Today we celebrate the man who was a gardener and a poet and he inspired the trend toward the picturesque natural Landscape.
We'll also learn about the Swiss botanist who specialized in mosses.
We’ll remember the birthday of the Father of American botany.
We’ll take a look back at a popular November fruit - I use it to make a traditional Thanksgiving salad.
We salute November in the garden with wise words from a gardener and writer.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a beautiful book that will help you become a houseplant master.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a little note about Goldenrod and Asters.
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November 18, 1714
Today is the birthday of the poet and Landscape gardener William Shenstone, who was born on this day in 1714.
In the early 1740s, William inherited his family's dairy farm, which he transformed into the Leasowes ("LEZ-zoes"). The transfer of ownership lit a fire under William, and he immediately started changing the land into a wild landscape - something he referred to as an ornamented farm.
William wisely bucked the trend of his time, which called for formal garden design (he didn't have the money to do that anyway.) Yet, what William accomplished was quite extraordinary. His picturesque natural landscape included water features like cascades and pools, as well as structures like temples and ruins.
What I love most about William is that he was a consummate host. He considered the comfort and perspective of the garden from the eye of his visitors when he created a walk around his estate. Wanting to control the experience, William added seating every so often along the path to cause folks to stop and admire the views that William found most appealing. Then, he incorporated signage and inscriptions with beautiful classical verses and poems - even adding some of his own - which elevated the Leasowes experience for guests.
Today, a little bench at the Leasowes shares this verse from William:
Here in cool grot, and mossy cell,
We rural fays and fairies dwell.
After his death, William’s garden became a popular destination - attracting the likes of William Pitt, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
One of the main reasons that we know so much about William Shenstone is thanks to his neighbor Henrietta (Lady Luxborough). After having an affair, Henrietta’s husband sent her to live in his ramshackle estate called Barrells. The experience was a revelation for her and Henrietta began to study landscape design. Even though he was 15 years younger than her, William mentored Henrietta and they corresponded about their landscapes and daily life.
Over time, Henrietta began to do a complete landscape makeover at Barrells. And, she wrote to William:
“I have made a garden which I am filling with all the flowering shrubs I can get…
I have also made an aviary, and filled it with a variety of singing birds,
and am now making a fountain in th e middle of it,
and a grotto to sit [in] and hear them sing”
November 18, 1806
Today is the birthday of a son of Switzerland, Charles Leo Lesquereux, ("le crew"), who was born on this day in 1806.
Leo was born with a naturalist's heart. A self-described dreamer, Leo loved to go out into the forest, and he collected all kinds of flowers and specimens for his mother.
Yet, when Leo was just seven years old, he fell off the top of a mountain. Leo was carried back to his home completely unconscious, with multiple injuries to his body as well as head trauma. Leo remained motionless and unconscious for two weeks. His survival was a miracle, yet the fall resulted in hearing loss that would eventually leave Leo utterly deaf by the time he was a young man. Despite the tragedy, nature still ruled Leo's heart. As Leo matured, he tried to provide for his family as a watchmaker. But, Leo found himself returning again and again to the outdoors.
Eventually, Leo began to focus his efforts on peat bogs, and his early work protecting peat-bogs attracted the attention of Louis Agassiz of Harvard, who invited Leo to bring his family to America. When he arrived, Leo classified the plants that Agassiz had discovered on his expedition to Lake Superior.
Then, on Christmas Eve, 1848, Asa Gray summoned Leo to help William Starling Sullivant. Gray predicted the collaboration would be successful and he wrote to his friend and fellow botanist John Torrey:
"They will do up bryology at a great rate. Lesquereux says that the collection and library of Sullivant in muscology are Magnifique, superb, and the best he ever saw."
Leo packed up his family and traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and settling near the bryologist, William Starling Sullivant.
Bryology is the study of mosses. The root, bryōs, is a Greek verb meaning to swell and is the etymology of the word embryo. Bryology will be easier to remember if you think of the ability of moss to expand as it takes on water. Mosses suited Leo and William's strengths. Mosses require patience and close observation, scrupulous accuracy, and discrimination. Together, Leo and William wrote the book on American mosses. William funded the endeavor, and he generously allowed Leo to share in the proceeds.
In 1873, Sullivant contracted pneumonia - ironically, an illness where your lungs fill or swell with fluid - and he died on April 30, 1873. Leo lived for another 16 years before dying at the age of 83.
