November 16, 2020 Denys Zirngiebel, Joseph Henry Maiden, Albert Francis Blakeslee, Donald Peattie, The Gardens of Bunny Mellon by Linda Jane Holden, and Elizabeth Fox

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the man known as the “Pansy King.”

We'll also learn about the Anglo-Australian botanist who first described much of the Eucalyptus genus.

We remember the American botanist who had a favorite plant he liked to use in the study of heredity - and it wasn't peas.

We salute one of America’s most popular naturalists.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about one of my favorite gardeners, and ironically, she went by the name Bunny.

And then we’ll wrap things up with the woman who introduced the Dahlia to England.



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Important Events

November 16, 1964   
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Swiss-born naturalist, florist, and plant breeder Denys Zirngiebel.

After marrying his wife Henrietta, the Denys immigrated to America. Once he established a home in Needham, Massachusetts, Denys sent for his wife and little boy. Denys and Henrietta had four children. Their only daughter (also named Henriette) married Andrew Newell Wyeth, and their son was NC Wyeth, the Realistic Painter.

During the 1860s, Denys worked for the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University. After purchasing a 35-acre tract of land along the Charles River in Needham, Denys started his floral business. An excellent businessman, Denys expertly marketed his inventory. Each week, Denys shipped flowers to both the White House and the State Department.

In a nod to his Swiss heritage, Denys was the first person in America to cultivate the Giant Swiss Pansy successfully. Denys’s Needham nursery grew so many Giant Swiss Pansies that the town adopted the flower as their floral emblem, and Denys became known as the “Pansy King.”


November 16, 1925
Today is the anniversary of the death of the botanist Joseph Henry Maiden.

Born in London, Joseph immigrated to New South Wales, Australia, hoping that the climate would improve his health. Joseph quickly landed a job as a museum curator in Sydney, and he also married a local woman named Eliza Jane Hammond.

During his time in Australia, Joseph made a significant contribution to understanding Australian flora, especially the Eucalyptus genus.  After thoroughly studying Australian woods and essential oils, Joseph wrote his book called The Useful Native Plants of Australia. In 1896, Joseph was appointed the Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens. In total, Joseph served as a botanist in Australia for 43 years.

As for his Australian legacy, Joseph is remembered every September 1st, which is the first day of spring, also known as Wattle Day or Acacia Day. In Australia, the Wattle is a common name for Acacia. After appreciating their beauty and value, Joseph established the Wattle Day League, which fought to make the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha "ah-KAY-see-ah pik-NANTH-ah") Australia’s national floral emblem, and he also worked to establish Wattle Day. Since the inception of Wattle Day in 1909, Australians have worn a Wattle blossom, which looks like a little yellow pompom in honor of the day. The Wattle blossom is also a favorite with pollinators.

As plants, Wattles are tough evergreen shrubs and trees that can withstand Australia's droughts, winds, and bushfires. There are 760 Wattle species native to Australia’s forest understory, woodlands, and open scrub.

The common name Wattle refers to an old germanic term for weaving and the English craft of building with interwoven flexible twigs and branches. As the English settled in Australia, they often harvested Wattle (Acacia) and used it in their building construction.

And here’s a fun fact about Wattles (Acacia): Giraffes love to eat them.


November 16, 1954
Today is the anniversary of the death of the prominent American botanist and geneticist Albert Francis Blakeslee.

For his doctoral dissertation, Albert revealed incredible new facts about bread molds: bread molds can be male or female, and bread molds have sex.

In 1937, Albert proved that colchicine caused chromosomes to double in plant cells, causing an outcome known as polyploidy. For plant breeders, polyploidy results in increased plant vigor and overall superiority.

In addition to his work with fungi and colchicine, Albert studied the genetics of weeds. Albert was especially fond of the very poisonous and rank-smelling Jimsonweed plant or Datura stramonium (“duh-too-ruh stra-MO-nee-um"). One of Albert’s friends once remarked that Albert had two great loves — his wife Margaret and Datura, and in that order.

Datura is commonly called the thorn apple or the devil’s apples, which gives a clue to Datura as a nightshade plant since nightshades were historically thought to be evil.

The American lyrical poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay threw some shade at Datura in her poem “In the Grave No Flowers," writing:

Here the rank-smelling
Thorn-apple,—and who
Would plant this by his dwelling?

