Today we celebrate a woman who helped change the way pesticides were used in the United States.
We'll also learn about the man who taught thousands of people how to prune and graft fruit trees and also founded the Home Orchard Society.
We’ll hear about how to prune Willow (Salix) trees with one of my favorite gardeners.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a lovely set of postcards - they’re so pretty - you may just want to display them.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a marvelous article about a source of winter joy for gardeners: scented houseplants.
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January 29, 1958
On this day, a letter to the editor appeared in the Boston Herald in Section 3 on Page 14 and was titled “Evidence of Havoc by DDT." It was written by a Duxbury resident, journalist, and nature-lover: Olga Owens Huckins.
Olga and her husband, Stuart, had created a little bird sanctuary around two kettle ponds on their property. It was a place,
“where songbirds sang, ducks swam, and great blue herons nested.”
When the Massachusetts State Mosquito control program began spraying in their area, Olga observed birds and insects dropping dead in her garden. During that time, the DDT was sprayed at a rate of two pounds per acre. The day Olga's property was sprayed, the pilot had extra DDT in his tank, and he decided to dump it - right over Olga's land.
As a former Boston newspaper reporter, Olga voiced her anger and frustration in the best way she knew how; she wrote about it. Olga wrote,
“The ‘harmless’ shower-bath killed seven of our lovely songbirds outright. We picked up three dead bodies the next morning right by the door. They were birds that had lived close to us, trusted us, and built their nests in our trees year after year.”
After writing the paper, Olga wrote another letter to an old friend named Rachel Carson. Olga wanted Rachel to help her find people in Washington who could provide more information about the aerial spraying of DDT.
Olga's letter sparked four years of research for Rachel. She put it all together in a book called Silent Spring. Rachel's book opened people's eyes to the hazards of DDT, and public opinion eventually forced the banning of DDT in 1972.
Today, Olga & Stuart’s property has new owners, and they continue to preserve the site as a bird sanctuary - and also as a way to honor the two brave women who stepped forward when it was put in harm’s way: Olga Huckins and Rachel Carson.
January 29, 2005
Today is the anniversary of the death of the founder of Home Orchard Society, Larry L. McGraw.
Larry's obituary stated that pomology was his passion for more than 50 years. Pomology is the science of growing fruit.
In an effort to preserve fruit trees in the Northwest, Larry began collecting scion wood specimens in his twenties, and he founded the Northwest Fruit Explorers - an organization and clearinghouse for fruit information and fruit growers.
During his retirement, Larry worked as a horticulturist for the Oregon Historical Society. One day, Larry discovered an envelope that contained apple seeds that were a hundred years old. The letter inside the envelope referenced Marcus Whitman and his orchard.
Marcus Whitman was a doctor who led a group of settlers West to Washington State by Wagon Train. His wife was named Narcissa, and she was very bright, a teacher of physics and chemistry. Marcus and Narcissa were part of a group of missionaries. They settled in an area now known as Walla Walla, Washington, and apparently, the Whitman's had an orchard.
Beyond that, Marcus and Narcissa's time in Washington was not fruitful. They attempted to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity but were unsuccessful mainly because they didn’t bother to get to know or understand them. Sadly, their only daughter drowned when she was two years old. After that, Narcissa’s eyesight began to fail.
When the Native Americans came down with measles, they blamed the settlers; but they specifically blamed Marcus since he was the town doctor. After almost all of the Native American children died, the surviving Native Americans launched an attack on the settlers. The Native Americans killed Marcus and Narcissa in their home on November 29, 1847, and this event became known as the Whitman Massacre.
The seeds that Larry found at the Historical Society were one of the last pieces of the Whitman legacy. Larry's attempts to germinate the Whitman apple seeds were unsuccessful.
However, Larry did successfully obtain apple trees from Russia for his Portland Orchard.
By 1973, Larry had over 300 varieties of apples growing in his garden. Two years later, in May of 1975, Larry hosted a meeting with a group of other orchard growers. It was the official first meeting of the Home Orchard Society.
