Today in botanical history, we celebrate an American civil servant and poet, an American art expert, and a Harlem artist and gardener.
We'll hear an excerpt from historical fiction by Deanna Raybourn.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a lyrical book by a peach farmer.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a humorist who made a living writing about the sunny side of life.
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Lauritzen Gardens - Omaha Botanical Center 20th birthday!
October 8, 1838
Birth of John Hay, American politician, diplomat, and poet. He served three assassinated American leaders, including President Lincoln. Along with John Nicolay, he co-wrote a ten-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln that helped shape his legacy. Like Lincoln, John lost a son, and the loss profoundly affected him. Three years later, he wrote,
The death of our boy made my wife and me old at once and for the rest of our lives.
After the death of his father-in-law, John became enormously wealthy and took over the family business and investments. His family enjoyed regular trips to Europe, a grand mansion in Washington D.C., and a cottage in New Hampshire that John called the Fells. John had cobbled together 1,000 acres of land after quietly buying up abandoned farms. The etymology of The Fells name was Scottish and means rocky upland pastures. John especially enjoyed time at The Fells, which overlooked pastoral view. In the foreground, sheep grazed among prehistoric boulders that dotted the landscape, and in the distance were views of scenic Lake Sunapee. John’s wife, Clara, was a gardener, and she had a special love for roses and hydrangeas.
In 1890, John wrote,
I was greatly pleased with the air, the water, the scenery. I have nowhere found a more beautiful spot.
In terms of poetry, John was best known for a collection of post-Civil War poems compiled into a book called Pike County Ballads (1871). Here’s one of his poems called Words, in which he uses nature to show the power a simple word can have on our lives.
When violets were springing
And sunshine filled the day,
And happy birds were singing
The praises of the May,
A word came to me, blighting
The beauty of the scene,
And in my heart was winter,
Though all the trees were green.
Now down the blast go sailing
The dead leaves, brown and sere;
The forests are bewailing
The dying of the year;
A word comes to me, lighting
With rapture all the air,
And in my heart is summer,
Though all the trees are bare.
October 8, 1934
Birth of J. Carter Brown, American art expert, intellectual, and visionary. He was the director of the U.S. National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992. Although he was born in a family of great wealth - the Browns of Newport, the Browns of Brown University - he was a champion of public access to art. He believed people needed to see art in person and used a garden analogy to drive that point home:
No one will understand a Japanese garden until you’ve walked through one, and you hear the crunch underfoot, and you smell it, and you experience it over time. Now there’s no photograph or any movie that can give you that experience.
October 8, 1930
Birth of Faith Ringgold, American painter, writer, mixed media sculptor, and performance artist. Faith was born in Harlem into a family that embraced artistic creativity. She grew up after the Harlem Renaissance, and her neighborhood was home to the likes of Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes. One of her childhood friends was jazz musician Sonny Rollins. Growing up, Faith had chronic asthma, so she learned to pass the time indoors, creating visual art with the help of her mom. She became an expert seamstress and began experimenting with fabric as a medium for her art. Today Faith is known for her narrative quilts. One of her most beloved quilts is Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles, which depicts a group of African American women working on a sunflower quilt with Van Gogh off to the side, bringing them a vase of sunflowers.
In 1999, Faith had a garden installed at her Englewood, New Jersey home. She says,
[I love] to be able to look at the garden the first thing every morning, and I love to paint the green in as many ways as I can.
For many years now, Faith has hosted a garden party in June to benefit the Anyone Can Fly Foundation. The mission of the Anyone Can Fly Foundation is to expand the art establishment's canon to include artists of the African Diaspora and to introduce the Great Masters of African American Art and their art traditions to children and adult audiences.
In 2019, there was an exhibition of Faith’s art at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens.
Something had shifted between us, faintly, but the change was almost palpable. Our friendship had sat lightly between us, an ephemeral thing, without weight or gravity. Once, in the Boboli Gardens, “Bo-bah-lee” under the shadow of a cypress tree on an achingly beautiful October afternoon, he had kissed me, a solemnly sweet and respectful kiss. But weeks had passed, and we had not spoken of it. I had attributed it to the sunlight, shimmering gold like Danaë's shower, “Dan ah ee” and had pressed it into the scrapbook of memory, to be taken out and admired now and then, but not to be dwelled upon too seriously. Perhaps I had been mistaken.
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1996, and the subtitle is Four Seasons on My Family Farm.
This memoir is a personal favorite. Mas’s lyrical writing is a pleasure to read. Here are a few gems from the book:
A new planting is like having another child, requiring patience and sacrifice and a resounding optimism for the future.
I try to rely less and less on controlling nature. Instead, I am learning to live with its chaos.
Good neighbors are worth more than an extra sixteen trees.
Mas is an organic peach farmer who shares his story with humor, grace, and incredible insight into the natural world.
The New York Times said,
[Masumoto is] a poet of farming and peaches.
This book is 256 pages of thoughts on growing from a peach farmer with the soul of a poet.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
October 8, 1915
Birth of William E. 'Bill' Vaughan (pen name Burton Hillis), American columnist and author. In addition to his magazine features, he wrote a syndicated column for the Kansas City Star for over three decades. His folksy sayings include,
Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.
Experience teaches that love of flowers and vegetables is not enough to make a man a good gardener. He must also hate weeds.
The best of all gifts around any #Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.
Bill Vaughan was beloved for his humor and his friendliness. He generally wrote thirteen paragraphs of humorous observations every single day for his column. He also was an artist. A 1970 profile of Bill in his beloved Kansas City Star stated,
[He] has always had what art lovers describe as unfortunate yearnings to be an artist. While testing his fledgling wings as a columnist in Springfield, Vaughan became adept at drawing deep one-column sketches that relieved him substantially of the responsibility of filling the space with words. The day Vaughan filled virtually an entire column with a drawing of a garden hose with very little at either end, the editor ordered a halt to this sort of thing.
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