Today we celebrate the birthday of a beloved American who, in her lifetime, was known more as a gardener than a poet.
We'll also learn about the gift from Japan that resulted in the Plant Quarantine Act in the United States.
We’ll remember the botanist knighted for his incredible scientific services to the British Empire.
We’ll hear a poem about King Midas and his garden.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that reminds us of the importance of beauty in our garden harvest.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the botanist known as “Mad Ridley”... and it turns out he wasn’t mad at all.
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December 10, 1830
Today is the birthday of Emily Dickinson.
The Dickinson author, Judith Farr, reminds us that during her lifetime, Emily Dickinson was,
"known more widely as a gardener... than as a poet."
Emily grew up gardening. She would help her mother with their large edible and ornamental garden.
The flower garden became Emily’s responsibility when she got older. She planted in a carefree cottage garden style.
After Emily died, her sister Lavinia took over the garden. Emily's niece and editor, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, recalls:
"All [Lavinia’s] flowers did as they liked: tyrannized over her, hopped out of their own beds and into each other’s beds, were never reproved or removed as long as they bloomed; for a live flower to Aunt Lavinia was more than any dead horticultural principle."
December 10, 1909
On this day, 2,000 cherry trees arrived in Seattle from Japan.
When the First Lady Helen Taft indicated, she wanted to beautify Potomac Park, the mayor of Tokyo donated 2,000 cherry trees for the project.
But once the trees arrived on this day in 1909, they were found to have pest issues and disease. And it was this delivery of trees that lead to plant quarantine legislation for America. So, if you’ve ever wondered about the laws that govern bringing plants into the country, that legislation is rooted in this bad batch of cherry trees which the USDA ordered to be burned.
Now, you can imagine Japan’s mortification over the first lot of trees. In response, Japanese horticulturists immediately started cultivating and fumigating a new lot of cherry trees. It took three years to grow the trees and get them ready for travel. Finally, in 1912, Tokyo’s mayor Yukio Ozaki rectified the matter from 1909 three-fold when he sent 6,000 trees to the United States. By this time, Charles Marlett’s Plant Quarantine Act of 1912 was in place to ensure that all plant material entering the country was healthy and sanctioned. And this larger batch of trees was split between New York and Washington DC.
December 10, 1911
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Victorian British botanist, explorer, President of the Royal Society, and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who died at 94.
Joseph accomplished much during his long life. The botanic gardens of the world were a discovery and classification network that Joseph masterfully orchestrated. To Joseph, the botanic gardens were essentially botanical laboratories on a mission to enhance the world's economy and promote trade.
And Joseph was Charle’s Darwin’s closest friend and collaborator. In fact, they corresponded about Darwin's theory before it was made public. And Joseph was instrumental in getting Darwin's work published. Many regard Joseph as Darwin’s PR man.
Joseph was brilliant and concise.
It was Joseph Dalton Hooker who once famously wrote,
“Life is short, and books are long.”
In 1877, Joseph was knighted for scientific services to the British Empire.
And here's an adorable factoid about Joseph: Kew Gardens shared that, during his travels, Joseph would send letters to his young son with the salutation “my dear little Lion” or “my dear cub.”
December 10, 1925
Today is the birthday of an American poet of the Pacific Northwest; Carolyn Kizer.
Carolyn occasionally wrote about the garden, and my favorite garden poem by Carolyn is this charming piece about King Midas growing golden roses called The Ungrateful Garden.
Here are some definitions to help you understand Carolyn’s poem:
An ague ("AYE-gyoo") is a shivering fever, serried ("SAIR-id") means standing in a row, to "silt up" is to block or fill with silt, and a shift is a nightgown.
To keep the show clean, I’ve eliminated all offensive language.
Midas watched the golden crust
That formed over his steaming sores,
Hugged his agues, loved his lust,
But (cursed) the out-of-doors
Where blazing motes of sun impaled
The serried roses, metal-bright.
"Those famous flowers," Midas wailed,
"Have scorched my retina with light."
This gift, he'd thought, would gild his joys,
Silt up the waters of his grief;
His lawns a wilderness of noise,
The heavy clang of leaf on leaf.
Within, the golden cup is good
To lift, to sip the yellow mead.
Outside, in summer's rage, the rude
Gold thorn has made his fingers bleed.
"I strolled my halls in golden shift,
As ruddy as a lion’s meat.
Then I rushed out to share my gift,
And golden stubble cut my feet."
Dazzled with wounds, he limped away
To climb into his golden bed,
Roses, roses can betray.
"Nature is evil," Midas said.
— Carolyn Kizer, American poet, The Ungrateful Garden
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2015, and the subtitle is A Gardener's Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit.
Let me just start by saying I love Matthew’s book because he is not only a gardener but also a garden photographer. His garden was designed with a photographer’s eye, and his Stonegate Farm property in Balmville, New York, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen displayed in a garden book.
For anyone wondering why beauty matters, just ask your kids how appearance influences what they will - and won’t - eat. Matthew knows first hand that beauty inspires behavior and behavior change. If our harvest is visually appealing, we will eat better and be healthier.
Matthew’s gentleman's farm is on one small acre of land. He also operates a CSA offering vegetables, orchard fruit, cut flowers, herbs, eggs, and honey. Matthew uses his expertise in growing and selling 50 garden crops for inspiration and instruction in his book.
This book is 264 pages of beauty - from the garden to the harvest - Matthew shows us how to grow delicious and alluring food.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
December 10, 1855
Today is the birthday of the English botanist, geologist, and naturalist Henry Nicholas Ridley.
As the first Director of the Singapore Botanic Garden, Henry arrived in Singapore in 1888. Henry has been described as the Rubber Tree’s Johnny Appleseed because he single-handedly pioneered Malaya’s rubber industry. Not only did Henry plant and encourage the planting of the trees, but he also figured out ingenious ways to tap the tree’s latex without harming the tree. Henry’s exuberance for persuading Malayan farmers to grow rubber trees lead to an unfortunate nickname, “Mad Ridley.” Without Henry, rubber wouldn’t have become a viable cash crop alternative when the Malayan coffee crops succumbed to disease. At one point, the requests for Henry’s seeds were pouring in at a rate of a million seeds a day.
Henry not only provided the seed for farmers courtesy of the Botanic Garden, but he lived to see the rubber trade market begin to transform Malaya. By 1920, Malaya produced over half the world’s rubber, and rubber remains an essential crop for the region today. And to think that it all started with rubber seed that Henry collected from just 22 plants...
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