Today in botanical history, we celebrate an English novelist and travel writer who loved the pleasure gardens he created at a cemetery, an English writer and friend of Charlotte Bronte, and a beloved and humorous garden author.
We'll hear an excerpt from Ali Smith's Autumn. It's perfect for this time of year.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about a species among the most ancient of Earth's inhabitants.
And then we'll wrap things up with the birthday of an American garden writer.
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September 29, 1760
Birth of William Beckford, English novelist, travel writer, and architect. His family's enormous wealth stemmed from the enslavement of Jamaicans. Reclusive and eccentric, William is best known for his romance novel, The History of the Caliph Vathek (1782). William was fascinated with Italianate gardens. He especially enjoyed the landscape at Lansdown Cemetery after he installed a pleasure garden. He designed a large tower there and hoped to be buried in its shade near one of his favorite dogs. But it was not to be. The ground was considered unconsecrated, and the dog only made the situation even more untenable. And so, William's sarcophagus was moved to Abbey Cemetery in Bath. William once wrote,
Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul to.
September 29, 1810
Birth of Elizabeth Gaskell, English writer. She married a Unitarian minister named William Gaskell, and his work led them both to help and advocate for the poor. In 1850, she met Charlotte Brontë at the summer home of a mutual acquaintance, and the two became instant friends. Once when Charlotte visited her, her shyness got the best of her, and Charlotte hid behind some curtains rather than meeting other visitors who had stopped by the Gaskell's Manchester home. After Charlotte died in 1855, her father, Patrick, asked Elizabeth to write her biography, which resulted in The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Elizabeth's work included the novels Mary Barton (1848), Cranford (1851–53), and North and South (1854–55). She once told her daughter, Marianne,
It is hard work writing a novel all morning, spudding up dandelions all afternoon, and writing again at night.
Elizabeth was a gardener, and she loved flowers - especially roses. Gardens, flowers, fragrances, and country life permeate her writing. In Ruth (1853), she wrote,
With a bound, the sun of a molten fiery red came above the horizon, and immediately thousands of little birds sang out for joy, and a soft chorus of mysterious, glad murmurs came forth from the earth...waking the flower-buds to the life of another day.
In Wives and Daughters (1865), she wrote,
I would far rather have two or three lilies of the valley gathered for me by a person I like than the most expensive bouquet that could be bought!
September 29, 1920
Birth of Geoffry B. Charlesworth, garden author. Regarding the Devil's Claw or Tufted Horned Rampion (Physoplexis comosa), he wrote,
We like people not just because they are good, kind, and pretty but for some indefinable spark, usually called "chemistry," that draws us to them and begs not to be analyzed too closely. Just so with plants. In that case, my favorite has to be Physoplexis comosa. This is not merely because I am writing at the beginning of July when the plant approaches maximum attractiveness.
In A Gardener Obsessed (1994), he wrote,
A garden is a Gymnasium; an outlet for energy, a place where accidents occur, where muscles develop, and fat is shed.
Uneventful living takes up most of our time. Gardening is part of it, possibly a trivial part to the rest of the world, but by no means less important to the gardener than the big events.
In The Opinionated Gardener (1988), he wrote,
Every gardener knows this greed. I heard a man looking at a group of plants say, “I have all the plants I need.” Ridiculous. He said it because he was leaving for South America the next day, and he didn’t have his checkbook, and it was December, and he didn’t have a cold frame.
A minute ago, it was June. Now the weather is September. The crops are high, about to be cut, bright, golden,
November? Unimaginable. Just a month away.
The days are still warm, the air in the shadows sharper. The nights are sooner, chillier, the light a little less each time.
Dark at half-past seven. Dark at quarter past seven, dark at seven.
The greens of the trees have been duller since August since July really.
But the flowers are still coming. The hedgerows are still humming. The shed is already full of apples, and the tree's still covered in them.
The birds are on the powerlines.
The swifts left a week ago. They're hundreds of miles from here by now, somewhere over the ocean.
― Ali Smith, Autumn
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is A Complete Guide to Biology and Behavior.
In this book, David and Alberto give us an expert reference to the vital insect group of moths. In many cases, moths rely on their ability to camouflage to survive and reproduce. Gardeners are attracted to brightly covered butterflies, but the work of moths in the environment is equally important. Now, of course, you can't have a practical guide to moths without spectacular illustrations, and this book has that in spades. Readers come away with an incredible appreciation for the diversity of these winged insects and their miraculous lifecycle - from egg to larva to cocoon to airborne adult.
This book is 208 pages of the marvelous world of moths - and our world would be the lesser without them.
Today's Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
September 29, 1902
Birth of Jean Hersey, American garden writer and magazine feature writer. She lived in Westport, Connecticut, with a meadow instead of a front lawn and woodland and stream for a back yard. She wrote over a dozen books. Her first book was called I Like Gardening (1941), which one reviewer said: "makes one fairly itch to start a garden (bugs and insects included)." Jean is probably best known for The Shape of a Year (1967), a year-long almanac of her garden life. In her chapter on September, she wrote,
September is a sweep of dusky, purple asters, a sumac branch swinging a fringe of scarlet leaves, and the bittersweet scent of wild grapes when I walk down the lane to the mailbox. September is a golden month of mellow sunlight and still, clear days. The ground grows cool to the touch, but the sun is still warm.
A hint of crisp freshness lies in the early hours of these mornings. Small creatures in the grass, as if realizing their days are numbered, cram the night air with sound. Everywhere goldenrod is full out.
One of the excitements of the month is the Organic Garden Club show. Bob and I were prowling around the night before, considering what I might enter and studying all our tomatoes. The large ones seemed pretty good, but all had the common scars on the top that don't make a bit of difference in the eating but aren't good for a show. There was a special charm to some smaller ones, volunteers, that grew out of the midst of the chard. Each one was perfect, not a blemish. These were larger than the cherry tomatoes.
"They're about the size of ping-pong balls,” Bob said. "They must be a cross between the ordinary large ones and the cherry ones. Say – why not enter them as Ping-pong Tomatoes?
So I did, selecting three perfect ones, and they won first prize overall tomatoes.
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