Saturday, July 28, 2012

L.H. Bailey, The Indiana Jones of Botanists

L.H. Bailey with daughter, Ethel and their burro Socrates.
After his retirement from Cornell University in 1914, Liberty Hyde Bailey inaugurated a career as a plant explorer with the sole objective of increasing knowledge of the world’s plants. In 1929, Bailey undertook an exploration with his daughter Ethel to the Los Llanos (the plains) of the Orinoco River. Featured here are personal photos and a journal segment of this trip.

We had been a long journey and were now on the llanos of the middle Orinoco. We had seen ranges of mountains and alluring summits, rain-forests choked with tropical verdure and punctuated with gaudy-colored birds, sights strange and fascinating, and had tramped in many places where the vegetation was striking and abundant for we are botanical collectors. Today we were far away on our burros and had dismounted in the shade near a stream that was cool and refreshing in this torrid climate. It was a tributary of the mighty Orinoco River, and in comparison was tame and unexciting. We found good things along the shore. Then we spied a tiny islet in the stream, a bit of flat land that had been surrounded by high water. It had no attractive vegetation as we saw it from the shore, merely a green cover of grass-like things. When I reached the islet I found it was three feet wide and ten feet long. Under my feet I saw strange leaves and stems. I got on my knees and began to gather diminutive things that I had not found before. Some of them were only a inch or two high. Once apparently the area has been grazed, perhaps before the high water came. The plants had adapted themselves to this circumstance by blooming and seeding at these puny dimensions, and this was the first of the wonders. About a dozen distinct kinds of plants I overtook on that minikin world, and of one of them I discovered but a single specimen and the only one of its kind I found in Venezuela. It is a pigmy thing, as thin as a thread and less than four inches high, so frail that you could not measure its worth in gold. I suppose the reason why I found it here and not elsewhere was because my eyes were close to the ground and I was intent on every tiny object. Often indeed we look to far away for our treasures and stand too much aloof from what in our superiority we call the trivial things. Yet far away in that lonely bit in South America where probably no collector ever went before or will ever go again that little plant lived its own life successfully, made its seeds and trusted them to the kindly earth, and was blessed by sun and night and rain. That islet will always be a green place in my memory for the things I found and the emotions I felt: it is my Treasure Island. -L.H. Bailey to Russel Lord, December 16, 1929

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What is Horticulture?

 Liberty Hyde Bailey has been dubbed the, "American Father of Modern Horticulture" but most people would be hard pressed to give a definition of horticulture or feel that they should know, feeling the tinge of embarrassment. However, we don't need to be embarrassed. Bailey himself wrested with it. Let's see what Bailey thought of the word:

Etymologically, horticulture means the cultivation of a garden (hortus, garden, cultura, cultivation); and as all intelligent cultivation rests upon many scientific principles, both the art and science of garden cultivation should be included in the definition. The scope of the definition turns upon the meaning of the word garden. This word comes directly from the Anglo-Saxon gyrdan, to enclose, and is allied to the verb to gird; and indirectly it is allied to the Latin hortus, which originally related to an enclosure. - L.H. Bailey, Annals of Horticulture 1891

Annette Bailey at Ithaca family garden
I suppose that we will always dispute as to what horticulture comprises. I have tried several times to define it...The older I grow, the less I care to define anything. Definitions are at best only formal attempts to express what we already know by experience; and experience is always our guide. By general consent, various arts are loosely assembled under the one word horticulture. How long this one word will be held to cover the entire group, no one can tell, nor is it much worth while to speculate or prophesy. I have come to feel that prophesying is poor business for ordinary folk: if we do our work well and with hopeful enthusiasm, the prophesy will come as the flower comes out of the bud. Therefore, I am well content to let horticulture be merely horticulture, and to be happy that it has fallen to my lot to dally and to work in such a delightful field. -L.H. Bailey, Recent Progress in American Horticulture, 1908

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey" - Exhibit Extension

Falls- Ithaca, New York
Nearly 200 glass plate images, taken by Liberty Hyde Bailey at the turn of the 20th century, have been digitally scanned and are now preserved at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, South Haven, Michigan. It is these images that comprise the museum's first exhibit, "Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey." For today's snapshot we offer a very deserving image that did not make it into the exhibit. More to come!

     By nature, I mean the natural out-of doors,—the snow and the rain, the sky, the plants, the animals, the running brooks,and every landscape that is easy of access and undefiled. Every person desires these things in greater or lesser degree: this is indicated by the rapidly spreading suburban movement, by the vacationing in the country, and by the astonishing multiplication of books about nature. Yet there are comparatively very few who have any intimate contact with nature, or any concrete enjoyment from it, because they lack information that enables them to understand the objects and phenomena.
    The currents of civilization tend always to take us out of our environment rather than to fit us into it. We must recast our habits of thought so as to set our faces nature-ward. This is far more important than any effort at mere simplicity or toward lopping off the redundancies: it is fundamental direction and point of view.
    The outlook to nature is the outlook to what is real, and hearty, and spontaneous. -L.H. Bailey, Outlook to Nature

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Snapshot from the Exhibit, "Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey: Plants, Places & People"

Bailiwick ca. 1900s.
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum's exhibit, "Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey," continues to turn heads. The show runs through September 15th. For the next months, we will feature a rare image digtially restored from Bailey's glass plate negatives. Enjoy!

The income from his varied and popular horticultural books enabled Liberty Hyde Bailey to establish a modest country place on the west shore of Cayuga Lake about six miles north of Ithaca, New York. Using stones from the nearby fields, Bailey built a comfortable stone cottage. He called the retreat Bailiwick. For his family it was a wonderful summer home; for Bailey it provided an opportunity to study nature.
    During the summer and early fall, Bailiwick became the scene of many outings for faculty and students in Cornell’s Horticultural Department. Later, Bailey donated Bailiwick to the local Girl Scouts chapter, which converted the place into a center for nature study and summer day camp which is still in use.