Today we celebrate a gardener who transformed and developed the Cambridge Botanic Garden.
We'll also learn about a writer and gardener who won a Pulitzer for her writing and praise for her work in garden design.
We hear an excerpt about the first day of June.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about houseplants featuring projects, profiles, and guidance.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a world-famous writer and her personal paradise on an Australian island.
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Why Was June Made? by Annette Wynne
Why was June made?—Can you guess?
June was made for happiness!
Even the trees
Know this, and the breeze
That loves to play
Outside all day,
And never is too bold or rough,
Like March's wind, but just a tiny blow's enough;
And all the fields know
This is so—
June was not made for wind and stress,
June was made for happiness;
Little happy daisy faces
Show it in the meadow places,
And they call out when I pass,
"Stay and play here in the grass."
June was made for happy things,
Boats and flowers, stars and wings,
Not for wind and stress,
June was made for happiness!
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June 1, 1850
Today is the birthday of the gardener and author Richard Irwin Lynch.
Richard learned to garden from his father, who was classically trained at Kew. By the time he was seventeen, Richard had followed in his father’s footsteps and worked at Kew - starting with herbaceous perennials before moving into tropicals.
Enthusiastic and driven, Richard became the curator of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden when he was 30. During his four decades in the position, Richard transformed and elevated the garden by expanding and diversifying the garden’s collections through swaps and hybridizing.
In 1904, Irwin published his masterpiece The Book of the Iris - a book dedicated to the culture and identification of irises.
The iris is the birth flower for the month of February and the state flower of Tennessee.
The iris has been a symbol of royalty and power, and the “Fleur de Lis” represents the iris.
And here's a heads up to gardeners: if you're growing them without success, remember that Irises need full sun to bloom their best, and if they don’t get enough sun, they won’t bloom.
The Iris fragrance is found in the roots, and it is used for perfume. Historically, Iris root extract has been applied to the face to remove freckles.
June 1, 1837
On this day, the American writer and gardener Edith Wharton had a heart attack while staying at the country estate of her friend and co-author of The Decoration of Houses, the architect Ogden Codman. This event was the first of three heart attacks for Edith. She died on August 11th of that year and was buried at Versailles.
Edith wrote many popular admonitions. My favorite is this one. She wrote,
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
She also wrote:
“Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.”
And she also wrote:
“If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”
Edith’s childhood in Europe afforded her a chance to see the great gardens of Italy and France. As an adult, she became a fan of the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.
In 1904, in a departure from her standard storytelling, Edith published a major gardening book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, with pictures by Maxfield Parrish. Edith thought gardens should be a series of outdoor rooms, and she wrote,
“…In the blending of different elements, the subtle transition from the fixed and formal lines of art to the shifting and irregular lines of nature, and lastly, in the essential convenience and livableness of the garden, lies the fundamental secret of the old garden-magic…”
Recognizing the grandness of Italian Villa’s, Edith wrote,
"The Italian garden does not exist for its flowers; its flowers exist for it."
Edith had her own wonderful estate for a period of time. It was called the Mount. It was built in 1920, and Edith used it as her summer country estate. Tucked in Lennox, Massachusetts, the Mount. Edith was built on a high ledge and from the terrace. Edith could look down over her property and see her flower gardens, which she herself designed.
There’s a large French flower garden, a sunken Italian or Walled Garden, a Lime Walk with 48 Linden trees, and grass steps.
During her time at The Mount, Edith wrote The House of Mirth. In the story, Edith wrote about having fresh flowers, and Her character, which is about to face financial ruin, says to her mother,
“I really think,... we might afford a few fresh flowers for luncheon. Just some jonquils or lilies-of-the-valley----"
In terms of her talent, Edith felt she was much better in the garden than she was as a writer. Speaking of garden design, Edith’s niece was the garden designer Beatrix Jones Farrand.
Edith once wrote a friend,
“I’m a better Landscape gardener than a novelist, and this place (The Mount), every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth.”
Sadly, Edith’s time at The Mount was short-lived as her marriage ended nine years later, and she was forced to sell the place.
In her story called The Line of Least Resistance, Edith wrote from the perspective of a husband who had financed elaborate gardens:
“The lawn looked as expensive as a velvet carpet woven in one piece; the flower borders contained only exotics…
A marble nymph smiled at him from the terrace, but he knew how much nymphs cost and was not sure that they were worth the price. Beyond the shrubberies, he caught a glimpse of domed glass.
His greenhouses were the finest in Newport, but since he neither ate fruit nor wore orchids, they yielded, at best, an indirect satisfaction.”
In 1920, toward the end of her career, Edith wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece: The Age of Innocence - becoming the first female to win the award in her category. In 1993, Edith’s book was the basis for the movie with the same title, The Age of Innocence, featuring a young Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis.
