A book bargain

Ahhhh… the wonders of the Web.
A very beautiful book on orchids published in 1838, "Sertum Orchidaceum: A Wreath of the Most Beautiful Orchidaceous Flowers", can now be viewed online, in its entirety. According to a seller of rare books, Donald A. Heald,
"This beautiful work was published in 10 issues for about 100 wealthy subscribers; it was so often split up for framing that few intact copies survive."
If you’d prefer to read and appreciate the beautiful lithographs from the real thing as opposed to online, Heald’s Web site offers the book for sale for $49,500 USD.

Continue reading “A book bargain”

Book opened orchid-growing to the world

Before there was an Orchid Thief, there was Rebecca T. Northen.

Northen, whose 1950 book “Home Orchid Growing” is still the bible for growers — amateur and professional alike — did for orchids what Julia Child did for French cooking, said one orchid lover. Her greenhouse still contained hundreds of orchids when she died April 30 at age 93 in Des Moines.

“She demystified this thing that was previously the purview of the rich doctors and the wealthy”

I have this book. The first book I ever bought on orchids, long before I ever got into the hobby in any serious way. It contains a lot of good advice but has few pictures, so for a rank beginner it was hard to visualize what she was trying to describe. But, it was the first book of its kind, and my introduction to orchids.

RIP, Rebecca.

Garden Reads…

Quiet evenings in hotel rooms are perfect opportunities for doing some reading, and I took advantage of it. Lately, I’ve been interested in garden history, and I picked up biographies of two of the great names in garden-lore: Reginald Farrer, and the Veitch family dynasty while I was in Montreal.

The first, “A Rage for Rock Gardening” by Nicola Shulman, is a small book and a  quick and entertaining read on the short life of Farrer. Farrer was an eccentric and impossibly egotistical Edwardian fellow, who would have been right at home in a scene from Brideshead Revisited. In spite of eccentricities, disabilities, and exasperated parents, he was a great adventurer and made several stunning discoveries on his world travels.

The second, which I’m still reading, is “Seeds of Fortune” by Sue Shephard. It’s an epic story about five generations of the great Veitch family of England. The Veitch name lives on in the botanical names of countless of their plant discoveries, and they were key figures in the early years of the Royal Horticultural Society and the renowned Chelsea Flower Show. The book starts in 1768 with a young and ambitious Scotsman, and takes us through to the family’s fate and the downfall of their nursery dynasty in the 20th century. It takes us back to the days of England’s great gardens, and to a time when plant-collecting in unexplored foreign realms was dangerous work that claimed many lives and great fortunes.

My summer holidays — and — I saw my teacher on tv

Growing season is in full swing and it’s hard to sit indoors in front of computer when I could be outdoors playing in the dirt. So goes my rationale for the long delay in posting.

I spent two glorious weeks at a cottage on 35 acres just outside of Minden, Ontario (just south of Algonquin Park). No TV, no radio, no computer — but what it lacked in technology it more than made up for with perks that were good for my soul: Privacy, silence, a working woodstove, cool nights and hot days, fireflies, stars, the smell of fresh-cut hay, a happy dog splashing after his frisbee in the pond, bullfrogs, friendly neighbours, bold hummingbirds, good company, and lazy afternoons watching clouds drift by. And bugs. Teeth with wings, actually. More than once poor Jake returned dripping from the pond with a frisbee hanging out of his mouth and his muzzle covered in deerflies and blood. Thanks to Jake’s frozen border collie crouch, he became known to bloodsucking creatures as “fast food on four legs”. When the bugs needed more of a challenge, they came after me. The little tubes of “AfterBite” were woefully inadequate to head off the evening itchfests. Something along the size of a roll-on antiperspirant would have been better suited for the task.

I spent my days reading, one of them The Story of Gardening by famed British garden expert Penelope Hobhouse. Written in a plummy and haughty upper class voice, it was tough going, but enough to eventually drive me out of my comfortable chair to do some guerrilla gardening of my own. No self-respecting gardener can sit for very long reading about something they’d much rather be doing. So, I dug up some iris’ from around the edge of a huge patch of bulbs in the lawn (survivors of some long-abandoned garden, no doubt), and replanted them in a small bed along the side of the house. Then I edged the bed, and and managed to liberate a patchwork stone border from the encroaching grass. A hot day in July is of course not the best time to transplant perennials, but Gary the lawn mower guy would have sliced them off to oblivion anyway. Mother Nature co-operated with a good solid rain shower later that night. I was too late to rescue some blooming peonies from our friendly neighbour Ian the farmer and his tractor on the day the hay was cut.

Wildflowers were just coming into their peak during my stay, and I was sorely tempted to collect the buds of St. John’s Wort to make into a tincture. Tinctures are simple to make, requiring no more than a sterilized baby food jar, some vodka, plant material, and time. I hesitated only because I was extraordinarly lazy, and couldn’t rouse myself to find a suitable bottle – neither empty, nor full of vodka.

I learned about healing herbs several years ago through a series of workshops with Heather Bakazias of the Northern Light Centre in Singhampton, Ontario (near Collingwood). After learning from Heather how to identify and use healing herbs, I had a near-religious conversion over ordinary weeds, seeing them in an entirely new light. As a matter of fact, before taking my first workshop I had been toying with the idea of sneaking into my neighbour’s yard and yanking out a weed that was growing on their side of the fence. I’m sure they thought I was insane when I returned home from a workshop and prattled on excitedly about this weed and how it was St. John’s Wort and how much tinctures cost and how you could make it yourself and for heaven’s sake don’t pull that it’s not a weed!!!!

Anyway, I was delighted when I turned on the TV one night recently to see Heather sharing her wisdom, knowledge and warmth on an episode of “Recreating Eden” on Home and Garden Television. She is a magnificent lady and her gardens definitely meet my criteria for heaven on earth.