Today we celebrate the 17th-century philosopher and naturalist, who was the first woman to make a living from her writing.
We'll also learn about the forensic botanist who solved the crime of the decade in the 1960s in Australia.
We’ll recognize the Herb Society’s project that now occupies two and a half acres at the U.S. National Arboretum.
We look back at an entry about winter from one of America’s most beloved naturalists.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that Martin Crawford, author of Creating a Forest Garden, called a “must-read for anyone interested in agroforestry, forest gardening, or utilizing forests for specialty crops.”
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a vine discovered by a Harvard botanist and his son as they were walking to a Red Sox game back in August 1988.
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December 15, 1673
Today is the anniversary of the death of the 17th-century philosopher, poet, scientist, fiction-writer, naturalist, and playwright Margaret Cavendish.
Margaret’s perspective on the natural world helped shape our modern viewpoint. And it should be noted that Margaret was the first woman to make a living from her writing. Yet Margaret has always been an easy target for ridicule; her points were often lost in confusing verse and the novelty of her ideas.
In one of her poems, she compared the brain to a garden:
The Brain a Garden seems, full of delight,
Whereon the sun of knowledge shineth bright,
Where fancy flows, and runs in bubbling streams,
Where flowers grow upon the banks of dreams.
There various thoughts as several flowers grow:
Some milk-white innocence, as lilies, show,
Fancies, as painted tulips’ colors fixed,
By Nature’s pencil neatly intermixt;
Some as sweet roses, which are newly blown,
Others as tender buds, not yet full-grown;
Some, as small violets, much sweetness bring.
Thus many fancies from the brain still spring.
— Margaret Cavendish, Similarizing the Brain to a Garden
One of my favorite poems by Margaret is called The Duchess to Her Readers. In this poem, Margaret shares her appreciation for her husband; theirs was a love marriage, and William helped Margaret with her work.
A Poet am I neither born nor bred,
But to a witty poet married:
Whose brain is fresh and pleasant as the Spring,
Where Fancies grow and where the Muses sing.
There oft I lean my head, and listening, hark,
To catch his words and all his fancies mark:
And from that garden show of beauties take
Whereof a posy I in verse may make.
Thus I, that have no gardens of my own,
There gather flowers that are newly blown.
— Margaret Cavendish, The Duchess to Her Readers
Virginia Woolf was not a fan of Margaret. In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia wrote,
“What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish brings to mind!
As if some giant cucumber had spread itself over all the roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death.”
December 15, 1908
Today is the birthday of the Australian botanist and forensic botanist Joyce Winifred Vickery.
1960 was a pivotal year in Joyce’s career. In 1960, all of Australia was focused on the building of the now famous Sydney Opera House. And to pay for the construction, the government of Australia held a lottery.
A man named Bazil Thorne spent three pounds - a quarter of his paycheck - to purchase the winning ticket. After Bazil’s win of 100,000 pounds, his eight-year-old son Graeme was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The crime stunned the country.
But ultimately, it was Joyce Vickery's forensic work that helped the police solve the case.
In the Graeme Thorn kidnapping, Joyce had been tasked with identifying two plant particles from the boy's clothing. Vickery recognized them as parts of landscape or garden plants - distinctly out of place from the scrub area where Graeme’s body had been found.
Instead, Joyce matched the plant debris to a False Cypress and a Smooth Arizona Cypress outside the suspect’s home.
And soil scraping showed pink limestone mortar that ultimately matched the mortar on the suspect’s brick home. Joyce’s work and testimony helped prove that 34-year-old Stephen Bradley had committed the heinous crime. He was sentenced to life in prison.
December 15, 1978
On this day, construction began on the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum.
Since 1965 a National Herb Garden was a dream of the Herb Society based in Kirtland, Ohio. After the Herb Society came up with $200,000 for the garden, Congress matched the funds. And so, the National Herb Garden was a gift from The Herb Society of America to the American people.
Located in Washington D.C., the garden occupies two and a half acres of the over 400 acres in the U.S. National Arboretum.
As the most extensive professionally-designed herb garden in North America, the garden was intended to inspire people to plant herbs in their own gardens and to use herbs in their cooking.
The National Herb Garden comprises annual, perennial, and woody herbal plants situated in three sections: a knot garden, a rose garden, and specialty gardens.
