Today we celebrate a botanist who gave us one of my favorite quotes about plant breeding.
We'll also remember the fantastically driven woman who dreamed of providing blueberries to the nation… and her dream came true.
We review some words about November by Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series, as well as a charming quote about the sun by Galileo.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book on floral arranging with foraged cuttings that’s both artistic and modern.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a fascinating letter from a Danish botanist working in Calcutta.
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November 11, 1765
Today is the birthday of the Belgian physicist, chemist, botanist, horticulturist, and pomologist, Jean-Baptiste Van Mons.
The name of the game for Jean-Baptiste was selective breeding for pears. Selective breeding happens when humans breed plants to develop particular characteristics by choosing the parent plants to make the offspring.
Check out the patience and endurance that was required as Jean-Baptiste Van Mon's described his work:
“I have found this art to consist in regenerating in a direct line of descent, and as rapidly as possible an improving variety, taking care that there be no interval between the generations. To sow, to re-sow, to sow again, to sow perpetually, in short, to do nothing but sow, is the practice to be pursued, and which cannot be departed from; and this is the whole secret of the art I have employed.”
Jean-Baptiste Van Mons produced a tremendous amount of new pear cultivars in his breeding program - something north of forty incredible species throughout his lifetime. The Bosc and D'Anjou pears we know today are his legacies.
November 11, 1954
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Queen of Blueberries, Elizabeth Coleman White.
Elizabeth grew up on her dad's Cranberry Farm in the Pine Barrens of Burlington County, New Jersey. When she was a little girl, Elizabeth would take walks to pick wild blueberries - you couldn’t buy blueberries in stores.
Over time, Elizabeth began to wonder about cultivating blueberries as a crop. Keeping her family’s cranberry farm in mind, she figured blueberries would make the perfect offseason crop. Also, cranberries and blueberries both grow in highly acidic soil.
To get started, Elizabeth asked local blueberry pickers to bring her the plants with the biggest berries, and then Elizabeth would transplant them into her father's field.
"I used to call them swamp huckleberries and thought [a blueberry] half-inch diameter - huge. They grew luxuriantly on the margins of our cranberry bogs, and as a girl, I used to… dream of a field full of [blueberry] bushes... I knew it was a wild dream."
In 1910, the chief botanist at the USDA, Frederick Colville, was also working on blueberries at his summer home in New Hampshire. When Elizabeth read about his efforts, she reached out, and the two worked out a deal: Elizabeth would grow the berries, and Frederick would perfect the science. Elizabeth and Frederick successfully crossbred the largest New Jersey blueberries with the largest New Hampshire blueberries, and the rest, as they say, is history. Elizabeth said,
"My old dream was but a faint shadowing of the possibilities. Now I dream of cultivated blueberries shipped by the trainload, - blueberry specials - to every part of the country. “
It took Elizabeth five years to develop the first blueberry crop. Elizabeth’s success increased the value of the New Jersey pine districts around her farm from 50 cents an acre to $500 an acre. Elizabeth’s first harvest yielded 21 bushels of berries and netted $114. Today the US grows nearly 700 million pounds of cultivated wild blueberries, and the annual revenue is around $80 million.
Elizabeth was very creative. After noticing how the Whitman chocolate Company packaged their chocolates, Elizabeth came up with the idea to use cellophane to protect and market her blueberries. The cellophane made it possible for people to see her blueberries - right through the packaging. And Whitman's ended up partnering with Elizabeth helping her source cellophane she needed from France.
Finally, here's a little known fact about Elizabeth Coleman White: she was a champion of native plants. After she successfully fought to save the American holly, Elizabeth Coleman White helped found the Holly Society of America in 1947.
November is usually such a disagreeable month…as if the year had suddenly found out that she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it. This year is growing old gracefully…just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with gray hair and wrinkles. We’ve had lovely days and delicious twilights.
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canadian writer and author of the Anne of Green Gables series, Anne of Avonlea
The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.
—Galileo, Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer, mathematician, and philosopher
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is A Year of Gathering and Arranging Wild Plants and Flowers.
An artist and floral designer, Louesa Roebuck lives in Ojai and has created flora installations from foraged and gleaned materials for clients like Vivienne Westwood, John Baldessari, and Alice Waters. Just flipping through Foraged Flora conveys the striking skill and intuition that Louesa brings to floral work.
What I love about studying a Louesa Roebuck piece is how she deftly accomplishes each step in the process. Louesa is a master forager, and her artistic eye guides every stem and flower.
In this book, Louesa shares a modern twist on flower arranging, and I love that she narrows her palette to locally foraged plants and flowers. Her creations are on a spectrum from humble to showpiece. Louesa lets aspects of her environment play along in her work - leveraging materials in season, plants at every stage of their development, and paying close attention to rockstar natives.
This book is 272 pages of authentic foraged beauty that can be found no matter where you hang your hat.
Today’s Botanic Spark
November 11, 1828
On this day, the Danish surgeon and botanist Nathaniel Wallich wrote William Jackson Hooker at Kew in London.
Nathaniel served as the Superintendent of East India Company's Botanical Garden in Calcutta, India.
From his post in Calcutta, Nathaniel was prepping a plant shipment for Hooker made up of over 300 ferns.
And just to illustrate how the early botanists are just like everyday people, check this out. In his letter, Nathaniel begged Hooker to visit him, writing:
“Can’t you come over this or next month?
Do try… I entreat you.
One month’s of hard work with you would be [like] two years to me.”
While he was in Calcutta, Nathaniel wrote a Flora of Asia. Today, the Nathaniel Wallich Memorial Lecture occurs every year at the Indian Museum in Kolkata on Foundation Day. Nathaniel founded the Museum in 1814.
Nathaniel didn’t stay in Calcutta. He spent the twilight of his life in London.
Nathaniel is buried in Kensal Green cemetery in London alongside many prominent botanists - like James Edward Smith (a founder of the Linnean Society London), John Claudius Loudon (Scottish writer), Sir James McGrigor (Scottish botanist), Archibald Menzies (surgeon), Robert Brown (discoverer of Brownian motion), and David Don (the Linnaean Society Librarian and 1st Professor of Botany Kings College London). At Kensal Green, Nathaniel's in good company.
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