Today we celebrate a charming woman who became known as the Apple Blossom Lady.
We'll also learn about the man who raised the best begonias in the world back in the early 1900s.
We hear some thoughts on tussie-mussies.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with an informative and delightful book about Fungi ("funj-eye") - and it’s loaded with incredible photography.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a dream - an inspired horticultural vision for the botanical building in Balboa Park by the Begonia man, Alfred Robinson.
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February 26, 1834
Today is the birthday of the woman who came up with the State Flower for Michigan: Anna Eliza Reed Woodcock.
Born in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, Anna moved to Michigan after marrying her husband, David. She had a beautiful voice, and Anna was well-known in Lansing as an actress and a singer in local productions and events.
On April 19, 1897, Anna clipped some branches from her flowering apple tree, loaded them up in a wheelbarrow, and then rolled them down North Capitol Avenue to the Michigan Statehouse. When she got there, Anna adorned the office of the Speaker of the House with the blooming branches.
It turns out, 63-year-old Anna had been looking out her kitchen window at 309 Capital Avenue North in Lansing and was moved by the sight of her beautiful Apple tree in bloom. It suddenly occurred to her that the Apple Blossom would make a great state flower. Knowing that the Michigan Legislature would be voting on a state flower, she hoped her Apple Blossom branches would have some influence... and they did. Just nine days after wheeling her branches one block down the street to the Capital, the Michigan legislature approved the resolution making the apple blossom the State Flower, and they said,
“Our blossoming apple trees add much to the beauty of our Landscape, and Michigan apples have gained a worldwide reputation.”
In her old age, Anna remembered,
“When the selection of the State Flower was voted on, blossoms from my snow apple tree trimmed the speaker’s desk at Lansing, and the vote was unanimous for the Apple Blossom.”
In 1930, Anna passed away in Minnesota at the age of 96. (I know this because, in researching Anna, I actually had to create a tree for her on Ancestry). Sixty years after Anna's death, the Michigan Legislature posthumously honored Anna with a title: Apple Blossom Lady.
Anna's victory with the Michigan Legislature sparked a passion for Apple Blossoms in the twilight of her life. Anna began creating apple blossoms using silk ribbon, and she always took cuttings to sell for her favorite charities. Anna once said,
"I feel my Apple Blossoms have taken me to the top of the world."
February 26, 1942
Today is the anniversary of the death of the British-American horticulturist and founder of the California Begonia industry, Alfred D. Robinson.
Along with his wife Marion, Alfred’s passion was flowers.
In the early 1900s, after hearing a religious leader speak about a utopian community called Lomaland, Alfred and Marion moved to Point Loma. Yet, their fresh start in Point Loma, which included buying ten acres of land, was irreparably damaged when their young daughter Lenora died of a heart issue.
Losing Lenora devastated the Robinsons, and they left Point Loma and began building a new home in San Diego. As the gardens were getting established, their 15,000 square foot mansion was being built - and that mansion was called Rosecroft.
The Rosecroft property became the home base for Alfred’s Gegonia breeding program. And as Rosecroft’s high-quality Begonias made their way to nurseries and botanists around the country, Alfred solidified his reputation as a high-quality Begonia grower.
Now Alfred came up with the idea to use Lath houses for growing his begonias. Now, if you need help picturing a Lath House, imagine a pergola with sides. Webster’s defines a Lath House as a structure made of laths or slats that are spaced to reduce excessive sunlight while permitting air circulation. Lath Houses are great for plants that need more shade and also protection from strong winds.
In 1933, the LA Times ran a story called The Useful Lath House by Eva Dale, and in it, Eva described the Rosecroft Lath House.
“Lath offers the desired protection as well as effecting a substantial saving in water. By lathing the sides and part of the roof of a garden, a barren wind-swept space can be transformed into a thing of beauty affording shelter to man and plant alike.
This may be done on a grand scale, as at "Rosecroft" at Point Loma, where Alfred Robinson has about an acre under Lath, or at Whitehill, Redlands, where Clarence White has an acre and a half of sun protection; but it can also give a great deal of satisfaction when done in a very modest fashion.
Mr. Robinson is an authority on Begonias and Mr. White on Roses, but they both declare that these and many other plants do infinitely better in partial shade. Mr. White says that "besides the conservation of bloom and vigor and the transpiration of water, there is also a moderation of the extremes of heat and cold." He adds that "there is less frost, and better recovery when it does penetrate."
Walter Merrill, former president of the San Diego Rose Society, has varied the idea somewhat by using Bamboo instead of Lath... After a year and a half, he says he would not, for anything, return to full sun for his roses.”
An early Rosecroft pamphlet described their growing operation this way:
“Rosecroft is on Point Loma, the head of land that forms the Northwest boundary of the Bay of San Diego California, and…
enjoys the year-round mildness of climate coupled with a moist atmosphere… [which] permits the cultivation of the Begonia with a simple Lath protection.
In such a shelter, Rosecroft grows… the best exposition of this family in the world.
The so-called Tree Begonias attain a height of 24 ft and all sorts flourish.”
