Saturday Snippet: The Plant Hunters

Flowers of the regal lily, or lilium regale.

Having enjoyed several visits in recent years to Kew, I recently bought a book called “The Plant Hunters”, by Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave. (There are several books with that title). It is the story of several of the most legendary botanical explorers, who brought back exotic plants previously unknown in Europe and England, including many that I saw this summer in The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Fascinating!

Hundreds of thousands of us enjoy gardening and visiting famous parks and gardens. Yet few of us, as we admire the beautiful and diverse range of plants around us, stop to wonder where they come from, and fewer still think about how these plants came to be here in the first place.

How many of us, for example, know that the explorer who found over 300 rhododendron species was one of two survivors of a party attacked in a rebellious uprising and had an escape worthy of a member of the Special Forces; that the man responsible for establishing the tea industry in India single-handedly fought a gun battle with pirates while running a high fever; that the plant hunter who introduced many conifers to our landscape was gored to death by a bull; or that the discovery of the Himalayan rhododendrons resulted in a kingdom being annexed into the British Empire?

Book cover of The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery, by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner and Will Musgrave
The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery.

Saturday Tipple, Not Snippet!

Pink summer cocktail made with Fentimans Rose Lemonade and Hendricks Gin, a small-batch Scottish gin with rose, cucumber and botanical extracts

While I was in the UK with my family, I tried for the first time the most divine drink: Fentimans Rose Lemonade. It is delicious on its own — it really smells like roses and tastes the way roses smell! And it’s pink! Just lovely.

Bottle of Fentiman's pink Rose Lemonade soft drink
Fentimans Rose Lemonade; image: Fentimans

When we got home, I found a local store that carries it. Hurray! Bought two large bottles and promptly started to think, what else can I do with this yummy beverage? Aha — a summer cocktail! So I made one up. I am posting the recipe on my “Old Herbaceous” blog because Fentimans refers to its Rose Lemonade as “botanically brewed” and describes its composition as “fermented botanical lemon drink with herbal extracts”; and because the cocktail is based on Hendrick’s Gin, a small-batch Scottish gin infused with rose and cucumber extracts, plus other botanicals: “Hendrick’s wondrous botanical signature consists of flowers, roots, fruits, and seeds from the world over. They function to complement and set the stage for our delicious duet of infusions: rose petal and cucumber.”

Illustration of bottle of Hendrick's Gin, a small-batch Scottish gin made with botanical extracts
Hendrick’s Gin; image from us.hendricksgin.com

So here is the recipe for what my daughter calls “Rosie the Riveter”, although I’m trying to think of a more romantic, ladylike name to match the pale pink color with light green accents; and there is already a different cocktail named Rosie the Riveter, which I only discovered after I came up with mine and Googled the name. Maybe I’ll call it “Scepter’d Isle”, after Shakespeare and the gorgeous David Austin English Rose of that name, inspired by Susan Rushton’s beautiful photographs! What do you think?

Old Herbaceous’ Rosie the Riveter Cocktail (or Scepter’d Isle):

Fill a tall glass halfway with ice (cubes or crushed).

Add one jigger of Hendrick’s Gin.

Fill the rest of the glass with Fentimans Rose Lemonade.

Add five drops of rose water, 1-3 thin slices of cucumber, one sprig of fresh mint leaves.

Enjoy!

Next stop: the bar “Fragrances” at the Ritz-Carlton, Berlin, which serves cocktails inspired by legendary perfumes. I’ve never been there, have you?

A Different Muguet Marathon

Lily of the valley, or convallaria majalis, "Bordeaux".

I spent the whole month of May posting about lily of the valley-based fragrances on my other blog, Serenity Now, in a series I called “May Muguet Marathon.” While I was doing that and reading a lot online about lilies of the valley, I came across a variety I have long wanted to try in my own garden, Convallaria majalis Bordeaux.”  It was on sale, so of course I bought 40 pips! My teenaged son helped me create a new planting bed for them by spreading many cubic feet of mushroom compost on top of the clayish soil between several old azaleas and the base of our house’s front terrace, a partly shaded area that is well-watered by our in-ground sprinkler system. He turned it in for me; I hope this will provide a suitable habitat! Lilies of the valley do not become invasive here in the South as they do further north; in fact, sometimes they struggle. Fingers crossed that “Bordeaux” finds a happy home here!

