way to classify plants had been revealed biblically in Genesis 1:11-12:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”
Robert cast a long shadow on future generations of botanical leaders. He inspired the artist Nicolas Robert to pursue botanical illustration. And Robert's influence can be seen in this little story about the botanist John Wilson. By training, Wilson was a shoemaker and then a baker. But his heart was inclined toward botany. John was so intent on learning about botany that he almost sold his only cow to buy one of Morison’s books. History tells us that the transaction would have almost certainly caused John's financial ruin had a neighbor lady not purchased the book for him.
November 10, 1924
Today is the anniversary of the death of the mobster florist and devout Catholic Dean O’Banion.
Dean bootlegged beer during prohibition, and he led a group of mobsters in Chicago known as the North Side Gang. At one point, Dean was making almost a million dollars a year from selling his beer and liquor.
In 1921, after marrying Viola Kaniff, Dean bought a stake in William Schofield’s River North Flower Shop near West Chicago Avenue and North State Street. Conveniently for Dean, Schofield's Flower Shop was directly across from Holy Name Cathedral, where he attended daily mass. The business gave him a front for his criminal operations, and the rooms above the shop served as the headquarters for the North Side Gang.
At the same time, Dean had a lifelong love of flowers, and he was especially good at floral arranging. In a short while, Schofields became known as the flower shop that serviced all of the mob’s floral needs from weddings to funerals. It’s no surprise then that Dean’s murderers used the guise of a mob funeral to plan his death.
Dean had encroached on the south side territory of Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, and by so doing, Dean had signed his own death warrant. After meeting with Dean to scout the floral shop, three mobsters returned on this November day. They murdered Dean as he was working with Chrysanthemums. One of the men locked on Dean’s hand in greeting as they shook hands, and the other two men quickly shot him in the head and throat and then again in the back of the head. The assassination method became known as the “Chicago Handshake,” and Dean’s death lead to a five-year gang war.
Through the ages, chrysanthemums have been associated with death. In many European countries, including Belgium, Italy, France, and Austria, chrysanthemum floriography ("FLOOR-EE-ah-grah-FEE") is associated with death. In particular, White chrysanthemums are regarded as a funeral or graveside flower.
November 10, 1956
Today is the anniversary of the death of the American botanist and plant pathologist responsible for eradicating crop diseases and so much more, Henry Luke Bolley.
A son of Indiana, Henry was the youngest of twelve children in his family. He went to Purdue, where he was a student-athlete playing baseball and tennis. In 1887, Henry helped put together the first Purdue University football team, where he played quarterback. In their first and only game, the team lost to DePauw University.
In 1890, after receiving his Master’s Degree, Henry started teaching at the North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University, as well as working as a botanist at the North Dakota Experiment Station. Henry was a dogged research botanist. Listen to these Henry Bolley accomplishments - any one of which would have been a lifetime accomplishment for most of his peers:
- Henry brought potato scab under control by isolating the organism responsible and developing an effective treatment.
- Henry authored North Dakota’s 1908 pure seed laws and advocated for crop rotation.
- Using a formaldehyde treatment, Henry successfully defeated a fungus disease called smut that destroyed oat crops in the upper Midwest during the late 1800s.
- Henry worked with manufacturers to develop sprayers for crops, and he developed chemicals that would kill weeds but not harm the crops.
- Henry eradicated the fungus that caused flax wilt, which meant that farmers could grow flax year after year instead of only sporadic plantings on newly broken land. This work earned him the moniker, “Savior of the Flax Crop.”
- In 1902, Henry brought back a hard red variety of spring wheat from Russia. Unbeknownst to Henry, his Russian hard red spring wheat was resistant to rust, and the plant breeder Lawrence Waldron used it to create a superior variety of American wheat known as Ceres.
- Henry created a disease-resistant Flax that more than sextupled US Flax production in just four years. By 1940 North Dakota was producing 31 million bushels of Flax.
- Finally, Henry discovered that barberry bushes harbored Black stem rust, which nearly wiped out North Dakota wheat crops.
In 1911, after Henry wrote an article and used the term “wheat-sick soil” to describe the over-planting of wheat, the Better Farming Association was formed by a group of bankers and businessmen who felt that Henry was threatening their profits from wheat farmers. The powerful BFA group acted quickly, and they installed a new director at the Experiment Station to do their bidding. In short order, Henry was stripped of his funding and locked out of his labs. The stalemate lasted for six years until the BFA-backed director finally resigned.
In his life, Henry always managed to balance work and play. As he helped build the botany department at North Dakota State University, he also created the football program. It took him three years to recruit enough students to put together a team. And, there’s a marvelous photo of Henry taken in 1935 when he played on the plant pathology softball team at the University of Minnesota. The image shows Henry at the plate, bat in hand, and behind him is the catcher, a man from the USDA, Harry B. Humphrey, who was an uncle to Senator Hubert Humphrey.
After Henry died on this day in 1956, his colleague, Harlow Walster, gave a moving tribute to his old friend, saying that,
“[Henry was] a fearless trailblazer who cut deep and lasting blazes in the forest of ignorance about plant diseases."
November 10, 1852
Today is the birthday of the American author and clergyman Henry Van Dyke.
Henry gave us an epic saying that gardeners often quote about spring.
The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.
—Henry Van Dyke, American author, and clergyman
Use what talents you possess:
the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there,
except those that sang best.
—Henry Van Dyke, American author and clergyman
Oh, London is a man's town; there's power in the air;
And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair.
—Henry Van Dyke, American author and clergyman
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1992 and is now a rarity. There are paperback versions that sell for over $500 on Amazon.
Tasha Tudor is remembered as a beloved book illustrator for children’s classic literature like A Child’s Garden of Verses, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess. Beyond creating her utterly charming vignettes, Tasha lived an unconventional life. In today’s book, The Private World, Tasha Tudor opens the door to her nostalgic home and garden, sharing the austere 1800’s-style country life she made for herself on a farm in Vermont.
And, here’s a little known fact about Tasha: she learned to love gardening from Alexander Graham Bell.
Tasha raised her four children without electricity or running water. Rejecting the modern world, Tasha even wore 1800’s clothing complete with petticoats and shawls. Tasha raised a small menagerie on her farm, and nothing gave her greater satisfaction than her sprawling garden. Tasha’s love for her garden was evident in her many illustrations; she managed to sprinkle scenes from her garden into many of her delightful books - beginning with her 1938 debut Pumpkin Moonshine.
This book is 134 pages of simple living with the charming Tasha Tudor.
Today’s Botanic Spark
November 10, 1969
The Pulse Growers Association established the second week of November as National Split Pea Soup Week in America.
During the 19th century, the humble Split Pea Soup was started in New England. Most recipes incorporate ham or a ham bone. I like to make a thinner, brothy version during the summer and a thicker, heartier soup in winter.
Warm split peas are also excellent piled on top of avocado toast so give that a try if you’re looking for something fun to make with split peas.
Here’s Ina Garten’s Recipe for Split Pea Soup. My only suggestion, cooking for three growing boys, is to saute the onions and garlic with bacon and serve it with fresh parmesan and croutons. This recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and it’s a perfect soup to make in your slow cooker.
Parker's Split Pea Soup by Ina Garten
1 cup chopped yellow onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups medium-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 cup medium-diced red boiling potatoes, unpeeled (3 small)
1 pound dried split green peas
8 cups chicken stock or water
In a 4-quart stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15minutes.
Add the carrots, potatoes, 1/2 pound of split peas, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 40minutes. Skim off the foam while cooking.
Add the remaining split peas and continue to simmer for another 40 minutes, or until all the peas are soft. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom.
Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot.
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