Jan 29, 2020
Today we celebrate the German-American botanist who saved the
French wine industry and the very first Iris-breeder who urged
other hybridizers to “be bold.”
We'll learn about the woman who sparked significant legislative change after birds and insects were killed in her garden and the man who fought to protect habitat for the Blazing Star.
In Unearthed Words, we celebrate two award-winning American poets and review their poems about the garden.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that shows how growing and gardening has changed the way we eat.
I'll talk about a garden item that will get your garden or porch party-ready.
And, then, we’ll wrap things up with a story within a story about a man who loved apples and a man who helped settle the West.
But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.
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Seeds and Berries
"As a wildlife gardener, you can help wildlife have a year-round bounty by leaving the seed heads and berries intact, while still weeding or clearing some lower branches and leaves as needed. Seed-eating birds such as juncos and goldfinches enjoy the dried flower heads of asters, coneflowers, and other native plants. Winter wildflower stalks also provide wildlife with places to seek refuge from storms and predators, and insects pass the winter in the dead stalks. These stalks and seed pods also add texture and visual interest on an otherwise barren landscape in a garden habitat."
Rare ghost orchid has multiple pollinators, the groundbreaking video reveals
Rare ghost orchid has multiple pollinators, the groundbreaking video reveals:
"Deep in remote Florida swamps, a team of researchers and photographers have made a new discovery that upends what we thought we knew about the ghost orchid, one of the world’s most iconic flowers, and how it reproduces. These rare, charming orchids were long thought to be pollinated by a single insect: the giant sphinx moth. “
Now, if you'd like to check out these curated articles for yourself, you're in luck, because I share all of it with the Listener Community in the Free Facebook Group - The Daily Gardener Community.
There’s no need to take notes or search for links - the next time you're on Facebook, search for Daily Gardener Community and request to join. I'd love to meet you in the group.
1879 On this day, Dorothea Engelmann, the wife of the physician and botanist George Engelmann, died. Dorothea was also his cousin, and the couple married in their native Germany before immigrating to the United States. Engelmann had settled in St Louis, Missouri. George and Dorothea had one son, George Jr - who became a noted gynecologist.
George persuaded Henry Shaw to develop the gardens around his estate outside of St Louis. When Asa Gray indicated that he thought Engelmann should run Shaw’s garden, Engelmann replied that he wasn't interested; that Shaw was a man who had “no real scientific zeal.”
Yet, Engelmann continued to interact with Shaw, and he encouraged him to name his garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden. Today, the Missouri Botanical Garden is sometimes still referred to as Shaw's Garden. George Engelmann became the Missouri Botanical Garden’s first botanist.
Among his many accomplishments as a botanist, at the top of the list is the time George rescued the French wine industry. During the 1870s, the grapes in French Vineyards were under attack by phylloxera. Without intervention, the old European vines would never survive the little aphid-like pest that sucked the sap out of the roots of the grapevines.
By the time the French government dispatched a scientist to St. Louis, Engelmann had been studying grapes for over 20 years. Engelmann offered a simple solution when he suggested replacing the European vines with American ones. Engelmann had already determined that the American vines were naturally resistant to phylloxera. The simple substitution of vines would eliminate the problem. Both sides agreed, and George personally arranged for millions of grapevines as well as grape seeds to be sent to France. And voila! The French wine industry was saved.
As a person, George was quite cheerful and always working - either as a physician or pursuing his botanical and other scientific work. But, after Dorothea died on this day in 1879, George was distraught. Dorothea had been his partner in all of his endeavors - she was his sounding board, editor, and chief encourager.
George threw himself into his botanical work, but by himself, he could find no relief from his grief. George’s way back to life came when an invitation arrived from a friend and colleague. Harvard's Charles Sprague Sargent requested that George join him on an assessment of the forests of the Pacific Coast on behalf of the Forestry Division of the United States Census. George was Charles’s top choice; he had long admired George’s mastery of trees. By the summer of 1880, George Engelmann was 71 years old. Life wasn’t done with him yet.
George met up with Charles in Ogden, Utah. Along with botanist Christopher Charles Parry, they spent the summer of 1880 botanizing along the west coast from the Fraser River in British Columbia to southern Arizona along the Mexican border.
George's death came four years later. He’d caught a cold after he was clearing a path through the snow from his house to his garden so that he could read his thermometers. George had faithfully kept an unbroken record of daily meteorological observations for nearly five decades. It was important to him. He recorded the daily, monthly, seasonal, and annual records of temperature, rainfall, and other weather notes.
A prolific letter-writer, George’s last letter was to Charles Christopher Parry - who had accompanied George and Sargent on their botanizing trip on the west coast.
Parry was a true friend and had named the Englemann Spruce in honor of George. In a tribute to George after his death, Charles Sprague Sargent wrote,
“… that splendid spruce [the Engelmann Spruce], the fairest of them all, will [forever]...cover the noble forests and the highest slopes of the mountains, recalling … the memory of a pure, upright, and laborious life.”