In the book, Edith described a neglected garden,
“The patch of lawn before it had relapsed into a hayfield; but to the left an overgrown box-garden full of dahlias and rusty rose-bushes encircled a ghostly summer-house of trellis-work that had once been white, surmounted by a wooden Cupid who had lost his bow and arrow but continued to take ineffectual aim.”
In terms of her personal preferences, Edith loved reliable bloomers like lilies, hydrangeas, delphinium, cleome, and dahlias. Regarding peonies, she once described them as having “jolly round-faced’ blooms.
The last rain had come at the beginning of April, and now, at the first of June, all but the hardiest mosquitoes had left their papery skins in the grass. It was already seven o'clock in the morning, long past time to close windows and doors, trap what was left of the night air slightly cooler only by virtue of the dark. The dust on the gravel had just enough energy to drift a short distance and then collapse on the flower beds. The sun had a white cast, as if shade and shadow, any flicker of nuance, had been burned out by its own fierce center. There would be no late afternoon gold, no pale early morning yellow, no flaming orange at sunset. If the plants had vocal cords, they would sing their holy dirges like slaves.
― Jane Hamilton, American novelist, the author of The Book of Ruth, and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, A Map of the World(a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1999)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2018, and the subtitle is Choose Well, Display Creatively, Nurture & Maintain, 175 Plant Profiles.
In this book, Zia and Fran share a dozen inspiring projects, over two hundred in-depth plant profiles, along with expert guidance to help you cultivate and care for your houseplants.
The twelve inspiring plant projects featured in this book include a desertscape, an air plant stand, a macrame hanger, an open bottle terrarium, a willow climbing frame, a succulent wreath, a kokedama fern, a moth picture frame, a drive terrarium, a wood-mounted orchid, a living space divider, and a propagation shelf.
This book is 224 pages of houseplant projects, profiles, and guidance.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
June 1, 1937
Today is the birthday of the Australian novelist and gardener Colleen McCullough (“muh-CULL-ick”).
Her friends called her Col.
Colleen was exceptionally bright. Born and raised in Australia, she worked at Yale as a neurophysiologist for $10,000 a year. During her spare time, she wrote her first breakthrough novel, Tim - a story about a middle-aged widow who has a relationship with her young, handsome, and developmentally disabled gardener. Tim became a movie starring Mel Gibson.
But it was her next novel that would end up changing Colleen’s life: The Thornbirds - the Australian love story between a Catholic priest and a young woman named Meggie Cleary. In The Thornbirds, Colleen wrote,
“There's a story... a legend, about a bird that sings just once in its life. From the moment it leaves its nest, it searches for a thorn tree... and never rests until it's found one. And then it sings... more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. And singing, it impales itself on the longest, sharpest thorn. But, as it dies, it rises above its own agony, to outsing the lark and the nightingale. The thorn bird pays its life for just one song, but the whole world stills to listen, and God in his heaven smiles.”
The Thorn Birds sold 30 million copies, became a blockbusting TV miniseries, and allowed Colleen the chance to follow her heart and desire for privacy. By 1979, Colleen moved to a ten-hectare property on Norfolk Island - a small island outpost of Australia between New Zealand and New Caledonia - and a place that she would call home for the rest of her life.
A daughter of Australia, Colleen’s home country, loved her back and declared her a national treasure in 1997. Colleen died in 2015, but today her garden and home, complete with a fern room, is now open for tours.
The gardener and garden broadcast personality, Graham Ross, wrote about meeting Colleen and shared his comments on Facebook,
“When we first met Colleen McCullough in her garden, ‘Out Yenna’ (‘Out Yonder in Norf’k) on Norfolk Island a decade or more ago, it was like meeting an old friend.
It’s a long drive through the Kentia palm plantation... to find the beautiful two-story weatherboard home. There was no greeting party of minders, no official anything, just a hearty “G’day,” then “would you like a cup of tea”’ followed by “let’s look at the garden such as it is”...
The garden was entirely the domain and responsibility of her Persian cat, Shady, who would roll in Sweet Alice (Alyssum), gather seeds in her long fur, and then roll around elsewhere in the dirt distributing the seeds. It was the largest planting of Sweet Alice we’d ever seen.
In the center of the garden was a magnificent glass screen by a woman artist... who also had a copy of the work, according to Colleen, “hanging in Canberra’s Parliament House.”
But it was her finale, her coup de grace, that remains with us after the long chat and yarning. We had recently published our first major text, “Our World of Gardening,” with Simon and Schuster and took a copy for her as a sign of appreciation for her time. What happened next remains with us as the true essence of Colleen McCullough. She was enormously grateful for our book. At first, we thought ‘overly so’ but left the room after telling us of her gratitude.
Ten minutes later, she returned with a copy of every book she’d ever written from ‘Tim’ to the ‘Roman Series.’ She then proceeded to autograph and included a personal message of every publication. It was a hugely generous gesture and followed with the amazing statement, “You are the first authors to ever offer me a copy of their book.”
A few photographs for the record were taken, and strong handshake and we left with over a dozen books under our arms and a fond memory that remains fresh today.”
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