Today we celebrate a botanical artist who learned to paint from her famous younger brother.
We'll also learn about a botanist who was fascinated with seed dispersion and weeds.
We’ll hear a little snippet about spring from an author and ecologist.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about the cultural significance behind Japanese Gardens.
And then we’ll wrap things up with National Orchid Day.
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April 16, 1847
Today is the birthday of the American botanical illustrator Ellen Thayer Fisher.
Born in Boston, Ellen’s family eventually moved to Brooklyn, New York. The daughter of a Civil War surgeon and doctor, Ellen’s younger brother Abbott became a famous American painter and naturalist. When Abbott attended the Brooklyn Art School and the Academy of Design, he would come back home and share with Ellen what he was learning about drawing and painting.
When she was 22, Ellen married Edward Thornton Fisher, and together they had seven children.
In her spare time, Ellen focused on the subject of botanicals - painting mainly floral still lifes. Sometimes her brother, Abbott, would assist with the final touches of her work - which is why some of her paintings are also signed by her brother. Abbott always called her “Nellie,” and Ellen always signed her paintings with this family endearment.
To help with her family’s finances, Ellen painted for exhibitions - likely using her brother’s connections, but she also gave “lessons by letter” to aspiring artists. By 1884, Ellen began producing art for the Boston publisher, Louis Prang - the man known as the father of the American Christmas card. Louis turned Ellen’s art into beautiful greeting cards.
Some of Ellen’s more popular pieces feature Blackberries, Poppies, and a there's one with a Thistle that's visited by a bumblebee.
April 16, 1886
Today is the birthday of the English botanist and ecologist, Sir Edward Salisbury.
The youngest of nine children, Edward’s passion for plants started as a young boy. Edward loved to go out into the countryside to dig up plants to grow in his own garden patch at home. Once he identified the plant, he attached a label with the Latin name. His older brothers teased him by calling his garden ‘The Graveyard.’
Edward grew up to become one of the leading British botanists of the twentieth century. During World War II, he was the director of Kew - a position he held for thirteen years.
During the war, Edward wrote a paper called “The Flora of Bombed Areas.” Bomb sites were fascinating to Edward. What drew his attention was the way that seeds were dispersed in the aftermath of bombing. Edward immersed himself in the subject of seeds and how they traveled - whether by human shoes, bird droppings, animal feed bags, or wind.
Edward wrote many books, but he is best known for his classic garden book called, Weeds and Aliens. In the book, Edward tells the story of going for a walk in the countryside. When he got home, he discovered that the cuffs of his wool trousers were full of seeds. In a moment of inspiration, Edward decided to try to grow them. The net result was that Edward grew more than 300 plants, “comprising over 20 different species of weeds."
Indeed, Edward loved plants, and he was especially interested in their native habitats and how they grew in the wild. Edward had strong opinions about plants. He once said,
“The double lily was and is a crime against God and man."
Edward died in 1978. He lived to be 92.
The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse - neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.
― Amy Seidl, ecologist, writer, and teacher, Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2017.
In this book, the landscape architect Marc Peter Keane shares how gardens are designed in Japan. Marc moved to Japan in 1985, where he’s been teaching garden design and designing gardens.
Marc does a masterful job of conveying the intentions and motivations for some of Japan's most beautiful gardens. Now intentions and motivations are two important aspects of Japanese gardens that often go unnoticed since Japanese gardens look so natural and wild. Yet, these peaceful places are man-made.
Japanese gardens tell stories - and those stories, according to Marc, are very controlled and intentional. Marc helps translate these stories along with helping us to appreciate the metaphors the gardens represent.
In the forward to Marc’s book, is this charming anecdote:
At the end of his life, American poet Ezra Pound, wrote:
“Let the wind speak. That is paradise.” The Japanese garden designer, like the poet, creates a theater for the wind to speak, and to our delight, we find that the wind has words. With Japanese Garden Design, Mr. Keane provides an etymology, grammar, and lexicon for deciphering, just what the wind has to say.”
This book is 192 pages of beautiful Japanese gardens along with cultural and historical insights that make the beauty of these gardens even more meaningful.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
Today is National Orchid Day. It has been observed annually on April 16th since 2015.
Now, Orchids are my new go-to order from the florist. If I need to give a gift, I’ll send an orchid because they are so long-lived and they are simply spectacular.
Orchids have been an obsession for many gardeners. The great Enid Haupt, also known as "the fairy godmother of American horticulture," fell immediately in love with orchids when her future husband, Ira Haupt, gifted her with a Cymbidium Orchid. Enid was immediately enthralled by it, and she began a life-long love affair with orchids.
And I love what the American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science historian Stephen Jay Gould, once wrote about Orchids:
“Orchids manufacture their intricate devices from the common components of ordinary flowers, parts usually fitted for very different functions.
Orchids were not made by an ideal engineer; they are jury-rigged from a limited set of available components. Thus, they must have evolved from ordinary flowers.”
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