Today, George’s portrait is featured in a couple of different places at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where his astounding collection of over 98,000 botanical specimens helped establish the Missouri Botanical Garden’s herbarium.
If you ever visit the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Sachs Museum, you’ll note that the only plant identified (with a label) is named for George Engelmann - it’s the Opuntia engelmannii or Engelmann's prickly pear cactus. There is also a large bust of Engelmann in the Strassenfest Garden.
Today, Engelmann’s botanical notebooks are being digitized online as part of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
1907 Today is the anniversary of the death of the English physician and iris breeder Sir Michael Foster.
In the late 1890s, Michael became the first person to crossbreed and name new varieties of Iris. Michael started working with purple and yellow iris. He was successfully able to produce a beautiful blend by the third generation.
In short order, Michael was receiving large wild iris specimens from all over the world. Missionaries were a great help to him and sent Trojana, Cypriana, and Mesopotamica specimens from the deserts in the Near East.
Over time, Michael was able to create irises with bigger blooms and habits with higher and wider branching stems. Michael crossed late bloomers with early bloomers and created intermediate bloomers. Michael once wrote to his friend the breeder William John Caparne, advising, "In hybridizing, be bold" and Michael gave us a clue to how he regarded his work with the natural world:
"Nature is ever making signs to us; she is ever whispering to us the beginnings of her secrets."
In 1888, Michael introduced “Mrs. Horace Darwin” - a white iris with pale violet markings - which he had named after one of his neighbors, the daughter-in-law of Charles Darwin. Michael often named his iris in honor of his many female friends.
After Michael’s work became well known, iris breeding took off.
Thirteen years after Michael's death, the American Iris Society was founded in 1920. Today, there are thousands of varieties of Iris.
And, here’s one final tidbit about Sir Michael Foster. Like many botanists, Michael was a doctor. In 1877, he discovered and documented a phenomenon he called the patellar reflex, and he noted that "Striking the tendon below the patella gives rise to a sudden extension of the leg, known as the knee-jerk."
1958 Duxbury resident, journalist, and nature-lover Olga Owens Huckins wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Boston Herald in Section 3 on Page 14 and was titled “Evidence of Havoc by DDT.”
Olga and her husband, Stuart, had created a little bird sanctuary around two kettle ponds on their property. It was a place “where songbirds sang, ducks swam, and great blue herons nested.”
When the Massachusetts State Mosquito control program began spraying in their area, Olga observed birds and insects dropping dead in her garden. During that time, the DDT was sprayed at a rate of 2 pounds per acre. the day Olga's property was sprayed, the pilot had extra DDT fuel oil in his tank, and he decided to dump it right over Olga's land.
As a former Boston newspaper reporter, Olga voiced her anger and frustration in the best way she knew how; she wrote about it. Olga wrote, “The ‘harmless’ shower-bath killed seven of our lovely songbirds outright. We picked up three dead bodies the next morning right by the door. They were birds that had lived close to us, trusted us, and built their nests in our trees year after year.”
After writing the paper, Olga wrote another letter to an old friend named Rachel Carson. Olga wanted Rachel to help her find people in Washington who could provide more information about the aerial spraying of DDT. Olga's letter sparked four years of research for Rachel. She put it all together in a book called Silent Spring. Rachel's book opened people's eyes to the hazards of DDT, and public opinion eventually forced the banning of DDT in 1972.
Today, Olga & Stuart’s property has new owners. Judith and Robert Vose, III, continue to preserve the site as a bird sanctuary and also as a way to honor the brave women who stepped forward when it was put in harm’s way: Olga Huckins and Rachel Carson.
1964 Today is the anniversary of the death of the former curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and devoted scientist Otto Emery Jennings. He died at the age of 86.
In 1904, Jennings started out as the custodian at the Carnegie Museum. Otto kept climbing the ladder, and over the span of 41 years, he was ultimately named the director of the Museum in 1945. Over his long career, he had been chief, curator, and bottle washer.
Today, the Jennings Nature Reserve near Butler Pennsylvania is named for Otto, who initiated it’s protection to save the Blazing Star (Liatrisliatris spicata). The 20-acre reserve was expressly cleared to enable the Blazing Star to spread and multiply.
Other common names for the Blazing Star include the Gayfeather or Prairie Star. This North American native plant and late-blooming prairie flower offers stately plumes of purple or white. The many wonderful characteristics of the Blazing Star make it a favorite with gardeners - it's easy to grow and propagate, it's low maintenance, it makes excellent cut flowers, and the pollinators love them. Monarchs go crazy for Blazing Star. The Blazing Star grows up to 16 in tall. And, gardeners should note that it has a taller cousin called Prairie Blazing Star that can grow to be 5 ft tall.
