Today in botanical history, we celebrate a Philadelphia plant lover who we get to know only through his correspondence to other botanists, we’ll also learn about the German palm expert and the man who became a director at Kew - but not before becoming an expert in the graves of the fallen during WWI.
We'll hear an excerpt from the amateur gardener Helena Rutherford Ely.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book from one of my favorite modern garden experts Robert Kourik.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a Thay - the Buddhist monk, writer, and peace activist. And I’ll also add naturalist to his list of titles because he draws so much insight from nature - as should we all.
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October 11, 1818
On this day, the Philadelphia botanist Zaccheus Collins to Jacob Bigelow in Boston. Zaccheus was a big-time plant collector and he had a large herbarium of most of the plants in the vicinity of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Zaccheus never published anything, but he corresponded with the botanists of his time, especially Henry Muhlenberg, Frederick Muhlenberg, Stephen Elliott, and Jacob Bigelow. In his letter to Jacob, written on this day, Zaccheus wrote,
The schooner Hero [with] Capt. Daggett... may be at Boston as soon as the present letter. On board [is] a little open box containing a growing plant of Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot), roots of Euphorbia ipecac (American ipecac), Spiraea trifoliata( Bowman's Root), & Convolvulus pandurata (wild sweet potato vine).
These were put up under the direction of the worthy Mr. Bartram, my friend, still living at the old Bot. gardens, home of the father of Amer. Botany.
You will only have to pay the freight.
October 11, 1825
Birth of Hermann Wendland, German botanist. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both botanists, and served as director of the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen in Hannover. Each generation of Wendlends had their specialty; the grandfather worked with ericas or heather, the father’s focus was phyllodineous acacias, and Hermann’s love was the palm family, the Arecaceae. Hermann’s monograph established the classification for palms. He’s remembered in the South American palm genus Wendlandiella.
During his life, Hermann turned Herrenhausen into the world’s leading garden for palm cultivation and research. Herrenhausen’s palm collection was unrivaled, and the focus on these stately and elegant trees resulted in Herrenhausen’s construction of the tallest glasshouse in all of Europe.
In addition to naming over 500 palm species, Hermann named the Arizona palm Washingtonia filifera in memory of George Washington. Hermann is also remembered for calling the genus Saintpaulia (African violet) after Baron Walter von Saint Paul.
In 1882, Baron Walter was the Governor of the Usambara (“Ooh-sahm-bar-ah”) District in German East Africa. During his time there, he explored the Usambara Mountains located in northeastern Tanzania. There, in the cloud forests, he collected seeds and specimens of a small herb, which he sent home to Herrenhausen. Hermann immediately cultivated the little plants, and he recognized that they were an entirely new species in an entirely new genus. And so, he named the plant Saintpaulia ionantha (“saint-paul-ee-ah ii-o-nan' thah”). Today we call the plant by its common name, the African violet. Hermann also called it the Usambara veilchen ('Usambara violet'). Today, African violets continue to be one of the most popular house plants. But, at home in their native Usambara Mountains, the plants face extinction.
October 11, 1875
Birth of Arthur William Hill, English botanist, and taxonomist. He served as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Before he became director of Kew, he worked on a project for the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries, the entity in charge of locating the graves of Britains service members who died during WWI. In 1915, Arthur became part of this project and served as horticulture advisor. The job required visits throughout Europe and the middle east. Anywhere the war was fought, Arthur visited - from France to Turkey, Italy to Palestine. In 1916, during the month of March alone, Arthur visited thirty-seven cemeteries.
In 1917, Arthur visited the Somme Battlefields in France and wrote poignantly about the poppies and wildflowers that grew in the aftermath of the fighting that had occurred in the summer and fall of the previous year. Although the landscape was pockmarked from shells, Arthur wrote,
...One saw only a vast expanse of weeds of cultivation, which so completely covered the ground and dominated the landscape that all appeared to be a level surface. In July, poppies predominated, and the sheet of colour as far as the eye could see was superb; a blaze of scarlet unbroken by tree or hedgerow.
No more moving sight can be imagined than this great expanse of open country gorgeous in its display of colour, dotted over with half-hidden white crosses of the dead. In no British cemetery, large or small, however beautiful or impressive it may be, can the same sentiments be evoked or feelings so deeply stirred. Nowhere, I imagine, can the magnitude of the struggle be better appreciated than in this peaceful, poppy-covered battlefield hallowed by its many scattered crosses.
After five or six years, I dig up my Roses about October tenth, cut the tops down to about twelve inches, cut out some of the old wood, cut off the roots considerably, trench the ground anew, and replant. The following year the Roses may not bloom very profusely, but afterward, for four or five years, the yield will be great. My physician in the country is a fine gardener and particularly successful with Roses. We have many delightful talks about gardening. When I told him of my surgical operations upon the Roses, he was horrified at such barbarity and seemed to listen with more or less incredulity. So I asked him if, as a surgeon as well as physician, he approved, on occasion, of lopping off a patient’s limbs to prolong his life, why he should not also sanction the same operation in the vegetable kingdom. He was silent.
― Helena Rutherford Ely, A Woman's Hardy Garden
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1986. And in 2005, it was back in print by popular demand.
Now, as per usual, Robert is ahead of the curve here. He's talking about incorporating edibles into the landscape and he was doing this way back in the eighties.
So props to Robert. Now, what I love about all of Robert Kirk's books. Is how practical and experience-based is advisive.
And as with his other books, he puts tons of resources at the end of this book as well. So make sure to check that out.
In this book, Robert mainly focuses on the edible plants you can put in your garden. That will help fertilize the soil and attract beneficial insects like pollinators and then provide additional benefits like helping your garden with issues like erosion or sheltering your home from cold heat and wind.
Robert also talks about how to incorporate edibles in trouble spots. So think about areas where water is a problem or where you maybe don't get that much sun.
Well. Robert guides you through all of that and makes edible suggestions for those areas as well.
In this book, Robert also talks about making your soil better.
He walks you through a ton of tree pruning styles. And he even dishes up some gourmet recipes.
Because, of course, if you're growing edibles, You're going to want to eat them. That's the best part.
This book is 382 pages of edible landscaping from a master. Robert installed his very first edible landscape back in 1978. And he brings all of that experience to bear in this fantastic resource.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
October 11, 1926
Birth of Thích Nhất Hạnh (“Tick Nyot Hahn”), Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk and peace activist. His students call him Thay (pronounced “Tay” or “Tie”), which is Vietnamese for “teacher.” In 1982 he cofounded The Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in southern France.
Thay often uses nature to teach. In 2014, he wrote No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering.
He once wrote,
Wilting flowers do not cause suffering.
It is the unrealistic desire that flowers not wilt that causes suffering.
In Fidelity: How to Create a Loving Relationship That Lasts (2011), Thai wrote,
Every time you breathe in and know you are breathing, every time you breathe out and smile to your out-breath, you are yourself, you are your own master, and you are the gardener of your own garden.
In his 1992 book, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thay wrote,
I have lost my smile, but don't worry.
The dandelion has it.
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