Today we celebrate a French botanist and explorer who became an accomplished botanist after losing his wife.
We'll also learn about the man remembered in the late spring/summer-flowering genus Roscoea (ross-COE-ee-uh), which includes extremely fragrant herbaceous perennials in the Zingiberaceae “Zin- jah-bah-RAY-see-ee" or ginger family.
We hear an excerpt from a delightful book about pruning wisteria - if you have a wisteria in full sun that hasn’t bloomed - you can thank your pruning regimen for that.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about floral cocktails. Cheers to that.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a little story about a female botanist and botanical illustrator known to her family and friends by her nickname: Shadow.
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March 8, 1746
Today is the birthday of the French botanist and explorer André Michaux.
Most people think of André Michaux as the accomplished old botanist, but I always prefer to recall the beginning of his story because that’s what set him on his course.
André grew up on a royal farm in Satory south of Versailles. His father trained both he and his brother in horticulture, and after his father died, André carried on at the farm. André married a prosperous farmer’s daughter from a nearby farm named Cécile Claye. Within a month after marrying, Cécile became pregnant. And a month shy of their first wedding anniversary Cécile delivered a son, Francois-André, and later in life, André named an oak in his son’s honor.
Tragically, Cécile died after the delivery of their only son, which plunged André into depression. Yet mercifully, the decade after Cécile’s death ended up accelerating André’s horticultural learning and development. First, his friend, the naturalist Louis-Guillaume Le Monnier, persuaded André to work with exotic plants that needed study and acclimation to France’s weather. Then, André started studying with the great botanist Bernard de Jussieu at Versailles and in the Royal Botanic Garden in Paris. And then, André began starting to travel to collect plants.
In 1786, André was asked to go to North America, and he brought his 15-year-old son François-Andre along with him. André’s mission was to establish a botanical garden in America and send specimens back to France. In quick fashion, André established his nursery on the property that the Charleston Area National Airport now occupies.
Today, as you leave the Charleston airport, you’ll notice a stunning mural that honors Andre and his son. The mural was installed in 2016. In one panel, Andre-François and his father are depicted in the potager or kitchen garden. The central scene depicts the rice fields along the Ashley River and the Charleston Harbor, where Michaux introduced one of the first Camellia plants.
Native to Asia, Camellias are small, evergreen flowering trees or shrubs, and Camellias are in the Theaceae or tea family, which is why Camellias are commonly called tea plants.
In Floriography ("FLOOR-EE-ah-grah-FEE") or the language of flowers, the Camellia represents love and loyalty. Camellia blossoms are beautiful and come in various colors, sizes, bloom times, and forms. And, best of all, Camellias are long-lived and can grow for 100 to 200 years.
Finally, here are two fun facts about the Camellia:
In California, Sacramento is nicknamed the Camellia City, and The Camellia is Alabama’s state flower.
March 8, 1753
Today is the birthday of the Liverpool poet, historian, botanist, and politician William Roscoe.
William grew up in the Presbyterian church. He learned his love of poetry from his mother, and he’d helped his father with his work as a market gardener.
As an adult, William was an early abolitionist during a time when the slave trade was the backbone of the economic success of Liverpool.
In 1803, William led a group of botanists and naturalists and helped found the Liverpool Botanic Garden - one of England’s earliest public gardens. And William gave the inaugural address for the Botanic Gardens and served as its first president. For the rest of his life, William loved working in the garden, and he especially enjoyed studying the tropical plants. In fact, William also authored a book on the ginger plant family, which included Canna Lilies, Arrowroot, Ginger, and Tumeric -something we hear an awful lot about on TV commercials today. As for William's book, his talented daughter-in-law, Margaret Roscoe, provided some beautiful illustrations for his work.
And in 1807, William wrote a whimsical poem about a party for insects for his ten children to get them excited about the natural world called The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast with the famous verse:
Come take up your hats,
and away let us haste,
To the Butterfly's Ball,
and the Grasshopper's Feast.
It's no wonder that a biography of William referred to him as “Liverpool’s greatest citizen.”
Today William Roscoe is remembered in the late spring/summer-flowering genus Roscoea (ross-COE-ee-uh), which includes extremely fragrant herbaceous perennials in the Zingiberaceae “Zin- jah-bah-RAY-see-ee" or ginger family. Roscoea or Alpine Gingers are native to China and the Himalayas. Roscoea blossoms look like the bloom of an orchid, and they are perfect for a woodland garden or a shady border.
