Today we celebrate the clergyman who wrote hymns and poems that use garden imagery.
We'll also learn about the man who loved gardens and garden design - and he wasn’t afraid of Virginia Woolf… he was married to her.
We’ll recognize a sculptor whose final work was a touching monument to children incorporating a bouquet of snowdrops.
We hear a hauntingly beautiful poem by an English clergyman and poet.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that teaches how to make garden crafts and projects that are totally within reach and are utterly charming with their appealing and practical sensibility.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of an Opera singer turned gardener.
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November 25, 1748
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English Christian minister (Congregational) and prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts.
Known as the "Godfather of English Hymnody," Isaac’s hymns are still sung in churches today: “O God our Help in Ages Past,” “There is a Land of Pure Delight.” There’s another Isaac Watts hymn that will be getting some traction over the next month: “Joy to the World.”
Isaac’s work marked a turning point for hymn writing because he didn’t just set psalms and scripture to song; he actually wrote original verse.
Isaac’s hymn, “We are a Garden Walled Around,” uses garden imagery and is a favorite with gardeners:
We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot enclosed by grace
Out of the world's wide wilderness.
Like trees of myrrh and spice we stand,
Planted by God's almighty hand;
And all the springs in Zion flow,
To make the young plantation grow.
Awake, O, heavenly wind! And come,
Blow on this garden of perfume;
Spirit divine! descend and breathe
A gracious gale on plants beneath.
Make our best spices flow abroad,
To entertain our Savior God
And faith, and love, and joy appear,
And every grace be active here.
November 25, 1880
Today is the birthday of the British political theorist, writer, publisher, civil servant, and gardener Leonard Sidney Woolf.
Leonard was the husband of Virginia Woolf. Leonard was the primary gardener and garden designer of Monk's House - although Virginia helped him. Virginia and Leonard lived at the house when they first purchased it in 1919 until their deaths.
The garden at Monk's House was a retreat and a place where they could both escape from London’s chaos.
Leonard loved to be in the garden gardening. He hated tea roses and floribunda roses. He loved fruit trees like apples and pears, and he sold the fruits to make money. Leonard's devotion to the garden was a source of consternation for Virginia. Leonard spent so much of his time and money on the garden that Virginia famously complained, “We are watering the earth with our money!” Leonard recorded all of his Monk's House garden income and expenditures in a gorgeous dark green and pink ledger book. The first line in the book is dated August 26th, 1919, and he recorded the first gardening work performed by gardener William Dedman.
Virginia described Monk's House as "the pride of our hearts.’" In July of 1919, Virginia wrote that gardening or weeding produced "a queer sort of enthusiasm." When Virginia suffered bouts of depression, the garden at Monk's House was where she went to recover and heal.
And, since both Virginia and Leonard kept diaries, we know today that the garden was a frequent topic.
On September 29, 1919, Virginia wrote:
"A week ago, Leonard's wrist and arm broke into a rash. The doctor called it eczema.
Then Mrs. Dedman brushed this aside and diagnosed sunflower poisoning.
[Leonard] had been uprooting them with bare hands.
We have accepted her judgment."
One of Virginia's favorite places to write was in the garden at Monk's House. She had a small converted shed that she called her writing lodge. Every morning on her way to the lodge, Virginia walked through the garden. The Monk's House garden was THE place where she wrote some of her most famous works.
One story illustrates Leonard's devotion to gardening. In 1939, as the second world war approached, Virginia called for him to come inside to listen to "the lunatic" Hitler on the radio. But Leonard was in the middle of tending to his Iris, and he shouted back:
”I shan’t come. I am planting iris, and they will be flowering long after he is dead.”
After Virginia's tragic suicide, Leonard wrote:
"I know that Virginia will not come across the garden from the Lodge,
and yet I look in that direction for her.
I know that she is drowned, and yet I listen for her to come in at the door."
And, there were two Elm trees at Monk's House garden that the Woolf's had sweetly named after themselves, “Virginia and Leonard.”
Leonard buried Virginia’s ashes under one of those Elms and installed a stone tablet with the last lines from her novel The Waves:
“Against you, I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! The waves crashed on the shore.”
November 25, 1816
Today is the anniversary of the death of one of the great English sculptors, Francis Chantrey.
