April 30, 2021 Goodbye April, Alice B. Toklas, Édouard Manet, A Perfect Spring Day, Liquid Gold by Roger Morgan-Grenville, and the Adirondack Botanical Society

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the woman who was the life partner of American writer Gertrude Stein - and we’ll hear all about their wonderful garden at Bilignin.

We'll also learn about the French modernist painter known for his peonies and peony art.

We’ll hear an excerpt about a perfect spring day.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that is pure gold - it’s all about an honest journey to beekeeping between two unlikely friends.

And then we’ll wrap things up with the ten-year Anniversary of a botanical society located in Northern New York, about 4 hours north of Manhattan and two hours south of Montreal.



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Goodbye April....Hello May, Already! | Shoestring Elegance | Theresa Begin


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Important Events

April 30, 1877
Today is the birthday of the American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century and the life partner of American writer Gertrude Stein - Alice B. Toklas (“Toe-kliss”).

In 1954, Alice's cookbook, simply called the Alice B Toklas Cook Book, was published. It became one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time, thanks to Alice's recipe for hashish fudge made with nuts, spices,  fruit, and cannabis.  Calling it the food of paradise, Alice recommended serving her special fudge at gatherings to liven things up but advised limiting one's self to no more than two pieces. She also casually mentioned that it was quote “easy to whip up on a rainy day.”

Now the last chapter of the cookbook offers a delightful glimpse at Alice and Gertrude's vegetable garden at Bilignin “Bill-in-ya” in southeastern France. And I thought I’d share a few lovely excerpts with you today in honor of Alice’s birthday.

“For fourteen successive years, the Gardens at Bilignin were my joy, working in them during the summers and planning and dreaming of them during the winters. The summers frequently commenced early in April with the planting and ended late in October with the last gathering of the winter vegetables. Bilignin, surrounded by mountains and not far from the French Alps… made early planting uncertain.

One year we lost the first planting of string beans. Another year, the green peas were caught by a late frost. It took me several years to know the climate and quite as many more to know the weather. Experience is never at a bargain price. Then too, I obstinately refused to accept the lore of the farmers, judging it, with the prejudice of a townswoman to be nothing but superstition. They told me never to transplant parsley and not to plant it on Good Friday. We did it in California, was my weak reply.

In the spring of 1929, we became tenants of what had become the manor of Bilignin. We were enchanted with everything. But after careful examination of the two large vegetable gardens... it was to my horror that I discovered the state they were in. Nothing but potatoes have been planted the year before. Poking about with a heavy stick, there seemed to be some resistance in a corner followed by a rippling movement. The rubbish and weeds would have to be cleared out at once. In six days, the seven men we mobilized in the village had accomplished this. In the corner where I had poked, a snake’s nest and several snakes have been found. But so were raspberries and strawberries.

The work in the vegetables …. was a full-time job and more. Later it became a joke. Gertrude Stein asking me what I saw when I closed my eyes, and I answered, “Weeds.” That, she said, was not the answer, and so weeds were changed to strawberries. It took me an hour to gather a small basket for Gertrude Stein's breakfast, and later when there was a plantation of them in the upper garden, our young guests were told that if they care to eat them, they should do the picking themselves.

The first gathering of the garden in May of salads, radishes, and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby — how could anything so beautiful be mine. And this emotion of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year. There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or ss thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown.”


April 30, 1883
Today is the anniversary of the death of the French modernist painter Édouard Manet (“Mah-nay”). His painting, 'Music in the Tuileries Gardens' ("TWEE-luh-Reehs"), was his first significant work depicting modern city life. Sensitive to criticism, Manet once wrote,

“The attacks of which I have been the object have broken the spring of life in me... People don't realize what it feels like to be constantly insulted. ”

When it came to the complexity of still life painting, Manet wrote,

“Bring a brioche. I want to see you paint one. Still life is the touchstone of painting.”