1933 Today is the anniversary of the death of the American lyric poet Sara Teasdale. In 1918, Teasdale was awarded the Columbia Poetry Prize, which would later become known as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Teasdale was born into a privileged life in St Louis, Missouri. After writing many books of poetry, she ended up in New York, where, depressed and disillusioned, she took her own life on this day in 1933. Her poem, The Garden, doesn’t require a great deal of analysis. Gardeners, especially during this time of year, will relate to her longing for spring.
My heart is a garden tired with autumn,
Heaped with bending asters and dahlias heavy and dark,
In the hazy sunshine, the garden remembers April,
The drench of rains and a snow-drop quick and clear as a spark;
Daffodils blowing in the cold wind of morning,
And golden tulips, goblets holding the rain—
The garden will be hushed with snow, forgotten soon, forgotten—
After the stillness, will spring come again?
1963 Today is the anniversary of the death of the American poet Robert Frost. Frost died at the age of 88 after having a heart attack. Forty-seven years earlier, Robert wrote a poem about a girl who asked her father for a little piece of land so that she could start a garden. The result was this poem called A Girl's Garden, written in 1916.
A Girl's Garden
A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.
One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, 'Why not?'
In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, 'Just it.'
And he said, 'That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm.'
It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don't mind now.
She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,
And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.
A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.
And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.
Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.
Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, 'I know!
'It's as when I was a farmer...'
Oh, never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.
Grow That Garden Library
Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman
The subtitle to this book is: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat.
This book came out a year ago, released in January of 2019 by Jonathan Kauffman. It was well-received and was a 2019 James Beard Award nominee.
I think what gardeners will enjoy about this book is that Jonathan is a food writer and an impeccable researcher. his topic hippie food covers the origins of Staples like sprouts, yogurt, tofu, brown rice, and whole-grain bread. How did these Foods get introduced and become so ubiquitous in our diets?
Here's a quick excerpt for you:
“For those of you who didn't grow up eating lentil-and-brown-rice casseroles, it may be hard to recognize what came to be called “hippie food.” That's because so many of the ingredients that the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s adopted, defying the suspicion and disgust of the rest of the country, have become foods many of us eat every day.
The organic chard you bought at Kroger last week? In the early 70s, farming organically was considered a delusional act. “
Jonathan's writing has been compared to a mix of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan. his book is a glimpse into our lives today, and gardeners will appreciate the influence of gardens on our modern-day tables.
You can get a used copy of Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for under $6.
Great Gifts for Gardeners
LOVENJOY Vintage Floral Fabric Cotton Bunting $8.19
This lovely floral banner is made of white cotton fabric and has many miniature flowers in a pink, purple, and light green embellished with stems and leaves, and a sense of warmth and elegance exudes from every little detail and makes the party more fabulous and delightful. It is double-sided so that both sides can be displayed;
Today’s Botanic Spark
2005 Today is the anniversary of the death of the founder of Home Orchard Society, Larry L. McGraw. His obituary stated that pomology was his passion for more than 50 years.
Pomology is the science of growing fruit. In an effort to preserve fruit trees in the Northwest, Larry began collecting scion wood specimens in his twenties. He founded the Northwest Fruit Explorers, which was an organization that acted as a clearinghouse for fruit information and fruit growers in the Northwest.
During his retirement, Larry worked as a horticulturist for the Oregon Historical Society. One day, Larry discovered an envelope that contained apple seeds that were a hundred years old. The letter inside the envelope referenced Marcus Whitman and his orchard.
Marcus Whitman was a doctor who led a group of settlers West to Washington State by Wagon Train. His wife was named Narcissa, and she was very bright, a teacher of physics and chemistry. Marcus and Narcissa were part of a group of missionaries. They settled in an area now known as Walla Walla, Washington, and apparently had an orchard.
Beyond that, their time in Washington was not fruitful. They attempted to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity but were unsuccessful mainly because they didn’t bother to get to know or understand them. Their only daughter drowned when she was two years old. Narcissa’s eyesight began to fail.
When the Indians came down with measles, they blamed the settlers; specifically blaming Marcus since he was the town doctor. After almost all of the Indian children died, the surviving Indians launched an attack on the settlers and killed Marcus and Narcissa in their home on November 29, 1847. The event became known as the Whitman Massacre.
The seeds that Larry found were one of the last pieces of the Whitman legacy. Larry's attempts to germinate the Whitman apple seeds were unsuccessful.
However, Larry did successfully obtain apple trees from Russia for his Portland Orchard. By 1973, Larry had over 300 varieties of apples growing in his garden. Two years later, in May of 1975, Larry hosted a meeting with a group of other orchard growers. It was the official first meeting of the Home Orchard Society.
During his lifetime, Larry taught thousands of people how to prune and graft fruit trees. During his 50 years of researching apples, Larry estimated that he had come across over 2,000 different apple varieties from all over the world.