Today we celebrate the botanical pastimes of two young women in Oklahoma back in 1850.
We'll also learn about a female botanical pioneer who specialized in grasses.
We’ll hear some thoughts on spring from a beloved American author.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book featuring the letters from a Texas pioneer botanist.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of an elite wedding and last-minute flower arranging.
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April 29, 1850
Here's a post for this day from Hunter’s Home - the only remaining pre–Civil War plantation home in Oklahoma.
“Emily and Amanda stayed at Araminta's for much of the day. They had a sweet potato roasting and then gathered flowers for pressing.
Emily kept an herbarium into which she pressed a variety of flowers from her travels. Botany was considered a suitable science for women to learn in the 19th-century and women were expected to understand the nature of the plant as well as classification, etc.
Women published botanical textbooks and used their knowledge to improve their herbal remedies. Like Emily, women also carried their herbaria with them while traveling to better collect new species.”
April 29, 1869
Today is the birthday of a botanist who was a petite, fearless, and indefatigable person: Agnes Chase.
Agnes was an agrostologist—a studier of grass. A self-taught botanist, her first position was as an illustrator at the USDA’s Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington, D.C. In this position, Agnes worked as an assistant to the botanist Albert Spear Hitchcock. When it came time to apply for funding for expeditions, only Albert received approval - not Agnes. The justification was always that the job belonged to "real research men."
Undeterred, Agnes raised her own funding to go on the expeditions. She cleverly partnered with missionaries in Latin America and arranged for accommodations with host families. She shrewdly observed,
“The missionaries travel everywhere, and like botanists do it on as little money as possible. They gave me information that saved me much time and trouble.”
During a climb of one of the highest Mountains in Brazil, Agnes returned to camp with a "skirt filled with plant specimens." One of her major works, the First Book of Grasses, was translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Her book taught generations of Latin American botanists who recognized Agnes's contributions long before their American counterparts.
After Albert retired, Agnes became his backfill. When Agnes reached retirement age, she ignored the rite of passage altogether and refused to be put out to pasture. She kept going to work - six days a week - overseeing the largest collection of grasses in the world from her office under the red towers at her beloved Smithsonian Institution. When Agnes was 89, she became the eighth person to become an honorary fellow of the Smithsonian. A reporter covering the event said,
“Dr. Chase looked impatient, as if she were muttering to her self, "This may be well and good, but it isn't getting any grass classified, sonny."
While I was researching Agnes Chase, I came across this little article in The St. Louis Star and Times.
Agnes gave one of her books on grass a biblical title, The Meek That Inherit the Earth.
The article pointed out that,
"Mrs. Chase began her study of grass by reading about it in the Bible.
In the very first chapter of Genesis, ...the first living thing the Creator made was grass.
...In order to understand grass one needs an outlook as broad as all creation, for grass is fundamental to life, from Abraham, the herdsman, to the Western cattleman; from drought in Egypt to the dust bowl of Colorado; from corn, a grass given to Hiawatha..., to the tall corn of Iowa.”
"Grass is what holds the earth together. Grass made it possible for the human race to abandon his cave life and follow herds. Civilization was based on grass, everywhere in the world."
What can beat bricks warming up to the sun? The return of awnings. The removal of blankets from horses’ backs. Tar softens under the heel, and the darkness under bridges changes from gloom to cooling shade. After a light rain, when the leaves have come, tree limbs are like wet fingers playing in woolly green hair.
― Toni Morrison, American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor, Jazz
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1991, and the subtitle is Ferdinand Lindheimer's Letters to George Engelmann.
In this book, Minetta shares the treasure of these letters between two marvelous 19th-century botanists. In 1979, Minetta was asked to translate 32 letters between Ferdinand Lindheimer, the father of Texas botany, and George Engelmann - the man who helped establish the Missouri Botanical Garden and specialized in the Flora of the western half of the United States. The task of deciphering, organizing, and analyzing the Lindheimer Englemann correspondence took Minetta over a decade.
This book is 236 pages of a fascinating look at Texas frontier life and botany through the eyes of the German-American botanist Ferdinand Lindheimer.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
April 29, 1924
Today is the wedding day of Cornelia Vanderbilt. This year (2021) marks her 95th wedding anniversary.
When the Vanderbilt heiress married British nobility, the diplomat John Cecil, the wedding flowers had been ordered from a florist in New York. However, the train carrying the flowers to Asheville, North Carolina, had been delayed and would not arrive in time.
Biltmore's Floral Displays Manager Lizzie Borchers said that,
"Biltmore’s gardeners came to the rescue, clipping forsythia, tulips, dogwood, quince, and other flowers and wiring them together. They were quite large compositions, twiggy, open, and very beautiful.”
If you look up this lavish, classic roaring 20's wedding on social media, the pictures show that the bouquets held by the wedding party were indeed very large - they look to be about two feet in diameter! I'll share the images in our Facebook Group, The Daily Gardener Community.
In 2001, the Biltmore commemorated the 75th anniversary of the wedding with a month-long celebration among 2,500 blooming roses during the month of June.
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