Today we celebrate the man who introduced the Monkey Puzzle tree to England.
We'll also learn about the prolific plant explorer who was disabled after searching for the regal lily - but he never had any regrets.
We hear some words about the 1927 expedition to South Africa.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a beautiful book about dried flowers - something anyone can do.
And then we’ll wrap things up with garden design tips from the award-winning designer David Stevens.
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February 15, 1842
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Scottish surgeon, botanist, and naturalist Archibald Menzies.
The famous story about Archibald goes something like this:
Once, Joseph Banks sent Archibald on an expedition. At some point, Archibald ended up warmly received in Chile, where he dined with the country’s leadership. During the meal, Archibald was served nuts from the Chile Pinetree to eat as part of the dessert. Archibald ate a few of the nuts, but then he managed to put a handful in his pocket after he recognized that the nuts were actually large seeds. On the trip back to England, Archibald could not wait and he started growing the five precious Chilean pinetree seeds and he managed to get them to grow successfully.
Back in England, the evergreen Chili Pine Trees were blessed with a new common name - the Monkey Puzzle tree - after someone remarked that even a monkey would not be able to climb the tree. And Archibald’s unique introduction earned him the moniker “Monkey Puzzle Man.”
Sadly, Monkey Puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana "arr-oh-KAR-ee-ah arr-oh-KAN-ah") are considered endangered today. But, like Archibald, gardeners still attempt to grow these curious trees from seed.
February 15, 1876
Today is the birthday of the prolific English plant collector, gardener, botanist, and explorer Ernest Henry Wilson.
When the botanist Augustine Henry met with a 22-year-old Ernest Henry Wilson, he wrote to his friend, Evelyn Gleesen, to share his impressions of Ernest after their first visit together:
“He is a self-made man, knows botany thoroughly, is young, and will get on.”
Henry also shared with Evelyn that he,
"would be glad if [Wilson] will continue to carry on the work in China which has been on my shoulders for some years. There is so much of interest and novelty."
Later the same day, Henry also reported back to Kew about helping Ernest with his quest:
“.... [I wrote] on a half-page of a notebook ... a sketch of a tract of country about the size of New York State [on which I marked the place where I had found the single tree of Davidia involucrata (the Dove Tree or Handkerchief Tree) in 1888. I also provided Wilson with useful information and hints.]"
Henry and Ernest stayed close and corresponded for the rest of their lives. Henry returned to his native Ireland, and Ernest went on to find the Dove tree. Also known as the Handkerchief Tree, Ernest brought the Dove tree to England in 1899, and it would become his most famous tree introduction. Without a doubt, Ernest’s first trip to China was a resounding success. Ernest returned to England and provided his sponsor, the nurseryman Harry James Veitch, with seeds for over 300 species in addition to 35 very full Wardian cases.
Before he left for his second trip to China, Ernest married Hellen Ganderton. And within six months, Ernest was headed back to China with another singular mission: the yellow Chinese poppy (Meconopsis integrifolia) and it's commonly known as the Lampshade Poppy. Not only did Ernest find the yellow Chinese poppy, but he also found the Regal lily, rhododendrons, roses, and primulas.
During that second trip, Ernest’s leg was crushed in a landslide. As incredible as it sounds, Ernest’s leg was splinted with the legs of his camera tripod - but the story doesn’t end there. The place where the rockslide occurred was on a very narrow trail - they had been walking single file along the mountainside. Before Ernest could be moved, a mule caravan came upon Ernest and his party. So, Ernest did the only thing he could - he laid down on the trail and let the 40-50 mules step over him on their way across the mountain. I always imagine the surreal experience Ernest had there - laying there in great pain and watching the bellies and hooves and whatever else of the mules passing over him for what must have seemed an eternity. Ernest himself marveled at this experience, and he later said,
"The sure-footedness of the mule is well-known, and I realized it with gratitude as these animals one by one passed over me - and not even one frayed my clothing."
After this trauma, it took Ernest a full year to walk without crutches. And forever after, Ernest walked with what he called his “lily limp.” Incredibly, when Ernest was asked about the damage to his leg, he simply said,
“The price I paid has been stated… The regal lily was worth it and more."
