Today we celebrate an English poet whose words were sometimes inspired by gardens and now often mark memorials in gardens around the world.
We'll also learn about a man remembered for his Calendarian - it was kind of like a baby book for his plants.
We hear an excerpt from a memoir about growing up as the daughter of a florist.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about decorating your home with botanicals.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a story about something new for the garden: blue potatoes.
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March 10, 1796
Today is the birthday of the American botanist John Torrey.
John was the first American botanist to study the flora of New York State.
And, the area John botanized included what is now Greenwich Village, the area of the Elgin Botanic Garden ("el-GG-IN"), which is now Rockefeller Center, and Bloomingdale, which is now the upper side west side of Manhattan - as well as Hoboken New Jersey.
One of the things we remember most about John is his Calendarian, which was a phenological record where he documented his plants; he recorded the species, location, and date of first bloom. It was kind of like a baby book for his plants.
Historically speaking, farmers often kept similar records to track planting seasons and growing cycles.
And Thomas Jefferson did the same thing as John in a book he called The Calendar.
Phenologically speaking, right now, most gardeners are paying extra attention to temperatures. Do you have any idea what your soil temperature is right now?
In spring, the soil temperature is much more important than the air temperature. As these first nice days roll in - it’s vital to remember that these first tastes of spring belie what is going on in our soil. It takes many warm days to warm up the soil.
My general rule of thumb for cool weather crops is that I wait until the nighttime temperatures are reliably above 45 - because that means the soil temperature is high enough to support cool-season crops like lettuce and kale.
And then for the warmer crops, I wait until the nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50. For cold climates and growing zones, that doesn’t generally happen until the end of May.
So this is where phenological records - like the ones John Torrey kept over two hundred years ago - are worth keeping. It’s another reason why gardeners love the five-year calendars - so they can keep track of these milestone events and then compare year over year.
Circling back to John Torrey, here's some fun John Torrey trivia: As you might have suspected, the mountain known as Torrey's Peak in Colorado is named for John Torrey.
March 10, 1943
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English poet, dramatist, and art scholar Laurence Binyon.
During Laurence’s time at Trinity College, Oxford, he won the Newdigate poetry prize.
Some of Laurence’s work referenced the garden as in this beautiful verse about spring:
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Today, Laurence is best remembered for his World War I poem, “For the Fallen,” which captured the hearts and grief of the British public during the war’s darkest days.
The fourth quatrain of “For the Fallen” become a famous inscription on memorials and tombstones:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
In Sheffield, England, Laurence’s “For the Fallen” is on a marker at the Sheffield Peace Garden. The garden was redesigned for the millennium - including new garden spaces and more seating. The Garden is beloved for its fantastic fountains and water features. The cascades around the perimeter were designed to represent flowing molten steel - a nod to the city’s history as a center for steel production. The long troughs or channels honor the five rivers that powered Sheffield’s mills.
And then the glorious walk-in center fountain is perfectly centered in front of Sheffield’s magnificent gothic town hall. The garden is surrounded by gorgeous old buildings and shops and serves as a green space in the city center. And before COVID, it was the perfect spot to have a picnic, read a book, or people watch.
Every spring, tulip beds beckon visitors back to the park.
The work was hard, I suppose, on our feet all day, running around, lifting heavy plants, contending with the prima donna tendencies of the customers. But the place had such drama during the holiday rush when I worked there that the sheer pace of the day, filled with the customers demanding subplots, made me happy - more than happy. I felt important. Or I felt I was doing something important, which came to the same thing.
A demand for violets might come in. “Violets! Is that woman nuts?” Mrs. Butler would say.
Ollie and Mrs. Butler, elderly but slim and elegant, worked with the self-possession of head nurses in a triage unit. At the end of the day, Ollie took the sheaf of telegraph delivery orders and made her calls, speaking low into the receiver of the telephone by her order desk.
Los Angeles? This is an FTD order from St. Paul...
The Great World was so far away, but Ollie spoke nonchalantly every afternoon to the coasts.
Let me spell that for you... And would you kindly repeat for verification? Yes, that's love L O V E comma, Bobby B O B B Y. Yes, “Y” as in yardstick. No, he doesn't spell it that way. Just the “Y.”
— Patricia Hampl, memoir-writer and author, The Florist’s Daughter
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is Botanical Style at Home - one of my favorite topics.
Well, I love decorating my home with botanicals, and I remember when Michelle's book came out. I was so excited about it because back in 2013, Michelle co-founded Mason and Painter - a fantastic vintage emporium in East London.
Now what I love about Michelle's book, aside from the jaw-droppingly, beautiful photographs and inspiration, are her excellent tips on styling your home and then capitalizing on seasonal plants and flowers.
Michelle’s rooms are so inspiring and unique - the whole effect is very fresh and welcoming.
This book is 176 pages of gorgeous photographs featuring botanical styling and ideas for putting together different reclaimed and vintage pieces while making plants and flowers the stars of the show.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
They say variety is the spice of life.
Well, for gardeners, varieties are the key to having the garden of your dreams. Back in 2019, in The Old Farmer's Almanac, Doreen Howard wrote about her passion for growing blue potatoes - an easy-to-grow heirloom in the spring. Here's what she wrote.
“I planted my first All Blue potato back in 1990. I’ve been hooked ever since. Who doesn’t love to mash blue potatoes?
As a kid, I hated potatoes. My Mom cooked mashed potatoes with the consistency of wallpaper paste. Adulthood wasn’t much better; I even avoided French fries. Children changed the equation; I needed to set a positive example.
A seed catalog arrived one spring with photos of vivid blue-skinned potatoes. The flesh was blue, too. I thought my son would eat them out of curiosity. I was really projecting my own potato problems because he already was a French fry and baked potato fan.
Blue and purple pigments developed as mechanisms to shield tubers from excessive levels of ultraviolet light found at high altitudes.
Any potato is easy to grow, and All Blues are even easier, as they seem to resist fungal diseases. I place tubers on top of a garden bed that has been enriched with compost and a bit of soil sulfur. Potatoes develop scab in alkaline soils (6.0 to 6.5 pH is ideal), and my ground is 7.2 pH. So I add sulfur to acidify the soil. I use whole tubers instead of cutting them into chunks, as many gardeners do. I feel I’m avoiding a rot problem, as early spring in my area is cold and wet.
After spacing the potatoes about 12 inches apart in every direction, I cover the bed with about a foot of straw. That’s all I do. Other easy techniques are to grow potatoes in a wire cage above the ground or in grow bags.
You can start harvesting baby or “new” potatoes when plants flower. And, yes, their flowers are blue, too!”
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