Most of us know Laura Ingalls Wilder as the author of The Little House series. But now a wonderful new book by NYBG instructor and garden historian Marta McDowell reveals little-known facts about Wilder’s other life—as a settler, farmer, and gardener.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wilder’s birth. Her life began in 1867 in a Wisconsin log cabin, a frontier baby whose pioneer parents had cleared a forest to make a farm—“the quintessential American beginning,” says McDowell. McDowell traces Wilder’s upbringing and adulthood in the first part of the book—several chapters follow her from Wisconsin, to Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, and other places where Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane (her prairie rose), ultimately lived.
The Orchid Show: Thailand features a genus of lady’s slipper orchids native to Eastern Asia known as Paphiopedilum. The Latin name has a beautiful background story relating to the birth of Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and fertility.
According to ancient Greek myth, Aphrodite was born out of the sea, and landed at the site of Paphos on the island of Cyprus. A great temple was built in her honor at Paphos (and ruins remain there today). This orchid’s shape and beauty would have made it a suitable slipper for the goddess of love; hence it was named Paphiopedilum (Paphio- for the city of Paphos, –pedilum from the Ancient Greek word pedilon, meaning slipper).
Cypripedium is a genus of lady’s slipper orchid native to most of the Northern Hemisphere, and it also happens to have a name inspired by the popular Aphrodite (Cypri– because Aphrodite was the Lady of Cyprus). Another common genus of lady’s slipper orchid, native to Mexico and South America, has a much more scientifically derived Latin name: Phragmipedium (Phragma is Greek for “division,” i.e. the ovary is divided into three).
Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills, New Jersey, offers a refreshing escape from city life to a wonderful country estate. Located less than an hour from New York City, the gardens sit on 28 acres and have been open to the public only in the last four years. They continue to be restored and developed by a small but dedicated staff and many volunteers, all led by generations of the Blanchard family who purchased the property as their country home in 1949.
Upon arrival, a striking allée of tall Norway spruce and London plane trees flank either side of the entrance road up the hill to the main house and gardens. These artistically planted trees were selected by Peter P. Blanchard Jr. and his wife Adelaide Frick Blanchard in the early 1950s, and they were very carefully nurtured by their young son Peter P. Blanchard III.
Today he is the founder of Greenwood as a public garden, and serves as the President of the Board of Trustees. Blanchard is an ardent naturalist and author of We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam (UPNE, $29.95), available in the NYBG Shop. He recently wrote a book that offers his personal insights from growing up at Greenwood, called Greenwood: A Garden Path to Nature and the Past ($20, available online). On an early November visit to the garden, I was lucky to meet him and to get a guided tour.
Considered one of the best examples of a classic Italian Renaissance garden in America, Wethersfield Garden was originally just 1,200 acres of sloping hills, woods, and pastureland in Amenia, New York. The late Chauncey Devereux Stillman (1907–1989), a long-time supporter of NYBG, visited the area on a fox hunt in 1937 and promptly purchased the land.
Educated at Harvard (Class of 1929), Stillman was heir to a family fortune in banking. He became an accomplished equestrian and garden enthusiast, eventually joining the NYBG Board of Trustees in 1946 after a stint in the Navy during World War II as an air combat intelligence officer. According to NYBG Research Librarian Samantha D’Acunto, records show that he served on the board in various roles for more than two decades, until June 1967.
Although he had an advanced architecture degree from Columbia, Stillman wasn’t a practicing architect. One year after he joined the NYBG board, he went to work as a civilian for the federal government’s newly created Defense Department under Secretary James Forrestal and soon was moved to work at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he stayed until 1951—doing exactly what, we don’t know.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal examined an obscure and surprising piece of New York’s botanical history that began right here at NYBG nearly 80 years ago—the Bronx Seedless table grape, a species of the common fruit hybridized in the 1930s by one of NYBG’s most prolific scientists, Dr. Arlow B. Stout. Sophia Hollander interviewed Stephen Sinon, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Head of Special Collections, Research, and Archives, to learn more about this obscure grape species and the enormous impact it had before fading into obscurity—and near extinction.
In addition to his groundbreaking research into avocado plants and hybridizing many new daylily species that continue to delight visitors to the Garden each summer, Dr. Stout partnered with Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Stationto make a better grape. Seedless, tasty, and hardy, the end result of “more than 20 years tinkering with grape genetics” was the Bronx grape, named for its home borough. Cultivation of this species faded over time. While not successful as a commercial crop, all seedless grapes that we enjoy today are descended from this Bronx native, the result of NYBG’s commitment to plant science and conservation that continues to be one of our core values.
Now, from the brink of disappearing altogether, this species is being rediscovered as a source of local pride and historic interest. Click here to read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) and learn about Dr. Stout’s remarkable life. NYBG has always endeavored to teach people about where their food comes from—sometimes the answer is closer than you think!
If Marta McDowell’s last book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, was a stroll down the memory lane of childhood whimsy, her latest book, All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America, feels like a journey into the secret, lesser-known world of political plantscapes that shaped foreign policy and inspired American lifestyles.
Although one might think Presidential garden history would be a bit dry, I can assure you it is not—in fact, I read the entire book in one evening. It is Marta’s “voice” that creates a sense of fascination within the reader. Her wit and insight shines through as she describes the White House Gardens, sometimes utilitarian and spare, and other times lush and extravagant. (In fact, Marta, could you go back in time and rewrite all my high-school and college history books?)
Each day this week we’re celebrating the past 125 years of The New York Botanical Garden with a different story from one of our many visitors, young and old—whether it’s an unforgettable day recently spent exploring our 250 acres or a treasured family memory that makes the Garden special. In honor of Arbor Day, today’s featured memory comes from a longtime member—and Adult Education student—who made a fond and lasting memory beneath one of our own trees.
Each day this week we’re celebrating the past 125 years of The New York Botanical Garden with a different story from one of our many visitors, young and old—whether it’s an unforgettable day recently spent exploring our 250 acres or a treasured family memory that makes the Garden special. And today’s story happens to fall on our actual anniversary—April 28! On this day in 1891, 125 years ago, the Garden was officially created by New York.
Each day this week we’ll be celebrating the past 125 years of The New York Botanical Garden with a different story from one of our many visitors, young and old—whether it’s an unforgettable day recently spent exploring our 250 acres or a treasured family memory that makes the Garden special. It all leads up to the Garden’s official anniversary this Thursday, April 28!
Each day this week we’ll be celebrating the past 125 years of The New York Botanical Garden with a different story from one of our visitors—whether it’s a perfect day recently spent exploring our 250 acres or a treasured family memory that makes the Garden special. It all leads up to our official anniversary on Thursday, April 28!