Today we celebrate a prolific French writer and poet remembered for his realism and in his little home and garden - now a Paris museum.
We'll also learn a little history lesson about the Chelsea Flower Show.
We hear an excerpt from a beloved children’s story.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with an artistic look at flowers through the eyes of a modern artist.
And then we’ll wrap things up with National Pick Strawberries Day.
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May 20, 1799
Today is the birthday of the prolific 19th-century French writer, poet, and the father of Realism in French literature, Honoré de Balzac.
Today, the Maison de Balzac, or Honoré’s modest Paris home, has been turned into a museum. With its courtyard and garden, the house faced the Eiffel Tower and was a refuge for Honoré, who rented the top floor under his housekeeper's name (Mr. de Breugnol). The home had multiple exits, which allowed Honoré to flee his creditors quickly. Honoré’s friends used a password to be able to gain access to the house to visit him.
Today a bust of Honoré de Balzac stands in the little garden where fans of his work can sit and enjoy refreshments during their visit. Laurel shrubs frame Honoré’s bust - a nod to the pivotal women named Laure in Honoré’s life: his mother Laure, his younger sister Laurence, his older sister Laure, and his lover and faithful champion Laure de Berny who was one year older than his mother.
Honoré’s house is one of three home museums for French literary greats - along with the homes of Honoré’s dear friend Victor Hugo and George Sand. Today, Honoré’s five-room apartment contains his writing desk and chair, as well as his tea kettle and a coffee pot. Honoré was a notorious coffee-drinker and a night owl as he wrote his masterpieces. But for Honoré’s fans, his most famous possession was his oversized gold and turquoise-studded cane - the handle looks like it is covered in forget-me-knots. Honoré’s cane created a sensation in 1834 Paris, and soon fancy walking sticks were the standard of fashion for gentlemen.
When Honoré was alive, his home smelled of pears. Honoré loved pears, and he stockpiled 1,500 pears in his pantry. He picked violets and lilacs for the woman he would ultimately marry in his garden: Ewelina Hańska. Their tragic love story was chronicled in their many letters to each other, which altogether read like a novel. Although she was married, Ewelina had started the affair by writing an anonymous fan letter to Honoré. Honoré and Ewelina’s relationship was forged in nearly two decades worth of letters to each other. Over the course of nearly twenty years, they had only met in person eight times before they were eventually married. Sadly, five short months after their wedding, Honoré died in Paris in 1850.
In terms of his work, gardeners should know that Honoré’s 1835 book, Lily of the Valley, has nothing to do with the woodland plant used by Dior to create their famous fragrance in 1956. Instead, Honoré’s book tells the story of unconsummated love, and the title was inspired by the bible verse from the Song of Solomon 2:1-2:
I am the Rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
Today, gardeners can remember Honoré in the 'Honoré de Balzac ®' rose; a pink-blend hybrid tea rose introduced in the United States by Conard-Pyle (Star Roses) in 1996.
In 1845, Honoré wrote,
“A young bride is like a plucked flower; but a guilty wife is like a flower that had been walked over.”
He also wrote,
“Love has its own instinct, finding the way to the heart, as the feeblest insect finds the way to its flower, with a will which nothing can dismay nor turn aside.”
Finally, here’s a little verse from Honoré’s poem called The Camellia:
In Nature's poem flowers have each their word
The rose of love and beauty sings alone;
The violet's soul exhales in tenderest tone;
The lily's one pure simple note heard.
The cold Camellia only, stiff and white,
Rose without perfume, lily without grace,
When chilling winter shows his icy face,
Blooms for a world that vainly seeks delight.
Yet, in a theatre, or ball-room light,
I gladly see Camellias shining bright
Above some stately woman's raven hair,
Whose noble form fulfills the heart's desire,
Like Grecian marbles warmed by Phidian fire.
May 20, 1913
On this day, the first Chelsea Flower Show was held at Chelsea General Hospital. Originally called the Royal Horticultural Society's Great Spring Show, the first Chelsea Flower Show was held in 1862 at the RHS garden in Kensington. Staged in a single tent, the first show made a profit of £88.
Rikki-Tikki had a right to be proud of himself. But he did not grow too proud, and he kept that garden as a mongoose should keep it, with tooth and jump and spring and bite, till never a cobra dared show its head inside the walls.
― Rudyard Kipling, English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is A World of Flowers Through the Artist's Eye.
Well, let me begin by saying that this book is absolutely gorgeous, and it contains original artwork by Adriana Picker.
I love that her last name is Picker and that the title of this book is Petal; Somehow, that goes together.
Now, as I just mentioned, Adriana is an artist - she's a botanical illustrator.
In this book, she features the petals from all sorts of flowers - from simple daisies to exotic lilies. And she features all kinds of angles in her work. You're going to see close-ups, cross-sections of flowers and buds, and foliage that reveals the flower's unique characteristics. You're going to see architectural beauty, incredible colors, and texture that leaps off the page.
Adriana writes about things like the fame of particular flowers and the folklore and traditions surrounding certain blossoms. She discusses the scent of flowers and floriography, which is the meaning and symbolism behind some of our favorite blooms - in addition to some fun facts and flower trivia.
Another feature that I especially appreciate about Adriana's book is that she organizes her work by plant family. First, she covers the rose family and the legume family, and then she moves into the daisy family, the nightshade family, the orchid family, and so on.
And I thought you'd enjoy getting a little taste of this personal story from Adriana that she shares and introducing her book. She writes,
“When I was five years old, my maternal grandmother, Emma announced to my mother that I would be a florist. And every time I visited my grandmother, we would spend hours together in her beautiful garden, hunting for blossoms.
Well, I did not have very long in Emma's garden. She died when I was seven and my grandfather sold the home. And on the day of her funeral, her roses were in full glorious bloom. And I collected a huge bunch for the dining table. My aunt Margo made me point out each Rose Bush I had picked from so that she could move them to her own garden and memory of her mother.
My botanical education continued after Emma's death furthered by my mother, Sally. also an avid gardener.”
Now isn't that a wonderful glimpse into the early inspiration behind Adriana's work and art? I love that story.
This book is 256 pages of beautiful lush botanical art from a woman with a lifelong passion for flowers, plants, and botanical illustrations.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
On this day and every May 20th, National Pick Strawberries Day is observed. Here are a few fun facts about this beloved sweet fruit:
First, the etymology of the name strawberry is likely a corruption of the phrase "strewn berry." This would reference the way the plant produced thanks prolifically to runners, resulting in berries that were strewn about the ground.
Fragariaphobia is a little-known word and is the fear of strawberries.
In terms of their uniqueness, strawberries are the only fruit that wears its seeds on the outside, and the average strawberry has 200 seeds.
Strawberries are perennial and are members of the rose family. The strawberry flower averages five to seven petals.
In terms of harvesting, strawberry plants are hand-picked about every three days. A single acre of land can grow almost 50,000 pounds of strawberries.
California produces a billion pounds of strawberries every year which means that 75% of the American strawberry crop is grown in California - with Florida and North Carolina in the 2nd and 3rd place.
As for strawberry quotes, the author Toni Morrison once wrote:
“I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer - its dust and lowering skies.”
And the author Tsugumi Ohba, Death Note Box Set, wrote
“If you keep my secret, this strawberry is yours.”
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