Today we celebrate a woman who was outcast and imprisoned in her own home, so she became a gardener.
We'll also learn about a man who wrote one of the most useful and beautiful medical botany books.
We’ll hear a charming garden verse from an English writer and poet.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about one of America’s greatest botanists.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a sweet little garden poem from an American poet laureate.
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March 26, 1756
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English poet, writer, gardener, and a member of high society Lady Luxborough, Henrietta Knight.
Henrietta was beautiful with a mass of black hair and attractive features. After two affairs, her husband, who had countless mistresses, exiled her from society and her children. Henrietta was basically kept prisoner at their ramshackle Warwickshire estate known as Barrells Hall, where she had seven servants. Although she had a 500 but no way to leave the property.
Henrietta took up gardening to cure her boredom, and she ended up creating her own personal Eden complete with avenues, ravines, ha-has, giant urns, and beautiful vistas.
Henrietta was talented and social, and she managed to befriend many of the gentlemen, poets, and artists in the area. One of her closest acquaintances was her neighbor, the poet, and landscape gardener William Shenstone.
Even though he was 15 years younger than her, William mentored Henrietta, and they corresponded about their landscapes and daily life - even carrying on a friendly garden rivalry.
As Henrietta transformed the landscape at Barrells, she would write to William. Her correspondence has been preserved and some of her letters contain the most beautiful hand illustrations - botanical doodles and such - along the margins. In one letter, Henrietta wrote:
“I have made a garden which I am filling with all the flowering shrubs I can get… I have also made an aviary, and filled it with a variety of singing birds, and am now making a fountain in the middle of it, and a grotto to sit [in] and hear them sing”
Henrietta left her mark on garden history. In addition to her beautiful gardens, she coined the term “shrubbery” in one of her letters to William Shenstone.
At the time, shrubbery was used to separate the garden area from the wilderness. Shrubbery was also used to help graduate planting lines in the garden, from tall trees and conifers to the smaller plants and perennials in the garden.
March 26, 1805
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English physician and botanist William Woodville.
William was an early adopter of the botanist and physician Edward Jenner's work on vaccines. So he became an outspoken advocate of vaccination - even trying to create his own smallpox vaccine. In hindsight, it’s now believed that his vaccine was inadvertently contaminated and therefore not as effective.
As a physician at Kings Cross, William managed to get the hospital to agree to let him start a garden on two acres of land adjacent to the hospital. William paid all the expenses associated with the garden out of his own pocket. In his garden at Kings Cross, William cultivated medicinal plants. His hands-on experience allowed him to become an expert on growing your own apothecary - a skill many Physicians of his time were want to do. The old saying “You have to grow it to know it” was especially true for doctors and healers.
At the height of his career, William published a book in 4 parts that became an invaluable reference to physicians of his day. the book was an excellent guide on medicinal botany and medicinal plants, and it featured 300 plants with 300 illustrations by one of the top botanical illustrators of the day James Sowerby. This meant that William's book was as beautiful as it was useful - and plant lovers still enjoy reading this gorgeous reference - especially his writings on Chicory, Feverfew, Flax, Ginger, St. John’s Wort.
Now there is one little-known fact about William: When he was 26 years old, William shot a man who was trespassing in his prized garden. William didn’t intend to kill the man when he fired his gun through the window of his home, but the event was a pivotal point in William’s life. He’d been born into a Quaker family, and after this event, he was disowned by his Quaker community, and that is how he ended up in London.
I hoed and trenched and weeded,
And took the flowers to fair:
I brought them home unheeded;
The hue was not the wear.
So up and down I sow them
For lads like me to find,
When I shall lie below them,
A dead man out of mind.
Some seed the birds devour,
And some the season mars,
But here and there will flower
The solitary stars,
And fields will yearly bear them
As light-leaved spring comes on,
And luckless lads will wear them
When I am dead and gone.
— A.E. Housman, English poet and scholar, The Sower
(Born March 26, 1859)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2015, and the subtitle is A life.
Well, as you probably already know. George Washington Carver is one of the most accomplished botanists in history, and his story is so compelling.
Somehow after being born into slavery, George earned a master's degree at Iowa State Agricultural College, and then he went on to become that university's first black professor.
I thought you would enjoy hearing a little excerpt from this book because I think Georgia's origin story is so incredible. Here's how Christina tells it:
Though it was the most shattering event of his life. George Carver had no memory of the kidnapping. It happened when he was only a few weeks old during the Civil War. He and his mother were kidnapped by raiders who snatched them from their cabin in Southwest, Missouri, and took them to Arkansas - 70 miles South. He was somehow separated from his mother who mysteriously disappeared.
Their master, Moses Carver sent a neighbor after them - a man named John Bentley who belonged to the local militia of the union army.
Bentley found George. He wrapped his coat around the infant, tied him to a saddle, and brought him back - traveling at night and hiding during the day from both the Confederate and the Union forces that were prowling in the vicinity.
Mary, George's mother, was never seen again.
And that is the beginning of George Washington Carver's incredible life story.
This book is 456 pages of the life story of the great botanist George Washington Carver.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
March 26, 1874
Today is the birthday of the American poet and Poet Laureate Robert Frost.
Here's a sweet and short poem by Robert Frost called ‘Lodged.’
In six little lines, Robert connects himself to the flowers in the flowerbed, pelted by wind and rain, yet through it all, managing to survive.
The rain to the wind said,
'You push, and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged--though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
— Robert Frost, American poet and poet laureate, Lodged
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