Today in botanical history, we celebrate a Flemish Renaissance painter who painted the first landscapes, the American naturalist and artist who saved Prospect Park, and an American botanist who jotted down a little poem on one of the pages in his herbarium - a little known treasure.
We'll hear an October excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver from one of her best-selling books.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with the bible for trees and shrubs - it’s a must-have monster resource.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the Enlightenment author who captured the work of gardeners and various trades at his own peril.
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October 5, 1524
Birth of Joachim Patinir, Flemish Renaissance painter of history, religion, and landscape. He worked primarily in Antwerp, and he’s credited with creating landscape painting as an independent subject. Joachim’s scenes are imaginary. His world landscape offers a panoramic landscape with craggy rocks and boulders jutting out a cliff on one side and partially obscuring the view. Then he usually included small figures portraying religious events. His use of vibrant colors and little details set in the sweeping landscapes is mesmerizing.
October 5, 1850
Birth of William Hamilton Gibson, American illustrator, author, and naturalist. Born in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, William grew up with an immediate love of the natural world. When he was ten years old, his parents sent him to a boarding school called the Gunn school for advanced training. Frederick Gunn loved the natural world, and he incorporated the study of nature into the academic teachings of the school. As a young teen, he wrote his mother,
I have just found an Imperial moth worm on a maple tree. Will you please look on one of the small apple trees in the orchard near the place where the arbor used to be… there is a tree on which I put a Cecropia worm for myself… I think a great deal of it, or I wouldn’t write about it. The boys are leaving from here very fast, and we all will leave in 13 days more....
P. S. That worm that I told you about on the apple tree, if very large, must be taken off and put into a box with fresh apple leaves every day; if small, do the same.
In another note to his mother, he ended with this offer,
In a garden up here, there is a kind of Columbine, very large, of two kinds, purple and white and very large. I am welcome to all the seed that I want. I don’t know whether you want any or not, but nevertheless, I’ll get you a lot.
I remain Your aff. son Willie.
At the Gunn school, William was able to study all aspects of the natural world - even botany - and he benefited from being surrounded by the immersive nature of the school. He wrote,
There is often an almost inexhaustible field for botanic investigation even on a single fallen tree. My scientific friend ...recently informed me... that he had spent two days most delightfully and profitably in the study of ...a single dead tree, and [was surprised to learn that] a hundred distinct species of plants congregated upon it. Plumy dicentra clustered along its length, graceful sprays of the frost-flower with its little spire of snow crystals rose up here and there, scarlet berries of the Indian turnip glowed among the leaves, and, with the ….lycopodiums and mosses, ...ferns and lichens, and [a] host of fungous growths, it [was] easy… to extend the list of species into the second hundred. It is something worth remembering the next time we go into the woods.
As an adult, William lived in Brooklyn. He started out in a soul-crushing job selling insurance until the day he tried to sell insurance to a draftsman. He ended up spending the day watching him draw and immediately pivoted to pursue an art career. His first gig was drawing feathers for Harper Brothers magazine. His iconic peacock feather drawing sealed his fate as an illustrator. Once he began writing, he also became known as a nature writer. One of his favorite places to write was a wild corner of Prospect Park. There he enjoyed a rare oasis of flora and fauna unlike any other green space in the city. When the city sought to clean up the wild space by cutting trees and removing plants, William wrote articles for the newspaper and persuaded local leaders to see what the city stood to lose. After the city reversed course, William Hamilton Gibson became known as the man who saved Prospect Park.
October 5, 1873
Birth of Merritt Lyndon Fernald, American botanist. He wrote over 800 papers and coauthored Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (1919-1920) with Alfred Kinsey, the American scientist, and sexologist.
On one of his herbarium sheets, he once wrote a quick poem about the Rhodora - the pink blooming azalea found in the Northeastern United States.
The gay Rhodora long the margin stands,
Forerunner of the summer’s fairer Rose;
Yet coming as she does to ope spring’s lands,
She brightens every mood wherein she blows.
Our gardening forebears meant watermelon to be the juicy, barefoot taste of a hot summer's end, just as a pumpkin is the trademark fruit of late October. Most of us accept the latter and limit our jack-o'-lantern activities to the proper botanical season. Waiting for a watermelon is harder. It's tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it's actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about its being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand.
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2011, and it is a hefty gem of a resource.
This book has over 3500 photographs of over 3700 species and cultivars.
Michael covers thousands of plants in this very detailed book, from flowering shrubs to weeping trees. Photos show trees in winter and other seasons to make identification and selection 100% accurate.
This book is an excellent resource for gardeners, landscape architects, designers, and anyone who wants the bible for trees and shrubs.
This book is 952 pages of trees and shrubs by a respected plantsman who writes with passion, candor, and wit about every possible aspect of these plants - flower color, fall color, salt or shade tolerance, winter interest, and form, just to name a few.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
October 5, 1713
Birth of Denis Diderot, French philosopher, art critic, and writer.
Denis was an ordinary man. He was not part of the aristocracy like his contemporary, Voltaire. After he started work on the first encyclopedia in France, he was imprisoned - punished for claiming that knowledge came from our senses and not from God. In this way and many others, Denis Diderot challenged the church, but he learned to be a little more discreet with his criticisms over time.
Diderot’s concept for his encyclopedia was to gather together the brightest minds of his time and create a series of books that shared standard academic fair like philosophy and literature and everyday jobs in the crafts and trades. This type of information had never been captured, and by including it in his encyclopedia, he elevated the people’s work.
Some of the work he wrote about was horticultural and floral. For Instance, he featured the work of artificial flower makers and market gardeners. Today, the illustrated pages of these jobs have become popular as pieces of art.
Speaking of art, Diderot was a huge admirer of artisans and art. He was a tough critic. He once wrote,
First of all, move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder, outrage me!
Delight my eyes, afterwards, if you can...
Whatever the art form, it is better to be extravagant than cold.
Denis Diderot’s 28-volume Encyclopédie (1751-1772) featured work from over 100 writers covering over 71,000 entries and 20 million words. Although it was banned by both King Louis XV of France and the Vatican, Diderot’s Encyclopédie was a huge success and led Diderot to devise his famous saying that,
A book banned is a book read.
Today the Encyclopédie is considered one of the great works of the European Enlightenment.
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