Today we celebrate the botanist who saved the Lewis and Clark specimen sheets.
We'll also learn about the successful botanist and garden designer who introduced the navel orange.
We’ll recognize the Conservatory stocked by the World’s Fair.
We'll hear a charming verse about the mistletoe by a poet entomologist.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book featuring fifteen incredible private gardens in North America.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the American writer who wrote about the natural world with simplicity and honesty.
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December 7, 1817
Today is the birthday of the American botanist and professor Edward Tuckerman.
A specialist of lichens and other Alpine plants, Edward helped found the Natural History Society of Boston. As a professor at Amherst College, Edward spent his spare time botanizing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Today Tuckerman Ravine is named in honor of Edward Tuckerman.
America owes a debt of gratitude to Edward for rescuing some of the Lewis and Clark specimens at an auction.
It turns out that after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a botanist named Frederic Pursh was hired by Meriwether Lewis to process the plants from their trip. After butting heads with his boss Benjamin Smith Barton and Meriwether’s apparent suicide, Frederick Pursh took the Lewis and Clark specimens and went to England. Once in England, Pursh reached out to botanists Sir James Edward Smith and Aylmer Lambert about putting together the Flora of North America.
Ultimately, Aylmer became his botanical fairy godfather. Aylmer had a substantial personal botanical library, herbarium, and funding. Aylmer also forced Pursh to be productive.
Frederick Pursh was kind of a rough and tough guy, and he was an alcoholic. Aylmer made a space for Frederick in the attic of his house. Once Aylmer got him up there, he would lock Frederick in for stretches at a time to keep him focused on the project. It was an extreme way to deal with Frederick’s demons, but it worked.
It took Pursh two years to complete the Flora of North America, and the whole time he was racing against Thomas Nuttall, who was working on the same subject back in America.
American botanists felt Frederick Pursh had pulled the rug out from under them when he took the expedition specimens to England. And this is where Edward Tuckerman enters the story. Somehow Edward learned that the Lewis and Clark specimens that Pursh had brought to England were going to auction.
It turns out Aylmer had hung on to all of Pursh’s material, including the Lewis and Clark originals. In 1842, after Aylmer died, the Lewis and Clark specimens and papers were up for auction along as part of his estate. Somehow Edward realized the value and the important legacy of these botanical specimens and papers. After winning the items, Edward eventually donated all of the material to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
December 7, 1822
Today is the birthday of the English-American botanist, nurseryman, landscape gardener, and landscape designer William Saunders.
William served as the first horticulturist and superintendent of the experimental gardens at the newly created U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During his professional career, William enjoyed many successes, but two stand out above the rest.
First, William designed the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg. On November 17, 1863, William visited the White House to show President Abraham Lincoln his design for the cemetery near the Gettysburg battlefield. William thoughtfully made sure that the Union army dead would be organized by state. A devoted botanist, William’s design was the setting for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, an ode to the fallen soldiers interred there.
William’s second major accomplishment was introducing the seedless Navel Orange to California. After William had received cuttings from a navel orange tree in Bahia Brazil, he forwarded the cuttings to a friend named Eliza Tibbetts, who had recently settled in a town called Riverside, fifty-five miles east of Los Angeles. Eliza and her husband, Luther, planted the navel oranges in their front yard. They watered the trees with dishwater, and both of the trees flourished.
In California, navel oranges are picked from October through the end of May. Navel oranges are known for their sweetness and the sweet little navel on the blossom end. A ripe navel orange should have thin, smooth skin with no soft spots. The orange should feel firm, and the riper the orange, the heavier it should feel. The sweetest time to eat navel oranges is after Thanksgiving; that’s when their flavor and color are at their peak.
Because navel oranges are seedless, they can only be propagated by cutting. Over the years, Eliza and her husband took so many cuttings of the original two trees that they nearly killed them. In the early 1880s, they sold enough cuttings at a dollar apiece to make over $20,000 a year - that’s over half a million dollars by today’s standards.
Ironically, in the 1930s, Brazil’s entire navel orange crop was destroyed by disease. In response, the USDA sent cuttings of Tibbett’s navel oranges to restart Brazil’s navel orange orchards. Today, every navel orange grown in the world is descended from the cuttings William Saunders sent Eliza Tibbetts.
Today, one of the Tibbett’s navel orange trees still stands on the corner of Magnolia and Arlington avenues in Riverside. The tree has been a protected California Historic Landmark since 1932.
December 7, 1893
On this day, the Phipps Conservatory first opened to the public.
A gift from Henry Phipps, Jr. to the City of Pittsburgh, Henry was a childhood friend and business partner of Andrew Carnegie. And gardeners who know their garden history probably already know that the Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton inspired the 14-room glasshouse at the Phipps Conservatory.
In 1893, as the Chicago World’s Fair ended, the plant material was fortuitously available to the highest bidder, and over 8,000 plants ended up on 15 train cars headed east to the Phipps. And that’s how the Phipp’s Conservatory ended up benefiting from impeccable timing; stocking their brand new space with incredible plants for a botanical bargain on a scale never seen before or since.
In 2018, the Phipps Conservatory and botanical gardens celebrated their 125th Anniversary. Today the Phipps encompasses fifteen acres and includes 23 distinct gardens.
There's a sound of a festive morrow,
It rings with delight over the snow,
Dispelling the shadows of sorrow
With promise that makes the heart glow...
An angel peeps in at the window,
And smiles as he looketh around,
And kisses the mistletoe berries
That wave o'er the love-hallowed ground.
— Henry Rowland Brown, English entomologist, and poet, Christmas Eve
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is Landscapes, Interiors, Arrangements, and Recipes Inspired by Horticultural Splendors.
Established in 1954, Relais & Châteaux is an association of the world's finest hoteliers, chefs, and restaurateurs who have set the standard for hospitality excellence. In this book, fifteen incredible establishments from Relais & Châteaux share their inspiring ideas for seasonal gardening, interior design, and entertaining. These elite hospitality experts share these exclusive beautifully-designed environments. And, they don’t leave you guessing. The authors show you how to translate their savoir-faire into indoor and outdoor sanctuaries and incredible events at home.
The gardens featured range from simple cutting and kitchen gardens to more elaborate formal plantings, including parterres and topiaries. The garden’s delights are then brought indoors via botanical prints, textiles, wallpapers, and art objects, like metal and porcelain flowers. This resource also shares smart ideas for setting a festive table using rose petals, garlands, and bud vases. They even share their secrets for dressing up dishes and cocktails with edible flower garnishes. This book is a must-read for passionate gardeners who long to bring the sparkle and freshness of the outdoors into the home.
This book is 240 pages of the finest horticultural havens at fifteen top Relais & Châteaux locations in America.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
December 7, 1873
Today is the birthday of the American writer Willa Cather.
Remembered for her novels of frontier life like O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, Willa won a Pulitzer for her World War I novel called One of Ours.
Here’s an excerpt that will delight the ears of gardeners from Cather’s My Antonia. The story’s narrator is Antonia’s friend Jim Burden. In this excerpt, Jim is lying on the ground in his grandmother’s garden as the warm sun shines down on him:
The earth was warm under me,
and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers.
Queer little red bugs came out
and moved in slow squadrons around me.
Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots.
I kept as still as I could.
I did not expect anything to happen.
I was something that lay under the sun and felt it,
like the pumpkins,
and I did not want to be anything more.
I was entirely happy.
Perhaps we feel like that when we die
and become a part of something entire,
whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge.
At any rate, that is happiness;
to be dissolved into something complete and great.
When it comes to one,
it comes as naturally as sleep.
— Willa Cather, American writer, My Antonia
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