Today we celebrate a botanical illustrator who is remembered as one of the greats from the 17th century.
We'll also learn about a woman who battled the Prickly Pear Cactus - not an easy thing to do.
We’ll hear an excerpt from an expert on growing giant hybrid delphinium - and why we really should think of these as annuals and not perennials.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about growing food in your own backyard.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a magnificent tree that met its demise on this day in 1992.
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March 11, 1775
Today is the birthday of French botanist and illustrator Pierre Jean François Turpin.
Pierre learned botany from a friend, Pierre Antoine Poiteau, who was a botanist, gardener, and botanical artist.
And though we know that he had some help learning botany from his friend Poiteau, Pierre actually taught himself to draw, and he was influenced by other great artists like Redouté.
Today there are many examples of Pierre’s work in the Lindley Library.
And history tells us that, altogether, Pierre created over 6,000 magnificent botanical watercolors.
Furthermore, many experts regard Pierre’s fruit prints to be some of the finest ever produced.
I ran across two fascinating stories about Pierre that I wanted to share with you today.
First, Pierre created a fictional illustration of an archetypal plant. This isn't something that he just decided to do. Instead, he was commissioned by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Goethe asked Pierre to demonstrate the diversity of angiosperms - no small task - and Pierre happily obliged.
When Goethe first laid eyes on Pierre’s drawing of this composite plant, he named it the Urplant.
And he wrote that,
"The Urplant would be the most wondrous creation in the world, for which nature itself would envy me. With it, one could invent plants to infinity..."
I've shared his image of the Urplant inthe Facebook group for the show. So you can just head on over there, and it should be at the top of your feed for today.
The second story that I wanted to share with you about Pierre is a little sadder but nonetheless touching.
It turns out that Pierre also had a son named Pierre Jr., and no doubt. Pierre taught his son how to draw. But tragically, when he was just 18 years old, Pierre's son died, and the very last thing he drew was an Amaryllis.
After his death, Pierre made sure to give him credit, and then he did something unusual for botanical illustrations: he made a little remark on his son's passing.
And so the inscription under this amaryllis reads. This original illustration was painted by Pierre John Frederick Eugene Turpin. The illustrator, who was 18 years and six days of age, ceased to live on the 21st of August in 1821.
And less than 20 years later. Pierre himself would die in Paris in 1840 at the age of 65. In any case, I found this little picture of the amaryllis drawn by Pierre’s son to be so touching, and I included it in response to a listener who had written me to ask,
“What should I do with my Amaryllis after it's done blooming?”
Great question. Now I know that some people decide to throw their Amaryllis away when it's all done - because then you're just left with the beautiful foliage.
But if you're intent on saving it, it is possible to do, and you can force it to flower again next year. And here's how you would do that.
Once your Amaryllis finishes blooming, just remove the flower stock by cutting it about one to two inches above the leaves.
And whatever you do, do not remove the leaves because they feed the bulb so that it can rebloom later in the year. Once you've removed the flower stock, you can place your Amaryllis in a sunny window and then wait until June to move it outside.
As with so many plants, it's an excellent idea to harden-off your Amaryllis. Bring your Amaryllis outside for a couple of hours and set it in a shady area and then bring it back in. Then continue to do that routine - lengthening the amount of time it's outdoors until it's spending all of the time outside.
Next, you're going to want to move it into a sunny location gradually.
When the summer is over, take your Amaryllis indoors. And then you're going to work on inducing dormancy because Amaryllis need to go through an eight to ten weeks of cold temperatures. They need to feel like they're experiencing winter so that when they warm up, they will begin to produce a bloom.
So if you have a cold dark cellar, this would be ideal. And remember that during this period of dormancy, you do not want to water your Amaryllis - just think about it as a little sleeping beauty that you're going to wake up in time for the holidays.
And so there you go; a little Amaryllis Care 101 inspired by the son of Pierre Turpin.
March 11, 1877
Today is the birthday of the Australian botanist Jean White-Haney.
Before I tell you Jean's story, it's important to remember that Prickly Pear Cactus is not native to Australia. A man named Captain Arthur Phillip brought the Prickly Pear from Rio de Janeiro to Australia way back in 1787.
As with many invasives, the Prickly Pear was actually cultivated and then distributed throughout Australia.
And by 1912, Jean was put in charge of tackling the Prickly Pear problem and Jean was just the woman for the job. Jean’s appointment marked the first time that a woman held a scientific leadership position in the Australian government.
And while jean did this job, she worked in a little house in a remote town between Miles and Roma. And she reflected on her experience this way.
“It was in the midst of the thickest pair. A desolate little place where living was primitive. I was young then and still rather nervous, but I insisted on not being given any special privileges because of being a woman. If you do that, you make it harder for all women to engage in research. The inevitable response to any suggestion that a woman should be sent out on fieldwork is, but she couldn't live out there alone. Failures of women who can not rough it would naturally be magnified.
I lived in the little public house there. And worked on my fascinating job with all the enthusiasm of those who see small beginnings to great ends. And the methods chosen for experiment were the introduction of suitable, insects and poison.”
Jean's work with the Prickly Pear led her to meet an American scientist named Victor Haney and by 1915, the two were married.
And fifteen years later, the couple moved to the United States, where Jean and her husband lived the rest of their lives.
Now as for the Prickly Pear, here are some fun facts.
The leaves of the pear are known as pads and are actually not leaves at all but modified branches. And as you might've suspected, those pads are perfectly suited for water storage, photosynthesis, and flower production.
