May 29, 2019
Do you have a little sun trap in your garden?
The perfect spot for an afternoon of lounging while reading your favorite book?
The definition of the sun trap is a small partially-enclosed outdoor space that receives a disproportionate amount of sunlight due to favorable conditions. Think of south-facing areas of your garden, areas without light-blocking trees, areas that are sheltered from the wind, and positioned to receive ample sunshine.
#OTD On this day, on May 29, 1942, the actor John Barrymore died.
(Barrymore's granddaughter is actress Drew Barrymore.)
When Barrymore was 35 years old and on the verge of stardom, he rented a quiet space in the Greenwich Village from a wealthy widow named Juliette Nicholls.
His flat was on the top floor of a Greek revival townhouse.
When Nicholls left for a while to go to Europe, Barrymore wrote to her to ask if he could take some liberties with the roof.
In his letter he said,
“I’d like to build a little stairway to it and place a few plants there, with perhaps a small pavilion in which I could sit when the locust blossoms come to the courtyard ... It would be like living in Paris in the twelfth century.”
When he hired a contractor to do the work, Barrymore insisted that no measuring tools be used.
“I want everything crooked or off-center, like a Nuremberg poet’s home. Just guess your way along, old, man, as we all do about most things.”
He called the little shed with the porch, "New York's First Penthouse," and it still stands today.
He decided to add a full garden to the rooftop. He hauled up over 35 tons of long island topsoil In burlap bags no less. Then, he went to work, adding 8-foot Cedars, Cherry trees, and Wisteria's - not to mention the beehives. There was a flagstone path and hedges around the perimeter of the roof.
When Nicholls returned from her trip, you can imagine her surprise at finding John Barrymore lounging in his rooftop garden; sitting serenely by an Asian reflecting pool.... feeding the birds.
#OTD It's the death day of Joyce Winifred Vickery (15 December 1908 – 29 May 1979)
An Australian, Vickery was a botanist who became famous for her work in forensic botany.
In 1960, Australia was right in the middle of building the infamous Sydney Opera House. To pay for the construction, Australia held a lottery.
Bazil Thorne spent 3 pounds - a quarter of his paycheck - and purchased a winning ticket; he won 100,000 pounds. Tragically, after his win, his eight-year-old son Graeme was kidnapped and brutally murdered - a crime that stunned the country.
Ultimately, botanist Joyce Vickery helped police solve the Graeme Thorn kidnapping. She had been tasked with identifying two plant particles from the boy's clothing. Vickery recognized them as pieces from common garden plants and not plants that were not found in the area of scrub where his body had been found.
Apart from the Graeme Thorn case, Vickery had "accumulated an unrivaled field knowledge of grass species.
Here's a poem called I am going to sleep by Latin American poet and feminist Alfonsina Storni, born today in 1892.
Storni was known as one of Argentina's most respected poets.
In 1916, she titled her first series of essays, The Restlessness of the Rosebush.
In 1935, Alfonsina was vacationing in Uruguay when she discovered a lump in her left breast. Following a mastectomy, Storni resumed her work with renewed energy and determination. But by 1938, Storni confided in her closest friends that her cancer has returned.
Storni sent I am going to sleep, her poignant final poem which she sent to the La Nación newspaper before drowning herself in the sea in 1938.
I am Going to Sleep
Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,
hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,
prepare the earthly sheets for me
and the down quilt of weeded moss.
I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Set a lamp at my headboard;
a constellation; whatever you like;
all are good: lower it a bit.
Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .
a celestial foot rocks you from above
and a bird traces a pattern for you
so you'll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:
if he telephones again
tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .
Today's book recommendation: A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler
When Penelope Hobhouse reviewed this book, she said, "Like no other writer, Osler captures the pure enchantment of gardening."
In this book, Osler wrote,
"Garden concepts are threaded through centuries: we pull on them as on a string, not knowing from where our inspiration germinated, only that we each gather up different threads to form whatever pleases us."
Today's Garden Chore
Stack up those annual flower seed packets like planes on a runway.
Just as with vegetables, single sowing of flowers won't take you from early-season to late fall. That's why successively sowing your flowers is so important.
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
#OTD It's the anniversary of the wedding of the botanist power couple Townshend Brandegee and Kate Curran, married on this day in 1889.
Townshend had found Kate Curran working as the curator during his first trip to California to visit the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
They were both exceptionally bright, enthusiastic about botany and the natural world, and they were both quite accomplished. In their early 40s, their friends were surprised when they arrived to discover a quiet wedding for Townshend and Kate in San Diego.
Their honeymoon was a 500-mile nature walk - collecting plant specimens - from San Diego to San Francisco.
Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."