Today we celebrate the Russian botanist who sought to end world hunger and created a seed bank.
We'll also learn about a Landscape Architect known for her delicate illustrations and her love of realistic sculpture.
We’ll hear some thoughts on growing bulbs in pots by one of my favorite gardeners.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that proves anyone can draw botanical illustrations - even me.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a National Seed Swap Day the Pandemic Way.
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January 26, 1943
Today is the anniversary of the tragic death of the Russian botanist and plant geneticist Nikolai Vavilov.
Regarded as one of the giants of plant science, Nikolai established over 400 research institutes, and he brought Russian plant explorers on expeditions to more than 50 countries around the globe.
Worried about genetic erosion and destruction, Nikolai marshaled his resources toward preserving plant genetic diversity at every turn. To that end, Nikolai hoped that seed banking and his St. Petersburg seed vault would prove invaluable.
The goal of ending hunger drove Nikolai, and to that end, he worked to collect specimens and run experiments in order to increase crop yields. After concluding that genetic diversity was the key to his mission, Nikoli realized that most of the world's agriculture came from eight specific regions - places with ancient roots where plants were first cultivated.
Nikolai got caught up in the politics of communism when a fanatical Soviet agronomist and geneticist, Trofim Lysenko, denounced Nikolai’s work as anti-communist. After being arrested in 1940, Nikolai was sent to a concentration camp at Saratov, where he eventually died of starvation on this day in 1943. He was 55 years old.
Meanwhile, Nikolai’s loyal team of seed collectors also faced starvation - and some starved to death - as they held up in the Russian seed bank. Despite being surrounded by many edible seeds, these valiant botanists successfully protected seeds from all over the world during the 900-day siege of St. Petersburg by German and Finish forces. Today this seed genebank is known as the Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources.
January 26, 1905
Today is the birthday of the Connecticut landscape architect Eloise Ray.
In Ruth Harley’s book Pest-Proofing Your Garden, we get a little glimpse into Eloise’s approach to gardening:
“Eloise confesses that she long ago gave up her battle with the local groundhog. Over the years, she determined which plants appeal to him.
Now she limits her crops to the plants the groundhog doesn’t eat — tomatoes, eggplants, red and green peppers, chives, all kinds of onions and, perhaps, parsley.”
As a Landscape Architect, Eloise often worked with her husband, Jo Ray, who was also a Landscape Architect.
Eloise was a marvelous artist, and she was known for her delicate illustrations, and she was exceptionally fond of realistic sculpture.
Eloise is remembered through her gardens and estate work throughout Fairfield County, Connecticut.
In 1978, the New York Times featured an interview with a 60-year-old Eloise at her Westport Home. Eloise reflected on her career,
“[I started] in the heyday of the large estates of the late ‘20s, when we would put in gatehouses, decorative brick walls, dramatic driveways, servants’ driveways, formal gardens, walks, greenhouses, and shrubs designed for intricate topiary. We would estimate the need for at least eight full‐time gardeners for most of our estates.”
I shall never desert the bulbs, though, and last winter, I think I got more pleasure from a pot of February Gold daffodils than from anything else I raised unless it was my pots of freesias.
February Gold, which is a medium-small, all-yellow narcissus of the cyclamen type, for me proved to be January Gold; it opened its first flowers on New Year’s Day. That was the miracle.
There is no trick to growing it in pots if one has a cool cellar, and Wayside Gardens, where I got my bulbs, says it can also be grown in bowls, like the paper-whites.
— Katharine S. White, gardener and garden writer, Onward and Upward in the Garden
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing and Painting Flowers, Leaves, Fruit, and More.
In this book, Wendy shows you how to,
“achieve amazingly realistic and vibrant botanical illustrations, from flowers so dazzling you feel as if you might be able to smell them, to tomatoes that look as if they've just been picked from the garden.”
Known for her incredible botanical illustrations, Wendy shares her honed techniques through little lessons that build as your skills grow. Using colored pencils and watercolor pencils, Wendy specifically shows you how to draw a spiraling pine cone, a spiky chestnut, a fuchsia-tined radish, a graceful morning glory, and many more.
“I first learned botanical-illustration techniques twenty years ago.
The moment I understood these techniques, a door opened for me, and I immediately fell in love with the practice of botanical drawing. Since that day, it feels like the plants are leading me along a path that I steadily follow.”
This book is 192 pages of inspiring botanical illustration how-to from an artist that practices with botanical subjects every single day.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
Today is National Seed Swap Day - the first one we've had during a global pandemic.
This year, instead of a traditional in-person seed swap, many of us will need to consider sending seeds in the mail or dropping them on the porch of a garden friend.
Earlier this summer, I saw an excellent idea. A woman transformed her Little Free Book Library into a place where you can swap out seeds - a Little Seed Library.
This year, if you have leftover seed after planting or when your flowers are producing seed, you can always share them in a Little Seed Library, or with a garden friend - or you can even share them with people you don't know thanks to neighborhood apps like NextDoor.
And, if you feel so inclined, consider building a Little Seed Library for your front yard. I think it's such a sweet idea. I love the idea of Little Seed Libraries popping up all over the country.
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