In 1907, Albert and Marion, along with the great Kate Sessions, formed the San Diego Floral Association, and Albert served as the first president. Two years later, the group started a little publication called California Garden… and it is still published today.
And it was the botanist Charles Plumier ("Ploo-me") named the Begonia in honor of a man he much admired: Michel Bégon ("ME-shell Bay-GO-n"), a French amateur botanist. Charles discovered the Begonia growing on the island of Santo Domingo.
Although they are beautiful, most Begonias have no scent. And if you’ve been growing Begonias in full sun, you’ll immediately understand why Albert grew his under a Lath House because they really prefer part shade. In the wild, Begonias grow under filtered light.
The Begonia traditionally symbolizes caution or hesitation. I always found this curious until I researched the family name Bégon, which is rooted in Old French as a slang word for a person who stuttered. I thought happened to be a meaningful coincidence - the meaning of caution or hesitation with a stutter.
And you may be surprised to learn that the flowers and leaves of the Begonia are edible; some cultures around the world add begonias to salads.
Finally, the Begonia is known as the flower that produces the smallest seeds. In fact, Begonia seeds are so fine that they are often compared to dust. This is why, if you grow Begonias from seed, they are often pelleted.
In 1932, the California Begonia Society was formed, and in a few short years, they started a little bulletin called The Begonian. In 1935, it was Alfred Robinson that suggested the group broaden their reach - and the American Begonia Society was born.
A dear neighbour brought me a tussie-mussie this week. The dictionary defines tuzzy-muzzy, or tussie-mussie, as a bunch or posy of flowers, a nosegay, and then disobligingly adds that the word is obsolete. I refuse to regard it as obsolete.
It is a charming word; I have always used it and shall continue to use it, whatever the great Oxford Dictionary may say; and shall now take my neighbour's tussie-mussie as a theme to show what ingenuity, taste, and knowledge can produce from a small garden even in February.
— Vita Sackville West, English author and garden designer, In Your Garden, The Tussie-Mussie
Grow That Garden Library
This coffee-table book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is How Mushrooms can Heal, Shift Consciousness, and Save the Planet (Official Book of Smash Hit Documentary).
As Paul likes to say,
“Mushrooms can heal you. They can feed you. They can kill you.”
And for all their power, Fungi ("funj-eye") remain misunderstood, understudied, and often just plain old ignored as an aspect of our world.
This book is the result of Paul’s incredible documentary called “Fantastic Fungi,” It features a collection of essay contributions from doctors, explorers, and ecologists that help us better understand the magical world of Fungi.
And there's a great piece of information about Fungi for gardeners to know, and that is that Fungi eat rocks. And by eating rocks, Fungi liberate the minerals from rocks and put these minerals back into the soil for plants.
And when Fungi join with algae (“al-jee”) they form lichens. So when you lichens, remember that marriage between Fungi and algae.
Finally, Fungi are the foundation of the food web. There are more than eight miles of Fungi in a single cubic inch of soil, and all around the planet, there are gigatons of mycelium.
For now, the field of mycology hasn’t been a priority, and so Fungi remain an unchartered frontier. Only about 10 percent of all Fungi have been identified. With any luck, our focus on Fungi will change as we look to the future.
As for gardeners, Paul is a fan of the Garden Giant Mushrooms. They are fast-growing, and they do so much for the soil. For example, Garden Giant Mushrooms can take twelve inches of wood chips and create one inch of soil in about four or five months. In a nutshell, Mushrooms begin a domino effect that starts with Fungi and ends with ecological restoration and soil expansion.
Paul believes that keystone species like the Garden Giant Mushroom lead to healthier gardens and ecosystems. And fortunately for us, these Garden Giant Mushrooms can be grown virtually anywhere - from sweltering climates to very cool environments.
This book is 184 pages of astounding information regarding Mushrooms and Fungi that hopefully will change your perspective, your garden – and help the planet.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
In researching Alfred Robinson, I ran across an article by Richard Amero that was published by the San Diego History Center.
The article shares Alfred’s grand dream for a large Lath House to grace the Panama-California Exposition. San Diego was the host city for this event on January 1, 1915.
Alfred’s idea for this Lath House met with approval, yet the actual design differed drastically from Albert’s vision.
Still, it is delightful to hear what Albert had in mind originally - his dream for the Botanical Building in Balboa Park:
“Where was I?
I had entered the garden of Eden.
Palms and ferns and flowering plants and vines on all sides, sending out their delicate scents upon the night air to mingle with the odor of the moist earth and recent rain, a draught as intoxicating as champagne.
Where the band played… was a great central dome, 500 feet in diameter...
Up its supporting columns ran choice vines, Jasmines of such sweet savor, Begonias, and Tecomas of gaudy hue, and the curious Dutchman’s Pipe. Palms from many lands and many forms lined the borders and were in beds here and there while Begonias and other foliage plants nestled at their feet.
In the air hung Orchids with their strangely beautiful blossoms.
From this central court ran out six great arms or aisles, and in each were ... a great family of plants. There were thousands and thousands of varieties, and each was plainly labeled. (Now we definitely know this is clearly a dream!)
The lighting had been carefully planned so as not to strike the eye offensively, and the whole effect was absolutely entrancing.”
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