Today we celebrate a man remembered for bringing a ton of new and exciting plant species to California and his profound impact on Santa Barbara in particular.
We'll also learn about a year of letter-writing between two garden greats.
We hear an excerpt about the first time tulip bulbs were used as money.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a stunning book about our relationship with trees.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the sunny State Flower of Kansas: the Sunflower.
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March 12, 1843
Today is the birthday of the Italian American horticulturist Francesco Franceschi (“fran-CHESS-ko fran-CHESS-key”).
Born in Italy, Francesco changed his name after coming to America and settling in Santa Barbara, California.
With a temperate Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara became a haven for plant lovers in the 1800s. Francesco’s work elevated him in the plant community. He planted a boulevard of impressive Italian Stone Pines and lined another main avenue with Palm Trees.
Always on the lookout for new varieties, Francesco brought Italian Zucchini to California, and he introduced exciting new plants like Cape Pittosporum, Floss Silk, and Naked Coral Trees to California. Fluent in seven languages, Francesco communicated with botanists, collectors, and explorers all over Europe and South America.
In terms of legacy, Francesco is remembered for bringing more exotic plants to Southern California than any other man. One specimen that made Francesco famous was the Catalina Ironwood and the story of how he sourced the tree is legendary.
In 1894, Francesco made a trip to the Channel Islands to get the Catalina Ironwood. Tragically, this expedition was beset with all kinds of challenges. When the rough waters threatened to sink their vessel, Francesco’s sons had to jump out of the boat. Seeing the commotion and suspecting the Francheschi’s were smugglers, the coast guard fired on them. Yet despite these close calls, Francesco achieved his goal and he managed to bring an entire burl stump of Catalina Ironwood to Santa Barbara. Once he was home, Francesco propagated new Ironwoods from the suckers that formed on the stump and one of these offspring ended up at the Botanic Garden at UC Berkeley. Forty years after Francesco’s rocky trip to the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara made the Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. floribundus) the city’s official tree.
And today, next to the space where Francesco’s nursery used to be, an oceanside park bears Francesco’s name.
And if you’ve ever lamented the way botanical plant names change over time, you’d be in good company with Francesco, who — after learning that Persea gratissima was updated to Persea americana — said,
“One cannot protest strongly enough against this modern craziness of creating new names for old things.”
March 12, 2001
On this day Nancy Goodwin of the landmark Montrose Gardens and Allen Lacy American garden writer and columnist launched their garden book called A Year in Our Gardens.
This is one of my favorite books and it's a collection of the letters that Alan and Nancy exchanged during a single year.
Now, what I love about Alan in Nancy's letters is that these two people are truly real gardeners in every sense of the word - despite their fame and popularity.
And so their letters share their horticultural wins and their failures. They talk about plants, of course, but they also share their dreams for their gardens and they even delve into other areas of their life - like their favorite music and what's going on with their family and friends.
And as for these two gardeners, Alan and Nancy's gardens and their garden philosophies could not be more different.
Alan's garden was on a 100- by 155-foot plot of farmland in Southern New Jersey. And while Alan gardened on sandy soil, that required constant watering,
Nancy took a different approach and she never irrigated her garden. Instead, she planted only native plants that would thrive naturally in her garden without any intervention on her part.
Anyway, I cannot believe that this is the 20th anniversary of this book coming out, this landmark garden book. And if you don't have it, I encourage you to head on over to Amazon and buy the book because it's truly one of the great garden books.
Deep inside the long, low-line cordon of islands that separated the northern provinces of the Dutch Republic from the North Sea stood the West Friesland town of Hoorn.
Until the 1550s, Hoorn had been one of the most important places in the Netherlands, thriving on Baltic trade. Now nearly a hundred years later, the ships that had once unloaded cargos of hemp and timber at its docks, sailed on to Amsterdam. Hoorn was dying; the port had slipped into a long, slow decline from which it was never to recover.
Somewhere in the center of this ruined town, in the first half of the seventeenth century, stood a house with three stone tulips carved into its facade. There was nothing else special about the building… But this is where tulip mania began.
The stone flowers were placed there to commemorate the sale of the house, in the summer of 1633, for three rare tulips. It was in this year... that the price of bulbs reached unprecedented heights in West Friesland. When news of the sale of the tulip house got out, a Friesian farmhouse and its adjoining land also changed hands for a parcel of bulbs.
These remarkable transactions... were the first sign that something approaching mania had begun to flourish. For three decades, flower lovers had used money to buy tulips. Now – for the first time – tulips were being used as money. And just as strikingly, they were being valued at huge sums.
— Mike Dash, Tulipomania, Chapter 10: Boom
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020 and the subtitle is A Journey Through Wild And Magnificent Landscapes.
In this book, Matt journeyed across North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Along with photographer, Roo Lewis, the two men captured the history, science, and human stories behind some of the most amazing environments in the world.
