Today we celebrate a colonial botanist who introduced nearly 200 plants to British horticulture after sourcing them from his good friend John Bartram in America.
We'll also learn about the man who mastered growing the Poinsettia and established it as the official plant of Christmas.
We’ll hear some wonderful thoughts on the Common Daisy (Bellis perennis) from one of my favorite writers.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about styling your home with botanicals - making your own horticultural haven.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a woman who found her way to the best job ever: creating herb gardens.
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January 28, 1694
Today is the birthday of a Fellow of the Royal Society, an avid gardener, and a friend to many scientific leaders in London in the mid-18th century, Peter Collinson.
Peter Collinson introduced nearly 200 species of plants to British horticulture - importing many from his friend John Bartram in America.
And when the American gardener John Custis learned that Peter was looking for the mountain cowslip (Primula auricula), he happily sent him a sample. Auricula means ear-shaped, and the mountain cowslip is commonly known as a bear's ear - from the shape of its leaves. And the cowslip is a spring-flowering plant, and it is native to the mountains of Europe.
Custis also sent Peter a Virginia Bluebell Or Virginia cowslip (Mertensia virginica). This plant is another spring beauty that can be found in woodlands.
And I have to say that the blue about Virginia Bluebell is so striking - it's an old fashioned favorite for many gardeners. The Virginia Bluebell is known as lungwort or oyster wort. And it got those rather unattractive common names because people believed the plant could treat lung disorders, and also, the leaves taste like oysters.
Virginia bluebells bloom alongside daffodils, so you end up with a beautiful yellow and blue combination in the spring garden - something highly desired and gorgeous. Peter was not the only gardener in search of Virginia bluebells. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello ("MontiCHELLo”) and loved them so much that they were often referred to as Jefferson's blue funnel flowers.
As for Peter, he once wrote,
"Forget not me and my garden."
Given Peter’s influence on English gardens, he would be pleased to know that, after all these years, he has not been forgotten.
In fact, in 2010, the author Andrea Wulf wrote about Peter in her book The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession - one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.
January 28, 1895
Today is the birthday of the nurseryman known as “Mr. Poinsettia,” Paul Ecke Sr. ("Eck-EE"), and he was born in Magdeburg, Germany.
Paul and his family immigrated to the United States in 1906.
And when Paul took over his father's nursery business located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in the early 1920s, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) was a fragile, outdoor, wild plant. And Paul fell in love with the Poinsettia immediately. And Paul felt that the Poinsettia was perfectly created for the holiday season because the bloom occurred naturally during that time of year.
By 1924, Paul was forced out of Hollywood by the movie business, and that's when he brought his family and the nursery to San Diego County.
Paul and his wife Magdalena had four children, and they purchased 40 acres of land in Encinitas("en-sin-EE-tis"). It was here that Paul would turn his passion for Poinsettias into a powerhouse. And at one point, his nursery controlled 90% of the Poinsettia market in the United States.
At first, Paul raised Poinsettias in the fields on his ranch. Each spring, the plants were harvested and then loaded onto two railroad cars and sent to greenhouse growers all along the east coast.
And when Paul wasn't growing Poinsettias, he was talking Poinsettias. It wasn't too long before Paul started calling Poinsettias "The Christmas Flower"; Paul was endlessly marketing Poinsettias and praising their attributes as a harbinger of Christmas.
Initially, Paul worked to decrease the growing time of the Poinsettia. By getting the time to bloom down from 18 months to 8 months, Paul made it possible for the Poinsettia to be grown indoors.
And after figuring out how to propagate the plant through cuttings indoors, Paul was soon able to ship Poinsettias around the world by plane.
In the 1960s, Paul’s son, Paul Jr., took over the business, and he cleverly sent Poinsettias to all the major television shows. When the holiday programs aired, there were the Poinsettias - in their glory - decorating the sets and stages of all the most popular TV shows.
When Paul Junior learned that women's magazines did their photoshoots for the holidays over the summer, he began growing a Poinsettia crop that peaked in July. Magazines like Women's Day and Sunset were thrilled to feature the Poinsettia in their Christmas magazines - alongside Christmas Trees and Mistletoe. This venture was regarded as the Ecke family's most significant marketing success and made the Poinsettia synonymous with Christmas.
Today gardeners will be fascinated to learn that the Ecke family distinguished themselves as a superior grower of Poinsettias by using a secret technique to keep their plants compact and hardy. Their solution was simple: they grafted two varieties of Poinsettias together, causing every seedling to branch and become bushy.
Competitor Poinsettias were leggy and prone to falling open. Not so, with the Ecke Poinsettia.
By the 1990s, the Ecke growing secret was out of the bag, and competitors began grafting Poinsettias together to compete.