 Well, Edna’s verse upset Albert, and he sent her a letter:

"I thought I would write to you, and … answer... your question by saying that I would plant this by my dwelling and have done so for the last thirty years rather extensively. It turns out that this plant (Datura stramonium) is perhaps the very best plant with which to discover principles of heredity."

A highly invasive plant, the Algonquin Indians and other ancient peoples regarded Datura as a shamanistic plant and smoked it to induce intoxication and hallucinations or visions. The name Datura is from an early Sanskrit word meaning “divine inebriation.”

Now Datura's common name, Jimsonweed, is derived from Jamestown’s colonial settlement, where British soldiers were given a salad made with boiled “Jamestown weed” or Jimsonweed. For days after eating the greens, instead of quelling the colonial uprising known as the Bacon rebellion, the British soldiers turned fools, blowing feathers in the air, running about naked, and acting entirely out of their minds.


Unearthed Words

November 16, 1964
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Harvard botanist, Naturalist, Washington Post nature columnist, and author, Donald Culross Peattie, who died at 66. During his lifetime, Donald Peattie was regarded as the most read nature writer in America.

Donald had an older brother named Roderick, who was a geographer and an essayist. Of his younger brother Donald, Roderick once wrote:

“My young brother Donald was very skinny and quite philosophical. He took every faith but theosophy. He had a wonderful memory and a love of beauty, which still marks his life. Doubtless, he was a genius, but I thought him a pest.”

Here are some quotes by Donald Culross Peattie:

Winter is a study in halftones, and one must have an eye for them or go lonely.
— Donald Peattie, American botanist, naturalist, and author, An Almanac for Moderns, 1935


Limber Pines have a way of growing in dramatic places, taking picturesque attitudes, and getting themselves photographed, written about, and cared for...
— Donald Peattie, American botanist, naturalist, and author


A hummingbird is a feathered prism, a living rainbow; it captures the very sunlight.
— Donald Peattie, American botanist, naturalist, and author


If the Oak is King of Trees, then the White Oak is King of Kings.
— Donald Peattie, American botanist, naturalist, and author


Grow That Garden Library

The Gardens of Bunny Mellon by Linda Jane Holden

This book came out in 2018, and it is absolutely gorgeous and should be; every page is Bunny Mellon.

When she was alive, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s greatest love was garden design. Her husband, Paul Mellon, was one of America’s wealthiest men. Together, Bunny and Paul maintained five homes in New York, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Antigua, and Upperville, Virginia. In addition to designing the gardens for all of her homes, Bunny designed gardens for some of her closest friends, including the Rose Garden and the East Garden at the White House and the home of Hubert de Givenchy. These gardens are all featured in Linda’s beautiful book.

In the book, Linda thoughtfully includes Bunny’s garden plans, sketches, and watercolors (which I found fascinating) along with old photographs of Oak Spring, the Mellon estate in Upperville. And Linda had the gift of conducting extensive interviews with Bunny before she died in 2014, which gives her book an increased feeling of insight and authenticity.

This book is 308 pages of Bunny Mellon and her Gardens, and it really belongs in any serious garden library.

You can get a copy of The Gardens of Bunny Mellon by Linda Jane Holden and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $35


Today’s Botanic Spark

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

November 16, 1845  
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English political hostess and flower lover Elizabeth Fox, also known as Baroness Holland.

When she was 15, Elizabeth married Sir Godfrey Webster, who was 20 years her senior. After having five children in six years, Elizabeth began an affair with a Whig politician named Henry Fox, the 3rd Baron Holland, and she even had a child by him. Two days after divorcing Godfrey, Elizabeth quickly married Henry, and together they had six more children.

A domineering woman to her husband and her children, and a zealous socialite, Elizabeth is remembered for introducing the Dahlia to England. In 1804, the botanist Antonio José Cavanilles ("Cah-vah-nee-yes") gave seed from the Dahlia pinnata to Elizabeth during her trip to Madrid’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Once she returned to England, Elizabeth’s dahlia was successfully cultivated in her gardens at Holland House.

Twenty years after Elizabeth brought the Dahlia to England, her husband Henry included these words in a little love note:

“The dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises forever shall speak;
Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And in color as bright as your cheek."


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