Today we celebrate a Swiss philosopher who loved nature.
We’ll remember the famous Panama orchid hunter whose orchids were displayed on this day 93 years ago.
We'll also learn about a fascinating discovery by a botanist who was exploring Death Valley on this day last year.
We hear a thought-provoking excerpt about pruning as a metaphor for life.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about Mycelium - a network of fine white filaments beneath our feet.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a beautiful Garden Museum that opened on this day in 1985.
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May 11, 1881
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Swiss moral philosopher, poet, critic, and nature-lover, Henri Frederic Amiel.
Henri used the garden as a metaphor for life. He wrote,
“Before my history can teach anybody anything, or even interest myself, it must be disentangled from its materials, distilled and simplified. These thousands of pages are but the pile of leaves and bark from which the essence has still to be extracted. A whole forest of cinchonas are worth but one cask of quinine. A whole Smyrna rose-garden goes to produce one vial of perfume.”
Henri also recognized the healing power of nature. On June 3, 1849, he wrote,
“Come, kind nature, smile and enchant me! Veil from me awhile my own griefs and those of others; let me see only the folds of thy queenly mantle, and hide all miserable and ignoble things from me under thy bounties and splendors!”
On April 29, 1852, Henri wrote about his spring garden.
“I went out into the garden to see what progress the spring was making. I strolled from the irises to the lilacs, round the flower-beds, and in the shrubberies.
Reverie is the Sunday of thought; It is like a bath which gives vigor and suppleness… to the mind as to the body; the banquet of the butterfly wandering from flower to flower over the hills and in the fields. And remember, the soul too is a butterfly.”
And also, in this passage, Henri famously advised,
“A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.”
May 11, 1928
On this day, Abel Aken Hunter shared some of his orchid collection at the Third Annual National Orchid Show held at Madison Square Garden.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported:
"A mile of orchids, representing every known variety and worth more than $1,000,000 may be seen in the exhibit."
Abel Aken Hunter’s entry was specifically mentioned as, "Another extraordinary collection in the show was brought from the jungles of Central America by A. A. Hunter of Balboa, Panama."
In a biography of Abel’s older brother, it was mentioned that all the kids in the Hunter family were,
"born naturalists, for they knew all the birds and many of the plants and insects around Lincoln, [Nebraska]."
Incidentally, Abel studied botany at the University of Nebraska. And like many botanists of his time, he fit his passion for botany around his career. He’d been working for the United States Postal Service since he was 15 years old and Abel’s 30-year Post Office career facilitated his collecting efforts all through his life.
In 1906, Abel transferred to the post office in the Canal Zone in Panama. The move was perfect for Abel; his pay jumped to $1,250 a month, and he was smack dab in the middle of a botanical paradise.
The year 1910 brought a fateful friend to Abel: the amateur horticulturist and nurse Charles Powell. And although Charles was two decades older than Abel, the two men got on famously. In addition to their love of botany, they shared a passion for fishing. Once, while they were fishing, they spied an incredible sight. Abel is recorded as saying,
"Look, Powell – orchids! Oodles of orchids! Treefuls of orchids! Let's get some of 'em."
That day, they brought home a "boat-load of orchids," and the orchids made their way to collectors across the globe.
A few years later, after the Canal work in Gorgona wrapped up, both Abel and Charles transferred to Balboa. In Balboa, Abel and Charles coordinated their vacation requests to accommodate their botanizing trips in Panama.
In the meantime, Charles created a special relationship with the Missouri Botanical Garden and he sent them 7,000 plants. In return, MOBOT established a Tropical Station in Balboa and Charles Powell served as its first director. Abel succeeded him, and during their tenure, the Station became a jewel in the crown of MOBOT.
By the mid-1920s, Abel was collecting with MOBOT experts like George Harry Pring, who recalled,
"To obtain… new species it is necessary to climb the 'barrancas' [steep, rocky slopes], ford streams, cut one's way through the jungle, and hunt for the coveted orchid, and it is truly a hunt. Abel's sharp eyes detected almost everything within range."
A week before Thanksgiving in 1934, the Director of Mobot sent a party of three researchers, including Paul Allen, down to work with Abel; their primary mission was to find where the Sobralia powellii orchid originated. Abel's gut told him it would be near the headwaters of the river they were exploring.