After planting, remove all but the three strongest vines. Wind those around and tie them [to whatever you're going to be growing them on.] Make sure you wrap the vines in the direction they naturally want to grow. Chinese and Japanese Wisteria naturally winds in different directions.
To entice the plant into blooming, you need to do some special pruning. Wisteria normally blooms in mid-May, and soon after the blooming period is over, tendrils begin to grow out of the main structural vines. For the first few years, your Wisteria won't bloom because it's too young. But the tendrils will still begin to grow right after the normal blooming period is over. And each tendril is capable of growing 25 feet in one season.
The trick to encouraging flowering is to cut back these rapidly growing tendrils to about six inches long. This is called spur pruning. All the energy that would have gone into 25 feet of growth is captured in the six-inch spur and now stimulates flower bud production instead.
Spur pruning is a lot of work that must be done every spring. Soon after, the tendrils begin to grow. But pruning in this manner usually results in flowering within four to five years after planting.
— Ciscoe Morris, Oh, La La!: Homegrown Stories, Helpful Tips, and Garden Wisdom, Wisteria
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is 41 Fragrant Drinks + Ingredients (Flower Cocktails, Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Mixed Drinks, and Mocktails Recipe Book).
Well, Cassie's book is a gardener’s delight, and I first ran across it in a gift shop back in 2019.
The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and Cassie's creativity shines in this beautiful book.
Nowadays, edible flowers and botanically-infused drinks are all the rage - and they are irresistibly beautiful. And Cassie teaches us how to make them taste as good as they look.
Cassie's recipes include an Iced Lavender Café au Lait, Rose Petal Almond Milk, Dandelion Tea Cinnamon Cappuccino, Hibiscus Old Fashioned, Orange Blossom Moscow Mule, and my favorite — Plum Rosewater Gin and Tonic — just to name a few.
Another outstanding feature of Cassie's book is the beautiful photographs that accompany every single recipe. And if you're in the Facebook Group for the show, I shared a gorgeous video of Cassie making her Blackberry Hibiscus Lemon Drop - it's so easy and so pretty.
This book is 128 pages of beautiful floral drinks fit for a gardener and perfect for a garden party.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
March 8, 1963
Today is the anniversary of the death of the little-known, multi-talented, driven, and dauntless plant explorer, plant collector, gardener, and botanical artist Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe.
Born in Wimbledon in 1867, Charlotte was the youngest daughter in her family. Charlotte became very ill at some point in her childhood, and her sickliness caused her family to give her a little nickname that would follow her for the rest of her life: “Shadow.”
At the age of 30, Charlotte married a man she had known since her childhood, Otway Wheeler-Cuffe. Otway was a civil engineer who had secured a posting in Burma, and after the wedding, Otway and Charlotte immediately left for Maymyo (“MAY-me-oh”). Charlotte’s life with Otway blossomed in Burma as she discovered a world with natural wonders and beauty she could have never imagined. A lifelong gardener, one of Charlotte’s first letters from Burma tells of meeting a Mr. Carter who was,
“...going to start me with plants for our little compound, which I think I shall be able to make very pretty in time.”
For over two decades, between 1897 and 1921, Charlotte painted brilliant watercolors of the beautiful flora of colonial Burma, especially the region’s bountiful orchids. Her work was a delight to the folks back at Kew and other botanic gardens. So much so that plant explorers like Reginald Farrar, George Forrest, and Frank Kingdon Ward would stop by on their travels to visit Charlotte and check out the areas she had explored.
Charlotte would saddle up a small pony during her time in Burma and go jungling - Charlotte's word for botanizing in Burma’s jungles and mountains. Charlotte’s adventures, maps, paintings, and notes were all vividly described and preserved in prolific letters home to her mother and other relatives. Today Charlotte’s materials are housed at Glasnevin.
Charlotte’s love of gardening and horticulture attracted the attention of the locals. While many ex-pats in Burma tried and failed to grow plants from their homeland, Charlotte committed early on to growing the beautiful tropical plants native to Burma.
In no time, government officials asked Charlotte to create a garden that would become her legacy: Burma’s Botanical Garden. Charlotte worked on designing and planting the garden during her final five years in Burma.
Among the plants named in Charlotte’s honor is a blue Anemone called the Shadow's buttercup.
In 2020, the author and former director of the botanic gardens at Glasnevin, E Charles Nelson, wrote a beautiful book about Charlotte called "Shadow Amoung Splendours." Nelson’s book follows Charlotte’s experiences in Burma and shares many of her charming personal letters and writings.
As for Charlotte, her dear Otway died in 1934. She carried on without him at their home back in Kilkenny for 33 years until she died on this day in 1967, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
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