Today we celebrate a young botanist that wrote the first flora of Ireland at the age of 22.
We'll also learn about the Father of Serbian botany.
We hear words about the birds of winter - creatures that entertain us at our bird feeders and fly freely over our winter gardens.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that has a charming title and it's all about something called Everlastings - or dried flowers.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a play about Australia’s top gardener, and it’s called Edna for the Garden.
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February 25, 1856
Today is the anniversary of the Irish botanist and horticulturist Katherine Sophia Kane.
Orphaned as a little girl, Katherine was taken in by her father’s older brother - her uncle - Matthias O'Kelly, and she grew up alongside her cousins. A naturalist, Uncle Matthias fostered Kate’s love for the outdoors and, ultimately, her focus on botany.
When Kate was 22 years old, she anonymously published a book that became the first national flora of Ireland, and it was called The Irish Flora Comprising the Phaenogamous Plants and Ferns. With the help of the National Botanic Garden’s John White, Kate’s little book was released in 1833, and it described not only all the Irish flowering plants but also ferns and other cryptograms. Accurate and informative, Kate’s book became a textbook for botany students at Trinity College in Dublin.
Three years later, in recognition of her work, Kate became the first woman to be elected to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh.
The story of how Kate met her husband Robert is similar to how John Claudius Loudon met his wife, Jane Webb: through her book. In Kate’s case, proofs of The Irish Flora had mistakenly made their way to Robert’s desk. Curious about the work, Robert tracked down Kate’s address and personally returned the proofs to her. The two were married in 1838, and they went on to have ten children.
In 1846, Robert was knighted, and Kate became known as Lady Kane. An economist, a chemist, and a scientist, Robert was hired to serve as the President of Queens College.
And although Kate was happy for her husband, she put her foot down and refused to move to Cork. Apparently, Kate had designed a magnificent garden with many exotics planted all around their home in Dublin, and she was loath to leave it.
And so, much to the school’s dismay, Robert commuted to work until the College insisted he live in Cork during the schoolyear in 1858.
And here’s a fun little story about Kate and Robert: as they were both scientists, Kate and Robert would send notes to each other in Greek.
February 25, 1888
Today is the anniversary of the death of the famous Serbian botanist, Josif Pančić (“pahn-Cheetz”)
In 1874, Josif discovered the Ramonda serbica, commonly known as the Serbian phoenix flower. Like the peace lily, this flower is an excellent indicator plant and flops quite severely when dehydrated. At the same time, it has incredible abilities to revive itself with watering. In Serbia, the flower of the Ramonda serbica is associated with peace after it became a symbol of Armistice Day, which marked the end of WWI.
As for Josif, he became known as the father of Serbian botany. Late in his career, Josif came up with the idea for a botanical garden in Belgrade. Built in 1874, the garden proved to be a bit of a disappointment. In no time, it was apparent that the location was poorly sited because it flooded very quickly and damaged most of the various botanical specimens.
Sadly Josif never saw the new, lovelier location for the garden. Perfectly situated in the heart of Belgrade, the land was donated by the Serbian King Milan I.
Our feeders are only fifteen feet from the window, and binoculars bring the birds practically into my lap.
The perky little Sparrow with the black dot on his fluffy breast is a Tree Sparrow, and the one with no dot is a Field Sparrow. I often mix these up.
The lady Junko has touches of brown. The male is charming with his slate gray head and back and creamy undersides.
The Nuthatch is another winner. He creeps cheerfully down the maple trunk headfirst. Sometimes his world is upside down, sometimes right side up. He views it with equanimity either way. With a long bill, he reaches out, quickly snatches a seed, and flies off.
The markings of the Nuthatch are the essence of winter. His blues and greys are the mist that drift over the meadow and brush against Pop’s Mountain at dusk. The golden tans on his underside are wisps of dried grass in the meadow, Beech leaves in the woods with sun shining on them, or last year's Oak leaves that still cling.
— Jean Hersey, American writer and authors, The Shape of a Year, February
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is How to Grow, Harvest, and Create with Dried Flowers.
In this book, we learn so much about dried flowers from the floral artist Bex Partridge - the owner of Botanical Tales. A specialist in working with dried flowers - known as everlasting flowers - Bex inspires us to grow, harvest, and create with dried flowers.
Sharing her own wisdom from working with everlastings, Bex shares her tips for incorporating dried flowers into your garden planning and home decor.
Bex loves dried flowers, and she fervently believes that something magical happens to flowers when they're dried. Although their vibrancy may be slightly dulled by drying, Bex feels that ultimately drying magnifies the bloom’s beauty.
One tip that I learned from Bex is to target plants with woody stems because those plants tend to dry beautifully.
This book is 160 pages of Everlastings - preserved flowers, preserved memories, and magnified ethereal beauty that is everlasting.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
February 25, 1989
It was on this day that a newspaper out of Melbourne, Australia called The Age ran a story written by Anna Murdoch about a brand new play called “Edna for the Garden,” and it was all about the charismatic Australian gardener, designer, and writer Edna Walling.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The women who created The Home Cooking Theatre Company in Melbourne [the writer, Suzanne Spunner, and director Meredith Rogers] have a [new] production, called 'Edna for the Garden,’ the story of Edna Walling, one of Australia's great artists of gardening.
Edna Walling, who wrote an enormous amount about her philosophy of gardening and the environment, died in 1973 in her late 70s.
[Edna] devoted her passionate life to creating extraordinary gardens, mainly in Victoria, some of which are still beautifully maintained.
She spent her childhood in Bickleigh, an old village in Devon, England, and came to Melbourne, aged 18, infused with the intense romanticism of the English countryside where she had watched such subtle beauties as “Wind in the Willows.”
[Edna’s] own photographs were almost always of pathways...
“She liked the idea of different areas in a garden so that you couldn't take it all in in one view."
One of Edna Walling's precepts was to "always sweep up to a house in a curve, never in a straight line.”
People would say: 'You must have Edna for the garden.' [and that saying inspired the name for the play!]
"It's only at the end of her life that you sense disappointment as she saw the sprawls of Melbourne and what was happening with conservation.
Edna Walling built her own house at Mooroolbark near Croydon and then bought seven adjoining hectares and created a rural community called Bickleigh Vale, where she designed very English-looking cottages that bore no relationship to the Australian climate and environment.
"The people who live there have now formed 'the Friends of Edna Walling' to protect it," Ms. Spunner says. "Some of them knew her. They talk almost as if she is still there, a kind of spirit of the garden."
Finally, there was one little story that I discovered about Edna a while ago, and that was her potato-throwing technique. Edna would throw potatoes on the ground, and where they landed would dictate where the significant trees would be planted in her garden designs. Basically, this technique helped ensure a more naturalistic style as Edna was laying out gardens. And even if the potatoes would land almost on top of each other, Edna let the chips - or should I say potato chips - fall where they may. In any case, this is how Edna’s gardens end up without a contrived or overly planned feeling; there’s a beautiful sense of randomness to Edna’s work.
And it was Edna Walling who said,
“There are many possible approaches to Australian garden design, and they all reflect the designer’s individual response to gardens.
For my part, I love all the things most gardeners abhor - like moss in lawns, lichen on trees, more greenery than color - as if green isn’t a color - bare branches in winter, and root-ridden ground wherein one never attempts to dig, with a natural covering of leaves of grass or of some amenable low-growing plant.
I like the whole thing to be as wild as possible so that you have to fight your way through in places.”
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