Today we celebrate the botanist and doctor who established the nation's first public botanical garden.
We'll also learn about the English Victorian author who loved roses.
We’ll recognize the inspiring former president and owner of Tulsa Greenhouse and Four State Wholesale.
We'll hear an excerpt about pruning from a peach farmer.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book from American garden royalty - it’s part garden book and part cookbook.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a story about the only First Lady recognized by The American Horticultural Society with their highest honor, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award.
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December 22, 1835
Today is the anniversary of the death of the doctor and botanist David Hosack. He was 65.
In 2018, David Hosack’s story was brilliantly told in the biography by Victoria Johnson called American Eden.
David was a New Yorker and he was a leading doctor in America during the early days of the country. David had a fantastic gift: he was able to form incredible relationships with leading thinkers of his time. Doctor Benjamin Rush was his mentor, and England’s top botanist William Curtis trained him in botany and medicinal plants.
At the age of 25, David returned to his alma mater, Columbia University, to teach medicine and botany. David’s patients included Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. And if you've watched the musical Hamilton, you know that although David was one of the best physicians available, he could not save Hamilton.
David Hosack established the nation's first public botanical garden in the middle of Manhattan. David initially focused on medicinal plants, but he soon added vegetables, grasses, grains, fruits. And exotics collected from all over the world. It really was a paradise.
David's medical students used his garden as an extension of their classroom and that was a first for students on this side of the Atlantic. At its zenith, David’s garden boasted of having over 2,000 different species of plants - just incredible. It was David’s pioneering work with plants that allowed him to teach an entire generation of doctors brand-new remedies to common medical problems.
Now, unfortunately, David’s vision for the garden way exceeded his financial ability to keep it going. Sadly David was forced to sell off and dismantle his botanical dream. And today, his former garden is the site of Rockefeller Center.
Yet David’s garden and his work had inspired botanists all over the world. And although his botanic garden did not survive, David’s dream of a garden of discovery and learning would be carried out through the work of other pioneers like Henry Shaw, Charles Sprague Sargent, and David Fairchild.
In the twilight of his life, David’s wife died. After remarrying a very wealthy woman, David built a country estate with an incredible garden (of course) where he enjoyed his remaining days on earth.
December 22, 1880
Today is the 140th anniversary of the death of the English Victorian author George Eliot.
George Eliot was the pen name for a woman named Mary Ann Evans, and her many works like Silas Marner and Middlemarch are packed with images from the garden.
To Mary Ann, plants were the perfect representation of faith. Like faith, our botanical friends require care and feeding to grow and flourish.
On October 1st, 1841, Mary Ann wrote a letter to her old governess, Maria Lewis. She wrote:
“Is not this a true autumn day?
Just the still melancholy that I love -
that makes life and nature harmonise.
The birds are consulting about their migrations,
the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay,
and begin to strew the ground,
that one's very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air,
while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne
to the restless spirit.
My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth
seeking the successive autumns."
My favorite quotes from Mary Ann, (George Eliot), are about her love of roses. She wrote:
"I think I am quite wicked with roses.
I like to gather them,
and smell them till they have no scent left."
And, Eliot wrote this little poem about roses:
"You love the roses—so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valleys would be pink and white,
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and yet waking, all at once.
Over the sea, Queen, where we soon shall go,
Will it rain roses?"
This concept of raining roses was something Eliot wrote about several times. She loved that idea.
This last quote about roses is the one she is most famous for:
"It never rains roses; when we want more roses, we must plant more..."
December 22, 1928
Today is the birthday of the president and owner of Tulsa Greenhouse and Four State Wholesale, William B. Arnett.
The origins of Bill's greenhouse went back to 1916, when it was founded by Gordon Vernon Voight back in the early days of Tulsa.
During the depression, Bill's dad and a partner took over the retail nursery business started by Voight, and they, in turn, developed it to include a wholesale operation.