And while you might think that the Prickly Pear can only grow in hot climates, many Prickly Pear are cold-hardy, and they can survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero.
And finally, here's something you might not have known: the Prickly Pear is actually an excellent pollinator plant.
Charles Darwin noticed that the flowers of the Prickly Pear Cactus had thigmotactic anthers - that just means that they like to curl over and deposit their pollen when they're touched. And yes, the bees love it.
The following plants are those. I know. The vast majority say 95 percent are very friendly things. Stick them in the ground, and they grow.
Some other plants are diffident, and friendship with them is slow to ripen. Great Hybrid Delphinium, the Queen of Flowers, is an example. The reader will recall that the first time I produced perennials, the six- to seven-foot Delphinium stalks were so sensational that I gave up golf for gardening. Then it took me ten years to reproduce that first crop. Why?
During that time I also learned that a one-year-old field-grown Delphinium still the standard in the trade, is a fraud. If we can't transplant the things successfully in the nursery, and we never can, one needs little imagination to realize what a problem such plants are to the home gardener.
The successful transplant is one started from seed in a three-inch peat-pot in a greenhouse in January. If planted early in a rich border, it will hit six feet by the end of July. Also, few garden writers or nurserymen admit that Giant Hybrid Delphinium are so far from being true perennials that they must be planted, like annuals, to get consistent results, but that's God's truth about lovely things. Of course, there are a few giant hybrids that lasts for five years. But they are sensational only because they have lived so long their flower spikes are just average.
— Amos Pettengill (aka William Harris and Jane Grant), The White Flower Farm Garden Book
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2012, and the subtitle is A Beginner's Guide To Growing Crops At Home.
Well, this book has a special place in my heart because it's one of the first books I bought to learn how to grow food in my own backyard.
Colin and Brad founded the Seattle Urban Farm Company and they love to answer questions that are posed by first-time-gardeners such as: Do I really need to buy fertilizer? What on earth is that creature doing on my tomatoes or my backyard is too small? How can I make space for a garden?
Well, luckily, Collin and Brad answer all of these questions and more. Their book covers garden size and design for any setting (including container gardens). They also cover soil types, watering, and irrigation. And then they go into things like plant profiles, garden tools and crop planning.
And I love what Urban Farm Magazine wrote about Collin and Brad's book. They said,
“Collin and Brad proved that anyone can develop a green thumb.”
I can't think of any higher praise.
This book is 320 pages of a backyard gardening masterclass, helping you to grow food in your own backyard.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
It was on this day, March 11th in 1992, that a beautiful Magnolia tree at Montrose fell to the ground.
The story of the tree was shared in The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the title was In Memoriam of Montrose’s Priceless Tree by the great garden writer, Allen Lacy.
Here's what he wrote.
“Since its founding in 1984, Montrose Nursery has become one of the best small mail-order sources of rare and unusual plants in the country, and a place I regularly visit on pilgrimage.
But Montrose is more than Montrose Nursery. Its spacious grounds have borne their name since the early 19th century, as home to several generations of the Graham family, going back to William A. Graham, a governor of North Carolina…
Since 1977, the owners of Montrose have been Craufurd Goodwin, a professor of economics at Duke University, and Nancy Goodwin, the proprietor of the nursery.
But the Goodwins say they are primarily stewards of this historic property, and I have long suspected that its true owners are not human beings but trees.
Billowing hedges of ancient boxwood embrace the large two-story white house and define parts of the garden, separating it from a rolling meadow that in March is a sea of daffodils.
Above the garden and its broad green lawns, trees stand sentinel.
But one tree in particular has always seemed emblematic of Montrose: a cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) growing by the driveway of crushed blue-stone just where it curves past the house.
This tree — who can bear to talk of it in the past tense? — comes suddenly into view from lower down the hill, where the lane passes between hollies on one side, hemlocks on the other.
It can be taken in in its entirety at a single glance, despite its vast proportions and the complexity of its structure.
The tree is lovely in every season, starting in high spring when its long, pale-green leaves unfurl and it lifts its thousands of greenish chalices of flowers.
This particular Cucumber Magnolia, by any reckoning 100 feet high and at least 250 years old and surely one of the largest and oldest in North America, is — alas, was — the most powerful in its beauty in winter.
This tree was more than a tree. It was endowed with energy that bordered on something beyond the natural order. I have shifted to the past tense, for the Montrose Magnolia is no more. For several years it had developed a noticeable lean, more and more pronounced.
Tree surgeons were called to remove some limbs and branches, in hopes of saving it in a severe storm. But on March 11, late in the day and in only a moderate wind, it toppled to the ground, blocking the driveway and badly damaging a huge fir nearby.
I arrived at Montrose the next morning, unprepared to discover that the tree had gone to earth.
Douglas Ruhren, Nancy Goodwin's associate at the nursery, said very little. Neither did I. There were no words. But Ruhren scattered camellia and daffodil blossoms along the prostrate trunk.
Five workers arrived with chain saws and forklifts and took three days to remove the tree piece by piece to a: place in nearby woodlands, where it will decompose, enriching the soil with its substance.
In its life, this tree spanned much history. It was a sapling when Hillsborough was a capital of the colony of North Carolina. Cornwallis's troops, rumor has it, camped in the meadow below during part of the British attempt to crush the American rebellion.
This tree had many friends and they mourn its loss, passing on the news by telephone. They called the Goodwins to offer sympathy, and to express their conviction that when this, Magnolia fell, it left a wound in the world that will not soon heal.”
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