March 19, 2021 Hunting Century Oaks for Notre Dame, Stella Ross-Craig, Charles Joseph Sauriol, The Art of Outdoor Living, Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon by Linda Holden, and The Plant Messiah

Show Notes

Today we celebrate one of the best British scientific botanical artists of the 20th century.

We'll also learn about a Canadian naturalist who was battling a mole problem on this day 83 years ago today.

We hear a wonderful excerpt from a garden design book published two years ago today

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about the secret design tips of the great Bunny Mellon.

And then we’ll wrap things up with a glimpse behind the scenes of life as a student botanist at Kew.



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Curated News

France on hunt for centuries-old oaks to rebuild spire of Notre Dame | The Guardian | Kim Willsher


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Important Events

March 19, 1906
Today is the birthday of the English illustrator who specialized in the native flora of Britain, Stella Ross-Craig.

When Stella was 23, she landed a job at Kew Gardens, where she worked as a botanical illustrator, taxonomist, and contributor to Curtis's Botanical Magazine. When Stella’s work caught the attention of the director of Kew, Sir Edward Sailsbury, he made sure to introduce her to a publisher, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today we remember Stella as one of the best British scientific botanical artists of the 20th century. In total, Stella illustrated over 1,300 species in her monumental and highly detailed series called, Drawings of British Plants series - something she worked on for over twenty-five years. The series was available in 31 individual paperback books or eight hardcover volumes. Stella’s paperbacks were revolutionary; She was one of the first botanical writers to publish an illustrated book of British plants that were both inexpensive and accessible to readers.

On Twitter, the ecologist and author Alex Morss wrote,

“The best wild flower guides offer keys, but artists bring the music. Here is one of the masters, scientific illustrator Stella Ross-Craig. She breathed life into Kew's dried specimens with stunning accuracy.”

To look at photos of Stella Ross-Craig from the 1990s forward is to see a happy woman with kind eyes and perfectly coiffed snow-white hair reminiscent of a loving grandmother or even Mrs. Claus. In pictures, Stella is always smiling.

In the twilight of her life, Stella received many well-deserved honors. When she was 93, she became the sixth person ever to receive the Kew International Medal.

Following this honor, Stella’s work was exhibited at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and then at the Kew Gardens Gallery. And in 2002, at the age of 86, Stella was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Gold Veitch Memorial Medal.

One of the many plants that are better-understood thanks to Stella Ross-Craig is the Fritillaria.

A member of the lily family, the fritillary is a spring-blooming flower, and each plant generally produces a single blossom from April to May. With pendulous lily-shaped flowers, the blossoms have a distinct checkered pattern that is stunning, and the blooms are either purple, pink, or white.

Most gardeners treat Fritillaria imperialis as an annual and plant new specimens every single year. Fritillarias love the sun and can tolerate dappled shade.

The etymology of the fritillary is from the Latin “frills,” meaning “dice box” - a reference to the checkered pattern on the petals in a number of species.

And here’s a fun fact, the checkered pattern of the fritillaria inspired the checkerboard pattern on Croatia’s coat of arms. The fritillaria is native to Croatia, where it is regarded as the national flower and is known as “Kockavica” (“COX-ah-veet-sah”) or the Checkered Lily.


March 19, 1938
It was on this day that the Canadian Naturalist Charles Joseph Sauriol (“Sar-ee-all”) jotted down a sweet diary entry, and it was shared bythe Toronto Archiveson their fabulous twitter feed - which is a wonderful thing to follow.

Charles wrote:

"We have a visitor. A long winding trail of tunneled earth flanked tool room, etc...& ended in a hummock of earth inside.... Mr. Mole, you can tunnel if you wish, but my flower seeds will be planted elsewhere than where you happen to be."

An esteemed son of Toronto, Charles, who was born in 1904, was a one-man conservation powerhouse - saving many natural areas in Ontario and across Canada.

Charles owned property in the Don River Valley and was an advocate for the Valley's preservation.

Even as a teenager, he loved the Don, writing in an unpublished manuscript:

“The perfume I liked was the smell of a wood fire. Planting seed or trees was preferable to throwing one’s seed around recklessly... The dance floor I knew best was a long carpet of Pine needles.”

In 1927 Charles purchased a 40-hectare property at the Forks of the Don. He used this as a cottage, and every year, he and his wife and four kids stayed there over the long months of the summer. Life at the cottage was simple and elemental; there were ducks, a goat, and a pet raccoon named Davy, who followed Charles around like a dog.

At the end of his first summer at the cottage in Don Valley, Charles wrote about leaving the place he loved:

With summer’s heat the weeks sped by,
And springtime streams did all but dry.
But days grew short and followed on,
Oh, blissful memory of the Don.
Of you we think with saddened heart,
Our time is up and we must part.


Unearthed Words

Gardens are for living in, not just for looking at, from the other side of a window. I want the environments I create to be visually alluring. But also, and more importantly, to be so incredibly comfortable and functional that they draw my clients out of doors and keep them there, relaxing, reading, eating, entertaining, whether alone or with family and friends.

