Oct. 1st, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
It was the chance purchase of a lovely book called Grandmother's Garden: The Old-Fashioned American Garden 1865-1915 at a clearance sale at the local used book store that primed me to notice -- when it crossed my newsfeed the next day -- a review of an exhibition on American Impressionism and the garden at the New York Botanical Garden. Book and exhibition both featured the work of Celia Thaxter -- author, novelist, salonista, watercolorist, and painter of china -- who gathered an artists' colony around her at the Appledore Hotel in the Isles of Shoals each summer and was a sought after guest in winters in both Portsmouth and Boston.

It's for her gardening prowess more than her literary/artistic endeavors that she fascinates me. That, and the fact that Childe Hassam painted her garden incessently (see this Google image search). I'm also interested in the work of Anna Bartlett Warner, who had about the same pedigree but who worked a garden near West Point.

Image of pp 86-87 of the illustrated edition of Celia Thaxter, <i>An Island Garden.</i> Link leads to the page-turning interface on The Internet Archive, from which an accessible text edition may also be downloaded
Celia Thaxter, An Island Garden, illustrated by Childe Hassam.
Click the image to reach the book in a page-turning interface on the Internet Archive,
with option to download it in a variety of formats.

Neither woman was made of money, so they started many of their plants from seed. It was before Jiffy Pots or market packs, so they made do with eggshells. I've been fretting that my morning omelet produces a lot of eggshells, which could probably be put to good use somehow. Here is Celia Thaxter, from her book An Island Garden, on the practice:

For those that do not bear transplanting I prepare other quarters, half filling shallow boxes with sand, into which I set rows of egg-shells close together, each shell cut off at one end, with a hole for drainage at the bottom. These are filled with earth, and in them the seeds of the lovely yellow, white, and orange Iceland Poppies are sowed. By and by, when comes the happy time for setting them out in the garden beds, the shell can be broken away from the oval ball of earth that holds their roots without disturbing them, and they are transplanted almost without knowing it. It is curious how differently certain plants feel about this matter of transplanting. The more you move a Pansy about the better it seems to like it, and many annuals grow all the better for one transplanting; but to a Poppy it means death, unless it is done in some such careful way as I have described.

The boxes of [other seeds that do not need the eggshell treatment at first] are put in a warm, dark place, for they only require heat and moisture till they germinate. Then when the first precious green leaves begin to appear, what a pleasure it is to wait and tend on the young growths, which are moved carefully to some cool, sunny chamber window in a room where no fire is kept, for heat becomes the worst enemy at this stage, and they spindle and dwindle if not protected from it. When they are large enough, having attained to their second leaves, each must be put into a little pot or egg-shell by itself..., so that by the time the weather is warm enough they will be ready to be set out, stout and strong, for early blooming. --Celia Thaxter, An Island Garden, pp. 14-15

Sounds good to me, so I've started saving eggshells for spring. Instead of boxes of sand, they may end up in their cartons (with holes poked in the bottom of each pot for drainage. It also occurs to me that certain calcium-loving plants might be happiest if I didn't break off the eggshells but simply crushed them a bit when setting out the seedlings. A substitute for bone meal, perhaps, and I plan to try it with whatever hippeastrum seeds I need to germinate next year. I may also try drying the little eggshell topses and grinding them up in the second-best coffee grinder, the one I use for flaxseed etc.

Bonus link: organic gardener shows how it's done. They boil the eggshells to clean and sterilize. Some other google source says that you can sterilize them by putting them in the oven after you've removed a roast or backed goods and let the residual heat do the job.


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