Today we celebrate living virtually - we can tour one of the world’s greatest museums - which opened on this day in 1759.
We'll also learn about a man who endeared himself to his countrymen when he published a book about the plant life found within sixteen miles of his hometown.
We’ll hear some thoughts on identifying wildlife in the winter garden.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a beautiful book that’s full of incredible wisdom from a seasoned gardener and stylist.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the woman who wrote about her garden and called herself the commuter's wife.
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January 15, 1759
On this day, the British Museum opened.
The British Museum was founded in 1753 when Sir Hans Hans left his entire collection to the country of England.
At first glance, a personal collection doesn't sound worthy of starting a museum. But over his lifetime, Hans ended up becoming a one-person repository for all things relating to the natural world.
Hans outlived many of the explorers and collectors of his day, and as they would die, they would bequeath him their herbariums and collections. So when Hans passed away, he practically had become the caretaker of the world’s Natural History, aka the British Museum.
Today the British Museum is the largest indoor space captured by Google Street View. Google mapped the museum in November of 2015, and so it's now available online to all of us.
So, today if someone asks you what you’re doing, you can say,
"I'm going to tour the British Museum. What are you up to?"
January 15, 1786
Today is the birthday of the British shoemaker and amateur botanist Richard Buxton.
Born into poverty in Lancashire, as a young boy, Richard enjoyed picking his favorite wildflowers: Germander Speedwell, Creeping Tormentil or Cinquefoil, and Common Chickweed.
Now, although it has pretty deep blue flowers, I think it's a little funny that Richard picked Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys "kam-EE-driss") because the blossoms wilt quickly after picking or cutting them - which is how it got the ironic common name "Männertreu" in Germany. "Männertreu" means "men's faithfulness."
As for Creeping Tormentil or Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) - today, that plant is considered a lawn weed. And a clue to the medicinal power of this invasive plant is its name: Potentilla, which means "powerful, despite its small size."
Finally, all species of Chickweed are in the genus Stellaria. And, the adorable little chickweed blossoms resemble carnations, which makes sense because chickweed is actually a member of the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae ("kair-ee-off-il-AYE-see-ee").
And before we get back to Richard's story, there's another great thing to know about Chickweed: it's a great plant to eat. I think of it as a spinach substitute. Nutritious and delicious, you can eat Chickweed leaves raw or in a sandwich or salad. The mild flavor is delightful - and if you're wondering what it tastes like, it's often compared to corn silk.
As for Richard, he was industrious, and he taught himself to read when he was 16. Richard accomplished this herculean task with two books: The Common Spelling Book and Jones Pronouncing Dictionary.
And by the age of 18, Richard became an apprentice to a shoemaker and an amateur botanist named James Heap. Together, James and Richard would botanize the countryside - looking for herbs to make drinks.
After realizing a reference book would help with their foraging, Richard bought a copy of Culpeper's Complete Herbal. And when Culpepper wasn’t practical enough or accurate, Richard purchased Meyrick’s Herbal. For Richard, both of these books both started a lifelong pursuit for botanical knowledge.
As a gardener, if you struggle with taking cuttings from your garden, you’ll identify with Richard. Although most botanists collect specimens and then dry and mount them, Richard couldn’t bear to cut the specimens he found in nature. Instead, Richard made all of his botanical discoveries by observing living plants and taking notes.
In 1849, when Richard was 62, he endeared himself to his countrymen when he published a book called A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses, and Algae, Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester.
Richard’s obituary in The Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser said:
“This extraordinary self-taught man died at his residence… after a very short illness, in the 81st year of his age.
It is now nearly twenty years since Mr. Buxton, then a maker of children's shoes wrote his "Botanical Guide."
In that book, in an exciting account of himself, Richard said,
"I have now reached the age of 62 years, and although by no means robust, I can yet make a ramble of thirty miles a day, and enjoy the beauties of nature with as much zest as ever I did in my life.
True, the pursuit of botany has not yielded me much money, but what, in my opinion, is far better, it has preserved my health, if not my life, and afforded me a fair share of happiness."