The knot garden is made up of Japanese holly, dwarf blue cypress, and dwarf arborvitae.
The Rose Garden is a nod to the critical role of roses in herbalism.
And finally, the ten specialty gardens are oval-shaped and have themes. There’s the Dioscorides (“DEE-scor-ee-days”) Garden. Dioscorides discovered an early version of aspirin when he found that sap from white willow tree bark and leaves helped with colds, body aches, and fevers. And so, the Dioscorides Garden grows the herbs described by Dioscorides.
There is also a Colonial Garden and a Dye Garden that grows herbs to color fabric and textiles, and other fascinating gardens like the Native American Garden. There are even gardens devoted to Modern Botanicals, Culinary and Industrial plants, as well as Fragrance, Oriental, and Beverage Gardens.
The National Herb Garden was dedicated on June 12, 1980, and celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2020 during the pandemic.
Nature in winter is like a great toy shop at night. The doors are locked, and only at the mysterious depths of the shop does some cold light burn. If we press our noses on the pane, we can just make out the forms of bigger objects. All the tenderer delights have been taken from the window — flower and moth and bird. What is there left for us to play with?
Winter is a study in halftones, and one must have an eye for them or go lonely. Trees, skies, and even the black, white and gray and rufous ("roo-fiss") colors of winter birds and little mammals are all subdued, modest, economical of a lofty beauty. Now one may make friends with owls and mice, with the different colored stems of willows and corner ("core-nul") and sassafras and spicebush, with winter buds in their furry scales, with the berries that the birds seek out, with the bark of trees and the prints of the four-footed.
— Donald Culross Peattie, American naturalist, and writer
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2014, and the subtitle is An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests.
In this book, you're going to learn about Forest Farming. According to Ken and Steve, Forest Farming is one of many agroforestry practices that is specifically focused on growing crops underneath the forest canopy of an existing forest. I love Ken and Steve's book because they teach us new and exciting ways to relate to the forest.
This book is an excellent resource for gardeners looking for something new and different to try, especially if they live near a forest or some woods.
Ken and Steve share many examples of forest farming. You'll meet a couple who cultivate shiitake mushrooms alongside wild mushrooms in the cool shade of a Hemlock Forest. You'll visit a delightful forest in February and watch sap get collected from the sugar trees to make maple syrup. These are just a few of the ways that forestry and farming - and gardening - can go hand-in-hand; they are not at odds. Since the beginning of time, people have sustained themselves from tree-based systems, and Ken and Steve will help you learn how to return to the forest.
Farming the Woods teaches gardeners how to maintain a healthy forest while growing a wide range of food, medicinal, and other non-timber products. This book was the first in-depth guide for farmers and gardeners who have access to an established woodland and are looking for productive ways to manage it.
And in case you're wondering, forest crops include American ginseng, shiitake mushrooms, ramps (wild leeks), maple syrup, fruit and nut trees, ornamental ferns, and more.
This book is 384 pages of must-read wisdom for gardeners looking to diversify their gardening practices and incorporate agroforestry, permaculture, forest gardening, and sustainable woodlot management.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
The other day, I stumbled on this Q&A featured in The Arizona Daily Star:
“Question: A recent gardening article referred to a form of Boston Ivy known as "Fenway Park." The writer described it as a sprout from the famed dark green vine that clings to the wall of Boston's baseball stadium.
Can you clarify?
Perhaps the Ivy came from Chicago's Wrigley Field...
Answer: The ivy didn't come from Wrigley Field, but neither did it come from Fenway Park.
Peter Del Tredici of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston said the ivy came from a building a block or two away from Fenway Park.
Peter saw it when he and his son were walking to a Red Sox game in August 1988.
Peter noticed that the top portion of some Boston ivy growing on a building near Fenway was bright yellow, instead of the normal darker green.
Peter asked permission of the building's owner to take some cuttings from the yellow part and then propagated the plant at the arboretum's greenhouses.
Later, Peter asked the Red Sox owners for permission to name the resulting ivy "Fenway Park."
Peter’s Boston Ivy species is now bred and sold as Parthenocissus tricuspidata (“parth-in-oh-SIS-us tri-cus-puh-DAY-tah” ‘Fenway Park.’
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