For three days, they made their way through rapids and a tropical rainstorm. Nothing went their way and they were ready to give up. As they were standing at the edge of a natural pool near the crater of an ancient volcano, Paul decided to jump in for a swim. As he climbed out, Paul's journal records this fantastical moment:
"Climbing out [of the pool] on the opposite side my astonished gaze was met by a plant with great milky white buds nearly ready to open. The long-sought prize, Sobralia powellii, had been found. Its native home was no longer a mystery."
Paul Allen called this area "a garden of orchids" and would not disclose the exact location. Abel and Paul found hundreds of small orchids in this spot; incredibly, many were even new to Abel. It was a veritable orchid treasure trove.
This trip was everything to Abel. He had been diagnosed with intestinal cancer and it would be his final orchid hunt. When it was clear he could not go on, Paul brought Abel to a hospital in Panama City, where he died on April 6, 1935. Paul Allen finished the expedition alone.
After his death, Abel's wife, Mary, operated the station at Balboa for 18 months until, fittingly, Paul Allen was appointed Director. Paul Allen traveled to Balboa with his new bride, Dorothy. They had been married for ten days.
As for Abel Aken Hunter, many orchids have been named in his honor, including the Coryanthes Hunteranum, or the Golden Bucket orchid.
May 11, 2020
It was on this day that a botanist discovered the wreckage of a CIA plane that crashed in January 1952 in Death Valley.
The botanist was filming his hike in the valley - sharing the various specimens he encountered. I shared the film in the Facebook group for the show.
In the film, the plane is initially seen in the distance. It’s only after the botanist researches the wreckage that the story of plane becomes clear.
Air Live reported that,
“It turned out the plane has been there for 68 years.
In January 1952 [the] SA-16 Albatross was flying from Idaho to San Diego supporting classified CIA Cold War operations when its left engine caught fire over Death Valley, California and the plane began losing altitude and velocity.
The pilot gave the order to evacuate the plane and all 6 people on board jumped out the back door! They parachuted and safely landed 14 miles north of Furnace Creek which they then hiked to.”
Whether working in the yard or just going about the daily business of life, you are continually adjusting, trimming, touching, shaping, and tinkering with the wealth of things around you. It may be difficult for you to know when to stop. We are all torn between the extremes of taking care of things and leaving them alone, and we question whether many things could ever get along without us. We find ourselves with pruning shears in hand, snipping away at this or that, telling ourselves that we're only being helpful, redefining something else's space, removing that which is unappealing to us. It's not that we really want to change the world. We just want to fix it up slightly. We'd like to lose a few pounds or rid ourselves of some small habit. Maybe we'd like to help a friend improve his situation or repair a few loose ends in the lives of our children. All of this shaping and controlling can have an adverse effect. Unlike someone skilled in the art of bonsai gardening, we may *unintentionally* stunt much natural growth before it occurs. And our meddling may not be appreciated by others. Most things will get along superbly without our editing, fussing, and intervention. We can learn to just let them be. As a poem of long ago puts it, "In the landscape of spring, the flowering branches grow naturally, some are long, some are short.”
― Gary Thorp, Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2005, and the subtitle is How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
In this book, Paul shares the power of mushrooms and how growing mushrooms is the best way to save the environment.
As Paul explains,
“The basic science goes like this: Microscopic cells called “mycelium”--the fruit of which are mushrooms--recycle carbon, nitrogen, and other essential elements as they break down plant and animal debris in the creation of rich new soil.”
Paul is passionate about using mycelium to tackle everything from toxic wastes and pollutants, silt in streambeds, pathogens in watersheds, pest control, and general forest and garden health.
This book is 356 pages of myco-restoration - using mycelium and mushrooms for restoration and environmental health.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
May 11, 1985
On this day the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, Queens, officially opened to the public. It was the first American museum established by a living artist for the display of his own work.
A modernist sculptor and designer, Isamu founded and designed the museum in a repurposed 1920s red brick industrial building. The two-story Museum contains approximately 27,000 square feet of exhibition space and includes a sculpture garden. The beautiful Zen Garden can also be spied from the staircase exit on the second floor.
It was the Japanese-American artist, Isamu Noguchi who said,
When the time came for me to work with larger spaces, I conceived them as gardens, not as sites with objects but as relationships to a whole.
The art of stone in a Japanese garden is that of placement. Its ideal does not deviate from that of nature.
And he also had two other sayings that can be applied to the work of garden designers.
When an artist stops being a child, he stops being an artist.
We are a landscape of all we have seen.
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