May 10, 2021 Butter Wakefield, Leonard Mascall, John Hope, Aconite Lust, My Wild Garden by Meir Shalev, and Cecelia Payne

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the man who first wrote about the secateurs.

We'll also learn about the Scottish botanist who established the Edinburgh "Edinbura" Botanic Garden.

We hear an excerpt about planting aconites from a garden writer who adored them.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a memoir full of charming insights and reflections on gardening.

And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the scientist who is remembered for her discovery that stars are made largely of the two lightest chemicals, hydrogen and helium - but she started out as a botanist.



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Butter Wakefield's London garden | House & Garden | Emily Tobin


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Important Events  

May 10, 1589
Today is the anniversary of the burial of the English author, translator, and Clerk to the Kitchen of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Leonard Mascall - who was buried at Buckinghamshire.

Mascall published several books; all were aimed at household management.

In 1572 Leonardpublished A Booke of the Arte and Maner Howe to Plante and Graffe All Sortes of Trees. Along with cultivating fruit trees, this book was the first to refer to the secateurs or a pruning knife. The word secateurs is taken from the Latin secare, ‘to cut.’

Mascall's last book was published a year after he died, and it was called The Booke of Engines and Traps. In it, Leonard shared 34 traps and nine recipes for poison bates, most of which were dedicated to trapping mice. But Leonard also wrote about how to control slugs and snails in the garden - he described picking them off by hand early in the morning.

While I was researching Leonard Mascall, I came across a bit of his advice regarding the placement of tender trees and shrubs from The Guardian (, Dec 9, 1891:

"Leonard Mascall said, 'Most part of trees do love the sun at noon, and yet the south wind is very contrary against their nature, and specially the almond tree, the apricot, the mulberry, the fig tree, the pomegranate tree.'

A gardener remarked: 'I am sure there is much in this. It is quite certain that all Japanese trees like shade and a north aspect; and the finest most fruitful old mulberry tree that I have ever seen is at Rochester, growing in a corner where it looks to the north and east, and is thoroughly protected from the south and west.'"


May 10, 1725
Today is the birthday of the botanist, famous professor, and founder of one of the leading botanical gardens in Europe — John Hope.

Alive during the Scottish enlightenment, John left his mark on the royal botanic gardens, plant classification, and plant physiology. He was appointed as the King's botanist for Scotland and superintendent of the Royal Garden in Edinburgh. John worked to expand the space of the Royal Botanic Garden, and he turned it into a place for research.

During John’s lifetime, Edinburgh was THE place to study medicine, and all medical students had to take botany courses. John created a school for botanists after spinning off the materia medica (pharmacy) department of the school, which allowed him to specialize exclusively in botany. John’s students traveled to Edinburgh from all over the world. All in, John taught over 1,700 students during his tenure — and they included the likes of James Edward Smith (the founder and first President of the Linnaean Society), Charles Drayton (the future Lt. Governor of South Carolina), Benjamin Rush (a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of Dickinson College), and Archibald Menzies, who became the Scottish botanist and explorer.

By all accounts, John was a captivating instructor. He was one of the first two people to teach the Linnaean system. John also taught the natural system. And, he pioneered the use of big teaching diagrams or visual aids to teach his lectures. A field botanist, John encouraged his students to go out and investigate the Flora of Scotland, and he awarded a medal every year to the student who collected the best herbarium.

With John's accomplishments came impressive wealth. When John died, he had amassed more than £12,000, which he had left for his wife.

Today the genus Hopea is named after John Hope. And, there’s a magnificent beech tree that grows near the John Hope Gateway at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.


Unearthed Words

You cannot have too many aconites. They cost, as I said before, about fifty shillings a thousand. A thousand will make a brave splash of color, which lasts a month. If you can afford ten thousand, you are mad not to buy them. There are so many exciting places you can put them. . . in the hollow of a felled tree, by the border of a pond, in a circle round a statue, or immediately under your window, so that you can press your nose against the glass when it is too cold to go out, and stare at them, and remember that spring is on its way.

― Beverley Nichols, Down the Garden Path


Grow That Garden Library

My Wild Garden by Meir Shalev

This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is Notes from a Writer's Eden.

In this charmingly illustrated book, Meir shares his garden that lies on the perimeter of Israel’s Jezreel Valley, with the Carmel mountains rising up in the west.

Meir’s garden is “neither neatly organized nor well kept,” and he adores his lemon tree, figs, and rescuing plants like a purple snapdragon from the Jerusalem–Tel Aviv highway.  

Mitch Ginsburg of The Times of Israel wrote this after reading Meir’s book:

“I went to sleep every night with the smell of fresh figs and lemons and the sound of birdsong in my ears and the image of Shalev’s beloved black cat, Kramer, the hero of many of his Hebrew children’s stories, sleeping the day away beneath the buckthorn tree.”

Meir’s book starts out with a little story about the time he awoke to find a wedding party trampling his garden as they posed for photos. After the group insisted his garden couldn’t possibly be a real garden, he let them know they had three minutes before the sprinkler system turned on. Clever man. They left. He didn’t have a sprinkler system.

This book is full of stories like this, and they feature marvelous topics like lupines, cyclamen, poppies, sea squill, a mole rat, a wasp nest, and compost - just to name a few.

This book is 304 pages of garden bliss from a novelist who shares his garden with wit and love.

You can get a copy of My Wild Garden by Meir Shalev and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $21


Today’s Botanic Spark

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

It's the birthday of scientist Cecelia Payne who discovered while still in graduate school that stars are made largely of the two lightest chemical elements – hydrogen and helium; she was born in 1900.

And Celia decided her fate when she was just eight years old - that’s when she decided to become a scientist. She had been walking in an orchard when she suddenly recognized a plant she had heard her mother describe – the plant that looks like a bumble: the bee orchid.

Later she recalled her excitement at seeing the plant the first time:

“For the first time I knew the leaping of the heart, the sudden enlightenment, that were to become my passion… These moments are rare, and they come without warning, on ‘days to be marked with a white stone’.”

And it is Cecelia Payne who said these wonderful quotes:

“An admission of ignorance may well be a step to a new discovery.”

And then this one (which harkened back to Payne's discovery of the bee orchid).

“The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or understand something.”


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