Today we celebrate an English writer who loved gardens and created a one-of-a-kind grotto as a clever way to connect his home and garden.
We'll also learn about a writer who created a space he called Tao House Garden.
We hear an excerpt about the haves and have nots - when it comes to gardens.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about philosophy inspired by the garden.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a writer who loved yellow roses but was not complimentary when it came to the poinsettia.
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May 21, 1688
Today is the birthday of the British poet, critic, gardener, and satirist Alexander Pope.
Known for his poetry and writing, Alexander Pope is less remembered for his love of gardens. Yet Alexander was a trailblazer in terms of garden design and originality. He designed the impressive Palladian Bridge in Bath, and, along with the great Capability Brown, he created the Prior Park Landscape Garden.
Alexander once famously said,
All gardening is landscape painting.
Inspired by the gardens of ancient Rome, Alexander’s garden featured both a vineyard and a kitchen garden.
But the most memorable feature of Alexander’s property was his grotto. The grotto came about because a road separated Alexander's home and garden. To connect the two, Alexander cleverly dug a tunnel under the road. The tunnel created private access to the garden and inadvertently became a special place all its own: Alexander’s grotto - a masterpiece of mirrors, candles, shells, minerals, and fossils.
Alexander described the thrill of finishing the grotto in a letter to his friend Edward Blount in 1725:
"I have… happily [finished] the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru the Cavern day and night.
...When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes… a camera obscura, on the walls [are] all the objects of the river, hills, woods, and boats… forming a moving picture...
And when you… light it up; it affords you a very different scene: it is finished with shells interspersed with pieces of looking-glass in angular forms... when a lamp ...is hung in the middle, a thousand pointed rays glitter and are reflected over the place."
Over time, Alexander's home and grotto became a tourist destination. Visitors were stunned by the marvelous grotto that connected the villa and the garden. They had never seen anything like it.
Alexander himself knew the place was special, and he once wrote,
"Were it to have nymphs as well – it would be complete in everything."
After Alexander died, the new owners of his property were so annoyed by the attention that they destroyed both the garden and the villa.
Today, plans are underway to restore the grotto to its former glory.
May 21, 1922
On this day, the Pulitzer prize was awarded to Eugene O'Neill for his play "Anna Christie."
Remembered as one of America’s greatest playwrights, most people are unaware that Eugene O'Neill was also a gardener.
After becoming a Nobel laureate in literature, Eugene used his Nobel prize money to buy over 100 acres in the San Ramon valley. There, Eugene built his hacienda-style Tao Home and Garden in 1937. Taoism influenced both the home and the garden. A Chinese philosophy, Taoism focuses on living in harmony with the Tao or “the way.” Tao House Garden features paths with sharp turns and walls that are blank.
Today, the National Park Service is working to restore the home built by the "father of American theatre” - now a National Historic Site. The entire property was designed to promote harmony and deter bad spirits. Visitors often comment on the peaceful nature of the site.
Fortunately, the O’Neill family garden designs were well chronicled. Eugene’s wife, Carlotta O’Neill, designed the landscape, and she wrote about the gardens in her diaries. Carlotta especially loved white- and pink-blooming flowers. After raccoons kept killing their koi, Carlotta turned the pond into a flower bed. Incredibly, there was just one other owner of the property after the O’Neills left in 1944.
But during the seven years, the O’Neill’s lived in harmony at the Spanish Colonial Style Tao House, Eugene created some of his most famous plays such as "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten," among other works that made him an American literary icon.
In the 1980s, the intimate courtyard garden was restored with cuttings from the original Chinaberry tree along with magnolia, walnut, and cherry trees. There are pots of geraniums and garden beds filled with birds of paradise, azalea, and star jasmine - Eugene’s favorite plant.
The orchards and idyllic gardens around the house are beautifully sited on a hilltop over the San Ramon Valley and offer impressive views of the valley and Mount Diablo. The property is as spectacular today as it was when the O’Neill’s lived there - calling to mind a quote from A Moon for the Misbegotten, where Eugene wrote,
“There is no present or future--only the past, happening over and over again--now.”
Today, the Eugene O’Neill Foundation hosts an O'Neill festival in the barn on the property every September. The annual play is professionally acted and produced. You can bring a picnic dinner and eat on the grounds.
Each of us has his own way of classifying humanity.
To me, as a child, men and women fell naturally into two great divisions: those who had gardens and those who had only houses.
Brick walls and pavements hemmed me in and robbed me of one of my birthrights; and to the fancy of childhood, a garden was a paradise, and the people who had gardens were happy Adams and Eves walking in a golden mist of sunshine and showers, with green leaves and blue sky overhead, and blossoms springing at their feet; while those others, dispossessed of life's springs, summers, and autumns, appeared darkly entombed in shops and parlors where the year might as well have been a perpetual winter.
― Eliza Calvert Hall, American author, women's rights advocate, and suffragist from Bowling Green, Kentucky, Aunt Jane of Kentucky
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2020, and I love how the publisher introduces this book:
Why did Marcel Proust have bonsai beside his bed?
What was Jane Austen doing, coveting an apricot?
How was Friedrich Nietzsche inspired by his ‘thought tree’?
In Philosophy in the Garden, Damon answers these questions and explores one of literature's most intimate relationships. The relationship between authors and their gardens.
Now for some writers, the garden is a retreat, and for others, it's a place to relax and get away from the world. But for all of the writers that are featured in Damon's book, the garden was a muse and offered each of these writers new ideas for their work.
As someone who features a garden book every day on the show and loves to feature garden writers who found their inspiration in the garden, this book is a personal favorite of mine.
This book is 208 pages of authors and their gardens. And the philosophies that were inspired by that relationship.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
May 21, 1955
On this day, Truman Capote’s first musical, House of Flowers, closes at Alvin Theater NYC after 165 performances.
House of Flowers has nothing to do with flowers. The plot centers on an evil brothel owner, Madame Fleur, and her attempts to murder the fiancé of her star girl, Ottilie. Madam Fleur has her men kidnap the young man, seal him in a barrel and toss him into the ocean.
Truman’s House of Flowers was the first theatrical production outside of Trinidad and Tobago to use the instrument known as the steelpan.
Today, most of us remember that Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But he also wrote the introduction to his friend CZ Guest’s garden book called First Garden: An Illustrated Garden Primer.
CZ Guest, born Lucy Douglas Cochrane, was an American fashion icon and garden columnist. She authored three garden books and three garden planners. In 1990, she came out with her own line of organic fertilizer, insect repellant, tools, scented candles, and soap - all of which were sold at Bergdorf-Goodman and Neiman-Marcus.
Writing about CZ, Truman affectionately wrote,
"There, with her baskets and spades and clippers, and wearing her funny boyish shoes, and with her sunborne sweat soaking her eyes, she is a part of the sky and the earth, possibly a not too significant part, but a part."
Truman Capote is remembered for this famous garden saying:
"In my garden, after a rainfall, you can faintly, yes, hear the breaking of new blooms."
In 1957 for the Spring-Summer edition of the Paris Review,
"I will not tolerate the presence of yellow roses--which is sad because they’re my favorite flower."
Finally, in the Jay Presson Allen play "Tru," Truman throws away a Christmas gift of a poinsettia, dismissing it by saying something Truman actually said,
“Poinsettias are the Robert Goulet of botany.”
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