Manet grew peonies in his garden at Gennevilliers (“Jen-vill-EE-aye”); they were reportedly his favorite flower. Manet’s paintings of peonies were the perfect blend of skill and subject. Manet’s blousy technique was perfect for the petals and leaves. Today in many of Manet’s paintings, the pink peonies have turned white due to the deterioration of the pigments in the paint.

Regarding Manet‘s peony art, his Peonies in a Vase on a Stand is considered one of his best pieces. A 1983 exhibition catalog by the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, wrote:

“Van Gogh was much struck by this painting.. and [asked,]

‘Do you remember that one day we saw a very extraordinary Manet at the Hôtel Drouot, some huge pink peonies with their green leaves against a light background?

As free in the open air and as much a flower as anything could be, and yet painted in a perfectly solid impasto.’”

In China, the peony is known as the sho-yu, which means “most beautiful.”

When the explorer Marco Polo saw peonies in China for the first time, he misidentified them - calling them “Roses as big as cabbages."

Traditionally, peonies are used to celebrate the 12th wedding anniversary. If you planted one on your first Anniversary, the peony could easily outlast your marriage; peonies can live for over 100 years.


Unearthed Words

It was a perfect spring day. The air was sweet and gentle, and the sky stretched high, an intense blue. Harold was certain that the last time he had peered through the net drapes of Fossebridge Road (his home), the trees and hedges were dark bones and spindles against the skyline; yet now that he was out, and on his feet, it was as if everywhere he looked, the fields, gardens, trees, and hedgerows and exploded with growth. A canopy of sticky young leaves clung to the branches above him. There were startling yellow clouds of forsythia, trails of purple aubrieta; a young willow shook in a fountain of silver. The first of the potato shoots fingered through the soil, and already tiny buds hung from the gooseberry and currant shrubs like the earrings Maureen used to wear. The abundance of new life was enough to make him giddy.
― Rachel Joyce, British author, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


Grow That Garden Library

Liquid Gold by Roger Morgan-Grenville

This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Bees and the Pursuit of Midlife Honey.

Thor Hanson, the author of Buzz, said this about Roger’s book:

“Beekeeping builds from lark to revelation in this carefully observed story of midlife friendship. Filled with humor and surprising insight, Liquid Gold is as richly rewarding as its namesake. Highly recommended.”

Roger writes about meeting his friend Duncan in a pub. And on a chance decision, they resolve to become beekeepers. Ignorant but eager, the two learn, through their mistakes and their friendship, how to care for bees and become master beekeepers.

After two years, they have more honey than they can personally use. The experience teaches them resilience, along with a newfound appreciation for nature and a desire to protect the honeybee from increased threats and extinction.

Humorous and informative, Liquid Gold is an uplifting and educational story about humans and bees, making it pure gold for your summer reading.

This book is 272 pages of an honest journey to beekeeping between two unlikely friends.

You can get a copy of Liquid Gold by Roger Morgan-Grenville and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $15


Today’s Botanic Spark

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

April 30, 2011
Today is the tenth anniversary of the Adirondack Botanical Society.

ABS is “an organization dedicated to the study, preservation, and enjoyment of the plants of the Adirondack Mountain Region. Members may live in, visit, or care about the region and strive to educate others about the importance of its plant life and the environment that supports it.”

The group has an active Facebook page. If you have been on a hike or paddle lately and have a few pics you would like to share; you can do so on the Facebook page for the group.

Recent posts include:

“Ray and I visited Elder's Grove today.  I used the "measure" app on my iPhone to measure the trunk of a large eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).  I attach a photo that the app generates with the total length printed on the screen.  The trunk lying on the ground was 159'10".  Add the 16' of still standing stump, and the total height of the tree before it fell was approximately 176'.  I neglected to bring my D-tape, but the dbh was well over 50".  An amazing tree, even dead and turning to humus (HYew-mis”)!”

In any case, happy tenth anniversary to the Adirondack Botanical Society. Here’s to many more!


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