Today we celebrate the writer inspired by the Oxford Botanic Garden - a place he saw every day.
We'll also learn about medicine with roots in the soil in Indiana.
We’ll hear a lovely excerpt about a harbinger of spring: Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a fantastic book about botanical baking with a master baker.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a surprise found in a botanist’s garden.
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January 27, 1832
Today is the birthday of the English mathematician and writer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - also known as Lewis Carroll.
Lewis had worked as a librarian at Christ Church College in Oxford. His office window had a view of the Dean's Garden.
Lewis wrote in his diary on the 25th of April in 1856 that he had visited the Deanery Garden, where he was planning to take pictures of the cathedral. Instead, he ended up taking pictures of children in the garden. The children were allowed in the Deanery Garden, but not in the Cathedral Garden, which was connected to the Deanery Garden by a little door.
And so, it was the Oxford Botanic Garden that inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland.
The same garden also inspired the authors, JRR Tolkien and Philip Pullman.
In Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking-Glass is this favorite passage among gardeners:
“In most gardens," the Tiger-lily said, "they make the beds too soft-so that the flowers are always asleep.”
January 27, 1950
On this day, Science Magazine announced a brand new antibiotic made by Charles Pfizer & Company, and it was called Terramycin.
Last year, when I shared this item, I don't think many of us were as familiar with the word Pfizer as we are today - living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the 1950s, Pfizer was a small chemical company based in Brooklyn, New York.
And it turns out that Pfizer had developed an expertise in fermentation with citric acid, and this process allowed them to mass-produce drugs.
When Pfizer scientists discovered an antibiotic in a soil sample from Indiana, their deep-tank fermentation method allowed them to mass-produce Terramycin.
Now, Pfizer had been searching through soil samples from around the world - isolating bacteria-fighting organisms when they stumbled on Terramycin. Effective against pneumonia, dysentery, and other infections, Terramycin was approved by the USDA.
And the word Terramycin is created from the two Latin words: terra for earth and mycin, which means fungus - thus, earth fungus.
And Terramycin made history: Terramycin was the very first mass-marketed product by a pharmaceutical company. Pfizer spent twice as much marketing Terramycin as it did on R&D for Terramycin. The gamble paid off; Terramycin, earth fungus, is what made Pfizer a pharmaceutical powerhouse.
And so, there's a throughline from the vaccine we are using today, all the way back to that bacteria found in the soil in Indiana that ultimately became Terramycin.
In much of North America, skunk cabbage has earned the widespread reputation as the first flower of spring. It might be more accurate, however, to call it the first flower of winter. “The skunk cabbage may be found with its round green spear-point an inch or two above the mold in December,” reported naturalist John Burroughs. “It is ready to welcome and make the most of the first fitful March warmth.”
Henry David Thoreau observed that new buds begin pushing upward almost as soon as the leaves wither and die in the fall. In fact, he counseled those afflicted with the melancholy of late autumn to go to the swamps “and see the brave spears of skunk cabbage buds already advanced toward the new year.”
People living in colder parts of North America have long watched for skunk cabbage as a sign of spring. The tip of the plant’s spathe or sheath begins to push through the still-frosty earth and to stand tall when the first faint breaths of warmer air begin blowing. This process can occur in January with an unusually long January thaw—a “goose haw,” as some New Englanders call it—or it can happen as late as March.
— Jack Sanders, Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, The First Flower of Winter
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Contemporary baking and cake decorating with edible flowers and herbs.
In this book, celebrity baker Julia teaches how to make and decorate the most beautiful botanical cakes – using edible flowers and herbs to decorate your cakes and bakes.
After working in the baking industry for two decades, Julia knows what flowers are edible and what flowers have great flavor. She also shares everything you need to do to work with edible flowers:
“how to use, preserve, store and apply them, including pressing, drying and crystallizing flowers and petals.”
Julia shares 20 botanical cakes that feature edible flowers and herbs. Her creations include a confetti cake, a wreath cake, a gin and tonic cake, floral chocolate bark, a naked cake, a jelly cake, a letter cake, and more.
Known in the U.K. for her beautiful bloom-covered cakes, Julia counts royalty and celebrities among her many clients.
This book is 144 pages of botanical baking with edible flowers and herbs.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 27, 1994
On this day, The South Bend Tribune out of South Bend, Indiana, shared an article by Doug Glass called, “Botanist Finds Endangered Plant in His Garden.”
“For someone who makes his living studying plants, George Yatskievych is an indifferent gardener.
It took [him] several months to notice that a load of topsoil delivered to his home in St. Louis was sprouting several clusters of trifolium stoloniferum, also known as Running Buffalo Clover. This native plant had all but vanished in Missouri.
“I was out weeding a flower bed near this topsoil, down on my knees, when I sort of came nose to nose with these things,” said George, who works at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
"You spend all this time and effort looking for this in nature. . . . (The discovery) was so unexpected."
Yatskievych and other botanists took the six clovers found in his topsoil and began a project to reintroduce the plant to Missouri.
Now, some five years after his discovery, the Missouri Department of Conservation oversees some 700 seedlings in 25 experimental plots statewide.”
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