Today we celebrate a man who wrote the book on growing and selling orchids.
We'll also learn about a very special Arbor Day to honor Luther Burbank.
We hear a touching excerpt about the final days of an incredible gardener, teacher, and friend.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about the beautiful flowers of Japan.
And then we’ll wrap things up with a sweet little advertisement about the Gladiolus and Dahlias - two beautiful flowers that most gardeners are ordering and shopping for this month (if they haven’t already).
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March 4, 1847
Today is the birthday of the German-English orchidologist and nurseryman Henry Frederick Conrad Sander.
As a young man of 20 years old, Conrad met the Czech plant collector Benedict Roezl. Benedict’s heart lay in exploration and acquisition; he did not enjoy the marketing and sales aspects of plant hunting. Instead, these skills were Conrad’s strengths. The two men struck up a business plan that left Benedict free to explore and collect and Conrad to sell, sell, sell.
Conrad set up shop in St. Albans, and Benedict was soon sending shipments of orchids from Central and South America.
Benedict collected for Sander for 40 years. Even though Benedict was 6'2" tall and had that imposing iron hook for a hand, Benedict was robbed 17 times and, once, even attacked by a jaguar during his collecting days.
After his quick success with Benedict, Conrad expanded his operations. Soon Conrad was managing inventory from over twenty collectors, growing orchids in over sixty greenhouses, and entertaining visitors that included Europe’s top collectors and even royalty. As a result of his business success acquiring, breeding, and selling orchids, Conrad became known as the King of Orchids.
Leveraging his incredible expertise, Conrad wrote a masterpiece in two volumes on every variety of orchid. The book was folio-sized, with text in three languages - English, French, and German - and the botanical drawing of orchids were life-sized. As a sign of great respect, Conrad named his book Reichenbachia in honor of the legendary orchidologist Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach. Reichenbach had named more orchids than any other person, and in his will, he asked that his herbarium be closed for 25 years to protect his work with orchids from his competitors.
In turn, in 1882, Heinrich honored Sanders by naming the “Queen of Philippine Orchids” after Sanders - naming it the Vanda Sanderiana, which the locals called the waling-waling orchid. The waling-waling is considered one of the rarest, most beautiful, and most expensive orchid, and it is also one of the largest species of orchids in the world.
Orchids are some of the world’s oldest flowering plants, producing the world’s tiniest seeds. A single Orchid seedpod can contain three million seeds! Orchids are also the largest family of flowering plants in the world. With over 25,000 species, Orchids represent about ten percent of all plant species on earth, and there are more orchids on earth than mammals and birds!
Now, once they are germinated, Orchids can take five to seven years to produce a flower. And if you look at the orchid bloom closely, you’ll see that the blossom, like the human face, is perfectly symmetrical, which only adds to their visual beauty. And, by the time you are buying that Orchid at Trader Joe’s, it is likely already decades old. But never fear, Orchids are long-lived and can reach their 100th birthday.
The vastness and complexity of orchids can be frustrating. Charles Darwin grew so discouraged writing his book about orchids that he wrote to a friend,
“I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”
March 4, 1949
On this day, the Santa Cruz Sentinel
out of Santa Cruz, California, published a lovely story about the upcoming Arbor Day
The story featured a wonderful photo of a tree being pruned with the caption,
“Santa Rosa Citizens To Plant Trees In Commemoration Of Birth Of Famed Luther Burbank: Nurseryman Joe Badger, who in his youth used to steal fruit from Luther Burbank's trees, prunes a flowering plum tree as Burbank's widow looks on. On Arbor Day, which this year will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great horticulturist, this tree will be planted in Mrs. Burbank's garden at Santa Rosa, Calif, near the spot where her husband is buried. ”
Burbank’s widow said,
“No, there will be no wreath-laying on Luther Burbank's grave... Laying a wreath is only a ceremony... It doesn't make things grow." she said.
