Today we celebrate the botanist who discovered the Rhododenrun minus growing in South Carolina.
We'll also learn about the young German botanist who died on the Niger Expedition after valiantly trying to keep his plants alive.
We’ll recognize an Irish doctor who was one of the first people to discover the greenhouse effect.
We salute the naturalist of Germantown, Pennsylvania, whose love for wildflowers and nature was unsurpassed.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a downhome book dedicated to helping you with the family garden to make it a resounding success.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the brilliant plantswoman who understood the subtleties of gardening and design.
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December 4, 1788
On this day, Andre Michaux made his way from Georgia into South Carolina by crossing the Tugalo River.
In his journal, Michaux wrote:
"At dawn, I went to look at the banks of the river, and I recognized the yellow root, [a new species of rhododendron], mountain laurel, hydrangea, [and] hemlock spruce. . . ."
Now Harvard's Charles Sprague Sargent remarked on the significance of this moment because it was the first time that Michaux laid eyes on the Rhododendron minus. Rhododendron grows naturally in the South from North Carolina to Alabama.
With its soil and climate, Rhododendrons are perfectly suited to grow in South Carolina.
The blossoms of rhododendrons have a wide color range from white to deep purple and blue. A versatile plant, Rhododendrons can be planted as specimens or even as hedges in gardens or natural settings.
If you have oak or pine trees on your property, Rhododendrons are ideal for underplanting due to the filtered light from the tree canopy, the soil pH, and natural mulch. As the mulch breaks down, the organic matter provides the rhododendron with the perfect mix of nutrients. Finally, Rhododendrons need well-drained soil, and you should consider taking advantage of that fact by planting them on a slope.
December 4, 1841
On this day, the German botanist Theodore Vogel was laid low with dysentery.
After joining the Niger (“nee-ZHER") expedition, Theodore recorded in his journal the difficulties of traveling without the benefit of a Wardian Case on board a naval warship called the Wilberforce:
"As soon as I got on board... my first care was to…
the plants gathered since we arrived at Cape Coast Castle.
But though I had taken all possible care, much was spoilt
and almost everything in a bad state.
It has been my lot ... after endless labor.
I mention this, on purpose, that in case my collection comes into other hands, I may not be accused of negligence.
I have sacrificed every convenience to gain room
and spared no trouble to overcome the dampness of the ship
and of the atmosphere, but without success.
The general arrangements of a man-of-war do not give many opportunities for such experiments. When will the time arrive, that ...naturalists [will receive] the appropriate and necessary support?"
When Theodore became sick on this day in 1841, his friend and fellow German, the mineralogist, Charles Gottfried Roscher, tended to him for thirteen days and never left his bedside.
On December 17th, about mid-day, Theodore woke to ask Charles if everything was ready for their excursion, and then he peacefully passed away.
December 4, 1893
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Irish experimental physicist John Tyndall.
In 1859, John discovered the link between atmospheric CO2 and what we call the Greenhouse effect. And Although John was often attributed as the first person to discover the Greenhouse effect, today we know that a female scientist named Eunice Foote discovered it in 1856 - a full three years earlier.
That said, John is best known for learning why the sky is blue. It turns out that light scattering through molecules suspended in the atmosphere creates the color, which is sometimes referred to as Tyndall Blue. As all gardeners know, there is nothing more beautiful than the garden set against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky.
All in all, John was one of Ireland’s most successful scientists and educators.
December 4, 1903
On this day, the Germantown historian, botanist, and writer Edwin Jellett wrote his final column for The Independent Gazette.
Edwin’s charming column in The Independent Gazette appeared for forty weeks and shared his thoughts on his two passions: history and botany in Northwest Philadelphia. Gardeners will appreciate that every one of Edwin’s columns wrapped up with a list of the 30 to 40 plants shared in the post, along with both the Latin and common names.
And if you'd like to read Edwin's work, you can - thanks to the Awbury Arboretum. In honor of its centennial in 2016, the Awbury Arboretum digitized all of Edwin's columns. Here’s an excerpt from his last column published today in 1903:
“To me, the vale is stored with memories, and one of its most pleasing and tender is Thomas Meehan’s connection with it.
In this region dwell many of our fairest and rarest wildflowers…
Usually, about the middle of January, [there is] a new color in sweet-birch, sassafras, red maple, and many small plants... and the blushing glow is evidence of a renewed circulation.
Hazelnut, if not in bloom at Christmas, is always so shortly after and is closely followed by alder, pussy willow, and silver maple; in favorable seasons, these always bloom before February first.
In gardens, ice plant, sedums, and euphorbia appear early above ground,
and evergreen native and exotic, Adam’s needle, Scottish heath, Japanese euonymus, retinospora,
native and Chinese arborvitae, box and Japan privet, laurel and rhododendrons,
holly and yew, cedar, juniper and evergreen cypress, fir, spruce, and pine,
and other... evergreen plants, cast shadows upon the snow
to remind us of pleasant days past,
and of warmer, brighter ones to come.”
The way that leads to winter
Will lead to summer too,
For all roads end in other roads
Where we may start anew.
— Arthur St. John Adcock, English poet and novelist (1864-1930), The Travellers
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Grow a Year's Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food.
In this book, Melissa shares her expertise after growing up gardening - and now gardening with her family on almost 15 acres of land in the foothills of the North Cascade mountain range in Washington State.
Melissa shares hard-won knowledge from decades of trial and error. She is an expert heirloom gardener, preserver, farmer, cook, and homemaker. Her book is personal and Inspirational. Melissa shares inspiring bible verses, family stories, and photography from her very own garden, which gives her book an authenticity that many garden books lack.
Melissa’s book is meant to be used as a reference. She includes helpful tips and suggestions to keep you and your garden growing.
This book is 224 pages of downhome advice from a genuine gardener with a passion for helping others.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
December 4, 1896
Today is the birthday of the charismatic Australian gardener, designer, and writer Edna Walling.
Remembered for her gorgeous garden designs, Edna wrote some wonderful books on Australian gardening & landscaping. After working nonstop for four decades between the 1920s and 1960s, Edna created over 300 gardens. Today many Australians regard Edna as the most excellent landscape designer that Australia has ever known.
An ardent conservationist, Edna was ahead of her time. By advocating for native plants, Edna’s favorite plants were naturally drought-hardy - a must for Australia’s harsh climate.
Peter Watts wrote about Edna’s work and legacy and said,
"[Enda] was a gardener’s designer – a brilliant plantswoman who understood the subtleties of gardening and design…
[She] always thought gardens should be just a bit bigger than they needed so that you couldn’t control them entirely."
It was Edna Walling who said,
"Nature is our greatest teacher."
And, there’s an adorable story about Edna. In November of 1941, Edna received criticism from a friend for sharing her preference for perennials over annuals.
"[I got] a letter from a friend the other day who addressed me:
If you can't grow them yourself, you needn't be snippy about them.’
Oooooh, what have I said?
Something rude about Iceland poppies or asters?
How narrow-minded of me.”
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