Together, the two men explored earth's lush woodlands and wild landscapes - and along the way, they uncovered the relationships that humans have with trees.
And here's what the publisher wrote about Matt’s book:
“Matt explores the captivating history behind some of the world's most enchanting for us.
This book is organized by tree species, including the Hardy Pines in a forest in Spain, the towering firs of the American West, and the striking Birch groves found in Germany.
And in addition to all of that Forest offers a beautiful blend of photographs, scientific trivia, and engaging human stories.”
This book is 256 pages of gorgeous tree photography and the magnificence of the forest of our planet.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
March 12, 1903
On this day, the Kansas State Flower was officially selected.
Governor Willis Bailey signed the legislation that designated the wild native Sunflower or Helianthus as the state flower.
And it turns out that during that same time period, Nebraska was also considering the Sunflower. But when Kansas made it official, Nebraska dropped its bid. And so today, Kansas remains the only state that can officially claim the Sunflower.
Now in the years, leading up to the official selection of the Sunflower, many Kansans were writing about its beauty.
In fact, the Topeka Capital wrote
“Kansas boasts a number of men who can write a good Sunflower verse, but none of these can do it more entertainingly than Ed Blair.”
Ed Blair was a Kansas poet and author, and in 1901, he wrote an ode to the Kansas Sunflower. Here's a little excerpt:
Oh, Sunflower the Queen of all flowers,
No other with you can compare
The roadside and fields are made golden
Because of your bright presence there.
Now, with regard to the Sunflower, there are a number of fun facts that just may surprise you.
First of all, they are definitely native plants to the Western hemisphere. And through the ages, they've been used for dyes and oil and food and even medicine. In fact, in both Mexico and in Native American tribes, the Sunflower was used to treat chest pain.
Now most gardeners will attempt to grow Sunflowers at some point. So if you find yourself wanting to give it a try. Here are a few things you should consider.
First of all, Sunflowers really do need a ton of sun. Don't be stingy with the sunshine and put them in part shade. These are plants that really appreciate all the rays they can get.
Second. Sunflowers not only grow in full sun, they actually follow the sun. They exhibit behavior that's known as Heliotropism. In the morning, the Sunflower heads will face East. And then the Sunflower heads will move to track the sun throughout the day. Now as they mature, this tracking movement will become less pronounced as the stem loses its flexibility in order to support the large mature bloom.
Now in terms of botanical history, there is a story about the Sunflower that I love to tell.
In 1972, a young student named Charles B. Heizer Jr. wrote a lovely tribute about his mentor and teacher, the botanist Edgar Anderson.
"Student Days with Edgar Anderson or How I Came to Study Sunflowers." Charles sifted through the many letters he had received from Edgar during his lifetime - they filled up a folder over two inches thick.
Over the years, Edgar was an encouraging mentor to Charles, writing,
"What an incredible gift good students are…" and "if you are tired of [Helianthus] and don't want to look at 'em anymore for a while, why by all means put them aside. Don't let anybody's advice, including mine, keep you from what you are happiest doing."
And here's another fun Sunflower story.
When the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, saw Sunflower for the first time in Holland, he fell in love with them and had them brought back to Russia. The Russian public loved Sunflowers as well - but not just for their happy flowers. Unlike other cooking oils, the oil from Sunflower seeds was approved for use during Lent by the Russian Orthodox Church.
By the early 1800s, two million Acres of Sunflowers for planted in Russia every single year. Ironically, over the next century, immigrants from Russia would bring Sunflower seeds with them when they immigrated to the United States. And even though these plants were originally native to the Western hemisphere, the Russian hybrids actually had evolved and had bigger blooms than the original American varieties.
And finally, Mabel Thompson, a resident of Kansas wrote a poem called, “When the Sunflowers, Bloom,” and it was shared in the Chanute Daily Tribune in July of 1903 - just three months after the Sunflower was made the official state flower. And I found Mabel's poem to beat absolutely charming and I thought I'd close the show with it today.
I've been off on a journey. I just got home today.
I traveled East and North and South and every other way.
I've seen a heap of country and cities on the boom,
But I want to be in Kansas, when the Sunflowers bloom.
You may talk about your lilies, your violets and roses,
Your asters and your jazzy-mins, and all other posies.
I'll allow they all are beauties and full of sweet perfume,
But there's none of them, a patchin’ to the Sunflowers bloom.
Oh, it's nice among the mountains, but I sorta felt shut-in.
It'd be nice upon the seashore. if it wasn't for the din.
While the Prairie's are so quiet and there's always lots of room.
Oh, it's nice, still in Kansas when the Sunflowers bloom.
When all the sky above is just as blue as can be.
And the Prairie's are waving like a yellow drifting sea.
Oh, it's there my soul goes sailing and my heart is on the boom
In the golden fields of Kansas. When the Sunflowers bloom.
— Mabel Thompson, Here's When the Sunflowers Bloom
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