Today we celebrate the Landscape Architect who had an affinity for boxwoods.
We'll also learn about a passionate orchidologist who shared some advice back in 1972.
We salute the English WWII code breaker who became a one-woman force for garden conservation and restoration.
We’ll hear a verse about the Hyacinth - one of my favorite spring bulbs… so fragrant!
We Grow That Garden Library™ with an indispensable book about saving seeds.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a Washington gardener whose garden advice was relatable, gentlemanly, and humorous.
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November 12, 1957
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Landscape Architect Arthur Shurcliff.
After receiving his degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, Arthur discovered the field of Landscape Architecture. Although the field was beginning to take off thanks to the Olmsteds, Charles Eliot, and the Chicago World's Fair, there were no formal degree programs for the field. As a result, Arthur cobbled together his own curriculum at the Lawrence School of Science at Harvard.
All his life, Arthur had a lifelong love for the outdoors. He especially enjoyed camping, canoeing, scenery, and sketching. Looking back on his pursuit of Landscape Architecture, Arthur reflected,
"All led me away from mechanics toward scenery, toward planning and construction for the scenes of daily life..."
In terms of his career, Arthur will forever be remembered for the work he did at Colonial Williamsburg.
The project at Williamsburg was funded by John D. Rockefeller and the mission was a total community restoration. The scope was enormous. Arthur had over 30 years of experience when he started work on the project on St. Patrick's Day in 1928. In addition to his Landscape Architecture skills; Arthur leveraged his training in engineering, his meticulousness, and his personal energy, and charm.
It wasn't just the buildings that needed restoration; it was the land, the paths, the streets, the gardens, and green spaces. Arthur wrote about his daily quest to uncover the past. One entry said:
“Wednesday morning saw me in the old-fashioned gardens in the heart of the town.
These old places… now gone to decay are filled with a kind of golden glory which is lacking in the new gardens.
The old lattice trellises, ruined box hedges, and even the weed-grown paths seem to have the glamor of the sunshine from the olden days.”
Every aspect of the town was fully researched. When it came to garden plans and plant selection, Arthur insisted that authenticity was paramount. For example, Arthur’s team actually searched for original fence-post holes to determine the colonially-accurate backyard. It’s no wonder that it took Arthur 13 years to finish the project.
Arthur’s signature plant was the boxwood which he called Box for short. Williamsburg required boatloads of Box and Arthur wrote,
“In replanting Williamsburg places much use should be made of Box… even allowing it to dominate the parterres and bed traceries…
Generous use of Box in this manner [will define the] display and [help with the] upkeep of flowers especially in the dry season...”
Arthur’s passion could get the best of him. The woman who lived at the St. George Tucker House, wrote this entry in her diary in January 1931:
“Today I was asked to go over the yard with Mr. Arthur Shurcliff…
I found him a very alarming person! Somehow the idea of changing the yard and garden is much more repellent to me than changing the house, and this is such a terribly enthusiastic man!”
And, when Arthur returned in May, she wrote,
“[He came] down like a wolf on the fold again today. He rushed in and out... with charts and plans for all sorts of alarming ‘landscapes’ in our yard.
He has boxwood on the brain.”
Luckily for Arthur, his charm counteracted any hesitance caused by his exuberance. When Colonial Williamsburg was revealed to the public in 1934, Arthur’s Colonial Revival style gardens — complete boxwood — caused a sensation. Soon, Revival Garden design appeared in suburbs all across America.
Once the restoration was complete, Arthur Shurcliff had redefined Williamsburg. By reclaiming the past, Colonial Williamsburg found a path forward. And, thanks to Arthur’s incredible efforts, Revival Garden design took its place in 20th Century Landscape Architecture.
November 12, 1972
On this day The Greenville News shared an article called Orchidist Finds Hobby Versatile.
The orchidologist was Gilbert L. Campbell.
During six years of collecting, Gilbert amassed more than 300 plants - in addition to a library of orchid reference materials.
Orchid lovers can grow orchids all year long indoors in their homes. When Gilbert’s passion outgrew his house, he built a greenhouse and in a short time, he built a second greenhouse.
"Some orchidologists do grow their flowers in their homes... [but I advise against it.
Growing an orchid is like being a fisherman. 'Some fishermen may be content to sit on the bank and fish, but most want to get out in a boat on the lake.
It's a lot easier to grow orchids in a greenhouse [due to temperature and humidity control]. ”
As for why Gilbert had two greenhouses, his answer was simple: the cool greenhouse was for cymbidium orchids and the “medium” temp house was for the cattleyas. To show how significant the role temperature plays in growing orchids, the difference in temp between Gilbert’s two greenhouses was about 10 degrees. Gilbert reported that,
“A medium house has a minimum temperature of 55 to 60 degrees and a cool house has a minimum of 45-50 degrees.”
