Today we remember the momentous bursting of a peat bog in Scotland.
We'll also learn about the botanist nephew of Benjamin Smith Barton.
We’ll honor a British Iris enthusiast and painter.
We salute the poet known as the Canadian Keats.
We’ll Grow That Garden Library™ with a cookbook for gardeners.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a Queen who helped expand Kew Gardens and was also a botanist in her own right.
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November 17, 1771
On this day, heavy rains caused the ancient raised peat bog known as the Solway Moss to burst over its earthen banks and flow down into a valley and cover 400 acres of farmland.
The next day, Solway Moss covered the surrounding land with 15 feet of thick feculent mud.
Solway Moss was a one-by-two-mile-long moss land growing since the end of the last Ice Age. The raised bog was an estimated 50 feet higher than the surrounding farmland.
The living surface of the Solway Moss was a unique mix of bog cotton, sphagnum, and heather. The porous soupy surface hosted a few shrubs and standing pools of water. But the rotting vegetation created a dangerous quagmire that no man or cattle would dare traverse throughout the year.
Over two hundred years before the Solway Moss burst, the English and the Scots fought over the land surrounding the bog in the Battle of Solway Moss. After the English victory, hundreds of Scots drowned in the bog as they tried to return home by crossing the moss hillside.
Like a sponge, peat expands to absorb moisture when it gets wet. And, during wet months like November of 1771, the peat swells, and in this case, the peat swelled until it bursts.
The incredible event was recorded in a journal:
"A farmer who lived nearest the moss was alarmed with an unusual noise.
The crust had at once given way, and the black deluge was rolling toward his house.
He gave notice to his neighbors with all expedition;
others received no other advice but… by its noise,
many by its entrance into their houses….
some were surprised with it even in their beds.
[while some] remaining totally ignorant…until the morning
when their neighbors with difficulty got them out through the roof.
The eruption burst… like a cataract of thick ink...
intermixed with great fragments of peat...
filling the whole valley... leaving... tremendous heaps of turf.”
November 17, 1786
Today is the birthday of the lawyer and medical botanist William Barton.
William’s uncle was 18th-century preeminent medical botanist Benjamin Smith Barton, from whom he learned his passion for botany.
In 1809 William enlisted in the Navy as a Surgeon and immediately fought to improve his fellow soldiers’ health. First, William tackled scurvy - the disease caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. William gave every sailor a lime or lemon. Thanks to William, permanent naval hospitals - complete with regulations and staff - popped up in port cities. And William was the first person to promote hiring female nurses to serve in naval hospitals.
In terms of botany, William wrote his Vegetable Materia Medica (Medical Botany) of the United States in 1817. The book shared the botanical, general, and medical history of medicinal plants indigenous to the United States. In his book, William disputed false curative uses for plants.
Specifically, William disputed alumroot or Heuchera americana as an effective cancer treatment, writing:
"I do not believe that the Heuchera has cured genuine cancer: but… it has proven beneficial in [treating] some obstinate ulcers, which have been mistaken for cancer."
William illustrated all the plants in his book, and his wife Esther colored many of his drawings.
When his uncle Benjamin died in 1815, William assumed his post at the University of Pennsylvania.
November 17, 1855
Today is the birthday of the botanical painter, plantsman, and iris enthusiast William James Caparne (“Cap-arn”).
A close friend of the English daffodil grower Peter Barr, William made his way to Guernsey at midlife to become a full-time landscape and flower painter. When he wasn’t painting, William was busy plant breeding in his nursery. His favorite flower was Iris.
Before Guernsey, William and Louisa lived with their two children in Northamptonshire. After Louisa died at age 46, William left his children with his in-laws and made his way to Guernsey's quiet and tranquil island.
Guernsey was a balm to William Caparne. The soil and climate were perfect for growing bulbs like daffodils and iris. And his friend and fellow iris breeder, Sir Michael Foster, wrote a letter to William with some free advice about breeding. He advised, "In hybridizing, be bold.” Once William got established on Guernsey, he added an “e” to the end of his last name, and his daughter Winifred came to live with him.
As his confidence grew, William went on painting expeditions, where he painted gardens all across Europe. In 1905, William found himself in the company of Monet at Giverny. Together William and Monet shared a love of flowers and painting - although they each had a slightly different chicken or the egg philosophy. Monet explained,
“I became an artist because of flowers.”