I also bought some pips of Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”, which many sellers describe as “double-flowered”, but it is not a true double flower, as can be seen in this photo:

Convallaria majalis Prolificans
Convallaria majalis “Prolificans”; photo from http://www.dobies.co.uk.

Rather, it has clusters of tiny, single flowers that dangle together from the main stalk, creating the look of double flowers. The true double-flowered lily of the valley is “Flore Pleno”:

Close up of double-flowered lily of the valley blossoms, Convallaria majalis "Flore Pleno."
Convallaria majalis “Flore Pleno”; photo from http://www.rowdengardens.com

I hope my new lilies of the valley find themselves happy in their new home and spread profusely! I would welcome what plant-hunter Reginald Farrer described as “the worst of all delicious weeds when it thrives.”

Lily of the Valley Potpourri

White lilies of the valley against blue background

I love this post from Bois de Jasmin about making potpourri and scenting closets and drawers with lily of the valley! Sadly, I cannot grow it in such abundance here that I can try this out. But my sister who lives in New England has a huge patch of lilies of the valley outside her house where they grow like weeds, so maybe I can get some from her next time I am there in May.

Source: Lily of the Valley Potpourri

Saturday Snippet: Winter Gardens and Conservatories

In honor of this January weekend’s blizzards and storms, and feet of snow in much of the Northeastern United States, as well as the new season of Downton Abbey airing this month, this week’s Saturday Snippet is from “The Head Gardeners; Forgotten Heroes of Agriculture”, by Toby Musgrave.

Ornate conservatories or winter gardens were an adjunct of any garden that claimed to be of note. They were sometimes attached to the house or detached and set in the pleasure grounds. These great glass structures were home to many exotic and tender new arrivals brought from jungles and tropical regions across the world. Indeed, be they tendder, half-hardy or hardy, the wealth of new plants brought to Britain by the plant hunters excited botanists and garden-owners, and provided head gardeners with a constant onslaught of challenges. These expensive treasures required careful and skilled nurturing to survive. Often in the vanguard of those attempting to cultivate such tricksy rarities, the head gardener had to rely on his experience, a modicum of experimentation and an ability to learn fast.

Photo: RBG Kew.

Saturday Snippet: Starflowers

The slender green shoots of Ipheion uniflorum have popped out between the flagstones at the back of our old garden, visible now that most of the leaves have fallen from trees and shrubs. Unlike most spring bulbs, the starflower sends up its leaves in the fall, where they add an unexpected spot of soft green to the autumn tones of red, orange, yellow and brown. In early spring, they will be covered in small, star-shaped blossoms of light blue that give off a soft, pretty fragrance when left alone. If the leaves are bruised, they smell like garlic. Scott Ogden has this to say, in his wonderfully useful book Garden Bulbs for the South:

After the new year, any brief spell of sunny weather will coax these leafy clumps into bloom. The flowers are a cheerful pale blue and resemble six-pointed stars. Once they begin to appear, the blossoms continue steadily into March.

These lovely blue flowers present a perennial mystery for gardeners who discover them in the grass. They seem to have created consternation for botanists as well. The usual questions are “What are they?” and “Where did they come from?

I’m not fussed about what they are or where they came from. In my garden, what they are is lovely and welcome. Where they came from is random, as they spread so quickly and readily by offsets, seeds and runners. I’m always happy to see their harbingers, the tender green shoots of their leaves!

Photo: Wendy Kremer, finegardening.com.

Saturday Snippet: Vanishing Flowers

This Saturday Snippet is not from one of my collection of gardening books; it comes from The New York Times and an article called “Our Vanishing Flowers.” Those of us who love flowering plants should pay attention.

Ours is one of the most colorful relationships of history: We need flowers for our very survival, and in turn flowers — the plants that exist as crop cultivars or horticultural cut flowers or potted beauties — rely on us to reproduce and spread. But all is not well in this storied partnership: We who behold or nurture flowers are condemning their wild relatives to extinction at an alarming rate, and the world is quickly becoming a lesser place without them.

The author of this article, Stephen L. Buchmann, is a professor of entomology and evolutionary biology who has written a book called The Reason for Flowers. Sounds like one I will want to add to my collection.

Photo: Retha Meier, for The New York Times.