7 October 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Plant collectors — Plant collectors are different from all other gardeners, for they choose impulsively in the nursery, in the catalog — online or in print, in their friends gardens, in the wild (which they should never do); in short, anywhere they can. They take seeds, cuttings or the whole plant, whichever suits them.
Book collectors — Bibliophiles share these persistent traits as they prowl estate sales, secondhand bookstores, online and on the street. They even buy new books, rarely waiting for the public library to procure the object of interest. Unfortunately, this is true of me, having bought and read a fascinating gardening book: "The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession," by Andrea Wulf, illustrated with black line-drawings and colored plates at 354 pages published in the U.S. April 3, 2009, by Alfred A. Knopf for $35. Disclaimer: regardless of my critique let me say, that I recommend you add this to your personal library.
By her own account Ms. Wulf, a German-born journalist developed a taste for gardening only after moving to England, so her gardening pedigree is recent and adopted, especially after finding that conversation in England becomes fervid and inclusive when horticultural.
Book reviews — This book has not been reviewed by any Virginia gardeners that I have read, for if it had, they might have studied the accounts of plant gathering more closely, finding puzzling interpretations of direction and terrain in Virginia but it does not detract from the book. It does make me wonder, however, if there are any other missteps.
A book for plant collectors — The "The Brother Gardeners" was originally published April 2008 in England with its gardeners the intended audience, though portions of it originally appeared in Early American Life. The magazine serialization explains the books choppy flow. I call it a dipping book. The reader can easily dip into a chapter or section without harming continuity.
Each chapters notes, the glossary too, conveniently satisfy questions about each plants geographical origins, for these origins reveal more about cultural preferences (light, soil, drainage, climate) than books or catalogs and that, in itself aids successful cultivation.
It is heartening and amusing to read of those plants we take for granted, being so exotic to the English gardener. The common Thuja Occidentalis, our Eastern Arborvitae — treasured exotic, the mountain laurel too! This horticultural history of 18th century English gardens extends to the South Seas with the 2-year voyage of the HMS Endeavour commanded by James Cook on his first voyage of discovery from 1769 to 1771. Gardeners can agree that the plants and not Cook were the more important feature of that perilous journey.
Wulfs searching is thorough but her gardening is weak, a forgivable trait since she amuses the American reader with the notion that our commonplace trees and shrubs were highly prized by the English. What were they growing on that green graced island before the fiery tupelo or sugar maple arrived? To think that the tulip poplar like many on my property were highly prized by social climbing English aristocrats. For the dark days of winter, take this amusing book to a bright spot and enjoy.
Tip of the Week
Since October 2007 Finnish researchers have studied the use of human urine from healthy, drug-free persons as a tomato and cabbage fertilizer. On August 2009 published findings in the online Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry showed improved production when wood ash is added to the mix. Spray soil at a 10:1 ratio of water to urine; incorporate wood ash to soil at a 1:10 ratio.