After all of his daring experiences and bravery, it was a car crash that ultimately claimed the life of Ernest and his wife. They were driving their roadster on wet roads when their car swerved on a “carpet of leaves” and went over an embankment before plunging 40 feet onto a field - landing on the back bumper with the front wheels in the air. Ernest and Helen died within an hour of the accident. Their little Boston terrier, however, somehow managed to survive. At the time of the accident, Ernest had been working stateside as the Arnold Arboretum’s keeper in Boston. The death of Ernest and Ellen shocked the botanical community and the country.
Ernest and Ellen were survived by their daughter — a girl they had adopted and named Muriel Primrose. She was honored with the naming of a bamboo - Fargesia murielae ("Farj-eez-ee-ah Muriel-ee") commonly known as Umbrella Bamboo.
Information is so tantalizingly scanty about the expedition in 1927 for gardener-botanists so distinguished that one expects all the flowers of South Africa to have bowed down to them as they passed.
Three of the four appear elsewhere in this book - Collingwood Ingram, George Taylor, and Lawrence Johnstone of Hidcote. The 4th, Reginald Cory, how to find Garden at Dyffryn near Cardiff, and is gratefully remembered for the bequest of his considerable Fortune to Cambridge University for the benefit of the botanic garden, and up his magnificent Botanical and Horticultural library to The Royal Horticultural Society.
— Alice Coats, English gardener and author, The Plant Hunters, Africa
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Techniques and Ideas for the Modern Home.
In this book, Morgane updates our preconceived notions regarding dried flowers. If dried flowers aren’t intriguing to you or if you feel that they belong in your 3rd-great grandmother’s steamer trunk along with vintage lace - get ready to be inspired.
Morgane brings preserved florals out of the past and into the modern home. Selected for their color, texture, and architectural interest, Morgane's top 30 picks for blooms continue to look incredible after being preserved through drying or pressing.
In addition, Morgane showcases fifteen projects that feature dried flowers — from wreaths and wall art, to terrariums and flower crowns.
This book is 144 pages of preserved blooms that will enhance your home with everlasting beauty.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
On this day, February 15, 1992, The Vancouver Sun shared a story by Steve Whysall called “Break Outdoor Spaces into Series of Small Rooms.”
The article features David Stevens, one of England's leading garden designers and the winner of eight gold medals at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. David shared his advice at the 1992 Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle.
“In many instances, the city yard can be used as an outside room. You can extend the space inside the house out into the garden and make the two work as a single unit.
It is important, especially for North Americans with large, open backyards, to break down the garden space into a series of smaller rooms.
One of the great tricks of landscape design is to create a sense of mystery and surprise as you move from one space into another. If you see everything at once, it becomes uninteresting. But if you break the space down into individual rooms, it becomes inherently more interesting.
[England has] some remarkable gardens, but the average backyard is a lot more mundane than most people imagine. We're a nation of plant-lovers, but we're certainly not a nation of garden designers. A lot of our gardens are too busy and overcomplicated.”
Next, David offered the following tips for people thinking of making a garden:
“Don't let your garden end up a muddle of hard and soft landscaping. Take time to draw up a plan.
"Most people tend to rush off to the garden center the first fine day, stick everything in the trunk, and then wonder where to plant it all.”
Before planting anything, put in all the hard landscaping, all the decking, walling, paving, the bones, and composition of the gardening. Plants will bring the garden to life, softening the hard surfaces.
Keep the design and planting simple. Many gardens suffer from over-complication and gimmicks. Be careful not to use conflicting materials that can be "restless on the eye and hard on the pocket."
Resist the temptation to plant too many different things. The well-planted border has a limited number of species that relate well to one another. "There are many foliage textures, colors, and shapes that give you interest throughout the year." You have to think about foliage and texture as well as flower."
Remember what Gertrude Jekyll, the famous Edwardian garden designer, taught: hot colors (reds, yellows) foreshorten the space through their vibrancy. "If you put a pot of bright red flowers at the bottom of the garden, your eye will go straight to it. Use hot colors close to the viewpoint and cooler colors farther away. It gives a nice feeling of space, and small gardens can be made to feel larger."
Do your homework before planting. Find out if a plant likes sun or shade and how big it will grow. "I'm a great believer in growing what does well in my climate. I won't plant things that are going to look unhappy. I'd much sooner have something that thrives than something that's good for a couple of seasons and then gets knocked off by bad weather."
Don't bite off more than you can chew in one season. Take a few years to build your garden.”
Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener.
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