Today we'll celebrate a Scottish baker and botanist who left a charming collection behind as his legacy - and I must say, he had a head full of dark hair reminiscent of Beethoven.
We'll also learn about the White House's first Christmas tree and the adorable grandchild who thoroughly enjoyed it.
We’ll recognize the work of a woman who envisioned a world where women were taught horticulture without threatening jobs for male gardeners.
We hear a delightful poem called Jack Frost - it’s adorable.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with about celebrity gardens - and these folks are major trendsetters in the world of fashion and interior design.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a few versions of The Gardener’s Night Before Christmas - maybe they will inspire you to write one of your own.
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December 24, 1866
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Scottish geologist, botanist, and baker Robert Dick.
The artist Joanne B. Kaar recently created a replica of Robert’s moss box to honor his work. This was a little box that Robert used to carry moss back to his bakery. Now Joanne's moss box features fold-down flaps with delightful discoveries that call to mind the spirit of Robert Dick. And I share a video of Joanne's marvelous creation in the Facebook Group for the show. So if you want to check it out, it's a masterpiece, and it's a thrill to see that video. I followed up with Joanne, and when I emailed her, I asked for her insights on Robert. And Joanne replied with a lovely interview she did back in 2017. Here’s an excerpt:
“Wearing a swallowtail coat, jeans, and a chimney-pot hat, Robert Dick often had children following him from his bakery in Thurso, as they were curious to know what he was doing on his walks.
He was not only a baker but also a renowned self-taught botanist, a geologist, and a naturalist. Interested in entomology, he collected moths, beetles, butterflies, and bees. To bring the samples home he pinned them to the inside of his hat.”
“Dunnet Head was one of his favorite places to walk, describing it as having a forest of ferns. Dunnet Head Lighthouse was built in 1831, an event Robert Dick must have witnessed.
Robert Dick saved old letters, envelopes, newspapers, and documents to keep his collection of small plants and mosses in. His herbarium collection is now in Caithness Horizons Museum, Thurso, and contains around 3,000 specimens.”
Now when I was researching Rober,t I stumbled on an old document by Sir Roderick Murchison, the Director-General of the Geographical Society. Roderick delivered a wonderful speech at Leeds in September 1858, where he mentioned meeting the multi-talented baker Robert Dick.
“In pursuing my research in the Highlands… it was my gratification.. to meet with a remarkable man in the town of Thurso, named Robert Dick, a baker by trade. I am proud to call him my distinguished friend. When I went to see him, he spread out before me a map of Caithness and pointed out its imperfections. Mr. Dick had traveled over the whole county in his leisure hours and was thoroughly acquainted with its features. He delineated to me, by means of some flour which he spread out on his baking board... its geographical features.
(How clever of Robert to use flour to show the topography of the county!)
Here is a man who is earning his daily bread by his hard work; who is obliged to read and study by night; and yet who can instruct the Director-General of the Geographical Society.
But this is not half of what I have to tell you of Robert Dick. When I became better acquainted with this distinguished man and was admitted into his sanctum—which few were permitted to enter—I found there busts of Byron, of Sir Walter Scott, and other great poets.
I also found books, carefully and beautifully bound, which this man had been able to purchase out of the savings of his single bakery.
I also found that Robert Dick was a profound botanist. I found, to my humiliation, that this baker knew infinitely more of botanical science—ay, ten times more—than I did; and that there were only some twenty or thirty British plants that he had not collected…
These specimens were all arranged in most beautiful order, with their respective names and habitats.”
After Robert’s death on this day in 1866, a memorial obelisk was installed to honor him in the Thurso Cemetery. Today, the curator at Caithness Horizons Museum, Joanne Howdle, has digitalized the precious Robert Dick Herbarium.
December 24, 1889
On this day, the White House's first Christmas tree was set in place to delight "Baby McKee," the favorite grandson and namesake of President Benjamin Harrison.
A 1967 article from the Indianapolis Star said,
“There had never been a Christmas tree in the White House before. Some people thought the whole thing pretty frivolous but President Harrison was adamant and set the gardeners to finding the just-right tree. It was to be tall and full and round like the trees he had had when he was a boy and found oranges and nuts in the toes of his stockings.”
All through Christmas Eve afternoon, the White House gardeners worked to set the tree in place in the library over the Blue Room. No one was permitted to decorate the tree; that honor was reserved for the president and his wife. However, history tells us that the gardeners all stayed to watch.
After dinner, President Harrison and first lady Caroline Scott Harrison decorated the tree with fat ropes of tinsel and old-fashioned candles. The President crowned the tree with a large star, and the first lady "stretched and stooped to fill the branches with presents."
The Harrison White House at Christmas was the picture of a classic Victorian holiday scene. One can almost imagine the scene that day - with Baby McKee or little Benjamin - his wispy blond hair, sailor hat, and long white hand-tucked dress imitating the President as he walked the library with his lamb on wheels behind him. Benjamin was also quite taken with his jack-in-the-box.
December 24, 1936
Today is the anniversary of the death of the influential English gardening author and instructor, Frances Garnet Wolseley.
A lifelong single lady, Frances devoted herself to gardening and gardening education.
In 1902, on her thirtieth birthday, Frances created the Glynde College for Lady Gardeners on her father’s garden in East Sussex. Although her classes had only around a dozen students, Frances managed to attract some famous students included Gertrude Jekyll, Ellen Willmott, and William Robinson.