“There could never be art without flowers.”
By the time William died in 1940, he was impoverished and almost blind. Still, William had introduced over two hundred new irises through his breeding efforts at his nursery. And William left his remarkable art collection of nearly 8,000 pieces of botanical mastery to Winifred.
In 2005, Guernsey commemorated William Caperne with a stamp series featuring his beautiful floral paintings.
Today the Caperne-Welch Medal is given to honor a Caperne specialty: new miniature dwarf bearded irises.
November 17, 1861
Today is the birthday of the Canadian poet and naturalist Archibald Lampman.
Archibald loved camping and the countryside. The natural world inspired his verse, and he became known as “The Canadian Keats.” Due to suffering from rheumatic fever in his childhood, Archibald’s life was cut short, and he died at 37. Archibald is buried at Beechwood Cemetery, in Ottawa and a plaque near his grave is inscribed with his poem "In November.”
The leafless forests slowly yield
To the thick-driving snow. A little while
And night shall darken down. In shouting file
The woodmen's carts go by me homeward-wheeled,
Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed,
Where the last plowman follows still his row,
Turning black furrows through the whitening field.
Far off the village lamps begin to gleam,
Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way;
The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan
About the naked uplands. I alone
Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray,
Wrapped round with thought, content to watch, and dream.
— Archibald Lampman, Canadian poet, and naturalist, In November
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate.
In this book, we get to go to the gardens of the world's leading restaurants, and then, we get access to more than 100 garden-inspired recipes.
The forty chefs featured in this brilliant cookbook view their gardens as a direct extension of their kitchens.
Now, what I love about this cookbook is seeing how vegetables are grown and used by top chefs from around the world. Even then, I have to say that the gardens and the dishes don’t seem like a stretch for the average home gardener.
Plot-to-plate cooking has never been so beautifully photographed. Plus, the chefs share their hints and tips on growing or using the produce, making this cookbook a font of inspiration.
This book is 256 pages of garden-to-fork inspiration, and I think it would make a wonderful gift for the holidays.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
November 17, 1818
Today is the anniversary of the death of the woman who was a patroness of the arts, an amateur botanist, a champion of Kew Gardens, and the wife of George III, Queen Charlotte.
In addition to the astounding fact that Charlotte gave birth to 15 children, she was a fascinating royal. Born in Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Germany, Charlotte was the first person in England to bring a Christmas tree indoors to celebrate the holiday season. In December 1800, Charlotte selected a yew which was brought inside Windsor Castle and festively decorated. Charlotte brought the idea for the Christmas tree from her home country of Germany.
George and Charlotte both loved botany. After his mother’s death, George gained control of Kew and Charlotte set about expanding Kew Gardens. On the property, Charlotte had a little cottage installed along with a rustic cottage garden. Her daughter Elizabeth is likely the person who painted the attic room ceiling with nasturtium and morning glory. It's very sweet.
Charlotte was quite serious in her pursuit of botany. She collected plants, and she had a personal herbarium to help with her studies. The President of the Linnean Society, Sir James Edward Smith, personally tutored Charlotte in botany, along with her four daughters.
And, George and Charlotte both became close friends with the botanical tissue paper artist Mary Delany. And in a touching gesture, at the end of Mary’s life, George and Charlotte gave her a house at Windsor along with a pension.
When plant hunters in South Africa discovered the Bird of Paradise flower, it was sent to England and named for Charlotte’s birthplace, Strelitz. The botanical name for the Bird of Paradise is Strelitzia reginae "stray-LIT-zee-ah REJ-in-ee.”
The early part of Charlotte’s reign occurred before the American Revolution, which is why so many American locations were named in Charlotte’s honor. There are eleven cities named Charlotte, with the most famous being Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s no wonder that Charlotte, North Carolina, has the nickname “The Queen’s City,” and there’s a 25-foot tall bronze statue of Charlotte outside the Charlotte airport. And, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and Virginia are both named for Charlotte’s homeplace in Germany: Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Charlotte died at the age of 74 at the smallest English royal palace, Kew Palace, at Kew Gardens. She had reigned for 57 years.
Today, gardeners love the Japanese Anemone Queen Charlotte. It’s the perfect plant for adding late color to the garden with light pink petals and golden-yellow centers. And it's really, really beautiful.
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