In the dead of a winter night, I dreamt of a green, sun-filled garden, filled with the thick fat leaves of a jade plant, the feathery tendrils of ferns. I stood in a glassed-walled room, misty with gauzy air, as many dreams are wont to be. Before me, on the other side of the glass, lay a good acre of greenery, framed by purple bougainvillea, flowers tumbling over a white picket fence, the white matching the room where I sighed over that mythical garden.
Morning came, as it usually does. And as I looked out the windows, real windows this time, not those of my dreamscape, I saw the first snowfall of winter. I felt not happiness at the sight, but rather deep sorrow. To be truthful, the thought of that cold whiteness nearly brought me to tears, not because the pristine whiteness was not beautiful, for it was. The wave of sadness that washed over me came from the knowing that I would not see a green leaf outside my door for months to come.
At that moment, I knew that I must somehow create a garden, a thing of beauty, something to remind me of the cycle of life, its impermanence. Especially at this time in history, I simply needed something like the glorious rhapsody hidden in soul-searing music. Only in this case, because my musical skill would send anyone running for the door, the rhapsody would be in the form of of trees, of flowers, of fruits, and of vegetables. I’d already embarked on the writing of a work permeated with the lore and practicalities of healing plants.
That’s why, for some time to come, books and comments about gardens, their history and their care, shall take precedence on this blog. Entries shall be short, however, making things easier to read and research.
So let us begin.
I’m a Florida girl at heart, not native but close enough, so the name of William Bartram cropped up from time to time as I came to know this place, where cycads thrive, just as they covered the earth when dinosaurs meandered through the emerging landscape..
He explored the Southest of the United States between 1773 and 1776, including parts of Florida best known to me, the areas delineated by the St. John’s River and the savannah now called Payne’s Prairie. It is no wonder that William Bartram set out from his comfortable home in Pennsylvania to seek new plant species. According to Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners (2009), Bartram’s father, John Bartram,was in large part responsible for the appearance of the modern English garden. New World plants sailed in the 18th century from the elder Bartram’s Pennsylvania farm to the hands of an Englishman, a botanist by the name of Peter Collinson, who also happened to be a Quaker. A member of the Royal Society, Collinson developed an obsessive desire for the flowers, trees, and shrubs of the New World. He corresponded with many of the men who influenced the early political history of the United States. They, too, developed sensational gardens, bringing plants from Asia, Africa, and the tropics of America to their estates and homes in the colonies. By the way, Ms. Wulf covers this phenomenon in another of her books, The Founding Gardeners (2011).
With the irony of history, or its puckishness if you will, William Bartram’s account of his journey, Travels, found a wider and more appreciative audience in Europe than in his homeland.
Reading of these historical figures confirms my thoughts about the dispersion of more than just plants. Many paths, many players, many changes took part in creating the plants we take for granted in our world.
*Title based on a quote from Sir Walter Scott
Featured image photo of banyan trees taken at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota, Florida. (Credit: C. Bertelsen)
© 2017 C. Bertelsen