Today we celebrate the woman who donated her entire orchid collection to begin the Belle Isle Conservatory.
We'll also learn about a woman who Burpee honored with the naming of a Marigold.
We hear an excerpt from a garden diary for this week of March.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a very delightful book that teaches how to make your own floral cocktails.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a little story that shares five favorite perennials for country life.
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March 5, 1866
Today is the birthday of Anna Scripps Whitcomb.
Anna was born to James and Harriet Scripps. Anna's father was an entrepreneur; he founded the Detroit News and helped found the Detroit Museum of Art.
In 1891, Anna married Edgar Whitcomb and together they raised two children. The couple lived on a beautiful estate in Gross Pointe and along the way, Anna nurtured her passion for orchids. The Whitcomb property boasted two large greenhouses which were largely devoted to orchids.
During the first half of the 1900s, Orchids were still very challenging to grow and they had a very poor germination rate. Anna’s success with orchids was in large part thanks to her longtime gardener and propagator William Crichton who worked for Anna for almost 30 years. William often had the help of a small staff of gardeners and the team worked together to show many of Anna’s orchids at the Detroit Flower Show.
A charming article about Anna’s orchids highlighted William’s expertise this way,
“With a fine brush, [William] transferred the pollen of one gorgeous flower to another. The seed pod of the fertilized flower would contain a quarter million seeds, a few hundred thousand of which would be planted and half of them would bloom nine years after spring.
Because the modern orchid grower studies the ancestry of his plants... [William] can predict their possible forms and colorings and qualities. But exactly what will happen, [William] must wait nine years to learn.
Until recently the orchid breeder could count upon no more than five percent of selected seeds surviving to germinate. Now the famous Cornell University method has raised the life expectancy of orchid seeds to 50 percent. With this method seeds are sown in a propagating jelly, which looks like library paste. It is composed of chemicals, salts and nutrients made from seaweed.
[Each year, William] will cross but one, possibly two, pair. [William] will save perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 seeds and plant half of them…
Five flasks filled with the Cornell agar jelly [are] sufficient to fill a small orchid house with bloom.
[And] Each flask [is corked with cotton and covered with a glass and] hold[s] [between] 500 to 1,000 seeds, fine as star dust,
In ten months flecks of green appear on the thick, white gelatine within the flask. Minute seedlings are ready for the outside world, where, for eight or nine years more, they must face the hazards of life. Drafts, germs, insects, diseases, changes in temperature, careless hands would destroy them.
Little pots filled with a special orchid moss, known as Osmunda fiber, are prepared, perhaps 10 or a dozen, for the benches of the private orchid house. The grower transfers the bits of green, washing off the jelly, scattering the thousands of seedlings, like chopped parsley, over the smooth, spongy surface of the moss.
Years pass. The infant plants are moved from the nursery to less crowded quarters. Weak individuals are discarded. Finally, each survivor stands alone in a pot, guarded, sprayed, scrubbed with soap, watered and fed, by day and by night, in controlled degrees of heat and humidity.”
Before Anna died, she made arrangements for her orchid collection in the event of her death.
And in April of 1953, Anna’s entire orchid collection - all 600 of them - to the Belle Isle Conservatory owned by the city of Detroit. Built in 1904, the domed conservatory had gradually deteriorated. Without Anna’s gift and the commitment of 450,000 to renovate and improve the wooden structure with aluminum beams, the 50-year-old glass-domed building would have likely met its end. The very month Anna’s orchids were gifted, the conservatory was renamed as The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.
Today the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest continually-running conservatory in the United States - and people just refer to it as the Belle Isle Conservatory.
March 5, 2012
Today The Akron Beacon Journal shared a story about some of the wealthiest women in Akron Ohio during the Victorian era.
One of the women profiled was the gardener, composer, songwriter, and philanthropist Idabelle Firestone.
As you might have suspected, Idabelle was the wife of rubber baron Harvey Firestone.
In 1929, Idabelle generously started the Idabelle Firestone School of Nursing at Akron City Hospital with a founding donation of $400,000.
A lover of gardens and gardening, David Burpee of Burpee Seed fame even named a marigold in Idabelle’s honor.
Idabelle incorporated gardens and nature into her musical compositions. Ida even wrote a song called “In My Garden,” which starts out with someone missing their sweetheart and then ends with this verse:
A garden sweet,
A garden small,
Where rambler roses
Creep along the wall.
Where dainty phlox and columbine
Are nodding to the trumpet vine.
And now each flower is sweeter dear
I know it’s just because at last you’re here.
Idabelle was a kind woman and a reporter once wrote,
“Idabelle Firestone doesn’t need a grand mansion to be a lady. She’d be a lady in a shack.”
[March is] the watching month, the month in which to watch the ground for the bright spears of green of daffodil and iris, and for the bloom of species tulips; for the snowdrop, the earliest crocus, the color in the stem of shrub and tree.
[And] the first injunction for every month of the year should really be this: keep a garden notebook. If this has not been started in January, then this is the time to buy the book and make the first entries.
— Mrs. Francis King (aka Louisa Boyd Yeomans King), The Flower Garden Day by Day, March 1 and March 2
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is 40 fragrant and flavourful flower-powered drinks.
In this book, Lottie helps us learn to take flowers from the edge of the glass as a garnish and make them the star of the show - the main focus for gorgeous and flavorful libations and beverages.
Lottie’s recipes include a heady honeysuckle syrup, a fabulous raspberry and scented geranium drink, a lavender gin, a nasturtium rum, a gorse flower syrup, and a rose petal vodka, just to name a few.
Lottie was the perfect author for this book because she is the creator of The Midnight Apothecary pop-up, a unique cocktail bar set in a roof garden in London. Lottie’s creativity with flowers has evolved into glorious cocktail creations for gardener mixologists.
This book is 64 pages of plant-powered cocktails created to delight your senses and feature your favorite blossoms from your own home garden.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
March 5, 2017
On this day The Herald-Palladium out of Saint Joseph, Michigan shared an article called “Flowers for the Country Border” by Maureen Gilmour.
In this article Maureen shares a glimpse of farm life - a busy lifestyle where Maureen says,
“With all the chores to do, few have time to sweat the details, seek perfection or create glossy magazine looks.”
And so, the perennials that make it on the farm are tough and dependable and require little fuss.
As Maureen says,
“In early farms and ranches, the first perennials [were] the stalwart wildflowers of range and prairie. Planted from gathered seed, or roots transplanted to the yard from wild stands, these big bold perennials took hold and flourished. They have proven to take the worst conditions and survive, to bring color, wildlife, and flavor, without toxicity to pets, livestock or kids.”
Next Maureen recommends five favorite perennials for country life:
“Monarda didyma is a vigorous North American native perennial ...
In the colonies, it’s foliage was an alternative to boycotted tea after the Boston Tea Party.”
“Gaillardia pulchella grows low and dense, producing flowers heavily, and then self sows for many new volunteers next year. This species is not as picky about soil quality for success”
3. Purple Coneflower
“Echinacea purpurea is best known as a supplement, but this is the finest native for borders.”
4. Shasta Hybrids
“This plant is … a curious hybrid invented a century ago by Luther Burbank. Snow white flowers of the original have many size variations, with the original proving as long-lived and resilient as many natives.”
“This popular kitchen garden herb produces tall plants with umbelliferous flower heads that fill the air with these delicate forms late into the winter. The plants will flourish so they grow together into a dense mass. This blocks sunlight to the soil beneath so weeds are less likely to sprout.”
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