Today in botanical history, we celebrate a beloved Indiana poet, the Engelmann Botanical Club and their display of fall flowers over 120 years ago, and an Australian author who had asthma as a child.
We'll hear an excerpt from the New York Times bestselling author, Karen White.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a terrific book by a modern plantsman and nurseryman.
And then we'll wrap things up with a poignant poem from a writer and critic who said his goodbyes through his writing.
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October 7, 1849
Birth of James Whitcomb Riley, American writer, and poet. In Indiana, he was especially beloved and is remembered as the Hoosier poet. James wrote in dialect - in the voice of the common man - and the majority of his over 1,000 poems were often sentimental or humorous. He managed to have a successful writing career despite a lifelong struggle with alcohol. Today, in James' hometown of Greenfield, Indiana, the Riley Festival is touted as Indiana's largest four-day gathering. The event started in 1925 and took place the first or second weekend of October. The "Riley Days" festival traditionally ends with a flower parade, and children place flowers around 1918 Myra Reynolds Richards' statue of Riley on the county courthouse lawn.
James wrote several poems about flowers and gardens. One of his most famous poems is When the Frost is on the Punkin. Here's an excerpt from When The Green Gits Back In The Trees:
In Spring, when the green gits back in the trees,
And the sun comes out and stays,
And yer boots pulls on with a good tight squeeze,
And you think of yer bare-foot days;
When you ort to work and you want to not,
And you and yer wife agrees
It's time to spade up the garden-lot,
When the green gits back in the trees
When the whole tail-feathers o' Wintertime
Is all pulled out and gone!
And the sap it thaws and begins to climb,
And the swet it starts out on
A feller's forred, a-gittin' down
At the old spring on his knees—
When the green gits back in the trees —
October 7, 1900
On this day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) shared articles about autumn-blooming flowers.
The wild flower exhibition held by the Engelmann Botanical Club in the Public Library Building gave the observer a striking idea of the beauty and profusion of the uncultivated flowers which can be found In the vicinity of St. Louis in the autumn.
To many it was a revelation.
Miss Ellen C. Clark, President of the Englemann Botanical Club, wrote,
The table that attracted the children the most was that on which the fruits and seeds were collected. The pods of the milkweed and dogbane families, with their hairy seed, those of the trumpet creeper and others, showed them how seed could fly; the berries of the dogwood, buckthorn, the coralberry, the pokeberry had each its special attraction.
The Engelmann Botanical Club has had only a short existence. [It started] a little more than two years ago… When a name for the club was considered it seemed most fitting to honor Dr. Engelmann, the eminent St. Louis physician who made time in the midst of a large practice to do botanical work that distinguished him among the botanists of the world.
J. H. Kellogg wrote,
Besides the large exhibits of gentians, lobelias, asters, and goldenrods, there were others equally as attractive, although the Cardinal Lobelia is one of the most glaringly beautiful wildflowers to be found.
Eupatorium ageratoides, or whitesnake root, growing in rich shady woods with white flowers, is a very pretty plant, blooming until late in the fall.
Eupatorium coelestinum. or mistflower, with its delicate blue flowers, is very beautiful. It Is found growing in low grounds and blooming until cold weather.
Bidens Bipinnata or Spanish Needle is one of our common fall flowers, sometimes covering low meadows with its bright yellow flowers and along roadside almost everywhere.
Another group of plants that will attract your attention if you take a walk through the woods in almost any direction during the fall of the year is the Desmodiums or beggar’s ticks [or beggar lice]. Not on account of their showy flowers, but of their seeds, which will stick to you "closer than a brother," as anyone can testify who has taken a walk in the country at this season of the year.
October 7, 1935
Birth of Thomas Keneally, Australian novelist. He is most widely known for his non-fiction novel Schindler's Ark, which was adapted into Steven Spielberg's 1993 Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, Schindler's List.
As a child, Thomas had terrible asthma. He wrote,
I [was] frequently sick, particularly with asthma for which there was no proper treatment then.
In September of 2009, Thomas helped open the brand new Asthma and Allergy Friendly Garden in the Eden Display Gardens in Sydney. A first of its kind in Australia, the garden was developed by Eden by Design with guidance from the Asthma Foundation NSW to help people living with asthma and allergies enjoy the benefits of gardening. One of the keys for asthmatics and allergy sufferers is to select low-allergen plants and female trees. Some tree species are distinctly male or female. The male plant produces pollen, and the female plants are often less triggering for folks with allergies. Other tips include gardening in the morning when the grass is still wet with dew - that helps keep the pollen on the ground. Avoid gardening on windy days when pollen is in the air. And after being in the garden, make sure to shower and change your clothes to remove any allergens that are on your body and clothes.
I looked around the garden, the sun feeling warm on my back.
"So why are you here? I would think you'd want to be as far away from a hurricane as possible."
She looked at me as if I'd just suggested streaking down the beach. It took her a moment to answer.
"Because this is home."
She wanted to see if the words registered with me, but I just looked back at her, not understanding at all.
After a deep breath, she looked up at a tall oak tree beyond the garden, its leaves still green against the early October sky, the limbs now thick with foliage.
"Because the water recedes, and the sun comes out, and the trees grow back. Because" - she spread her hands, indicated the garden and the trees and, I imagined, the entire peninsula of Biloxi - "because we've learned that great tragedy gives us opportunities for great kindness. It's like a needed reminder that the human spirit is alive and well despite all evidence to the contrary."
She lowered her hands to her sides.
"I figured I wasn't dead, so I must not be done."
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2015, and the subtitle is Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change.
In this book, Ken Druse does it again. He provides another comprehensive guide - but this time focuses on shade plants and our changing climate. Ken's conversational writing style makes his advice stickier and easier to implement. Today gardeners need to be planning for the conditions their garden may face long term to maximize their efforts and investment.
- What shade plants are best if you have deer?
- How can I have a shade garden and also water less?
- What are the best plants for color in the shade garden of the future?
These are the questions current and future generations of gardeners face. Beauty is still a garden goal, but today's gardener is looking for earth-friendly, climate-wise, and super functional plants.
This book is 256 pages of everything you need to know to create or upgrade a shade garden from a modern plant master.
Today's Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
October 7, 1939
Birth of Clive James, Australian-born British literary critic, poet, lyricist, novelist, and memoirist. In 1972, Clive gained notoriety as a television critic for The Observer. His voice was unique, and his writing reflected his wry and intelligent humor.
Then, eleven years ago, in 2010, Clive was diagnosed with both emphysema and leukemia. As one might expect, his deteriorating health impacted his work, and Clive began using his poetry to write his earthly goodbyes.
One day in 2014, his daughter gifted him with a tree, and he wrote a touching poem called Japanese Maple. Clive worried he wouldn't live to see the tree change color in the fall. Here are the words he wrote from that particular verse.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that.That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same.
Clive James enjoyed several autumns with that tree. He died in 2019.
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