Today we celebrate a man who found all the answers to life in nature, and we still learn from his profound observations today.
We'll also learn about a botanist and publisher who found fame and forged meaningful connections with top botanical illustrators and horticulturists of his time.
We’ll hear an excerpt about spring in Paris from an American author and journalist who lives in France.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a fun fiction book about a botany major who feels a kinship with plants on the brink of extinction.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a little article published on this day in 1985 about ferns from the great garden writer Frances Perry.
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April 21, 1838
Today is the birthday of the Scottish-American naturalist, conservationist, and author John Muir who was born on this day, April 21, in 1838.
John was known by many names: "John of the Mountains,” “Father of Yosemite,” and "Father of the National Parks.” In particular, John’s work to preserve Yosemite resulted in a famous picture of Muir posing with President Teddy Roosevelt on Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite in 1903.
And, when I was researching Charles Sprague Sargent (the first director of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum in Boston), I stumbled on a fun little story about John and Charles that was featured in a 1915 article. It’s a favorite of mine because it highlights the personality differences between the extroverted John Muir and the very serious Charles Sargent.
It turns out that the two men had gone on a trip one fall to hike the mountains in North Carolina. John wrote,
"The autumn frosts were just beginning, and the mountains and higher hilltops were gorgeous.
We climbed slope after slope through the trees till we came out on the bare top of Grandfather Mountain.
There it all lay in the sun below us, ridge beyond ridge, each with its typical tree-covering and color, all blended with the darker shades of the pines and the green of the deep valleys. . . .
I couldn't hold in and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all.
Then I happened to look round and catch sight of [Charles Sargent] standing there as cool as a rock, with a half-amused look on his face at me but never saying a word.
"Why don't you let yourself out at a sight like that?" I said.
"I don't wear my heart upon my sleeve," he retorted.
"Who cares where you wear your little heart, man?" I cried. "There you stand in the face of all Heaven come down on earth, like a critic of the universe, as if to say, Come, Nature, bring on the best you have: I'm from BOSTON!"
It was John Muir who said these wonderful quotes:
The mountains are calling, and I must go.
In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
April 21, 1864
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English bookseller, printer, publisher, pharmacist, and botanist, Benjamin Maund.
Benjamin had a large garden where he enjoyed cultivating seeds from around the world. He had a special curiosity about wheat and was interested in crossing and growing different wheat cultivars. He even exhibited wheat and gave talks on it when he had time. In 1846, an English newspaper reported that Benjamin was the first botanist to attempt to improve wheat through hybridization.
On Christmas day in 1813, after his father died, Benjamin bought a bookstore and publishing house. The entrepreneurial move would set the stage for his greatest work - a monthly publication designed to be both useful and affordable called, The Botanic Garden. Despite the publication’s London imprint, Benjamin lived and worked in the small market town of Bromsgrove all of his life.
Published between 1825 and 1850, The Botanic Garden brought Benjamin notoriety and authority. Benjamin became a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and he even corresponded with other top botanists like Darwin’s mentor, John Stevens Henslow of Cambridge University.
Benjamin’s main goal was to share “hardy ornamental flowering plants, cultivated in Great Britain.” Each monthly edition of The Botanic Garden featured a colored illustration of four different flowers, along with four pages of descriptive text.
As a result, Benjamin worked with some of the best botanical artists of his time, including Augusta Withers, Priscilla Bury, and Edwin Smith. In fact, Benjamin’s own daughters, Eliza and Sarah, experimented with botanical illustration, and their work was also featured in the publication.
Today, all of the issues of The Botanic Garden, along with over 1200 pieces of original botanical art produced for publication, are preserved at the Natural History Museum in London.
Benjamin also introduced a biennial to Britain - the Spiny Plumeless Thistle or Welted Thistle (Carduus acanthoides "KARD-ew-us "ah-kan-THOY-deez"). As with most thistles, the Welted Thistle is an invasive herb that can grow one to four feet tall. It has a thick taproot that can grow to a foot long, and the purple to pink flower can appear individually or in clusters. Although it is a thistle, the Welted Thistle bloom is really quite pretty. Poignantly, sixty-four years after his death, Benjamin’s hometown memorialized him with a tablet showing his head surrounded by a wreath of Carduus acanthoides.
