Today we celebrate an American poet, essayist, and editor who is often remembered in a photograph where she is dressed as Saint Barbara with a laurel wreath around her head.
We'll also learn about the woman who started a flower club that offered rare and exotic plants to Swedish homemakers during World War II.
We’ll hear about the enticing words used to describe the gorgeous plants in garden catalogs - they work so well on gardeners.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with an old book by a stylist who loves to incorporate nature into her interior designs.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a cheery story about the man who saw life through rose-colored glasses—chin up.
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January 7, 1861
Today is the birthday of the American poet, essayist, and editor Louise Imogen Guiney.
Louise was the daughter of a Tipperary-born Civil War General named Patrick Guiney. And after living in constant pain from his war injuries, Louise’s father died when she was 16. But her dad’s bravery and morality helped to shape Louise’s work.
As her family struggled to make ends meet, Louise worked several jobs. In 1894, she ended up working for her local post office in Auburndale, Massachusetts. She was the postmistress. And when locals protested her appointment because she was Catholic, her friends responded to the backlash by buying so many stamps that Louise kept her job and actually even got a raise.
I think of that little incident when I read a poem often attributed to Louise - but its origins remain uncertain.
The foolish fears of what may come,
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay;
Among the hushing of the corn,
Where drowsing poppies nod.
Ill thoughts can die, and good be born,
Out in the fields of God.
During Louise's early life in Boston, she lived on Pinckney Street. And that street served as a hub for creatives like Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Thoreau family, and the publisher Elizabeth Peabody. Imagine living there...
Louise’s work was featured in popular magazines like Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly.
And has she matured in her adulthood, Louise fell in love with England’s history and she made repeated trips there before permanently moving to the country in the early 1900s.
In one of her beautiful pieces of correspondence, Louise was asked if her poem A Song Of The Lilac could be set to music - and it was. It’s a charming verse that goes like this:
And when by night the May wind blows
The lilac-blooms apart,
The memory of his first love
Is shaken on his heart.
Today if you search for Louise online, you’ll see beautiful images of her dressed as Saint Barbara with a laurel wreath around her head and, in some photos, someone faintly penciled a halo above her head.
January 7, 1898
Today is the birthday of the Swedish botanist and children's book author Vivi Laurent-Täckholm.
During World War II, Vivi started a flower club that offered rare and exotic plants to Swedish housewives. Vivi's club debuted several popular houseplants, including pothos and two types of Plectranthus, green-leafed and variegated.
As Plectranthus australis grew in popularity, thanks to Vivi’s flower club, it became known as Swedish Ivy.
The genus name, Plectranthus, refers to the spur-shaped flowers and comes from the Greek words for spur and flower: plectron and anthos. And if you’ve never seen a Swedish Ivy flower, don’t worry - the little flowers aren’t particularly showy. But it sure is a thrill to get your Swdish Ivy to bloom - I've had that pleasure - and I hope someday you will be able to enjoy it as well.
The species name (australis) means southern and refers to its native home of South Africa.
Although it is neither Swedish nor an ivy, the stems trail, and it does resemble an ivy. With its square stems, it is easy to tell that Swedish Ivy is a member of the mint family, and it is also related to the coleus.
Now, I always like to recommend Swedish Ivy as a perfect first houseplant for beginners. I love to grow it in a tall or cylindrical planter - or a hanging basket.
And if you want to try to grow Swedish Ivy - it's pretty simple. Swedish Ivy thrives in bright indirect light. Now, the key here is the words indirect light - don’t put it in full sun, or the leaves will burn. And if your Swedish Ivy looks leggy, it needs more light. If your Swedish Ivy has yellow leaves, it's probably overwatered. In fact, it's better to keep your Swedish Ivy on the dry side than too wet. So think about all of that and if you have some issues with your Swedish Ivy - you're going to need to change the way you're taking care of it.
All that said, I like to give my Swedish Ivy a spa day every so often. I think that a lovely shower in the sink with a dollop of Dawn dish soap helps to keep my Swedish Ivy dust-free and also keeps pests away, as well as providing more humidity - which they love.
Finally, don’t be afraid to prune your Swedish Ivy. You can prune it back to 6-inch stems. I always think about it as giving my Swedish Ivy a haircut. You don't just let these plants grow on into infinity - they'll always look better with a little pruning and shaping - just like your hair does after a fresh cut. Then, put the cuttings into a vase of water. In a few weeks, the cuttings will be rooted, and then you can just pop them into the soil and you'll have a whole new plant. You can also use this method to make your plant fuller and more robust-looking - especially if you have a new plant. You can always add more rooted cutting to fill the plant in. It's one of Swedish Ivy's best features - they are so easy to root from cuttings.
Now, if you love the green-leaved Swedish Ivy, you would probably also enjoy the sister species of this plant.
There is a variegated version with white-edged leaves. I especially love that in a bright-colored pot, something orange or purple, or chinoiserie.
Then there's another species - the Argentatus - that features bright, silvery leaves. This one is really fun and I love telling people that it's a sister to the Swedish Ivy because they often don't believe it.
And then finally, Amboinicus - the Cuban or Caribbean oregano species - has big, soft green leaves. It's very friendly and you get a bonus with it: a powerful oregano fragrance. I love that in the kitchen. Wouldn’t that be lovely in a pot on your kitchen counter?
Since before Christmas, I have been nibbling, in odd moments, at my new catalog. I try to write word pictures of plants, which might make them irresistible.
When I began the nursery twenty years ago, I issued a very small list with descriptions of plants, as I saw them, in place of photographs which I could not have afforded.
My catalog has grown with the nursery over the years, but there are still no pretty pictures.
I have not actually gone into the cost because, while I know they might help some readers, I myself, deep down, do not want to change.
I am very attracted by good photographs in other catalogs, but I find I easily forget them. It is the difference between watching television and listening to a good radio play.
I can take the works of the best writers and gardeners, such as Vita Sackville-West, Graham S. Thomas, or Christopher Lloyd, to bed and be lost till midnight, reading their thoughts and seeing their plants and gardens as a musician hears music reading a score.
— Beth Chatto, garden writer and gardener, Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, January
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1991, and it’s an oldie but goodie.
In this book, Charlotte shares her interior design’s beauty, which often includes elements from the natural world.
To Charlotte, much of our spaces’ visual appeal can be found in the little details - and the same is true with our gardens. In Charlotte’s book, gardeners will be inspired by the variety of objects Charlotte displays - from dried flowers and vases to specimen plants and vintage pots.
Charlotte encourages us to see the beauty in everyday items and incorporate things that bring us the most pleasure - even if those items are traditionally used outdoors in the garden.
This book is 192 pages of inspiration courtesy of Charlotte Moss, incorporating rustic whimsy and romance in the little details that create gorgeous rooms.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 7, 1927
Today is the anniversary of the death of the American lyricist and columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, Frank Lebby Stanton.
A son of the south, Frank was influenced by hymn-writers like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.
Extraordinarily popular during his lifetime, Frank’s charming and straightforward verse evoked a feeling of nostalgia and sentiment. For instance, Frank wrote the words for the Tin Pan Alley hit song, “Mighty Like a Rose.”
Among Frank’s many famous verses is this one:
So many creeds like the weeds in the sod –
so many temples, and only one God.
And Frank’s most famous four-lined verse is also a favorite of gardeners - and it is inscribed on his Atlanta tombstone:
This world we're a'livin' in
Is mighty hard to beat.
You get a thorn with every rose.
But ain't the roses sweet?
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