October 4, 2021 Improve Soil Rake Less, William Gilpin, Thoreau, Edward Stratemeyer, J.K. Rowling, Viburnums by Michael Dirr and Dorothy Frances Blomfield Gurney

Show Notes

Today in botanical history, we celebrate an English artist and clergyman, an old diary entry from the great Henry David Thoreau, and we’ll also learn about an American publishing tycoon and his family’s retreat called Bird Haven Farm.

We'll hear an excerpt on October from a Harry Potter book.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book from one of the great plantsmen of our time and his excellent resource on Viburnums.

And then we’ll wrap things up with a charming garden verse. I bet you’ve heard it before - but you may not be familiar with the woman who wrote it.



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Improve Your Soil by Raking Less | Fine Gardening | Terry Ettinger


Important Events

October 4, 1761/1762
Birth of William Gilpin, English artist, teacher, clergyman, and landscape designer. He coined the term picturesque. He had documented his visit to Ross-on-Wye, and the resulting book became England’s first tourist guide. William inspired others to enjoy the sights of the town, including the picturesque Wye river, and visitors came to the area in droves.

William spent a great deal of time outdoors painting landscapes. He observed,

Every distant horizon promises something new, and with this pleasing expectation, we follow nature through all her walks.

During his life, many looked to William as an arbiter of artistic taste. In addition to the picturesque landscape, he was especially fond of old ruins, mountains, and trees. William’s paintings were created on-site out in nature, and he wasn't opposed to using a little artistic license to make the scene even more compelling - adding more trees, a little bridge, or enhancing an old ruin. In 1786, William wrote,

A ruin is a sacred thing. Rooted for ages in the soil; assimilated to it; and become, as it were, a part of it ...

William was the first president of the Royal Watercolor Society, and he also authored several books related to his work as an artist. One of his more popular books was called Forest Scenery, which featured forty-five watercolors of trees and shrubs along with descriptions. He also included his tips and tricks for capturing a picturesque effect on canvas through the clumping of trees. Tree painting was a William Gilpin specialty. He adored trees. He once wrote,

It is no exaggerated praise to call a tree the grandest and most beautiful of all productions on earth!


October 4, 1853
On this day, Thoreau wrote in his journal:

The maples are reddening, and birches yellowing. The mouse-ear in the shade in the middle of the day, so hoary, looks as if the frost still lay on it. Well it wears the frost. Bumblebees are on the Aster undulatus, and gnats are dancing in the air.


October 4, 1862
Birth of Edward Stratemeyer, American publisher, writer of children's fiction, and founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He produced over 1,300 books and sold over 500 million copies. He’s remembered for series like The Bobbsey Twins and The Hardy Boys. The very day his new series, Nancy Drew, was released, he died. Regarding his legacy, Fortune wrote:

As oil had its Rockefeller, literature had its Stratemeyer.

After Edward died, his widow, Magdalene Van Camp, bought a Bird Haven farm for a weekend retreat. It was a place she enjoyed living on weekends and holidays for more than forty years. During those four decades, she wrote over half of the Nancy Drew books and developed plots for many other series. Edward and Magdalene’s daughter Harriet took over the family business and ran it for fifty years. She also spent the last half of her life at Bird Haven. In 1982, while watching The Wizard of Oz for the very first time, she had a heart attack and died.

Today the twenty-five acres known as Bird Haven Farm in Tewksbury Township is part of the Garden Conservancy Open Day. The barns, outbuildings, and the original nineteenth-century stone house are joined by a contemporary home built in the 1990s. In 2002, the garden was redesigned under the vision of Fernando Caruncho as a medieval village. The property boasts mature trees, an apple orchard, fruit trees, a vegetable and herb garden, hay meadows, and a perennial border designed by Lisa Stamm. Design elements include a woodland walk, cascading ponds, a charming pond hut, a maze garden for grandchildren, and an elf’s stump.

But there’s something else happening at Bird Haven Farm. The current owner, Janet Mavec, finds inspiration in flora and fauna on Bird Haven, and she created her own line of whimsical jewelry. One day, as she was working in the garden, she was thinking about jewelry and was suddenly struck with the idea of making jewelry inspired by her vegetables. In a video of Bird Haven Farm, Janet says,

I only make things that I either grow here myself - or they swim, or they fly in.

Janet’s jewelry is made with brass and then dipped in 18 karat gold, sterling silver, or gunmetal. Janet hopes her jewelry clients feel a closeness to nature with her unique jewelry designs.


Unearthed Words

​​October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students. Raindrops the size of bullets thundered on the castle windows for days on end; the lake rose, the flower beds turned into muddy streams, and Hagrid’s pumpkins swelled to the size of garden sheds.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets


Grow That Garden Library

Viburnums by Michael A. Dirr

This book came out in 2007, and the subtitle is Flowering Shrubs for Every Season.

In this book, Michael takes us on an in-depth tour of Viburnums - one of the most versatile, most utilized, and beloved shrubs for our gardens. As a woody ​​expert, Michael was the perfect person to write a comprehensive guide on viburnums. He reveals their robustness and beauty in addition to sharing detailed information about every possible type of viburnum a gardener could ever desire. His honest and balanced review of every plant will make it easier for you to pick the perfect viburnum for your garden. Viburnums can satisfy any Landscape need: some are four-season, some are a true wow in the garden, some are well-behaved workhorses, others play a supporting role in the garden design. Whether you want gorgeous fall color, stunning blossoms, fragrance, or fruit, there’s a viburnum for every need. Michael likes to say that a garden without viburnums is like a life without the pleasures of music and art.

This book is 264 pages of viburnums in all their glory - spotlighting the diversity in this incredibly functional and beautiful genus. You’ll want to bring it along on your next trip to the garden center.

You can get a copy of Viburnums by Michael A. Dirr and support the show using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $14.


Today’s Botanic Spark

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

October 4, 1858
Birth of Dorothy Gurney, English hymn-writer and poet. She wrote the famous wedding hymn O Perfect Love for her sister’s wedding. Her sister loved the tune of O Strength And Stay but wanted different words so she could use the song during the ceremony. In a flash of divine inspiration, Dorothy jotted down new lyrics in just fifteen minutes, and the result was O Perfect Love.

But Dorothy also wrote one of the most charming garden verses ever created. The words she strung together still grace our gardens, sundials, memorials, and cemeteries. The four lines of simple verse are taken from her original poem God’s Garden.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.


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