Apr 29, 2022
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The Friday Newsletter | Daily Gardener Community
St. Robert's Day
Saint Robert of Molesme ("mo-LESS-mah") was an 11th-century herbalist, abbot, and founder of the Cistercian ("sis-TUR-shin") order - a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that branched off from the Benedictines. They are also known as Bernardines ("BUR-nah-deen"), after the highly influential Bernard of Clairvaux, or as White Monks - a reference to the color of the cowl worn over their habits as opposed to the black cowl worn by Benedictines. They are commonly called Trappists.
Many common wildflowers are named in honor of St. Robert.
Some believe that Herb Robert, or Bird's Eye, the little Wild Geranium, was named in honor of St. Robert.
Another theory is that Herb Robert is named for Robin Goodfellow, a pseudonym for the forest sprite known as Puck.
1852 On this day, Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher and poet, wrote in his journal:
I went out into the garden to see what progress the spring was making. I strolled from the irises to the lilacs, round the flowerbeds, and in the shrubberies. Delightful surprise! At the corner of the walk, half-hidden under a thick clump of shrubs, a small-leaved corchorus had flowered during the night... the little shrub glittered before me...
Mother of marvels, mysterious and tender Nature, why do we not live more in thee?
1869 Birth of Agnes Chase, American botanist.
Agnes was an agrostologist—a studier of grass. She was a petite, fearless, indefatigable person and entirely self-taught as a botanist.
Her first position was as an illustrator at the USDA’s Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington, D.C., working for the botanist Albert Spear Hitchcock.
When Hitchcock applied for funding to go on expeditions, higher-ups approved the travel for Hitchcock, but not for Agnes - saying the job should belong to "real research men."
Undeterred, Agnes raised her own funding to go on the expeditions. She cleverly partnered with missionaries in Latin America to arrange for accommodations with host families. She shrewdly observed,
The missionaries travel everywhere, and like botanists do it on as little money as possible. They gave me information that saved me much time and trouble.
During a climb of one of Brazil's highest mountains, Agnes reportedly returned to camp with a "skirt filled with plant specimens."
One of her major works, the "First Book of Grasses," was translated into Spanish and Portuguese. It taught generations of Latin American botanists who recognized Agnes's contributions long before their American counterparts.
When Hitchcock retired, Agnes was his backfill. When Agnes reached retirement age, she ignored the rite of passage altogether and refused to be put out to pasture. She kept going to work - six days a week - overseeing the largest collection of grasses in the world in her office under the red towers at her beloved Smithsonian Institution. When Agnes was 89, she became the eighth person to become an honorary fellow of the Smithsonian. A reporter covering the event said,
Dr. Chase looked impatient as if she were muttering to herself, "This may be well and good, but it isn't getting any grass classified, sonny."
While researching Agnes Chase, I came across this little article in The St. Louis Star and Times.
Agnes gave one of her books on grass a biblical title, The Meek That Inherit the Earth. The story pointed out that,
Mrs. Chase began her study of grass by reading about it in the Bible.
In the very first chapter of Genesis, ...the first living thing the Creator made was grass.
... for grass is fundamental to life.
[Agnes] said, "Grass is what holds the earth together. Grass made it possible for the human race to abandon... cave life and follow herds. Civilization was based on grass [and] this significance... still holds."
1954 Birth of Jerry Seinfeld, American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and producer.
He is best known for playing a semi-fictionalized version of himself in the sitcom Seinfeld, which he created and wrote with Larry David.
He once joked,
Why do people give each other flowers to celebrate various important occasions?
They’re killing living creatures?
Why restrict it to plants?
"Sweetheart, let’s make up. Have this deceased squirrel."
2017 On this day in 2017, The New York Times tweeted that,
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden cherry blossom festival is set for today and tomorrow, regardless of when nature [decided] to push play.
Grow That Garden Library™ Book Recommendation
The Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams
This book came out in 2020, and the subtitle is How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World's Favorite Insect.
If you're a fan of blue morpho butterflies, you're going to love the cover of Wendy's book because it is covered with a kaleidoscope of blue morpho butterflies. So it's impossibly beautiful.
And Wendy's book is a five-star book on Amazon.
Now Wendy is an author who loves spending time outdoors. She loves skiing. She loves horseback riding. (In fact, her first bestselling book was called The Horse. And Wendy has traveled the world. She's spent a lot of time in Africa, Europe, and North American mountain chains and prairies.
But when it comes to just regular daily life, Wendy lives in Cape Cod in Massachusetts with her husband and her Border Collie, Taff.
Now I love the way that Wendy writes because she's very conversational. And I also like how she organized this book into three main sections: the past, the present, and the future.
And then, to show you how friendly her writing is, her chapters have very intriguing titles. In the section on the past, there's The Gateway Drug, The Number One Butterfly, and then How Butterflies Saved Charles Darwin's Bacon. (Great chapter.)
And then, in the present, chapters include A Parasol of Monarchs, The Honeymoon Hotel, and On The Rain Dance Ranch. Great story there.
And then, in the future section, Wendy's chapters include The Social Butterfly, The Paroxysms of Ecstasy, and The Butterfly Highway.
And Wendy is right; butterflies are the world's most beloved insects. They've been called flying flowers, and gardeners are passionate about butterflies. And many gardeners today are working to help save the Monarch from extinction.
Now The Washington Post said this about Wendy's book,
Williams takes us on a humorous and beautifully crafted journey that explores both the nature of these curious and highly intelligent insects. And the eccentric individuals who coveted them.
And, of course, most of those folks were scientists and or botanists. So I love this book, and I love all of those stories.
This book is 256 pages Of butterflies. It's eye-opening and tender. It's an incredibly profound look at butterflies - it's a butterfly biography. And it examines the vital role that butterflies play in our world.
You can get a copy of The Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams and support the show using the Amazon link in today's show notes for around $2.
Here's an excerpt from Karel Ćapek's chapter on The Gardener's April from his book The Gardener's Year (1984).
Gardeners have certainly arisen by culture and not by natural selection. If they had developed naturally, they would look differently.
They would have legs like beetles, so that they need not sit on their heels. And they would have wings - in the first place for their beauty and secondly, so that they might float over the beds.
Those who have no experience can not imagine how one's legs are in the way when there's nothing to stand on.
How stupidly long they are... Or how impossibly short they are if one has to reach to the other side of the bed without treading on a clump of pyrethrum (that's chrysanthemum) or on the shoots of Columbine.
If only one could hang in a belt and swim over the beds. Or have at least four hands with only a head and a cap and nothing else.
But because the gardener is outwardly constructed as imperfectly as other people, all he can do is to show us of what he is capable. To balance on tiptoe on one foot, to float in the air like a Russian dancer, to straddle four yards wide, to step as lightly as a butterfly or a wagtail, to reach everywhere and avoid everything, and still try to keep some sort of respectability so that people will not laugh at him.
Of course, at a passing glance, from a distance, you don't see anything of the gardener but his romp. Everything else like the head, arms, and legs is hidden underneath.
Thanks for listening to The Daily Gardener
And remember: For a happy, healthy life, garden every day.