It was Leo Lesquereux who said,
"My deafness cut me off from everything that lay outside of science.
I have lived with Nature, the rocks, the trees, the flowers.
They know me, I know them.”
November 18, 1810
Today is the birthday of one of the leading American botanists of his time and a member of Team Darwin, Asa Gray, who was born on this day in 1810.
In 1857, Asa Gray received a confidential letter from Charles Darwin.
In the letter, Darwin confided:
"I will enclose the briefest abstract of my notions on the means by which nature makes her species...
[but] I ask you not to mention my doctrine."
Asa encouraged his friend to publish his work post-haste. Two years later, Darwin revealed his concept of natural selection in his book, "On the Origin of Species."
Early adopters of natural selection, like Asa Gray, helped to advance the march of all science.
It was Asa Gray who said,
“Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder -
which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course.”
During his long tenure at Harvard, Asa established the science of botany and guided American botany into the international arena. He also co-authored 'Flora of North America' with John Torrey.
And it was Asa Gray who said,
“Faith in order, which is the basis of science,
cannot reasonably be separated from faith in an Ordainer,
which is the basis of religion.”
November 18, 1843
Back in 1843, cranberries were causing a sensation in towns and cities around the country.
The New England Farmer shared a charming update on the demand for the seasonal fruit, saying:
"Cranberries. This pleasant fruit is now received in large quantities from the West. The crops in the East are… cut off in a great measure by frost; ...no doubt Michigan cranberries will be eaten in the very headquarters of cranberries: Barnstable, Massachusetts.
We had no idea, until today, of the quantity sold in this city. But within a few days, one house on Front street sold 250 barrels of cranberries from Michigan, at $6 - $6.50 per barrel. [The demand is] more than they can supply.
Of the same lot, 300 barrels, went over the western railroad to Boston, and were there sold as soon as received."
Most people, early in November, take last looks at their gardens
and are then prepared to ignore them until the spring.
I am quite sure that a garden doesn't like to be ignored like this.
It doesn't like to be covered in dust sheets,
as though it were an old room which you had shut up during the winter.
Especially since a garden knows how gay and delightful it can be,
even in the very frozen heart of the winter,
if you only give it a chance.
— Beverley Nichols, garden writer, and gardener
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is The Art and Science to Grow your own House Plants.
In this book, Kew guides today’s house plant gardener! If you feel like your houseplants are unhappy or if you feel you need a little upgrade to your houseplant know-how, this book is the solution. Kew shares insights into the plants that can handle neglect and the plants that need babying. Popular plants like cacti, succulents, and air plants are profiled. Kew also shares the houseplants that are prized for their flowers, foliage, fragrance, and even air-purifying abilities.
Nurture your house plants and create a restorative escape using the tips and projects in this attractive guide. My favorite aspect of this book is the mix of botanical prints with modern photographs that share step-by-step instructions and inspiration. In addition to covering the basics of selecting, potting, general care, and feeding, Kay teaches you how to prune and propagate so you can make more plant babies.
This book is 144 pages of beautiful advice and inspiration for houseplants and I think it would make a wonderful gift to accompany a little houseplant for someone in your life.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart...
November 18, 1881
On this day, Asa Gray received a letter from his botanical friend and colleague George Engelmann. Asa wrote him back in December:
“My dear old Friend,
It is shabby of me to wait so long in response to your kindly greetings,
which were dated on my birthday, November 18.
But I was very busy when it came, and hardly less so since,
and so I let it get out of sight.
Accumulated collections, [from] Lemmon, Parish, Cusick…
have taken all my time up to now…
And now I can think of getting at my “Flora” work again.
First of all, I [need to finish] my manuscript for Solidago and Aster.
Solidago ("sol-uh-DAY-go") I always find rather hopeful.
Aster... is my utter despair!
Still I can work my way through - except for the Rocky Mountain Pacific species.
I will try them once more, though I see not how to limit species,
and to describe specimens is endless and hopeless.”
Since Asa’s lifetime, the Aster genus has been narrowed and now has around 180 species.
Solidago’s are commonly called goldenrods and there are nearly 120 species of them in the Aster family.
Finally here are two fun facts about Solidago or Goldenrod:
- Medicinally, Goldenrod is extremely effective for treating Urinary Tract Infection.
- Thomas Edison made his tires for a Model T, that was gifted to him by Henry Ford, using rubber extracted from the Goldenrod plant.
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