Today we celebrate a botanist regarded as the "Father of Paleobotany" - the study of ancient plants that uses plant fossils.
We'll also learn about the guitarist who went on a self-imposed 30-year exile - spending most of his time painting and gardening.
We hear some thoughts on growing poisonous plants.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with one of my favorite garden poetry books - I always carry it with me.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a great article that helps us identify trees in winter - no small task.
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January 6, 1761
Today is the birthday of the Bohemian theologian, mineralogist, geognost, entomologist, and botanist. Kaspar Maria von Sternberg
Remembered as one of the most important natural scientists of the first half of the 19th century, Kaspar is regarded as the "Father of Paleobotany.”
In 1818, Kaspar founded the National Museum in Prague.
Today, the botanical genus Sternbergia honors Kaspar Sternberg. Sternbergia is a genus of plants in the Amaryllis family and comprises eight recognized species of flowering bulbs that look like Crocus.
The most popular Sternbergia is the lutea, a garden favorite described by Clusius in 1601.
White Flower Farm describes Sternbergia lutea this way:
“These lovely, fall-flowering bulbs are Crocus look-alikes with bright yellow blooms. The foliage appears with the yellow flowers in fall and persists until spring. Bulbs multiply freely where they are happy—in a hot, sunny, very well-drained spot. Add a bit of lime to sweeten the soil, and planting will quickly fill out. Try pairing with one of the glorious blue flowers of fall, such as Caryopteris or Salvia, for a heavenly contrast. A member of the Amaryllis family, so the bulbs are essentially pest free, resistant to deer and voles. Heirloom, pre-1601. 10 per sq. ft.”
January 6, 1946
Today is the birthday of the guitarist, singer, songwriter, and co-founder of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett.
After his immense success with Pink Floyd, Syd released two solo LPs and then disappeared into a self-imposed 30-year exile where he spent most of his time painting and gardening.
Before his life with Pink Floyd, Syd attended the Camberwell Art School. One of the pieces he created was a beautiful watercolor - a delicate-looking still life of a dried flower bouquet.
In 2006, Syd died of cancer at the age of 60.
Before he died, Syd was a patient at Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge. In 2017, his friend, the sculptor Stephen Pyle, and a garden designer named Paul Harrington were planning to install the Syd Barrett Garden at Addenbrooke. Stephen’s sculpture for the garden depicts Syd riding his bicycle - hands-free - with a guitar in one hand and artist brushes in the other.
The year 1967 started with an all-out alert on the danger of poisonous plants. On January 6th, the Times published a story about a lecture on the subject by John M. Kingsbury, the author of a useful small book titled Deadly Harvest: A Guide to Common Poisonous Plants.
At a very early age, I remember, I was to recognize what plants are to be avoided completely. At a very early age, I remember, I was taught how to recognize and stay away from deadly nightshade, poison ivy, and poison sumac. (I was, just as early, taught the delights of chewing tender young checkerberry leaves and sassafras root.)
To me, it would be ridiculous, though, not to grow monkshood, foxglove, hellebore, larkspur, autumn crocus, poppies, lilies of the valley, buttercups, and many other flowers now present in my borders just because they have some poison in them.
— Katharine S. White, gardener and garden writer, Onward and Upward in the Garden
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and like the companion book, A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, this book is one of my favorites.
In this book, Jane has gathered a beautiful and soothing collection of poetry inspired by the natural world and perfect for bedtime reading.
“Now more than ever, we need something to comfort and distract us from the cares of everyday life.
Keep this beautiful book by your bedside and enjoy a dreamy stroll through the natural world and its wonders every evening, just before you go to sleep.
All the great time-honored poets are here—William Wordsworth, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Robert Bridges—along with some newer and lesser-known voices. The verses reflect and celebrate the changing seasons: read Emily Brontë on bluebells in spring and Edward Thomas’s evocative “Adlestrop” in summer, and then experience golden autumn with Hartley Coleridge and visit John Clare’s “Copse in Winter.”
Stunningly illustrated with seasonal scenes, this wonderful anthology will delight you for years to come.”
This book is 496 pages of soothing bedtime poetry inspired by the natural world.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 6, 1996
On this day, The News and Observer out of Raleigh, North Carolina, shared an article called The Naked Secrets of Trees in Winter by Lee Reich.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Trying to identify leafless trees during the winter is a nice game to play alone or with a companion.”
Lee reminds us that trees like the Paper Birch are easy to spy because of their peeling white bark.
And the Catalpa tree is another easy one - with its long brown pods.
And the Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) is fun to spy: the lower branches droop downward, midlevel branches are horizontal, and upper limbs turn upward.
That said, most trees are challenging to identify this time of year.
Lee suggests using some expert books that guide you through tree identification steps, such as Fruit Key & Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow or Winter Tree Finder by May Theilgaard and Tom Watts.
Now, one of the first steps in tree identification is to look at the buds’ arrangement on new twigs.
Are the buds "opposite" - meaning, are they in pairs on opposite sides of each twig?
Well, that narrows things down a bit because few deciduous trees have opposite buds. So, think about your Ashes, Dogwoods, Maples, and Horse Chestnut - they're the most common trees with opposite buds.
Are the buds "alternate" - meaning that they are single and separated from each other along the length of the stem.
Another question to ask is, “What is the shape of the buds?”
Flowering Dogwood buds look like small buttons capping short stalks.
The Pawpaw has velour-like brown buds.
And finally, think about twig color and bark. They can both provide more clues.
The Boxelder (Acer negundo) has purple twigs with a cloudy coating.
The American hornbeam has smooth blue-gray bark with ripples like muscle.
Thorns can provide identification clues as well.
Common trees with thorns are the black locust, honey locust, hawthorn, or wild plum.
And fruits and nuts provide another clue for tree identification.
Finally, Lee writes,
“Still at a loss for a tree's identity?
Break off a twig and make a slanting cut to expose the pith. Chambered rather than continuous pith characterize black walnuts and butternuts.
Butternut trees have chocolate-brown pith, and black walnut trees have toffee-brown pith.
The taste of a twig sometimes is the giveaway.
Black cherry will taste like bitter almond, and yellow and river birch will taste like wintergreen.
There is one more handy identifier.
Deciduous trees are supposed to be leafless now, but a few leaves often hang on well into the winter.
They will be dead dry and twisted but often still "readable."
Not only that, but those on oaks and beeches are so reluctant to fall that one can spot these species even at some distance by their skirt of dry leaves.”
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