And online, there’s a fantastic picture of Frances that shows her mowing a lawn with a push and pull mower with the help of one of her students - they're both standing on either side of this thing - it took two people to run it. It’s hard to believe, but in the early 1900s, pictures of women mowing were being shown in advertisements for lawnmowers - they were trying to appeal to women to mow the lawn.
In her 1908 book, Gardening for Women, Frances wrote,
“It must be borne in mind that horticulture is still a comparatively new profession for women and that unless those who enter it strive to give full time and application to learning its details they cannot hope to be successful ...they should spare no pains to gain a complete education, for only then … can they expect remuneration.”
Someone painted pictures on my
Windowpane last night —
Willow trees with trailing boughs
And flowers, frosty white,
And lovely crystal butterflies;
But when the morning sun
Touched them with its golden beams,
They vanished one by one.
— Helen Bayley Davis, American poet and writer, Jack Frost
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is Private Hideaways of the Design World.
In this book, Janelle takes us to visit the inspiring private gardens of celebrated fashion and design tastemakers.
Thanks to Janelle's work, we can understand how these beautiful sanctuaries - these gardens - have influenced creative work and life.
Throughout history, Mother Nature has been a frequent source of inspiration in fashion and design. Fashion designers like Christian Dior to have used gardens and botanicals in their collections. Like us, these designers and their interior design counterparts find that gardens restore their creativity and revitalize their energy.
Janelle's book takes us,
"from the lush foliage of the Dominican Republic to the graceful flowerbeds of America’s East Coast, the charming roses and clipped boxwood of England’s country manors, and the patterned parterres of France’s enchanting Provence region—Gardens of Style illustrates the symbiotic relationship between horticulture and haute couture and between nature’s beautiful forms and those found in interior design. For instance, the garden of former Hermès designer Nicole de Vésian (duh-VAY-zee-an) is a sublime weave of patterns and textures, while the garden of Christian Dior features many of the roses that inspired his glamorous gowns."
This book is 240 pages of beautifully photographed gardens to delight and inspire, along with stories that show the connection between trendsetters and their horticultural havens - it's a beautiful coffee table book.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
Over the years, newspapers have shared a parody of The Night Before Christmas, written by Charles and Janice Jensen in the 1960s. The original version first appeared in the New York Times, and as I share it with you, you'll realize how far we've come since the 1960s in terms of our daily gardening practice.
I'll share this version first, and then I have another version written in the 1980s - twenty years later.
The Jensen version goes like this:
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the yard
The branches were bare and the ground frozen hard.
The roses were dormant and mulched all around
To protect them from damage if frost heaves the ground.
The perennials were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of 5-10-10 danced in their heads.
The new planted shrubs had been soaked by the hose
To settle their roots for the long winters doze.
And out on the lawn, the new-fallen snow
Protected the roots of the grasses below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a truck full of gifts of gardening gear.
Saint Nick was the driver, the jolly old elf
And he winked as he said, I’m a gardener myself.
I've brought wilt-proof, rootone, and B-nine, too.
Father can try them and see what they do.
To eliminate weeding, I’ve brought 2-4-D,
And to battle the bugs, 5 percent DDT.
To seed your new lawn, I’ve a patented sower;
And since it will grow, here’s a new power mower.
For seed planting days, I’ve a trowel and a dibble.
And a roll of wire mesh if the rabbits should nibble.
For the feminine gardener, some gadgets she loves,
Plant stakes, a sprinkler, and waterproof gloves;
A chemical agent for her compost pit,
And for enjoying the flowers, a flower arranging kit.
With these colorful flagstones, lay a new garden path.
For the kids to enjoy, a new bird feeder and bath.
And last, but not least, some well-rotted manure.
A green Christmas year-round, these gifts will ensure.
Then jolly St. Nick, having emptied his load,
Started his truck and took to the road.
And I heard him exclaim through the engines loud hum:
Merry Christmas to all and to all a green thumb!
Well, things have changed a lot since the 1960s. So if you were a little shocked by what you heard in that version, that was standard gardening protocol for that decade.
By 1987, Carolyn Roof in Paducah, Kentucky, had written her own version for gardeners in her garden column. Here’s an excerpt from hers:
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the garden
not a creature was stirring, not even a wren.
The work tools were hung in the tool shed with care,
in hope that springtime soon would be there.
The flowers were mulched all snug in their bed,
while visions of show winners danced in my head.
And Richard in his blanket and I with the cat
had settled down for a long winter's chat.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the window, I flew like a flash,
tore open the drapes and threw up the sash.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature UPS truck and eight tiny gardeners,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his workers they came,
and he whistled and called them by name.
Now Shepard, Now Appleseed, Now Thompson and Morgan,
On Wayside, On Burpee, On Parks and Starks.
As the dry leaves that before the wild tornado fly
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So on to the patio, the gardeners flew
with a truck full of tools, plants, and flowers, too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard by the glade,
the digging and planting of each little blade.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
past the sliding glass door, he came with a bound.
He was dressed all in grubbies, mud boots on his feet,
and his clothes were all soiled with mulches and peat.
A bundle of tools, plants, and bulbs were on his back,
and he looked like a nurseryman opening his pack.
He spoke not a word but went on with his work,
and landscaped the yard, then turned with a jerk.
He sprang to his truck, to his team gave a whistle,
and away they all drove like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."
However, my favorite ending is from the first poem. Here's how the Jensens ended their poem:
And I heard him exclaim through the engines loud hum:
Merry Christmas to all and to all a green thumb!
Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener this year. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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