A professor once told me to think about plants as people - as my friends - and to select the living materials for a garden as if I were having a party and throwing a group together. Some like to drink. Some are teetotallers. Some like to bask in the sun. Some need to be in the shade. Some play well with others. Some prefer to be by themselves. Some bloom. Others do not. Still, others go dormant. I love dissecting the properties of plants in that fundamental, personalized way. And I love selecting, placing, and caring for them so that they feel at home and perform at their best to compliment a house and enhance a client's life.
— Scott Schrader, The Art of Outdoor Living


Grow That Garden Library

Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon by Linda Holden

This book came out in 2020, and I'm a huge Bunny Mellon fan - so I was very excited to order my copy. Now what's special about this book is that it shares Bunny's personal advice, her philosophy about design, many of her wonderful sayings, and her approach to the garden.

Now another thing that readers of this book will like is the way that it's organized — because chapters are organized by elements of the garden. So you might have a chapter on climate, space, shape, atmosphere, or even light — and so on and so forth.

Now the effect of this is that you feel like Bunny is right there with you, helping you to see both these elements more clearly and appreciate the important role that they play in your garden design.

Now, before I continue, I just wanted to take a quick second and share with you a little bit about Bunny's personal story.

When Bunny was alive, her favorite thing to do was to design a garden. Her husband, Paul Mellon, was one of America's wealthiest men. Together, Bunny and Paul, maintained five homes in New York, Cape Cod Nantucket and Tigua and Upperville Virginia.

In addition to designing the gardens for all of her own homes. Bunny designed gardens for some of her closest friends and celebrities. Now the author of this book, Linda Holden, is really the perfect person to help preserve Bunny's legacy and all the tips and insights that she pulled together during her lifetime. Linda wrote another book about Bunny Mellon that I recommended back in January of last year. That book is called The Gardens of Bunny Mellon, and it features most of the gardens that Bunny created.

Now to my way of thinking, this book was the natural followup to that first book because now Linda is sharing all of Bunny’s Garden secrets with us — her secrets to garden design — and it's like having a master class in design with Bunny Mellon. And so,  I personally want to thank Linda Holden for that, because as I already mentioned, I'm a huge Bunny Mellon fan.

Linda's book is 176 pages of garden secrets from the late great Bunny Mellon.

You can get garden secrets of Bunny Mellon by Linda Holden and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $16.


Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

It was on this day, back in 2019, that another wonderful book was published: The Plant Messiah by Carlos Magdalena. This is one of my favorite books because it gives us a glimpse into what it's like to be a botanist in search of the world's rarest species.

And it's almost like getting a chance to shadow Carlos in his fascinating job with plants.

And I thought you would enjoy hearing this little excerpt where Carlos shares what it was like to take one of his first exams. At Q.

This is a passage that has stuck with me ever since the day I read it.

And I'm sure it will leave an impression on you as well.

So once again, here's a little excerpt from the plant Messiah. Bye Carlos Magdalena.

First, I was given a plant identification test. I was shown into a small greenhouse with thirty numbered plant samples. I had to identify them all, giving their genus species, family (if known), and common name. Some were common garden plants, others less familiar. As I studied each plant carefully, I realized that the common ones were the trickiest because you never use the family or Latin name.

I trusted my gut instinct and tried to stay calm — not easy when the result meant so much. We moved on to a random plant on a bench, sitting next to a selection of cutting tools, lots of different sizes, and several options to encourage rooting, including a missed bench and a tray of compost.

“Can you propagate this plant?” one member of the selection panel asked.

“Sure!” I said, grabbing a knife. Immediately the questioning started up again.

“Why the knife and not the scalpel or the secateurs?”

They wanted to know my thought processes, not just my knowledge of the plants. I kept things simple. My feeling was that underplaying an answer was better than brashly responding as if I knew everything already. I am not sure. But I think it's because secateurs damaged the stem when you close the blades to make the cut,” I said. “You want to clean, cut that slices through the tissue, like a surgeon's blade. Scalpels are fine for soft growth, so a knife is the right tool to use here.”

Finally, I faced the interview panel made up of senior members of staff. Including heads of departments and senior horticulturists, they sat behind a long bench and fired off questions.

“Look out the window. Can you see that tree? What is it?”

“It looks like a Pinus Wallinchiana.”

“Can you name the five species of pine?”

“Pinus nigra, Pinus pinea, Pinus this, Pinus that... “

My mentor throughout was Ian Leese, head of the school of horticulture. Late one night, as he opened the door to the computer room to switch off the lights, he saw me. “Oh, you still hear Carlos? “Buenas noches,” he said before heading off to collect his bike. I stayed until 2:00 AM. Then, at 6:00 AM, the ring of my mobile phone dragged me from my bed. On the other end was a distressed fellow student. Who broke the news that Ian had died overnight. I was stunned. Any time I felt overwhelmed. Ian would say, “It is simple. Just keep going. And you will achieve your goal.” I often hear his voice in my head. Even now.


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