Instead, she and Nurseryman Joe Badger, who as a youngster stole plums from the Burbank experimental gardens, will plant a flowering plum tree adjoining the Redwood highway, where passersby can enjoy it.
"That is the way he would have wanted it without ceremony. Mr. Burbank never liked fanfare. His interest was in things alive like a tree or a plant or a flower. Or a group of school children coming to sing to him on his birthday."
The flowering plum was developed by her husband. He gained world fame with his Burbank potato, his spineless cactus, and many other horticultural achievements.
Her husband now lies buried under a huge Cedar of Lebanon tree in a simple unmarked grave. Beside him lies his white mongrel dog, Bonita, who was his constant companion until Burbank died in 1926.
Burbank requested that no marking be placed above his burial place. Instead, he was buried beneath his Cedar of Lebanon. He, himself, had planted the seed sent by a friend in Palestine.
He had said,
"When I go, don't raise a monument to me; plant a tree,"
We were not to live and practice with Alan Chadwick again until eight years later, when he returned to Green Gulch at the end of his life. Despite the unrelenting grip of his illness, Alan continued to rage against the dying of the light. He announced with dignity, “I intend to be in the garden tomorrow.” “We will welcome you,” I murmured…
Alan never made it to the garden. Instead, we brought the garden to him. I cut armloads of fresh flowers for him every few days, winter jonquils and Korean lilac, wind-blown anemones and stiff Coral Quince that Alan recognized from his original gardens at Green Gulch, and a single blood-red poppy grown from seed gathered from the World War II battlefields of Flanders. During these months, the garden itself upwelled with a rare treasure trove of bloom, and Allen drank long draughts from the bottomless pool of flowers.
— Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, Chapter 1: Valley of the Ancestors
Grow That Garden Library
Flora Japonica by Masumi Yamanaka
This book came out in 2017, and Masumi is an award-winning botanical artist based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
In this book, Masumi begins by revealing the history of Japanese botanical illustration with a lovely overview of the influential botanist and illustrator Tomitaro Makino's work.
Next, Masumi shares beautiful artwork that showcases the indigenous plants of Japan. Flora Japonica showcases eighty specially-commissioned paintings from thirty-six of Japan’s best modern botanical artists. Daily Gardeners will love that each painting also shares detailed information about the plant’s habitat and history, as well as a botanical description.
This book is 240 pages of botanical art that highlights Japan’s glorious and incomparable flora.
You can get a copy of Flora Japonica by M…
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
March 4, 1956
It was on this day that the Chicago Tribune ran two advertisements for Gladiolus and Dahlias by R. H. Shumway.
The Gladiolus were being sold as a rainbow mixture. 50 bulbs cost $1.00, 100 bulbs cost $1.75 and 200 bulbs cost $3.25.
The Dahlias were the New Giant variety, and two bulbs cost 25 cents, and that also covered the cost of postage.
Right about now is the perfect time to order Gladiolus and Dahlias.
Gladiolus are the official flower of August. Gladiolus's etymology is Latin and means “little sword” in reference to the shape of the flowers. The corms have been used medicinally to help extract slivers or thorns. In cold climates, once you plant your gladiolus and enjoy their blooms in late summer, you can dig the bulbs up in the fall and store them until you can plant them again in the spring.
And I’ll never forget what my friend Joel Karsten, the author of Straw Bale Gardening, told me about how easy it is to plant gladiolus in conditioned straw bales. Once the flowers are done blooming in the fall, you just kick the bale over, and all the corms fall out for easy gathering.
As for the beautiful Dahlia, it was originally grown as a food crop. It turns out the tubers are edible and taste a little like other root vegetables: the potato and the carrot. The Dahlia is named to honor the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl. Dahlias are in the same family as Common Daisies and Sunflowers. Dahlias come in all shapes and sizes, and some are as large as dinner plates.
And, here’s a little fun fact about the Dahlia: it’s the official flower of the city of destiny and goodwill: Seattle.
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