Friday, June 12, 2009

A History of Violets


I married into horticultural heritage. My wife's family, and excuse me for thinking this is cool, has horticultural history in a broad sense. And like a good friend recently said, it seems that people who have a family history of doing something tend to take it lightly, while those who are new to it, take it rather seriously. Whether or not you agree with that, my wife has a casual attitude about gardening compared to my sense of endeavor.

Her great grandfather owned a nursery on Lyndale Avenue in what was at the time the southern outskirts of Minneapolis, MN.  Family lore is that he bred and patented the first North American double mock orange -that old-fashioned shrub making a comeback. As is often the case, the children weren't interested in the nursery trade, so they sold the nursery and location to Bachmann's -the nursery that was recently featured on Garden Rant. Seeing his life work go out the door nearly killed him. After the sale, my wife's grandfather started a raspberry farm and opened a stall at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market selling flats of annuals, vegetables, and in season -raspberries.

My wife's mother had been around the Minneapolis Farmer's Market her whole life. She took over her father's stall, but when the Hmong came to the area in the late 1970s and began selling the same for less, she shifted her business to selling field-cut (and roadside-cut) flowers, ornamental gourds and native perennials long before doing so was common in Minneapolis. She became one of six, and the only Minneapolis area, Minnesota licensed growers and sellers of native orchids, for which people sought her out. Is it needless to say that growing orchids is considerably difficult? She was making a living off the land, near a major metropolitan area, when this was still possible.

My father-in-law father is a woodsman, he can name any tree in the Minnesota woods. He was the president of the N.A. Maple Syrup Association for a spell, and had a regionally reknowned sap-house. Most comfortable in the woods, but also an engineer, and loves weather. Not only can he tell you the changing weather simply by looking at the sky, but he invented a tool for doing so (Honeywell thought there was no market). He also invented a system for bringing in the maple sap from all the trees and a method for utilizing heat more efficiently in the sap boiler. It may not be horticulture, but it is a sense for the natural world, and a deep understanding of his woods.

My wife is an artist who at times incorporates plants, growth, and natural cycles into her work. Her brother picked up the family's knack for growing, running the greenhouses in Breckenridge, MN for the Minneapolis area Tonkadale Nursery.

She thinks its amazing that she married someone who likes plants and gardens, because it isn't something she sought out, yet it is completely familiar in the true sense of the word. I think its amazing that I found someone who is completely comfortable with plants and that she takes it casually, allowing me my sense of endeavor. 

I was thinking of all this in part because of two Rant posts reminding me of her family history, but also because I am returning home this week. A month in isolation can seem like a year. But its been a good year, rewarding in ways I'm not even aware. 

From the Bulletin of Popular Information of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University:

Mock Orange inroductions by Guy D. Bush, Minnesota plantsman, my wife's great grandfather:

'Minnesota Snowflake' (P. X virginalis) 6 ft. high, Zone 3
Introduced by Guy D. Bush, Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1935, and patented
(#538) August 11, 1942. It is said to be hardy to -30° F. Flowers double, 1 inch 
in diameter, with 3-7 flowers in each cluster and fragrant. Clothed with branches
well to the ground, it makes an excellent specimen for northern gardens.

'Frosty Morn'  4 ft. high, Zone 3
Originated by Guy D. Bush, Minneapolis, Minn., and patented (#1174) March
10, 1953, it has very fragrant, double flowers, and has been noted as withstand-
ing the "coldest Minnesota winters without damage from freezing back". An
excellent mock-orange for cold areas.

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