Today we celebrate the first snow of 1855 on Walden Pond.
We'll also learn about the young woman who became an emblem for a raisin company.
We’ll remember the gardener spy who discovered photographer in the last decades of his life.
We hear a verse of flowers for a poet’s dead friend.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that takes us through 100 gardens to help us understand the history of landscape design.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the sweet story of a sweet potato party and the fascinating woman who came up with the idea back in 1969.
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December 9, 1855
On this day, it was starting to snow on Walden Pond.
The winter Landscape appeared before Henry David Thoreau’s eyes, and he captured the transformation in his journal:
“At 8.30 a fine snow begins to fall,
increasing very gradually,
perfectly straight down,
till in fifteen minutes, the ground is white,
the smooth places first,
and thus, the winter landscape is ushered in.
And now it is falling thus all the land over,
sifting down through the tree-tops in woods,
and on the meadow and pastures,
where the dry grass and weeds conceal it at first,
and on the river and ponds, in which it is dissolved.
But in a few minutes,
it turns to rain,
and so the wintry landscape is postponed for the present.”
December 9, 1892
Today is the birthday of the American model Lorraine Collett, born on this day in 1892 in Kansas City, Missouri.
At the age of 23, Lorraine worked as a Sun-Maid Raisin girl and wore a blue bonnet with a white blouse and blue piping. Lorraine and the other Sun-Maid girls handed out raisins. In a spectacular marketing stunt, Lorraine even hopped aboard a small plane every day of the festival and tossed raisins into the crowds of people.
One Sunday morning, after her mom had set her hair into eight long black curls, Lorraine was outside drying her hair in the warmth of her sunny backyard in Fresno. That afternoon, Lorraine had swapped out her blue bonnet for her mother’s red one. The combination of her silky black curls and the red bonnet in the sunshine made an arresting sight. Coincidentally, a group of raisin coop executives and their wives walked by at that very moment, and they asked Lorraine about the red bonnet.
After that day, all the Sun-Maids wore red bonnets, and Lorraine agreed to pose for a watercolor painting. Lorraine and her mom had to rent an apartment in San Francisco for a month to work with the artist Fanny Scafford. All month long, Lorraine posed every day for three hours a day. She held a wooden tray overflowing with grapes while wearing the red bonnet. The portrait ended up as the symbol for the company and was included on the cover of every box of raisins. One newspaper article about the story in 1978 had the headline “Hair A-glinting in the Sun Made Girl an Emblem.”
After many years, the painting ended up in Lorraine’s possession. Later on, Lorraine returned the watercolor to the company. Today, the portrait hangs in a conference room at the Sun-Maid Growers plant. And the faded red bonnet was donated to the Smithsonian by the company in honor of Sun Maid's 75th Anniversary.
December 9, 1913
Today is the birthday of the lawyer, politician, diplomat, scholar, photographer, award-winning gardener, writer, and spy Peter Smithers.
Peter learned to love gardening as a little boy. One of his earliest memories came when he was four years old and planted mustard seeds with his nanny. He said,
“She was quite aware of a child's inability to wait long for anything. Instead of having me plant a bulb, which would have taken weeks to appear above ground, she handed me mustard seeds that popped up the next day. I was hooked for life.”
Incredibly, in his adult life, Peter inspired the fictional character of James Bond.
Peter’s 2006 obituary alluded to his past as a spy and politician when it stated that:
"Flowers were ... important to him.
[He said] "I regard gardening and planting as the other half of life, a counterpoint to the rough and tumble of politics."
Once he turned 50, as his days in politics came to an end, Peter devoted himself to gardening. Rhododendrons, magnolias, tree peonies, lilies, and wisteria were his favorite flowers. In keeping with Ruth Stout’s approach, Peter strived, to develop a garden that didn't require a ton of work.
“The garden is planted to reduce labor to an absolute minimum as the owner grows older.”
Peter's travels to gardens worldwide inspired the Royal Horticulture Society to ask him to write a gardening memoir. The book was a part-autobiography and part-garden book.
"I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself."
In 1986, regarding his late-blooming career as a floral photographer, Peter said,
“I still don't think of myself as a photographer. I'm a gardener with a camera. I have always said that gardeners are by far the most dangerous animals to be found in a garden because we all tend to over-garden. When I have a camera in my hands, I am less likely to make trouble.”
December 9, 1608
Today is the birthday of the English poet and intellectual John Milton.
