Today we celebrate the botanist who discovered the function of leaves.
We'll also learn about a visionary German naturalist and polymath who recognized the power and complexity of nature as he explored Central and South America.
We hear an excerpt about the power of gardening to turn a gardener into a philosopher.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about the best way - the very best way - to cook vegetables from the garden. This is a cookbook that teaches how to make individual vegetables shine - and it’s a cookbook every vegetable gardener should have in their kitchen.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a fun little story about the winning entry at the 1917 Raisin Day Parade.
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May 6, 1742
Today is the birthday of Jean Senebier, a Swiss pastor and botanist.
Where would we be without Senebier?
Still breathing... but lacking the knowledge that carbon dioxide is consumed by plants and, in turn, that plants produce oxygen as part of the process of photosynthesis.
In a nutshell, Senebier’s work is crucial because he had learned the function of leaves: capturing carbon for food. Before Senebier, the purpose of leaves and what they did for plants and people was unknown.
It was Jean Senebier who said,
"Observation and experiment are two sisters who help each other."
May 6, 1859
Today is the anniversary of the death of the naturalist and botanist Alexander Von Humboldt. He was 89 years old.
When it came to his expeditions, Alexander didn't travel alone. In 1799, Alexander was accompanied by the French botanist Aimé Bonplant.
In 1806, Friedrich Georg Weitsch painted his portrait; two years after he returned from his five-year research trip through Central and South America.
Friedrich painted a romantic, idealized vista of Ecuador as the setting for Alexander's painting.
Alexander had climbed the Chimborazo Mountain in Ecuador, believed at the time to be the highest mountain in the world, so perhaps Friedrich imaged Alexander viewing the landscape from Chimborazo. Surrounded by a jungle paradise, a large palm shades Alexander's resting spot. In the painting, a very handsome Alexander is seated on a large boulder; his top hat is resting upside down on the boulder behind him.
Friedrich shows the 37-year-old Alexander wearing a puffy shirt that would make Seinfeld jealous, a pinkish-orange vest, and tan breeches. In Alexander’s lap, he holds open the large leather-bound Flora he is working on, and in his right hand, he has a specimen of "Rhexia speciosa" (aka Meriania speciosa). A large barometer leans against the boulder in the lower-left corner of the painting. It symbolized Alexander’s principle of measuring environmental data while collecting and describing plants.
King Ferdinand was so pleased with the portrait that he hung it in the Berlin Palace. In fact, he ordered two more paintings to be made featuring Alexander's time in the Americas.
Alexander was a polymath; he made contributions across many of the sciences. He made a safety lamp for miners. He discovered the Peru Current (aka the Humboldt Current. He believed South America and Africa had been joined together geographically at one time. He named the "torrid zone,"; the area of the earth near the equator. Alexander spent a great deal of time near the equator. He learned that torrid means hot, blistering, scorching. He went to Russia, and it was there that he predicted the location of the first Russian diamond deposits.
Alexander was also a pragmatist. It was the Great Alexandre Von Humboldt who said:
"Spend for your table less than you can afford, for your house rent just what you can afford, and for your dress more than you can afford."
Alexander developed his own theory for the web of life. Humboldt wrote:
"The aims I strive for are an understanding of nature as a whole, proof of the working together of all the species of nature."
In 1803, in Mexico, he wrote,
"Everything is Interaction.”
Lilacs on a bush are better than orchids.
And dandelions and devil grass are better! Why?
Because they bend you over and turn you away from all the people in the town for a little while and sweat you and get you down where you remember you got a nose again. And when you’re all to yourself that way, you’re really proud of yourself for a little while; you get to thinking things through, alone.
Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher.
Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock.
A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas, letting the world spin easy on his shoulder.
― Ray Bradbury, American author, and screenwriter, Dandelion Wine
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables: A Cookbook.
In this book, Alana says, “Vegetables keep secrets, and to prepare them well, we need to know how to coax those secrets out.”
Alana divides her cookbook into these key sections: Barely Recipes (Recipes that let the vegetables shine), A Pot of Soup, Too Hot To Cook, Warmth, and Comfort, and Celebrations and Other Excuses to Eat With Your Hands.
Alana’s cookbook was inspired by the question, “But what’s the best way to eat a radish?”
Alana was at a booth at the farmer’s market.
“One side of the table held a tower of radish bunches, and the other, a basket of bagged baby arugula. When my first customer held a bunch of radishes and asked me for direction, I did my best to answer.
“Throw them into a salad? Slice them up and dip them in hummus?”
Not enamored with her lackluster response, Alana went home and experimented.
“Next Saturday, when someone asked me my favorite way to eat a radish, I was ready.
“Make radish butter! Chop them up fine and fold them into soft butter with some crunch salt, parsley, and a little lemon juice.”
I think the whole town at radish butter that week.
Each week that first summer, I’d take vegetables home from one mark to prepare for the next, studying up for the following week’s questions."
The result was this cookbook. Isn’t that fantastic?!
This book is 272 pages of vegetable mastery in the kitchen.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
May 6, 1917
On this day, The Fresno Morning Republican shared a full-page story about the raisin industry.
The Raisin Day parade had been held the previous week. The winning entry was a series of five floats that told the story 40-year-old raisin industry.
Here’s an excerpt:
The first float showed the pioneer and his family after their Journey from the east to the fertile valley of the San Joaquin.
The pioneer's vision was portrayed by a float in advance. Then came the realization of his vision with the little home and the raisin grapevines.
But there was no organization, no cooperative marketing, and each grower sold his crop to the packer or marketed his crop.
Disaster came, and the third float denoted poverty. The vineyard was mortgaged and sold by the sheriff.
The fourth float portrayed prosperity. The businessman, grower, and laborer were linked together for better conditions.
The fifth float denoted the result of the cooperation and wealth to the vineyardist. The original Sun-Maid [Raisin Girl] Miss Lorraine Collett was on this float.
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