Today we celebrate the man who is remembered in one of the garden’s sweetest summer annuals - the lobelia.
We'll also learn about the man who invented the telephone - he also happened to love gardening and the natural world.
We hear a great memory about rhubarb from one of my favorite garden books from 2020, and the author is an incredible artist to boot!
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book to help you develop positive, meaningful mantras in your life.
And then we’ll wrap things up with some little-known facts about the birth flower for March.
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March 3, 1616
Today is the birthday of the Flemish physician and botanist Mathias de l'Obel ("ma-TEE-us dew Lew-bell").
Mathias practiced medicine in England. And among his accomplishments, Mathias was the first botanist to recognize the difference between monocots and dicots.
Today we remember Mathias de l'Obel ("LEW-bell") with the Lobelia plant. Before researching Mathias, I pronounced obelia as "LOW- beel- ya". But now, knowing the French pronunciation of his name, I will say it "LEW-beel-ya." It's a subtle little change (LOW vs. LEW), but after all, the plant is named in Mathias's honor.
Now, for as lovely as the Lobelia is, the common names for Lobelia are terribly unattractive and they include names like Asthma Weed, Bladderpod, Gagroot, Pukeweed, Vomit Wort, and Wild Tobacco. These common names for Lobelia reflect that Lobelia is very toxic to eat.
Despite its toxicity, Lobelia is one of the sweetest-looking plants for your summer containers. This dainty annual comes in pink, light blue, and royal blue. Personally, every year, I buy two flats of light blue Lobelias. But no matter the color you choose, lobelias are a favorite of pollinators. The delicate blossoms frequently host bees, butterflies, and moths, which only adds to their charm.
March 3, 1847
Today is the birthday of the Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1855, Alexander co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, known today as AT&T. And although most people know about Alexander's story with regard to the telephone, most people are unaware that Alexander had a love for gardening and the natural world.
Early on in his childhood, Alexander was drawn to the natural world, and he collected botanical specimens and conducted experiments.
After attending school for only five years, Alexander took personal control over his lifelong love of learning.
Growing up, Alexander's best friend, Ben Herdman, was from a family who owned a flour mill. When Alexander was 12 years old, he created a device that rotated paddles equipped with nail brushes and the family used this dehusking machine in their mill operations for years. As a gesture of thanks, Ben’s father made a space for the boys where they could invent to their heart's content.
Now many people are unaware that Alexander’s mother was deaf, and Alexander had dedicated himself to helping the deaf his entire life. As a young man, Alexander opened a school for teachers of the deaf. While he was in Boston, he even worked with a young Helen Keller. Later on, he worked with a young woman named Mabel Hubbard, who became deaf as a child from scarlet fever.
After five years of courtship, Alexander and Mabel married. At the ceremony, Alex presented Mabel with a special wedding present: nearly all the shares of the stock in a company called Bell Telephone.
Alexander and Mabel shared a lifelong love of gardening. The couple built a summer home in the charming village of Baddeck, Canada, in 1889. Mabel would stroll the neighborhoods and ask about the plants that were growing in the gardens. Generous and kind, Mabel donated many flowers to the people of Baddeck.
Today the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site features a lovely garden that boasts flowers, shrubs, and trees - including a magnolia which was a favorite of Mabel’s.
Recently Candian scientists revealed that they suspect that Alexander may have planted Heracleum mantegazzianum, commonly known as Giant Hogweed, in his garden.
Even now, there remains an impressive cluster of dangerous giant hogweed near Baddeck. The sap of Giant hogweed causes sensitivity to sunlight and UV rays, which can lead to severe skin and eye problems — including blindness, which would have been very upsetting to Alexander.
And, here’s a little-known fact about Alexander:
The gardener and children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor learned to love gardening from Alexander Graham Bell. Tasha’s well-connected family had visited Alexander at his home in Maryland when he was a young single man. Tasha was five years old, and she recalled that fell in love with Alexander’s roses during that first visit. Tasha always credited the vision of Alexander’s rosebeds with inspiring her decision to become a gardener.
Every Sunday, my immediate and extended family gathered for dinner at my grandpa's house. Everyone congregated in the kitchen, and there was always a television on in the corner. There was a smiling pink plastic pig from RadioShack that sat in the refrigerator and oinked at you when you opened the door. We giggled in front of the antique glass cabinet, peeking in at the vintage salt and pepper shakers shaped like boobs that were supposed to be hidden. It felt like an adventure to explore the house and play with old decorations and trinkets.
When it was summertime, we gathered on the back porch, where there were mismatched chairs and benches and another television in the corner. A baseball game was always on, and you could hear the hum and buzz of a bug zapper in the background. Rhubarb grew on a small knoll near the house. My cousin, sister, and I were told not to eat the big, broad green leaves, but we did pick and snack on the ruby-pink stalks straight from the ground, our mouths puckering from the intense sourness.
— Katie Vaz (“Voz”), My Life in Plants, Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Inspire and Empower Your Life with 75 Positive Affirmations.
In this inspiring book with a delightful botanical cover, Aysel takes you through the steps to developing positive, meaningful mantras in your life.
Now, this is not a gardening book, but it is about developing aspects of life that many gardeners seek: peace, love, happiness, and strength for your own personal journey.
Aysel’s book is full of beautiful illustrations and design. You’ll find plenty of positivity and mindfulness. Aysel encourages us to be present, embrace love and light, choose joy, and recognizing our blessings.
If you're looking for something for yourself or a friend, Aysel’s book is truly a gift.
This book is 144 pages of affirmations to help you be more present, free yourself from worry and anxiety, and embrace all that is good in your life - like our gardens and our many blessings - and lead a more rewarding life.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
The birth flower for March birthdays is the Daffodil. Daffodils are also the 10th-anniversary flower. A bouquet of Daffodils means happiness and hope, but a single Daffodil is an omen of bad luck in your future.
In England, back in 1889, the Reverend George Herbert Engleheart began breeding Daffodils - some 700 varieties in his lifetime. Fans of ‘Beersheba,’ ‘Lucifer,’ or ‘White Lady,’ have Reverend Engleheart to thank. George spent every spare minute breeding, and his parishioners would often find a note tacked to the church door saying,
“No service today, working with Daffodils.”
Daffodils were highly valued in ancient times because the Romans believed that the sap could be used for healing. Today we know that all parts of the Daffodil are toxic, and the sap is toxic to other flowers, which is why you must soak Daffs separately for 24 hours before you add them to a bouquet. And if you do this, don’t recut the stems because that will release more sap, and then you’ll have to start all over. If you’re wondering, the compounds in Daffodil sap are lycorine and calcium oxalate crystals. Found in the leaves and stems of the Daffodil. the calcium oxalate crystals can irritate your skin, so be careful handling Daffodils.
The toxic nature of Daffodils means that deer and other animals won’t eat them - unlike other spring-flowering bulbs like tulips.
And contrary to popular opinion, daffs can be carefully divided in the early spring. Once the soil has started to thaw, you can take divisions from large clumps and then pop them into new places in the garden. As long as the bulbs are carefully lifted with plenty of soil attached to the roots and promptly replanted, they will still bloom this year.
Generally, it is advised to separate and move bulbs after they have bloomed, but that can push the task into early summer when there is already so much to do.
Finally, there's really one poem that is regarded as the Mother of All Daffodil Poems, and it's this one.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.
— William Wordsworth, English Romantic poet, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
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