Francis, who sculpted both kings and presidents, was commissioned to sculpt a memorial to two young girls, Ellen-Jane and Marianne Robinson. Ellen-Jane and Marianne had lost their father, Reverend William Robinson when he was in his thirties.
In 1813, their mother took them on a trip to Bath. One evening as she was getting ready for bed, Ellen-Jane’s nightgown caught on fire. She died the next day. The following year, the younger daughter, Marianne, got sick and died in London. So, within three years, Mrs. Robinson lost her entire family, and she went to Francis Chantrey and asked him to make a sculpture. In turn, Francis honored her request to recreate a scene seen repeatedly with her girls: they would often fall asleep in each other’s arms.
And so it was that in the year he died, Francis created his final masterpiece, “The Sleeping Children”. Francis added a touching last element to their memorial when he sculpted a bouquet of snowdrops in little Marianne’s hands. Seeing this memorial is on my bucket list. The Sleeping Children sculpture is at the Lichfield (“Litchfield”) Cathedral in England.
So breathing and so beautiful, they seem,
As if to die in youth were but to dream
Of spring and flowers! Of flowers? Yet nearer stand
There is a lily in one little hand,
So sleeps that child, not faded, though in death,
And seeming still to hear her sister's breath,
Take up those flowers that fell
From the dead hand, and sigh a long farewell!
Thine, Chantrey, be the fame
That joins to immortality thy name.
For these sweet children that so sculptured rest
A sister's head upon a sister's breast
Age after age shall pass away,
Nor shall their beauty fade, their forms decay.
Mothers, till ruin the round world hath rent,
Shall gaze with tears upon the monument!
And fathers sigh, with half-suspended breath:
How sweetly sleep the innocent in death!
— William Lisle Bowles, English priest, poet, and critic, The Sleeping Children.
Note: This is an excerpt from this hauntingly beautiful poem written in tribute to The Sleeping Children sculpture by Francis Chantrey in memory of Ellen-Jane and Marianne Robinson.
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is 60 Planters, Bird Houses, Lotion Bars, Garlands, and More.
In this book, Debbie shares easy projects and beautiful crafts for your garden and home. With Debbie’s step by step instructions, you can make a Bird and Bee Bath, a Flower Press, a Foraged Garland, Herb Napkins Rings, Herb Drying Racks, and Unique Planters.
I love Debbie because she wants her readers to use what they have - go and find your home-grown and foraged materials - and make something beautiful with them.
Debbie even shows how to make personal and household items that would make excellent gifts: Herbal Lotion Bars, Gardener Hand Scrub, and All-Purpose Thyme Cleaner.
If you're a gardener or DIY lover, this book is for you! Loaded with gorgeous photography, Debbie will inspire you to get out in the garden, get creative, and make something with your own two hands.
This book is 240 pages of crafts and projects that are totally within reach and are utterly charming with their appealing and practical sensibility.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
November 25, 1914
On this day, the St. Joseph Gazette wrote a front-page article about the Romanian-born American soprano Alma Gluck and the headline was “Miss Gluck is Quite a Farmer.”
“One would scarcely expect a young and beautiful prima donna who… is recognized the world over as one of the greatest of sopranos, to know much about raising chickens. Nor is it… expected that she be a connoisseur of tomato raising… Standing beside the window of her room at the Hotel Robidoux, [Alma]... told with characteristic enthusiasm of her "farm" at Lake George, where each summer she and Miss Jewell, her companion, spend their vacations."
"One year, you know, we decided to raise chickens. Neither of us knew a thing about the creatures, but we bought fifty just fresh from an incubator. Our farmer neighbors told us we should have brooders to keep them at night and advised us to get cheese boxes and line them with cotton batting.
We fixed them up cozy as you please and each night stuffed the baby chicks in their beds. But they began soon to die. We couldn’t imagine what was the matter with them. They just grew knock-kneed and drooped over.
Our cook decided she would make an examination, and cutting open one of the chicks, what do you suppose she found? It was just lined with cotton batting. The little things had pecked all the cotton from around their beds. After that we hung a feather duster in the brooder, and the chicks hovered each night under that Just as though they had a mother. And later I myself sawed and built a little house for them.
We became quite famous gardeners, too. Despite the fact, we knew nothing of such things when we started planting a garden. We raised the best tomatoes grown in that section of the state."
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"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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