During his lifetime, Larry taught thousands of people how to prune and graft fruit trees. And during his 50 years of researching apples, Larry estimated he had come across over 2,000 different apple varieties from all over the world.
‘How often do you prune your willows?’ you may ask.
We have to consider the vigor of different varieties and also, of course, the amount of time we have to spare. We do not always do what is ideal.
If you can manage it, I think it is probably best to prune every year in February, removing about half the shoots, leaving the youngest, brightest looking stems. Some we prune every two years, others we leave longer, but not too long.
I once left [the rosemary willow] Salix elaeagnos ""SAY-lix el-ee-ag-nus"(rosmarinifolia "rose-mah-ren-uh-FOE-lee-uh") for several years. With long, fluttering, grey leaves, white-backed on purple stems, they made superb specimens. I was loath to touch them but eventually found we had to restrain them from smothering other good things. Faced with the huge framework in winter how hard dare I cut?
Gingerly I went round, saw in hand, cutting off vast pieces but leaving, to my mind, an acceptable framework. Along came a young member of staff who, not before consultation, confidently took the saw and slaughtered my framework almost to the ground.
I knew, in theory, he was right, but I just hadn’t the courage. Would it be too great a shock to the system? Well, they were slow to start, but by the end of the season, they looked magnificent.
— Beth Chatto, garden writer and gardener, Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, January
Grow That Garden Library
This wonderful postcard set came out in 2017, and the subtitle is 100 Postcards from the Archives of the New York Botanical Garden.
“This box set contains 100 rare and brilliantly colored botanical art selections from the New York Botanical Garden archives.
The images include portraits of exotic flowers, cacti, and succulents from the New York Botanical Garden collections.
Each image is printed on lush, uncoated stock to mimic the original paintings.
These postcards are perfect for mailing, framing, or using as gift tags.”
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
January 29, 1998
On this day The Courier-Journal out of Louisville, Kentucky ran an article by Tovah Martin called “Winter is the Best Time for Scented Plants.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“In spring, there are violets, but who wants to crawl around sniffing flowers 2 inches above the ground?
In summer, roses abound, but close encounters with rosebuds can be thorny.
No, winter is when scents are sampled to the best advantage.
With a horde of houseplants huddled on the windowsill, nostrils can have a field day.
Fragrant plants, however, have one slight drawback: They're not very showy.
The blooms of most fragrant flowering plants are a subdued cream, white, or yellow in color and rather diminutive in size.
Take heliotrope, for example. It smells like a comforting combination of baby powder, mulled cider, and vanilla. The flowers are white or purple in dense clusters, and they bloom lustily in any bright, south-facing window, if you can keep the white fly at bay.
Or try a hoya in an east or west window; the blossom umbels smell something like freshly baked croissants.
If you prefer something along the line of apricots warm from the oven, try Osmanthus fragrans, the sweet olive.
If you crave the citrus scent but don't have a sizable south window, consider a mock orange, Pittosporum tobira, instead. It tolerates low light and produces nosegays of creamy flowers amid laurel-like leaves.
Several jasmines (especially Jasminum sambac Maid of Orleans, J. nitidum, and J. tortuosum) are easy houseplants. They exude deep, romantic, come-hither-type perfumes with a hint of musk thrown in after dark.
If you like the idea but not the musky note, go for a jasmine imitator. Trachelospermum asiaticum is known as pinwheel jasmine but bears no kinship to jasmine whatsoever. It looks like jasmine with vining branches studded by umbels of star-shaped blossoms with twisted petals. And it smells like jasmine, without the questionable undertones.
One word of caution before you delve into the realms of fragrant plants: If you can, try to sample potential perfumed roommates before adopting them.
One person's perfume is another's stench.
Even certain jasmines can rub some people the wrong way.
British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll spent a night abroad and sent her lady's maid searching for a dead rat. It turned out to be Jasminum polyanthum, growing by the window.”
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