Today we celebrate a woman who was insatiable when it came to plants, and she is remembered forever with the Portland Rose.
We'll also learn about a famous speech given at a Vermont botanical club about why botany wasn’t taught in schools - and the reasons were pretty spot on.
We hear a story about a beautiful cherry tree found near the Osakabe ("sah-KAH-bay") Hotel.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about Darwin’s plants - in addition to his theory of evolution, Darwin experimented and observed plants extensively at his home in Kent.
And then we’ll wrap things up by getting you ready for Valentine’s Day with a few of my favorite garden-inspired verses about love.
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February 11, 1715
Today is the birthday of the British aristocrat, naturalist, plant lover, and botanist Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland. Her family and friends called her Maria.
Maria married when she was 19 years old. Together, she and William Bentinck had five children; one of their sons became prime minister twice. When William died after their 27th anniversary, Maria threw herself into her many passions.
As the wealthiest woman in England, Maria could acquire virtually any treasure from the natural world - and she did. She cultivated an enormous collection of natural history, which was tended by two experts she hired to personally attend each item: the naturalist Reverend John Lightfoot and the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander.
Maria's home in Buckinghamshire was referred to by society as the hive - it was a reference to the hub of activity for Solander and Lightfoot and the other people who helped process her acquisitions.
At one point, Maria had reached out to Captain James Cook. James gave Maria some shells from his second expedition to Australia. Meanwhile, Daniel Solander was in charge cataloging Maria's massive shell collection, but, sadly, he left the work unfinished when he died in 1782. Maria had an enormous appetite for curation and collecting. In addition to her Botanic Garden on her property, Maria opened a zoo, kept rabbits, and had an aviary.
A constant stream of scientists, explorers, socialites, and artists visited Maria to exchange ideas and inspect her collections.
And, think about the limitless ambition she must have had as Lightfoot wrote that Maria wanted,
"...every unknown species in the three kingdoms of nature described and published to the world."
Now, Maria had a special love for collecting plants and flowers from far off places worldwide. She retained the botanist and the incomparable botanical illustrator Georg Dionysius Ehret as a drawing instructor. Struck by the luminescence of his work, Maria bought over 300 of Ehret's paintings.
Maria also became friends with the botanical artist Mary Delaney. Mary made botanical paper mosaics, as she called them. Mary was essentially creating flower specimens out of tissue paper. And Mary was exacting - dissecting real flowers and then replicating what she saw with tissue paper. To gather more material for her work, Maria and Mary loved to go out into the fields and collect specimens together.
As the Duchess of Portland, Maria shared her specimens with the public, and she displayed her various collections from around the globe in what she called her Portland Museum.
Once, in 1800, Maria received a rose from Italy, which became known as the Portland Rose in her honor. The rose was a beautiful crimson scarlet with round petals - and it was a repeat bloomer. And, here's a fun fact: all Portland Roses were developed from that very first Portland Rose - the sweet gift to Margaret Cavendish Bentinck - Maria - the Duchess of Portland.
February 11, 1896
It was on this day that the Burlington Free Press shared a story called Vermont’s Flora: Winter Meeting of the State Botanical Club.
Generally speaking, these early botanical meetings can err on the side of rules and regulation, and they can be a little boring to read. However, the account of this meeting caught my eye.
The meeting started as per usual with a discussion of nomenclature. Here the club decided to follow the lead of Harvard and the way they pronounced botanical names.
But, then, things got interesting because the topic changed to "How Should Botany be Taught In Schools?" after an address given by Reverend JA Bates.
Bates began his popular presentation by saying that he could begin his speech like the boy who wrote a paper about “The Snakes of Ireland.” The paper began, “There are no snakes in Ireland.”
Reverend Bates found himself in the same situation for his speech, “How Should Botany be Taught in Schools?”
Well, as Reverend Bates began to speak, he bluntly pointed out there is no botany taught in schools.
Bear in mind this speech was made in 1896 when Reverend Bates said that,
“only one in forty students has studied botany.”
And I don’t think we’ve moved the dial that much on that statistic.
Then Bates attempts to explain why botany is not taught - and this is what caught my attention. He said,
“The chief reasons for [botany not being taught in schools] are twofold.
First, most of the teachers are poorly prepared for teaching botany.
And second, botanists are conservative and conceal the charms of their study behind the long Latin names.”
There, in a garden of a house near the Osakabe Hotel ("sah-KAH-bay"), towering above a tall wooden fence, stood a tree with narrow leaves and bunched clusters of double mauve-pink blossoms with close to 100 petals. Ingram's immediate reaction was to work out how to spirit cuttings of the tree to England.
Fate was on his side. Nineteen years earlier, on his honeymoon, he had visited this very village while hunting birds, and he remembered meeting there, a one-legged war hero whose parents ran the Osakabe Hotel. That man, who had lost a limb during the Russo-Japanese war, was still alive, a villager told Ingram. Indeed he was now running the hotel. And his hobby was gardening! In typical Ingram fashion, he convinced the Innkeeper to send him scions from the tree in exchange for one yen to cover the postage. By 1929, a couple of sturdy offspring were growing in Benenden.
— Naoko Abe, Japanese Journalist, author, and a 2016 Nihon Essayist Club Award winner, Cherry Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms, Saving the Sakura
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Darwin's Botany Today.
In this book, Ken helps us understand Darwin as a botanist.
After taking his famous voyage on The Beagle, Darwin experimented with and observed growing plants at his home in Kent. Carnivorous and climbing plants were a favorite of Darwin's; he was fascinated by their pollination and flower evolution.
Thanks to Ken, we get to know Darwin as a pioneering botanist who was way ahead of his time. Darwin’s work seems totally in step with plant science today: plant movement, hunting, and intelligence.
This book is 256 pages of a side of Darwin that most folks have never known: Darwin as a curious and intelligent botanist.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
Today I thought I’d close the show by getting you ready for Valentine’s Day with a few of my favorite garden-inspired verses about love.
Violet has the shortest wavelength of the spectrum.
Behind it, the invisible ultraviolet.
Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue.
Poor violet, violated for a rhyme.
— Derek Jarman, gardener and poet
If apples were pears
And peaches were plums
And the rose had a different name.
If tigers were bears
And fingers were thumbs
I'd love you just the same.
“So, timely you came, and well you chose, You came when most needed, my winter rose. From the snow I pluck you, and fondly press Your leaves 'twixt the leaves of my leaflessness.”
— Alfred Austin, English poet Poet Laureate
“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart.”
— Russell Page, British gardener, garden designer, and architect
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