Today we celebrate an English novelist and poet who started out as an architecture student, and one of his first jobs was moving a graveyard.
We'll also learn about a writer of charming garden verses.
And we’ll hear an excerpt about lilacs.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a look at some of the most exclusive private gardens in Paris.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the birthday of a New York architect and children's book writer who wrote about a spelling bee - a bee that would come in handy when it comes to writing Botanical Latin.
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June 2, 1840
Today is the birthday of the English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.
A Victorian realist like George Eliot, Thomas Hardy was a product of provincial England. A fan of John Milton, the Romanticism of William Wordsworth influenced his writing. He’s most remembered for his novels set in rural Wessex, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891).
In Shaun Bythell’s book, The Diary of a Bookseller, he shares a common mispronunciation of Thomas’s first literary success,
“A customer at 11.15 a.m. asked for a copy of Far from the Maddening Crowd. In spite of several attempts to explain that the book's title is actually Far from the Madding Crowd, he resolutely refused to accept that this was the case, even when the overwhelming evidence of a copy of it was placed on the counter under this nose: 'Well, the printers have got that wrong.' Despite the infuriating nature of this exchange, I ought to be grateful: he has given me an idea for the title of my autobiography should I ever be fortunate enough to retire.”
In Tess the D’Urbervilles, Thomas gives us a charming description of summer. He wrote,
“The season developed and matured. Another year's instalment of flowers, leaves, nightingales, thrushes, finches, and such ephemeral creatures, took up their positions where only a year ago others had stood in their place when these were nothing more than germs and inorganic particles. Rays from the sunrise drew forth the buds and stretched them into long stalks, lifted up sap in noiseless streams, opened petals, and sucked out scents in invisible jets and breathings.”
And here’s an excerpt where Tess compares the stars to apples.
“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"All like ours?"
"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."
"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"
"A blighted one.”
Today, the National Trust takes care of Thomas Hardy’s charming thatch cottage and garden near Dorchester. Thomas’s great-grandfather built the cottage.
In 1891, workers were digging on Thomas Hardy’s property called Max Gate. They were installing a drain in the driveway when they discovered a large druid stone that thrilled Thomas, and he set it in his garden.
Nearly a century later, it was discovered that Hardy's house was situated on top of a large Neolithic enclosure - an ancient stone circle - and burial site.
Here’s an excerpt poem by Thomas Hardy, which began writing in 1913, called “The Shadow on the Stone.” It took him three years to complete the poem, and the shadow of the gardener that he sees is that of his wife Emma, who had passed away.
I went by the Druid stone
That broods in the garden white and lone,
And I stopped and looked at the shifting shadows
That at some moments fall thereon
From the tree hard by with a rhythmic swing,
And they shaped in my imagining
To the shade that a well-known head and shoulders
Threw there when she was gardening.
During the 1860s, as a young man - before he became known as a poet and writer - Thomas Hardy took a job as a trainee architect while he was going to school in London for architecture. One of his first jobs was to move remains and grave markers at St Pancras to make way for the Midland Railway line. Charles Dickens referred to the St Pancras churchyard in his Tale of Two Cities as the place where Jerry Cruncher used to fish - meaning he robbed graves.
Despite his unhappy task, Thomas had a burst of inspiration, and he decided to place hundreds of the headstones on their sides and nestle them around an ash tree. The effect was that of a sunburst radiating out from the trunk. Over time, the Ash tree became known as the Hardy Tree at St Pancras Old Churchyard in London. As the tree’s roots intertwined with the headstones, the Hardy Tree developed a bit of a reputation and fascinated generations of future writers. Today, the Hardy Tree, still surrounded by grave markers, is an obscure stop for tourists.
June 2, 1865
Today is the birthday of the artist, costume designer, poet, and writer Minnie Aumônier ("o·mo·nyé").
Over the years, Minnie’s life story has passed into obscurity, although we know she was born into an artistic family. In 1876, her father, William, founded an architectural sculpture firm in London known as Aumonier Studios. Her Uncle James was a painter.
Minnie wrote some beautiful verses about the garden. One of her verses says,
“There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.”
Minnie was romantic and sentimental. Her poetry is sugar sweet and winsome - the kind of verse that ends up on garden art - like this verse:
“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.”
Caroline wiped her cheek with the back of her gardening glove, leaving a dark smudge below one eye, then pulled off her gloves.
'But it's fitting in a way - Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.'
Caroline reached over and smoothed the hair back from my brow with a light touch. How many times had my mother done that? 'It's a miracle all of this beauty emerges after such hardship, don't you think?
― Martha Hall Kelly, author, and native New Englander, Lilac Girls (New York Times bestseller)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2000.
In this book, Alexandra and Bruno offer us a sneak peek into some of Paris's most exclusive private gardens; most are unavailable for tours or visitors. Many of these hidden gems have been maintained for centuries as secret gardens and retreats that have been passed down through families and owners who relish their private slice of heaven on earth. These gardens range from formal to eclectic. There are Japanese-inspired gardens, tropical or exotic hideaways, topiary gardens, and urban retreats, just to name a few.
This book is 176 pages of privileged access to 50 private Parisian gardens
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
June 2, 1929
Today is the birthday of the New York architect and children's book writer Norton Juster.
In 1961, Norton wrote his most famous book, The Phantom Tollbooth, which tells of a little boy named Milo who receives a make-believe Tollbooth with the power to take him to the Lands Beyond.
In this imaginary world, Milo meets many extraordinary characters, including a Bee obsessed with spelling. Here’s a cute little excerpt:
“Then just as time ran out he spelled as fast as he could - “v-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e”.
“Can you spell everything?" asked Milo admiringly.
"Just about," replied the bee with a hint of pride in his voice. "You see, years ago I was just an ordinary bee minding my own business, smelling flowers all day, and occasionally picking up part-time work in people's bonnets. Then one day I realized that I'd never amount to anything without an education and, being naturally adept at spelling, I decided that—”
At that moment, another far-fetched character enters the story.
Now the etymology of the curious blend “spelling bee” has never been fully established - although it is a distinctly American term. When the pioneers were settling this country, they held all kinds of bees to help each other accomplish arduous tasks more quickly. For instance, there were sewing bees and quilting bees, husking bees, logging bees, spinning bees, and apple bees. There were also fire brigades and barn-raisings - both clearly missed opportunities for fire bees and barn bees. Perhaps that’s how we got the term “spelling bee.” Maybe people just added the word bee to any novel social gathering, and somehow, spell bee just seemed to be perfect - a friendly term - describing a high-pressure competition intended to motivate kids to learn to spell. The term first appeared in print in the 1870s.
Recently, word experts have suggested that the word bee was rooted in a Middle English word for favor or prayer - “bene,” which is the root of the word beneficial. Over time, bene became the English word “been” (or “bean”), which Websters defines as "voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task." So the new theory is that the word evolved over time from bene to been to bee.
Over on his blog, Scientist Sees Squirrel, Stephen Heard shared a post called Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Latin Names in which he included the very hard to spell:
Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas (“Weberbauer-uh-SEER-ee-us sef-ah-LO-mah-cros-tuh-bus”), which is a cactus and Cryptodidymosphaerites princetonensis (“krip-toe-did-uh-mus-fuh-rye-tees princeton-EN-sis"), which is a fungus.
“These names mostly have one thing in common: they try to do way, way too much. They try to mention a place, and the name of a related taxon, and a descriptive trait, and another descriptive trait, and then modify that … and then they keep on going.”
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