Today the Ecke family does not grow a single Poinsettia on their farm in San Diego County.
Finally, one of Paul's Poinsettia pet peeves is the commonly-held belief that Poinsettias are poisonous. Over the years, sometimes that fear would prevent a pet owner or a young mother from buying a Poinsettia. Paul Ecke recognized the threat posed by this false belief. And so, Paul fought to reveal the truth one interview at a time.
It turns out that a 50-pound child would have to eat roughly 500 Poinsettia leaves before they would even begin to have a stomach ache. Furthermore, the plant is not dangerous to pets. And here's where things get crayze: Paul would regularly eat Poinsettia leaves on camera during interviews over the holiday season to prove his point.
When the Ecke nursery sold in 2012, it still controlled over half the Poinsettia market in the world. During the holiday season, roughly seventy-five million Poinsettia plants are sold - most to women over 40.
The daisy’s genus name, Belis (martial or warlike), refers to its use by Roman doctors as a common treatment for battlefield wounds. John Gerard, the sixteenth-century herbalist and author of the first important herbal in English, wrote:
“The leaves stamped take away bruises and swellings ... whereupon it was called in old time Bruisewort."
But daisies weren’t just popular medicine. They were also popular for making prophecies. You’ve certainly learned the most famous one:
“He loves me, he loves me not."
The last petal decides the question—but its unreliability is unfortunately notorious.
You can, however, tell the seasons by the coming of daisies:
It's spring in the English Midlands, and people say when you can put your foot on nine daisies.
But be careful: Dreaming of daisies in spring or summer brings good luck;
If you dream of them in fall or winter, however, bad luck is on the way.
— Susan Wittig Albert, author, China Bayles Book of Days, January 38
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is Inspirational decorating with nature, plants, and florals.
In this book, stylist Selina Lake shows,
“how to tap into the current trend for bringing nature, plants, and florals into the heart of the home.”
Selina reviews the ingredients she uses to achieve her signature look—antique botanical prints and artworks, flower stalls, potting sheds, and houseplants. Then she shares how these items can be used to transform your home into a botanical paradise.
Next, Selina shares five aspects of her botanical styling, from Vintage Botanicals and Boho Botanicals to Natural Botanicals and Tropical specimens.
This book is 160 pages of Selina’s innovative style tips for working with botanicals to create a modern garden ambiance in your home.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 28, 1983
On this day, The Charlotte News shared an article by Edie Lowe called “Herb Garden Just Like Artwork.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“To Deborah Zimmerman designing an herb garden is like painting a picture or composing a song.
“You have to orchestrate a harmonious blend of textures and colors and heights.
When designing a garden, my canvas is the ground.
My picture is of the finished garden. My song is the finished garden."
Deborah’s latest design is a formal Elizabethan herb garden in the backyard of the restored Blair-Bowden House on Poplar Street.
Deborah became interested in herbs and spices about 12 years ago.
"I started a little business called Helping Hand Services… planting herbs and spices in people's gardens.
It started out as a means of supporting myself in school. It grew so quickly, and I enjoyed it so much.
I found myself feeling here I am being creative, and I'm getting paid for it.
I’m spreading beauty in yards working with plants and soil - which I love - and I'm getting paid to learn and create."
Deborah is continually studying herbs and spices.
She is particularly fond of designing gardens like those from the Elizabethan era in the 16th and 17th centuries.
"There is not much difference in the Elizabethan gardens of the 18th century and Victorian gardens. The (main) difference is the type of herbs they favored in their gardens.
The Elizabethan Gardens were more apt to have highly scented plants because of the period’s sanitation problems.
They would pick herbs and spread them on the walks and floors. As company came and walked on the herbs, they'd be crushed, releasing the scents. Herbs were the air fresheners of the day."
Because people seldom bathed, scented herbs and spices were also worn in pomanders around their necks.
The Victorian era was more sophisticated. Baths became popular. Perfumes and scented water made from herbs and spices were used.
"Victorian people loved rose water. The damask rose was the popular flower then. It is the most highly scented rose there is.”
Deborah’s 4th Ward garden, covering a 10-by-10-foot space, is fashioned with circles and diamonds inside a square.
Each of the four points of the square is finished in a fleur-de-lis pattern.
Deborah used creeping thyme and candytuft as a border hedge for the garden. The rest of the pattern is carried out with lavender, rosemary, lemon, verbena, aromatic herbs, clove pinks, rose geranium, basil, sage, savory, chives, coriander, and camomile.
The 100-square-foot garden… will cost between $250 and $600.
“The most important thing is to like what you are doing…
If you are happy in your work, you tend to grow.”
Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener.
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."
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