After learning the ropes from his father, Bill officially took over the business in 1966.
Bill and his wife Louise ran the business together. While they raised their four daughters, they oversaw five retail shops, three wholesale houses, and one growing facility.
Now, the wholesale side of the business created exciting opportunities for Bill. At one point, The Tulsa Greenhouse provided flowers for florists across four states. Bill enjoyed sharing his expertise with others.
And in addition to personally training florists, Bill influenced an entire generation of new designers by contributing to design schools every holiday season.
A lover of fresh flowers, Bill prided himself on knowing every aspect of the business, including how to grow each of the flowers in his nursery.
In his obituary, Bill's family recalled the time Bill flew on the first jet airliner out of Tulsa. Now, this was no vacation. Bill had brought along a bouquet of fresh roses, and he wanted to see just how fast he could ship them across the country. He was a true floral businessman.
At the time of Bill's death, he'd lost his wife Louise (after being married to her for 60 years), he'd served as president of the Wholesale Florists and Florist Suppliers of America, he’d left a mark on the florist industry in the heart of the country, and he’d closed his business in 2005 (after 90 years of operating in Tulsa).
And I found out about Bill after I stumbled on his obituary online. In Bill's obituary, one of his daughters said something that I thought was such a beautiful quote and a wonderful tribute about what it was like to grow up with her dad,
“We were surrounded by flowers all our lives — there were flowers galore.”
My thoughts turn to the work of pruning.
Ideally, the first blasts of winter have left their mark and strip the trees of leaves.
But I've seen antsy farmers prune while lots of leaves still hang in the tree.
The work is slow, and it's hard to see.
I delay my pruning because, for me, vision is crucial.
The art of pruning involves seeing into the future.
I can easily spot the dead branches by their dried, dark, almost black wood.
But it's hard to envision new growth and the new shape the tree will take two or three or four years from now.
When I prune, I have to keep that vision in mind.
Otherwise, I'll hesitate and grow timid and insecure,
as I gaze down the just-worked row and see all the butchered trees and fallen limbs lying in the dirt.
With each dead limb, there's hope for new growth.
That's why I enjoy this part of pruning: I'm always working with the future.
I'm like a bonsai gardener with my peach trees, shaping each tree for the long term.
When working with dying trees, I feel one of the most important and strongest emotions a farmer has: a sense of hope.
— David Mas Masumoto ("Mahs Mah-sue-moe-toe"), Peach & Grape Farmer and Author, Epitaph for a Peach, Pruning
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2013, and the subtitle is From the Garden to the Table in 120 Recipes.
In this book, America’s most respected gardening couple Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, share what they’ve learned from growing and eating on their extraordinary Four Season Farm in Maine. This book shows you how to grow what you eat and how to cook what you grow.
And this book is an excellent resource for the times we are living through - there’s even a section for what to plant for a yearly cycle survival garden.
Barbara and Eliot divide their book into two parts. The first half covers gardening, and the second part is devoted to the recipes. I should also mention that Barbara is a master cook.
This book is 496 pages of step-by-step instructions from America’s garden royalty - it's a big book with an even greater value.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
December 22, 1912
Today is the birthday of the American socialite and the First Lady of the United States as the wife of the 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson, Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson who always went by "Lady Bird".
On her 70th birthday, Lady Bird made her greatest contribution to American botany when she gave a financial endowment and a land grant of 60 acres to found the National Wildlife Research Center in Austin, Texas.
A non-profit dedicated to conservation and preservation, the Center conducts scientific research on wildflowers as well as other native and naturalized plants.
Together with Helen Hayes MacArthur, Lady Bird served as the co-chair of the center. For her philanthropy and love of nature, Lady Bird was awarded the American Horticultural Society's highest honor, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award.
Although her work as the first lady had brought her incredible experiences, Lady Bird wrote:
"My story begins long before that - with a love of the land that started in my childhood."
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