May 28, 2021 20 Top Perennials, Anne Brontë, Frank Nicholas Meyer, Pressed Flowers, Plants That Kill by Elizabeth Dauncey, and Frances Perry on Silver Foliage

Show Notes

Today we celebrate a beloved English novelist and poet.

We'll also learn about an intrepid plant explorer remembered most for the little yellow fruit he brought back from China. However, his most significant impact is likely in the soybean specimens that became a valuable economic crop for America.

We hear a fun excerpt about a pressed flower book - you’re really going to enjoy it.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about Plants that Kill - and there are more deadly plants in the garden and your home than people realize.

And then we’ll wrap things up with a bit of garden advice from a distinguished and excellent gardener and writer who wrote about using silver foliage in the garden on this day back in 1967.

 

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Important Events

May 28, 1849
Today is the anniversary of the death of English novelist and poet Anne Brontë.

Today we remember the Brontë sisters for their writing, but their lives were one of hardship. Their mother, Maria, died a year and a half after giving birth to Anne - the youngest Brontë children. By then, the family had already lost two older siblings - girls named Maria and Elizabeth.

When Anne was older, she wrote a little verse on the subject of losing a loved one, saying,

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart, they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.

The result of these early losses in the family was a tight-knit connection between the four surviving Brontë children: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and their brother Branwell.

Growing up, Anne and her older sister Emily were very close. They two peas in a pod.

In Anne’s poem about the Bluebell, she writes about her moments of childhood happiness - at finding pretty wildflowers and enjoying a carefree existence. Of the bluebell, Anne wrote,

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

The author Emma Emmerson wrote a piece called the Brontë Garden. In it, she revealed:

“The Brontës were not ardent gardeners, although… Emily and Anne treasured their currant bushes as ‘their own bit of fruit garden.’"

In her book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne wrote about the resilience of the rose.

“This rose is not so fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood through hardships none of them could bear: the cold rain of winter has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost has not blighted it... It is still fresh and blooming as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals.”

The year 1848 proved to be a brutal year of tuberculosis for the Brontë children. Branwell died of tuberculosis at age 31 in September. Emily would also die from tuberculosis in December. She was 30 and had just released her book Wuthering Heights. Losing Emily was too much for Anne, and her grief negatively impacted her health.

By the time Anne died from tuberculosis on this day at 29, her remaining older sister Charlotte had lost all of her siblings in just under ten months. Anne had wanted to go to Scarborough, thinking that the sea air would help her. Charlotte worried the trip would be too much for her. But when the family doctor agreed Anne could travel, Charlotte and her friend Ellen Nussey accompanied her. Along the way, Anne wanted to see York Minster. When the little trio reached Scarborough, Anne had two days left to live. Knowing the end was near, Anne asked to stay in Scarborough instead of heading back home.

When the end came, Charlotte decided to bury Anne in Scarborough - instead of at their Hawthorne Parish alongside their mother and siblings. Charlotte wrote of her decision, saying she would "lay the flower where it had fallen.” And so that is how Anne came to be buried in Scarborough.

 

May 28, 1918
On this day, the intrepid Dutch-American botanist and USDA Plant Explorer, Frank Nicholas Meyer, boarded a steamer and sailed down the Yangtze River - starting his long return journey to America.

Sadly, after Frank boarded that steamer ship on this day back in 1918, he died. His body was found days later floating in the Yangtze. To this day, his death remains a mystery.

His final letters home expressed loneliness, sadness, and exhaustion. He wrote that his responsibilities seemed “heavier and heavier.”

Early on in his career, Frank was known as a rambler and a bit of a loner. He was more enthusiastic about plants than humans - even going so far as to name and talk to them. Frank once confessed in an October 11, 1901 letter to a friend,

"I am pessimistic by nature and have not found a road which leads to relaxation. I withdraw from humanity and try to find relaxation with plants."

Frank worked in several nurseries and took a few plant hunting assignments before connecting with the great David Fairchild, who saw in Frank tremendous potential. Frank was also David’s backfill. David had just gotten married and was ready to settle down.

Once in China, Frank was overwhelmed by the vastness and rich plant life. A believer in reincarnation, Frank wrote to David Fairchild, in May 1907:

“[One] short life will never be long enough to find out all about this mighty land. When I think about all these unexplored areas, I get fairly dazzled… I will have to roam around in my next life.”

While the potential of China was dazzling, the risks and realities of exploration were hazardous. Edward B Clark spoke of Frank’s difficulties in his work as a plant explorer in Technical World in July 1911. He said,

“Frank has frozen and melted alternately as the altitudes have changed. He has encountered wild beasts and men nearly as wild. He has scaled glaciers and crossed chasms of dizzying depths. He has been the subject of the always-alert suspicions of government officials and strange people's - jealous of intrusions into their land, but he has found what he was sent for.”

Frank improved the diversity and quality of American crops with his exceptional ability to source plants that would grow in the various growing regions of the United States.