Finally, Gilbert advises plenty of fresh air. Gilbert’s orchids are moved outside in summer and on balmy days throughout the winter. Gilbert says:
"Orchids, like people, do best in a spring-like fresh-feeling atmosphere… Beginners should start with a few mature plants.
Orchids like dry roots, so they should be watered thoroughly, then allowed to dry out."
November 12, 2013
Today is the anniversary of the death of the World War II hero and garden historian and restorer extraordinaire Mavis Batey, who died at the age of 92.
Mavis broke the German Enigma code, which allowed the Allied forces to stage their D-Day invasion. In the back half of her life, Mavis became a champion for forgotten, yet historically significant, English gardens. She also became a garden historian and writer, writing books on Jane Austen and Alexander Pope.
In 1955, Mavis and her code-breaker husband Keith settled on a farm in Surrey. The property sparked Mavis’s passion for Landscape history.
After moving to Oxford, Mavis and her family lived in a fantastic park designed by Capability Brown. The park was also home to a garden designed by William Mason in 1775. Mavis recalled:
"We lived in the agent's house, right in the middle of a Capability Brown park, but it was William Mason's garden that really got me.
We had to cut our way into it.
It was all overgrown, and garden ornaments were buried in the grass.
I knew at once it wasn't just an ordinary derelict garden:
someone had tried to say something there."
Mavis Batey used her wit and determination to become a force in numerous conservation organizations and missions like the Garden History Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
In 1985 Mavis was honored with the RHS Veitch Memorial Medal for her invaluable work preserving gardens that would otherwise have been lost to time.
If you plant spring bulbs, I hope you remember to include hyacinths. The hyacinth is in the asparagus (Asparagaceae) family.
Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, they grow throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Nowadays, the hyacinth is mainly grown in Holland.
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And of thy meager store,
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
— Saadi, Persian Sufi poet, in Gulistan (The Rose Garden), 1258
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2015, and the subtitle is The Art and Practice of Seed Saving.
The Seed Garden won the American Horticultural Society Award for Excellence In Garden Book Publishing and it is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to save seed that is true-to-type and ready to sow in next year’s garden.
This comprehensive book is a collaboration between the esteemed Seed Savers Exchange and the Organic Seed Alliance. Readers will learn the invaluable tradition of saving seeds for more than seventy-five best-loved vegetable and herb crops―from heirloom tomatoes and beans to lettuces, cabbages, peppers, and grains.
I love the photos in this book - they are beautiful and relatable. The plant profiles are nicely laid out and the seed saving instructions are crystal clear - providing a thorough master class level presentation of the art, the science, and the joy of saving seeds.
This book is 350 pages of indispensable and clearly written advice for growing plants and saving seed - and it’s a beautifully illustrated resource to boot.
Today’s Botanic Spark
November 12, 1993
Today is the anniversary of the death of Washington Post columnist and gardener Henry Clay Mitchell.
Henry wrote mainly about gardening and miscellaneous aspects of his daily Washington life. Pragmatic and humorous, Henry’s garden advice struck a chord with his readers. His weekly garden advice was compiled into two bestsellers named after his column Earthman.
A southerner and a gentleman, Henry found tranquility and restoration in his garden. Like most of us gardeners, Henry had his favorites. Of the Japanese Iris, Henry wrote,
“[It’s] a fine flower for anybody who thinks nothing can be too gaudy, too overstated, too imperial.
I have known rednecks who adored it.”
A dog lover, Henry recognized his garden didn’t exist in a bubble but was fully part of the natural world. Henry reflected,
“Squirrels eat a lot of bulbs --
they are in heaven when they find the cyclamen and crocuses --
but they keep the garden interesting for the family dog...
And besides, the squirrels are more attractive than the cyclamen probably would have been anyway."
And, Henry's obituary in the Washington Post shared his love of gardening:
“Gardening was a part of his life almost from the time he was born.
When he was a small boy, he would pick up autumn leaves or pluck the petals from tiger lilies and admire them when his mother took him walking.
He had a garden from the time he was old enough to work in it.
He could rattle off the Latin names of perhaps 3,000 plants.
He said, he learned about gardening because he was "passionately fond of flowers."
The failure of such projects as grafting a carnation onto a prickly pear cactus left him undaunted.”
And, if you have a steadfast love your garden - warts and all - you’ll feel a kinship with these words by Henry from his 1992 book One Man's Garden:
It is agreeable to waddle about in one's own paradise,
knowing that thousands of others have better gardens
with better thises and thats,
and better grown too,
and no weeds at all…
To know this and grin
as complacently as a terrier who just got into the deviled eggs,
and to reflect
that there is no garden in England or France I envy,
and not one I'd swap for mine:
this is the aim of gardening —
not to make us complacent idiots, exactly,
but to make us content and calm for a time,
with sufficient energy (even after bitter wars with bindweed)
to feel an awestruck thanks to God that such happiness can exist.
For a few days, of course.
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