Spring had come to the market as well. Everywhere there were young green things, the tips of asparagus, young leeks no bigger than scallions. There was crisp arugula, curled and tangled, and fresh green peas, plump in their pods.
I had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. This didn't pose a problem; on the contrary, it was an opportunity, a mini-adventure.
The season's new ingredients brought new ideas. The first baby tomatoes were coming in from Sicily. I bought a box of small red globes still on the vine and a red onion in my favorite childhood shade of royal purple.
Maybe I would make a salsa for the dorade (do-rahd) I'd picked up at the fishmonger.
I imagined a bright confetti, the tomatoes mixed with freshly chopped coriander, maybe a sunny mango.
― Elizabeth Bard, American author, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes
Grow That Garden Library
This botany-inspired fiction book came out in 2017 with a theme centered around endangered plants and a premise that examines how to stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world.
In this book, Ellen Meeropol tells the story of a botany major at the University of Massachusetts, named Jeremy who feels a kinship with plants that are near - or have become - extinct. Jeremy first appeared in Ellen’s book House Arrest as a nine-year-old child who had survived family trauma and found safety in the family greenhouse where he loved to draw plants.
This book is 248 pages of one young man’s struggle to fight for the environment and climate justice without losing the people he loves.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
April 21, 1985
On this day, the garden writer, Frances Perry, shared a charming article in her regular gardening column in The Observer about how to grow a fern spore. She wrote:
My father-in-law, Amos Perry, once told me that if I pushed a stopperless bottle upside down in moist shady soil, a fern would grow inside it. So I did just that and then forgot it.
Two years later, while separating some large hellebore plants, we came across the old bottle. Sure enough, there was a baby fern growing inside. The spores; can survive in their millions until conditions for growth are right.
Next, Frances shared how to propagate ferns:
The best way to propagate [ferns] is by division. This is a good time both to plant and divide.
Propagation by means of spores is more laborious. Towards the end of summer, the spores are found on the backs of mature fronds. When ripe, they can be shaken off, then sown on fine soil in a pot or pan. Do not cover with soil, but lay a pane of glass over the top to maintain humidity. Stand the pot in a saucer with a little rainwater at its base. Keep the temperature at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and remove the glass for about an hour daily to change the air. Wipe it dry before returning.
Eventually, green cushion-like bodies will appear… Later, first tiny green leaves... It will be at least another 12 months before good plants are produced.
Finally, Frances highlights a variety of ferns. Regarding Queen Victoria’s fern, she wrote,
Queen Victoria's Fern, Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae' ("ah-THEER-ee-um FY-lix--FEM-in-uh”), which has its 3-foot fronds and all their pinnae (segments) crossed to form V’s as well as boasting crested edges, was found near a Scottish cart track more than a century ago.
Regarding the Royal Fern, Frances said,
No waterside fern is more regal than the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis ("oz-MUN-duh ray-GAH-lis"), the 8- to10-foot fronds once sheltered an ancient British king, Osmund, from marauding Danes.
Then Frances shared her favorite ferns for wet gardens and indoor spaces. She wrote:
Good ferns for soggy spots include all of the Heart's Tongues; the Netted Chain Fern, Woodwardia areolata ("wood-WAR-dee-ah arr-ee-oh-LAY-ta"), a creeping plant for swampy ground, and the Dwarf Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris 'Plumosum' ("jim-n-oh-KAR-pi-um dry-OP-ter-is ploom-oh-sim").
Ferns suitable for indoor culture include most Maidenhairs, Adiantums ("AYE-dee-ANT-ums") — which incidentally loathe tobacco smoke — the Hare's Foot [or the Squirrel's Foot fern], Davallia fejeensis, (“duh-vall-ee-uh fee-jay-en-sis”) — ideal for hanging baskets with its brown exposed tubers like animal paws, the long-fronded aptly-named Ladder Ferns (Nephrolepis "nef-ro-LEP-iss" varieties - like the sword fern or Boston fern) and the Bird's Nest Fern, Asplenium nidus "as-PLEE-nee-um Nye-dis"; which produces 24-inch fronds shuttlecock fashion in a wide circle.
In nature, Asplenium perches on trees, but our 20-year-old does very well in a large flower pot. I only water into the center of the plant, not into the soil.
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