Born in Cheapside in London, Milton is best known for his books Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
John’s Lycidas is a pastoral elegy. John dedicated the work to the memory of his friend, Edward King, who drowned when his ship sank off the coast of Wales in August 1637. John’s Lycidas poem mentions many different flowers he imagined to be thrown at the hearse of his friend Edward King. The tufted crow-toe is likely a reference to the English Bluebell, gessamine is Jasmine. The white pink refers to Dianthus, and the woodbine is usually a reference to Honeysuckle. Still, it could also be a reference to a generic vining blossom. Amaranthus is perhaps a reference to Love-Lies-Bleeding. See if you can catch all eleven of the flowers mentioned in John's poem.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale gessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
— John Milton, English poet and intellectual, Lycidas
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and I must say that the cover of this book is memorable and gorgeous.
In this book, Linda explores how society, politics, and money influenced the creation of 100 gardens in history. Naturally, Linda’s book is organized chronologically and by theme, starting with the medieval garden Alhambra and ending with the modern naturalism of the Lurie Garden. Like the beautiful cover, this entire book is lavishly illustrated.
Linda is a master at making garden history both fascinating and memorable. An evocative storyteller and a lover of detail, Linda’s book is beautifully written. Linda’s insights into history and garden design help everyday gardeners appreciate the evolution of gardens over time.
If you’ve ever studied Landscape Design on your own or in a classroom and left feeling uninspired and bored, Linda’s book will provide the guidance and insight you’ve been waiting for all along. Every gardener and garden designer should have this book because, as Linda advises, we should “draw freely from the past.”
This book is 536 pages of a must-have reference for gardeners, garden designers, history-lovers, and even travelers with a desire to see and understand gardens and garden history in an enlightened and informed way.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
December 9, 1969
On this day, The Daily Times in Salisbury, Maryland, shared a story by Kelvin Adkins called Mrs. Zieger Has Some Sweet Ideas For Sweet Potatoes.
The article explained:
“Mrs. Peyton Zieger is one of those persons who always has a project of some sort going. Frequently the project turns into some excuse to have a houseful of friends over. But this particular episode started with a yellow jacket's nest and a banged-up knee.
Peyton was working on a neighborhood beautification project (a flower garden nearly as long as the street) and disturbed the yellow jackets. Bugging out in a hurry, two yellow jackets hit her with such stinging force, she fell and bruised her knee. While off of her feet for a few days, she thought of [hosting a sweet] potato party and started putting the recipes and details together.”
Now when I was researching Peyton, I discovered she was an avid gardener. Peyton had planted a “ditch bank” at her home that she called “Peyton Place.” The ditch bank was planted with shrubs and flowers to provide interest and color throughout the year. Peyton was ahead of her time.
Concerning sweet potatoes, Peyton had two chief concerns. She said,
“Number one, it really hurt me when I read in the paper about the local farmers having to plow up their sweet potatoes because of the low market. And number two, many housewives think there are only three ways to prepare sweet potatoes: candied yams, potato bread, and potato pies.”
So, as the article said, Peyton “decided to yam it up with a sweet potato tasting party.”
Peyton called the party "Peyton Presents Some Sweet Ideas" and invited,
“some fifty home economists, housewives, and Twin Tree Road neighbors to judge the recipes. There were a few newspaper and radio people there too.“
Peyton prepared some 25 recipes and started the party off with her own creation: sweet potato punch. For this libation, Peyton was inspired by a recipe from the Ecuadorian Embassy - no kidding.
The party's overwhelming favorite was Peyton’s sweet potato cheesecake, which captured a local bakery's attention. Peyton pointed out that every time her sweet potato cheesecake is made, a farmer has a market for ¾ cup of potatoes. Peyton was doing her part.
In addition to her cheesecake, Peyton made,
“Sweet potato pineapple pie, sweet potato pudding, pineapple sweet potato balls, sweet potato pecan pie, triple apple sweet potato cake, and sweet potato candy, to name a few.”
And as a party favor, Peyton sent every guest home with a printed recipe book featuring all of her sweet potato creations.
Peyton Zieger’s Sweet Potato Cheesecake
1 box cheesecake mix
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup cooked mashed sweet potatoes (cold)
3 T baby food apricots
1 T lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla
⅛ tsp mace
⅓ cup milk
Mix all ingredients except cheesecake mix and blend thoroughly.
Add cheesecake mix and beat 3 minutes until thick.
Pour into a crumb crust prepared according to directions.
Reserve a few crumbs to sprinkle on top or top with sour cream.
Sour Cream Topping:
½ cup sour cream
1 T sugar
4 tsp vanilla
Spread on top of cheesecake.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.
Chill 2 hours or more.
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