Today in botanical history, we celebrate a Dutch botanical illustrator, a writer from New Orleans, and a hymn writer - who wrote over 400 hymns.
We'll hear an excerpt from Terri Irwin - just fabulous - wife of the late great Steve Irwin.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about Living on the Land. A hot topic since 2020.
And then we'll wrap things up with a touching story about Beatrix Potter.
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October 12, 1817
Birth of Berthe Hoola van Nooten ("Bair-tah Hole-lah van NO-ten") Dutch botanical artist.
Berthe's life story is incredibly moving. She was born in Utrecht in the Netherlands. She married a judge named Dirk Hoola van Nooten who secured a position in the Dutch colony of Suriname SurahNAM in South America. The couple frequently traveled between Jakarta and Suriname. Along the way, Berthe collected and drew plant specimens which she would send back home to the botanical gardens in the Netherlands.
By the mid-1840's the couple moved to New Orleans to establish a Protestant school for girls on behalf of the Episcopal Church. But in the summer of 1847, New Orleans was ravaged by an epidemic of yellow fever that wiped out ten percent of the population. After the yellow fever claimed Dirk's life, Berthe was left to fend for herself and her five children at the age of thirty. She attempted to open another school in Galveston but was unable to pay her creditors.
Eventually, Berthe joined her brother on a trip to Java. There she opened another school, but she also had a patron in Sophie Mathilde, the wife of William II (Netherlands). The result was her masterpiece - a collection of forty plates of her botanical art - called Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Choisis de l'Ile de Java or Selected Flowers, Fruits and Foliage from the Island of Java (1863-64). Berthe's work was dramatic, featuring rich colors and bold illustrations. Most Europeans had never seen such magnificent plants.
In the introduction, aware of her station as a woman and penniless widow during the Victorian age, Berthe apologized for her daring attempt at creating such work, writing,
You may not, like myself, have tasted the bitterness of exile… you may not, like myself, have experienced, even in the springtime of life, the sorrowful separation from home and country – the absence of the friendly greeting, on a foreign shore… Death may not have snatched away from you, the arm which was your sole support… bereavement may not have entered your dwelling, like mine, as with one sudden stroke to tear away the veil of sweet illusions, which, as yet, had hidden from your eyes the stern realities of life – to place you, with a lacerated heart, a shrinking spirit, and a feeble and suffering body, before an unpitying necessity, which presents no other alternative than labour.
In 1892, Berthe died impoverished on the island of Jakarta. She was 77.
October 12, 1844
Birth of George Washington Cable, American writer, and critic. A son of New Orleans, he has been called the first modern southern writer. Despite being a German Protestant, instead of French Catholic, George understood Creole culture and is most remembered for his early fiction about his hometown, including Old Creole Days (1879), The Grandissimes "Gran-DE-seem" (1880), and Madame Delphine "Delphine" (1881).
Today the George Washington Cable House is open to visitors. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962. Located at 1313 8th Street, in the Garden District of New Orleans, the home features gardens that George designed. In fact, The neighborhood is known for outstanding restaurants and beautiful gardens.
The beauty of New Orleans inspired George, and he was especially fond of nature and gardens.
In The Taxidermist, his story begins with these words,
One day a hummingbird got caught in a cobweb in our greenhouse. It had no real need to seek that damp, artificial heat. We were in the very heart of that Creole summertime when bird-notes are many as the sunbeams. The flowers were in such multitude they seemed to follow one about, offering their honeys and perfumes and begging to be gathered. Our little boy saw the embodied joy fall, a joy no longer, seized it and, clasping it too tightly, brought it to me dead.
He cried so over the loss that I promised to have the body stuffed. This is how I came to know Manouvrier “Man-vree-yay,” the Taxidermist in St. Peter Street.
In My Own Acre, he wrote,
A garden, we say, should never compel us to go back the way we came; but in truth, a garden should never compel us to do anything. Its don’ts should be laid solely on itself.
“Private grounds, no crossing”–take that away, please, wherever you can, and plant your margins so that there can be no crossing. Wire nettings hidden by shrubberies from all but the shameless trespasser you will find far more effective, more promotive to beauty, and more courteous. “Don’t” make your garden a garden of don’ts.
For no garden is quite a garden until it is “Joyous Gard.” Let not yours or mine be a garden for display. Then our rhododendrons and like splendors will not be at the front gate, and our grounds be less and less worth seeing the farther into them we go. Nor let yours or mine be a garden of pride.
And let us not have a garden of tiring care or a user up of precious time.
