Today we celebrate a man who published his garden journal in a book - and inspired countless gardeners and gardener writers with his resonant words.
We'll also learn about a young botanist with drive and good intentions, as well as a personal beef with another botanist - both of these men had a dramatic impact on the Calcutta Botanical Garden.
We hear some fascinating words about tree bark and pH - it's a little-discussed topic, but it's a good one.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that helps us cook with flowers.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a look at winter chores for this week from 1889.
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February 9, 1830
Today is the birthday of the English gardener and writer Henry Arthur Bright.
As an adult, Henry began a diary, which would become a book called A Year in a Lancashire Garden. Henry’s book is one of the most beloved garden biographies of the nineteenth century, and Henry's book inspired future garden writers like Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, Theresa Earle, and Elizabeth Lawrence.
And for today, I thought I would share a February 1874 excerpt from Henry's journal. Although this was almost 150 years ago, Henry was doing what gardeners do this time of year: worrying about how the winter would affect the garden, noticing the progress of the earliest blooming trees and shrubs, cleaning up and editing the garden for the new season, looking through his garden magazines for new and old plants, experiencing some disappointment in the spring showing of some of his flowers (in this case, his Aconites), and mulling over why some spring-flowering bulbs go unappreciated - like the humble spring Crocus.
“Since I wrote, we have had the sharpest and keenest frost — sharper than we have had all the winter...
Now spring has come again, and (as Horace says) has "shivered" through the trees. The Elders are already unfolding their leaves, and a Lonicera ("lon-ISS-er-ah”) or Honeysuckle is in the freshest bud.
I remember when, a few years ago, Mr. Longfellow, the American poet, was in England, he told me that he was often reminded by the tender foliage of an English spring of that well-known line of Watts, where the fields of Paradise,
"Stand dressed in living green;"
and I thought of this today when I looked... at the fresh verdure of this very Lonicera.
But all things are now telling of spring. We have finished our pruning of the wall-fruit; we have ...sown our earliest Peas.
We have planted our Ranunculus bed and gone through the herbaceous borders, dividing and clearing away where the growth was too thick, and sending off hamperfuls of Peony, Iris, Oenothera ("ee-no-THAIR-ah"), Snowflake, Japanese Anemone ("ah-NIM-oh-nee), Day Lily, and many others.
On the other hand, we have been looking over old volumes of Curtis's Botanical Magazine, and have been trying to get, not always successfully, a number of old forgotten plants of beauty, and now of rarity. We have found enough, however, to add a fresh charm to our borders for June, July, and August.
On the lawn, we have some Aconites in flower… This year they are doing badly. I suspect they must have been mown away last spring before their tubers were thoroughly ripe, and they are punishing us now by flowering only here and there.
Then, too, the Crocuses are bursting up from the soil... "all gleaming in purple and gold." Nothing is more stupid than the ordinary way of planting Crocuses — in a narrow line or border. Of course, you get a line of color, but that is all, and, for all the good it does, you might as well have a line of colored pottery or variegated gravel. They should be grown in thick masses, and in a place where the sun can shine upon them, and then they open out into wonderful depths of beauty.
Besides the clusters along the shrubberies and the mixed borders, I have a number [of Crocus] on the lawn beneath a large weeping Ash; the grass was bare there, and… it was well to do something to veil its desolation in the spring. Nothing can be more successful than a mass of Crocus, yellow, white, and purple.
I sometimes think that the Crocus is less cared for than it deserves. Our modern poets rarely mention it; but in Homer, when he would make a carpet for the gods, it is of Lotus, Hyacinth, and Crocus…
February 9, 1845
Today is the anniversary of the early death of the promising English botanist and naturalist, William Griffith.
William’s peers in Madras, India, honored William with a plaque that says,
“He had attained to the highest eminence in the scientific world; and was one of the most distinguished botanists of his age.”
William was exceptionally bright and fit. Confident and capable, William made one discovery after another on his expeditions across the globe.
But in researching William, while I discovered a man who was unquestionably intelligent and driven, he was also embroiled in a personal battle against a fellow botanist - an older peer named Nathaniel Wallich.
One of the great botanists of his age, Nathaniel, was in charge of the Botanical Garden in Calcutta, India. During his time in India, he wrote a Flora of Asia, and the palm Wallichia disticha (“wall-IK-ee-uh DIS-tik-uh”) was named in Wallich’s honor. In 1824, Nathaniel was the first person to describe the giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) - the world's largest Lily species. If you decide you’d like to grow giant Himalayan Lilies (and who wouldn’t?), expect blooms anytime after year four.
Now, Richard Axelby wrote an excellent in-depth paper that shares the sad story of dislike and mistrust between William Griffith and Nathaniel Wallich. It’s a fascinating read, and it underscores the damage that can be done when people don’t get along.