Frank was known for his incredible stamina. Unlike many of his peers carried in sedan chairs, Frank walked on his own accord for tens of miles every day. His ability to walk for long distances allowed him to access many of the most treacherous and inaccessible parts of interior Asia - including China, Korea, Manchuria, and Russia.

In all, Frank sent over 2,000 seeds or cuttings of fruits, grains, plants, and trees to the United States - and many now grace our backyards and tables. For instance, Frank collected the beautiful Korean Lilac, soybeans, asparagus, Chinese horse chestnut, water chestnut, oats, wild pears, Ginkgo biloba, and persimmons, just to name a few.

Today, Frank is most remembered for a bit of fruit he found near Peking in the doorway to a family home - the Meyer Lemon, which is suspected to be a hybrid of standard lemons and mandarin oranges.

 

Unearthed Words

“Janie ran to my side, where she tugged at the book eagerly as though she'd seen it before. "Flower book," she said, pointing to the cover.

"Where did you find Mummy's book?" Katherine asked, hovering near me.

Cautiously, I revealed the book as I sat on the sofa. "Would you like to look at it with me?" I said, avoiding the question.

Katherine nodded, and the boys gathered around as I cracked the spine and thumbed through page after page of beautiful camellias, pressed and glued onto each page, with handwritten notes next to each.

On the page that featured the 'Camellia reticulata,' a large, salmon-colored flower, she had written:

'Edward had this one brought in from China. It's fragile. I've given it the garden's best shade.'

On the next page, near the 'Camellia sasanqua,' she wrote:

'A Christmas gift from Edward and the children. This one will need extra love. It hardly survived the passage from Japan. I will spend the spring nursing it back to health.'

On each page, there were meticulous notes about the care and feeding of the camellias - when she planted them, how often they were watered, fertilized, and pruned. In the right-hand corner of some pages, I noticed an unusual series of numbers.

"What does that mean?" I asked the children.

Nicholas shrugged. "This one was Mummy's favorite," he said, flipping to the last page in the book. I marveled at the pink-tipped white blossoms as my heart began to beat faster. The Middlebury Pink.

― Sarah Jio (“Gee-oh”), New York Times bestselling author, The Last Camellia

 

Grow That Garden Library

Plants That Kill by Elizabeth Dauncey

This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is A Natural History of the World's Most Poisonous Plants.

In this gorgeously illustrated book, Elizabeth introduces us to the most poisonous plants on the planet - from hemlock to the deadly nightshades to poppy and tobacco. Elizabeth also helps us understand how many of these plants have been used medicinally and culturally across the globe. Toxicity has been used for good and evil, with some plant compounds used in murders and chemical warfare.

In terms of evolution, some plants turned more toxic to deter getting eaten or harmed by wildlife. Concerning humans, plant toxins can profoundly affect parts of the body - from the heart and lungs to our biggest organ, the skin.

This book is 224 pages of a fascinating and authoritative look at the natural history of highly toxic plants, including their evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry.

You can get a copy of Plants That Kill by Elizabeth Dauncey and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $15

 

Today’s Botanic Spark

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

May 28, 1967
On this day, The Observer published a garden column called Putting Your Garden On The Silver Standard by the distinguished gardener and writer Frances Perry.

Frances fell in love with gardening as a young girl after her mother, Isabella, took a ten-year-old Francie to see the Chelsea flower show. She married a local nurseryman’s son named Amos Perry, Jr. In 1945, the Perry’s oldest son, Marcus Perry, was killed by a lorry when he was just 13. He’s remembered by the oriental poppy named the Marcus Perry. France’s father-in-law, Amos Perry Sr., bred the poppy.

Regarding her column about plants with silver foliage from this day in 1967, Frances wrote,

A touch of silver (or gold) brings light to dark corners, highlights other plants, and makes a particularly delightful foil for anything with pink or blue flowers.

Many silver-leaved plants are of Mediterranean origin, and the majority are sun-lovers, accustomed to well-drained soils; they stand up well to extremes of weather provided they are not waterlogged…

There are a number of silver-leaved plants suitable for small gardens.

Artemisias bring a whisper of the past into the gardens… several were well-loved plants in our great grandparents' time.

A. abrotanum is the Southernwood, sometimes quaintly named Old Man or Lad's Love... because the ashes were once used to encourage hair growth (on bald heads and young faces). It is pleasantly aromatic ... I like to dry the leaves for potpourri and herb pillows; they also ward off moths.

For a key position before dark foliage, grow Verbascum bombyciferum (Giant Silver Mullein)… a really stately plant. Reaching 4-5 ft tall from a flat, leafy rosette, its stout stem is entirely covered, as are the leaves, with cotton wool-like tufts of hair, through which the soft yellow flowers gleam like watery suns. Although biennial, the plant reproduces freely from seed; the seedlings can be transplanted when they are about the size of a penny.

The late Constance Spry used to under carpet crimson roses with Stachys byzantina (syn. S. lanata), the plush-leaved Lamb's Ear. [She complained] about the need to remove the flower heads because they spoilt the effect. She would have loved the new variety [of Lamb’s Ear known as] Silver Carpet, which is flowerless.”

 

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