Neither let us have an old-trousers, sun-bonnet, black fingernails garden–especially if you are a woman.
Finally, in The American Garden, he wrote,
One of the happiest things about gardening is that when it is bad, you can always–you and time–you and year after next–make it good. It is very easy to think of the plants, beds, and paths of a garden as things which, being once placed, must stay where they are; but it is shortsighted, and it is fatal to effective gardening. We should look upon the arrangement of things in our garden very much as a housekeeper looks on the arrangement of the furniture in her house. Except buildings, pavements, and great trees–and not always excepting the trees–we should regard nothing in it as permanent architecture but only as furnishment and decoration. At favorable moments you will make whatever rearrangement may seem to you good.
October 12, 1895
Death of Cecil Frances Alexander, Anglo-Irish hymn writer, and poet. She wrote over 400 hymns. In addition to There Is a Green Hill Far Away and the Christmas carol Once in Royal David's City, she wrote All Things Bright and Beautiful. Here are the garden and nature-related verses, along with the refrain at the end.
Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.
The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one;
The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows for our play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day;
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
The name of the zoo was the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. As I crossed the parking area, I prepared myself for disappointment. I am going to see a collection of snakes, lizards, and miserable creatures in jars, feel terribly sorry for them and leave.
It was October 1991. I was Terri Raines, a twenty-seven-year-old Oregon girl in Australia on an unlikely quest to find homes for rescued American cougars. A reptile park wasn't going to be interested in a big cat. I headed through the pleasant spring heat toward the park, thinking pessimistic thoughts. This is going to be a big waste of time. But the prospect of seeing new species of wildlife drew me in.
I walked through the modest entrance with some friends, only to be shocked at what I found on the other side: the most beautiful, immaculately kept gardens I had ever encountered. Peacocks strutted around, kangaroos and wallabies roamed freely, and palm trees lined all the walkways. It was like a little piece of Eden.
― Terri Irwin, Steve & Me
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2019, and the subtitle is lessons in resourcefulness and craft from an unusual Christmas tree farm.
Well, I have to confess that I'm a huge fan of Emmett's YouTube channel. He does everything that he's talking about in this book - Even carving his own spoons.
But what I especially love about this book is learning about what it's like to be a Christmas tree farmer. I find this fascinating. (And to me, this book is an excellent option for a Christmas gift. So keep that in mind as well.)
Now what Emmett is writing about is simplicity - living a life that's in tune with nature, A life that is away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the daily grind. Emmett is busy, but he has plenty of time to do the things that matter - Even pursuing his favorite pastime of spoon carving.
Now I have to confess that I discovered a very pleasant surprise when I started reading Emmett's book; he's an excellent writer.
And I wanted to give you a little taste for his writing, a little sample. Just by reading what he wrote in the introduction to his book. He wrote,
The air is cold enough for my breath to show. But I'm about to break a sweat. I'm harvesting balsam branches, grabbing each with one hand and cutting them with the red clippers in the other. ...I work fast and don't stop until my arm is completely stacked with branches and sticking straight out, and I look like a kid with too many sweaters on under his jacket. Pivoting on my heel. I stride back to my central pile of balsam boughs and dump the armload on top, eyeballing it to gauge how much the pile weighs. I decide I need more and head off in another direction into the grove.
The balsam fir grows from big wild stumps and thickets that can stretch 20 feet around, the trees crowded so closely together, in no apparent order or pattern, that their branches interlock. Instead of single trees, each stump has up to three small trees of different ages growing off of it. They are pruned as Christmas trees, and I am a Christmas tree farmer.
Isn't that fascinating?
Well, this book is 288 pages of self-reliance and the Christmas spirit.
Today's Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
October 12, 1907
On this day, a 41-year-old Beatrix Potter wrote to Millie Warne, the sister of her publisher, friend, and former fiance Norman Warne (who died two years earlier - a month after their engagement - at the age of 37). Beatrix wore Norman's ring on the ring finger of her right hand until she died three days before Christmas in 1943 at the age of 77.
My news is all gardening at present and supplies. I went to see an old lady at Windermere and impudently took a large basket and trowel with me. She had the most untidy garden I ever saw. I got nice things in handfuls without any shame, amongst others a bundle of lavender slips ...and another bunch of violet suckers.
Incidentally, twenty years earlier on this day, in 1887, that a 21-year-old Beatrix drew her first fungus, the Verdigris Toadstool "Vir-dah-greez" (Stropharia aeruginosa).
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