In a nutshell, when William arrived at the botanical garden in Calcutta, he essentially played the role of the new sheriff in town, and he didn’t like the way Nathaniel had organized the garden. He didn’t like Nathaniel’s arrogance and adherence to the old ways. And for his part, Nathaniel hadn’t anticipated this kind of challenge to his authority; He had hoped to finish out his final years respected and revered until he received his pension and returned to England.
When Nathaniel’s health deteriorated, he was forced to leave the Calcutta Botanical Garden, and he went to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to recover. During his absence, William went to work.
After being put in charge of the garden, William set about executing a complete renovation. In hindsight, William’s personal feelings likely got in the way of exercising a more thoughtful redesign. He essentially threw the baby out with the bathwater. For instance, there was an avenue of stately Cycas trees that was beloved by visitors to the garden; they were wiped out. William’s total dedication to organizing the garden by classification meant that aesthetics and common sense were secondary, and that proved detrimental to the garden. Plants that had thrived under the canopy of established trees and shrubs were suddenly exposed to the harsh Indian sun, and they burned and perished out in the open.
And even if he could be a difficult man to work with, it’s hard not to imagine the shock Nathaniel experienced when he returned to the garden in the summer of 1844 and saw the complete devastation in every bed, every planting, and every corner of the garden. Nothing was untouched - it had all been changed.
And as Nathaniel returned to the garden that summer, William was preparing to leave. In September, he married his brother’s wife’s sister - Emily Henderson - by the end of the year, on December 11th, and he quit and left the garden for good.
Two months later, on February 8, 1845, Nathaniel poured out his pain in a letter to his old friend William Hooker:
“Where is the stately, matchless garden that I left in 1842?
Is this the same as that?
Can it be?
Day is not more different from night that the state of the garden as it was from its present utterly ruined condition. But no more on this.
My heart bleeds at what I am impelled daily – hourly to witness.
And yet I am chained to the spot, and the chain, in some respects, is of my own making.
I will not be driven away.
Lies, calumnies, every attempt... to ruin my character – publicly and privately... are still employed – they may make my life miserable and wretched, they may break my heart: but so so long as my conscience acquits me... so long will I not budge one inch from my post.”
Well, when Nathanial wrote this letter, William and Emily were back in Malacca in Southwestern Malaysia - but all was not well. William had gotten sick on the voyage to Malaysia. It was hepatitis, and he had languished for ten days. And the very day after Nathaniel sent his letter to William Hooker about his broken heart at seeing his dear Calcutta Botanical Garden, William Griffith died on this day in 1845 in Malaysia. He was just 34 years old.
Each tree's bark will have its own pH, and some are more acidic than others. Larches and Pines are notoriously acidic; Birch, Hawthorne and Oak are acidic too, but slightly less so. Rowan, Alder, Beech, Linden, and Ash are little less acidic again, and Willow, Holly and Elm are getting closer to neutral. Sycamore, Walnut, and Elder are alkaline. The less acidic the bark is, the more growth you are likely to see from colonizing plants and lichens. Pine bark is often bare, whereas Sycamore might have a glorious guest hanging off its bark.
—Tristan Gooley, New York Times Bestselling author, The Lost Art of Reading Nature Signs, Bark
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2013, and the subtitle is Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers.
In this book, Miche put together more than 100 recipes to create beautiful flower-filled dishes for your table! This botanical cookbook features creations that will speak to any gardener: sweet violet cupcakes, savory sunflower chickpea salad, pansy petal pancakes, chive blossom vinaigrette, daylily cheesecake, rosemary flower margaritas, mango orchid sticky rice, and herb flower pesto.
Miche is an herbalist, chef, and owner of a custom confectionary studio, so she’s an expert in preparing and using botanicals in the kitchen. Miche shares how to find, clean, and prep edible blossoms. You’ll also learn that the color and flavor of various blooms can infuse vinegars, vodkas, sugars, frostings, jellies and jams, and even ice creams.
This book is 192 pages of edible flowers, visually stunning desserts, and one-of-a-kind creations.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
February 9, 1889
On this day, The Lancaster Gazette shared a little snippet about the garden chores that should be done this week.
So let’s see how our chores stack up against chores from the late 1800s.
“Outdoor Work must have a full share of attention.
Whatever... winter work remains must now be cleared up, or the consequences will be serious.
Make quickly a thorough clearance of the vegetable quarters.
Prepare all plots requiring manure at once, as it is much better to have the manure completely incorporated with the soil than to sow or plant immediately after manuring.
The ground for Peas, Beans, Onions, Cauliflowers, and Broccolis must be liberally manured and deeply stirred.
Mark out the quarters for Onions into four-foot beds and raise the bed six inches above the general level and leave the surface rough. At sowing time, the surface will be nicely pulverized through exposure to the air, and the seed can be set clean and rolled in firm...
Choose for Potatoes ground on which Cabbage, or Broccoli, or Celery has been grown... last year.
Make up sloping borders under warm walls and fences for early Lettuce and Radish.
Prick out Broccoli and Cauliflower from seed.
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