The garden, Me and Professor Fred

So much for Spring Break.  I have been exchanging emails with Professor Fred regarding my term paper.  Fred is attending a conference, so we have been playing tag, but after several attempts, I have developed a working thesis (position) which will address the nexus (place where something overlaps with something else) of the evolution of plants in the garden and garden design.  My paper will focus on Europe 1400-1700 or thereabouts.  That is, western Europe, which means mostly England, Italy, the Benelux countries with a bit of Germany and France.  Really, it is more of an English-Italian-Dutch connection (they were nuts about gardens) than anything else, with few exceptions. For example, although Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Iceland as well as the Scandinavian countries can be classified as in Western Europe, I won’t include them.  (Since the fall of the wall in 1989, no one seems to know where Western Europe is located anyway).  From this you can see why it took me and Professor Fred a while to work out the logistics of the paper.

I used to write papers blindly, “hoping” the professor would like what I wrote.  After a forty years and a few ego bruises, I learned my lesson.  Now, I ask questions.  In fact, I drive my teachers crazy with questions.  Some of them like to be asked questions, but even the most enthusiastic professor can be worn down after a while.  I feel a bit sorry for them until I realize, this is why they get paid the big bucks. ;~))  I am happy with the work I have done in Fred’s class so far. He’s very responsive and does not seem inclined to follow one ideology or another, to me the sign of a great teacher.

I ♥ gardens and gardening, and have seldom seen a garden book I didn’t want to possess.  If I end up in the poor house, you will know why.  My gardening book and magazine library is full of ‘stuff’, even though I purged it recently. I have felt since I began this history program I would like to write about gardens and garden history, but until now have not had the chance.  The closest I came was a paper I wrote two years ago on Kohler WI, one of the “new towns” of the nineteenth century.  The grounds at Kohler were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the fellow who designed Central Park in NYC and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in NC.

Gardens are not my only interest.  A week or so ago, we were discussing the differences between natural history and science and in response to a statement I made in class about strychnine being derived from plants via a human processes and therefore more science than not, while arsenic is a natural substance (Arsenic is a metal atomic weight 33), one of my classmates claimed almonds were the source of strychnine.  Duh?? Sometimes I think these guys are half asleep.   A second classmate agreed.  They sounded so authoritative, I said nothing.

When I got home I used my garden books to uncover the truth which is that strychnine comes from a South American plant and was not known in Europe until after the SR had begun.  The plant  is the source of the curare used to stun fish.  Apparently, it takes a huge dose of the stuff to kill a human.  Also, it is not found in the almonds we eat. (This is important to me because my parrots love almonds.)  The European almond contains cyanide in its kernel, as do other members of the apple-rose family.  Cyan is the source of a blue dye, although not as good a source of blue dye as indigo.  The almond we eat is the Jordan almond, and it is perfectly safe.

I knew apple seeds were poisonous, at least to parrots who have smaller bodies than we do.  I figure the wicked stepmother found a way to concentrate the cyanide in the apple she gave Snow White.  Have you ever wondered about the significance in myths and fairy tales of women eating seeds?  I can think of Persephone and Snow White to begin with, but I am sure there are more (Friko probably knows).  If I ever find out what is behind these stories, I will let you know.

After the terrible rain storms earlier this week, the sun finally came out, although it is chilly today.  Another of my four granddaughters is helping me with garden chores this weekend.  Today, we are emptying the dead plants and old soil from some pots, and refilling  them. The rest we will top up with 2-3″ of soil.  The newly refurbished pots will be replanted in April.  Ferns, Hosta, mints and other herbs grow in several of the pots, and they come back year after year whether you want them or not.  I also have several pots with Clematis vines that come back year after year.

I ordered my annuals for the hanging pots in January, when it was cold and dismal outside. Nothing like a garden catalog to cheer you up or wish you owned a forty acre spread, at least until you get outside and do some actual work.

The perennial beds in the gardens are okay after all these years, we just top them up  with compost and let them grow (we have six compost bins).  My garden earth is very black after all these seasons.

I ordered some dahlia bulbs that will produce 4-5 foot plants, for the front corner bed near the street and driveway.  Dahlias come from Mexico, and love the heat we are sure to get in July and August.  I will be in class in July, but with daylight savings and an earlier class, the dahlias can greet me in the corner of the yard where I have turned lemons into lemonade..sort of.  I always make sure something is blooming there.  One year I filled the corner with hollyhocks and Echinacea and came home to a flock of Goldfinches chomping away on seed heads.  I still have Echinacea but as they are mostly white, I need color, hence the dahlias.

Enough of this dreaming while my granddaughter works her buns off.  She says it builds character, and I say she’s quite a character.

8 thoughts on “The garden, Me and Professor Fred

  1. Absolutely fascinating stuff. Ruthe, of Studio Ruthe has been doing research about Japanese gardens and writing about them….you two should connect. Thank you for reminding me that I need to go water Lee’s bonsai.


  2. Hah, a gardener after my own heart, full of enthusiasm, lots of knowledge and willing to work. The compost bins impressed me most of all. i thought I was the only nutter who can’t stop singing the praises of her compost bins. I have three large wooden ones, several useless plastic ones (it’s difficult to turn them), some large builders’ material ones and another large wire cage plus bags for making leaf-mould.

    Don’t you divide the herbaceous perennials? I divide mine every few years, some every year or two, in order to keep them strong and healthy. The hard, middle bits get thrown away, some of the outside bits are replanted and some given away to other gardeners.

    No, I don’t know how many tales there are where seeds come into the equation, but it’s an interesting point, I might think about it or look it up.


  3. I can see that I will have to write a blog entry on compost bins. I promise to do it soon. Meanwhile, it is back to the books.
    The best advice I can give regarding compost bins is don’t put green grass in them, green grass clippings makes them stink. Some people add compost in layers, like a Dagwood sandwich…brown, green etc. But I keep the grass out of my bins. If the grass has dried out and turned brown it can be added, otherwise no. Also, food scraps are iffy. Do not add animal waste products, with the exception of egg shells. Good compost is the best thing you can do for your garden.


  4. You are an inspiration. Intense study; paper writing — probably publishable, too; gardening; having such an industrious granddaughter; and to top it all off, 6 compost bins. Is the photo from your garden? Would you consider sharing a photo of your compost bins? Goofy question I know, but curious about how experienced gardeners do their thing.


  5. I find that interesting about the link to reality behind Snow White’s apple.
    I share your love of gardening and envy your compost. I know, all I have to do is start my own pile.
    I am more of a veggie gardener and am this year planting veggies in my hanging baskets instead of flowers. This is in addition to my raised beds. Just an experiment.
    Does your granddaughter hire out?


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