Mr. Buxton was probably the best British botanist... that Lancashire has produced, and he has been called by one of the most eminent living authorities, " a complete dictionary of English botany."
Richard was a pauper all of his life. As he grew older, Richard’s friends and fellow naturalists encouraged the community to help Richard by buying his book. And the geologist Edward William Binney set up a fund for Richard and ultimately ended up paying for Richard's tombstone when he died at the age of 81.
And in 1914, The Guardian shared that members of a Manchester nature club were going to try to ascertain how many of the 40 plants mentioned by Buxton still existed. There was no word on the results of that endeavor.
The first thing I noticed as I watched my own boots sink below the blue-shadowed surface were the footprints of many other occupants of the garden.
The mallard duck had left their heavy, plodding trails before flying off, hopefully, to someplace where the water is not totally frozen over - probably to the salt marshes which are not far away.
The large webless prints of moorhens, setting off in determined straight lines, were everywhere.
Blackbirds, thrushes, robins, and jackdaws were evident in a confused jumble of prints all around the house and buildings.
I wish I could identify more of the strange little footmarks to be found in the snow. However, it is not difficult to recognize rabbits’ long feet, crisscrossing an area we call ‘The Wilderness,’ my last two acres of uncultivated land, which is wired off from the garden with rabbit-proof netting.
Here too, I saw the prints of a fox together with a continuous hollow scraped in the soft snow. It was easy to imagine him dragging his kill back to some hideaway.
Wingbeats of alighting birds were left imprinted as blue-shadowed fans on the glittering whiteness.
— Beth Chatto, garden writer and gardener, Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, January
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms.
In this book, David Culp shares a year of life at his Brandywine Cottage and generously shares how to enrich your life with the natural world - even if it’s just your own backyard.
David’s book is organized seasonally and offers a smorgasbord of flower gardening, veggie and herb growing, floral arranging, and cooking with home-grown produce.
David provides monthly tips and advice to help you experience year-round success and joy. Best of all, David’s shared wisdom is practical and creative - and all are gems of conciseness and are based on his 30 years of experience.
This book is 296 pages of David Culp’s extraordinary life - in and out of the garden - at Brandywine Cottage. It’s an inspiring read for gardeners and anyone who finds the natural world an enriching and joyful part of life.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 15, 1906
On this day, The Nashville Banner ran a story about revealing a prolific author and nature lover's true identity. It said:
“The authorship of the popular book... The Garden of a Commuter's Wife... has been as jealously guarded in this country.
It can be positively stated, however, that the book [was] written by Mable Osgood Wright.
Her authorship will be ...announced by the Macmillan Company on the publication of a new book in the series The Garden, You and I."
A New Yorker, Mabel Osgood Wright, was a leader of the Audobon movement, a photographer, a conservationist, a native plant advocate, and an American author who wrote about gardens, nature, and birds.
A nature writer, Mabel started out by submitting pieces to The New York Times and other newspapers. A decade later, she collected her articles and put them in a book called The Friendship of Nature. After her first book, Mabel produced a brand new book every single year until 1911. Some of her more famous works include Birdcraft, which came out in 1895, and Flowers and Ferns in Their Haunts, released in 1901.
Mabel had a gift for writing about nature and natural sciences in a way that was relatable and struck a chord with her readers. As a talented photographer, Mabel took most of the photographs for her books. As indicated in the newspaper article above, Mabel published her best-selling book The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife (1901) and its sequels, under the pseudonym “Barbara.”
In Mabel's book The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife, the gardener was Mabel, and the Commuter was her husband, James. Mabel dedicated her book and her garden to him.
Mabel was opposed to the massacre of birds to decorate women’s hats. In Connecticut, Mabel created the first private bird sanctuary in the country. The sanctuary, Birdcraft, was Mabel’s design. Today the six-acre Birdcraft Sanctuary is open daily, year-round, from dawn to dusk.
And Mabel’s beautiful Connecticut country home and garden gave her plenty of material for her books. It was Mabel Osgood Wright who said:
“Let everyone who makes garden plans frequently insert the letters C.P. after them as a reminder... for Climate Permitting.”
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