Temperatures soaring? Sweat beads forming? Don’t leave gardening behind entirely, dear gardeners! Too-hot outdoors means it’s time to enjoy the garden indoors—garden reading, that is!
July brings remembrance of our nation’s heritage and the generous opportunities we have in free access to books, learning, and information. Exploring the garden from the comfort of air conditioning led me to a wonderful botanical research library and a few enriching moments with favorite plants from God’s Word.
BRIT, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, is located next to the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, a library treasure which I recently discovered thanks to Garden Writers friend and colleague, Ann McCormick. The library collections and herbarium originated from “propagating by division,” so to speak; holdings from Southern Methodist University (SMU) libraries grew too large and sprawling for the university to contain…sound like any of your garden perennials now that summer is in full swing?!
Head of collections Barney L. Lipscomb worked fearlessly to draw in donors from the private sector and establish the institute in its own right, along with an endowment to grow the holdings for the future. BRIT was replanted in Fort Worth, and its sustainable campus opened in 2011, complete with a Living Roof.
To conserve our natural heritage.
To deepen our knowledge of the plant world.
To achieve public awareness of the value plants bring life.
In addition to archives, specimens, and research materials in botany, horticulture, and natural history, the library has an extensive, joyful children’s collection. Storytime on Saturdays is a delight not to be missed, and several programs have been developed to draw children into learning about plants, cultivation, nature—everything we who are “hooked on horticulture” hope to pass on!
Part of the juvenile collection includes rare books from Oliver G. Burk, with titles that instantly captured my interest during my first tour of the library. I promptly made an appointment to return and dig in. Enjoy the highlights of my day, connecting to horticultural details that continue to deepen my affinity for plants from God’s Word.
Endive and chicory have graced my garden with dainty blue flowers this summer. I cultivated the pair this spring for their leaves, eager to have a Bitter Herbs salad in remembrance of Passover.
They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Numbers 9:11 NIV
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.
Exodus 13:1 NIV
Yes, I should have pulled the annuals once they began to bolt, because the leaves’ tastiness and texture wanes. As with many chores, however, I never quite got to it…and behold! Their adorable flowers have charmed me ever since. I was pleased to find a little chortle about chicory, “that wear a lovely blue dress,” in Flowers and Their Travels, by Frances Margaret Fox. Now I know why she imagines the blue dress, having seen for myself the lovely violet blossoms each morning.*
The chicory that wears the lovely blue dress was followed to America by pages of history and legends. The builders of pyramids of Egypt ate the leaves and roots of chicory, and the name is Arabic origin. Chicory is in cookbooks, too. It is popular in France as a salad plant…
—Frances Margaret Fox, Flowers and Their Travels, 1936
Bitter herbs are the first course in the “taste and see” meal of Passover dinner, the first of three festivals the LORD commanded his people to celebrate. The feast commemorates deliverance from Egypt, also a nuance in Fox’s writing.
Citron from Fruits of the Earth
And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly [citron] trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick [myrtle] trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.”
Leviticus 23:40 KJV
Each of the species has a special association with water, points out JoAnn Gardner, in Seeds of Transcendence, “from drought-tolerant myrtle to water-hungry citron,” she writes. Jannette May Lucas included a supporting detail in another juvenille gardening book from BRIT’s Rare Book room:
Long after Roman times, citrons continued to be cultivated in Italy and needed so much water that it was said they brought “immoderate thirst from their thirsty fatherland.”
—Jannette May Lucas, Fruits of the Earth, 1942
Compare this horticultural fact and facet with the proclamation Jesus made after he celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
John 7:37-38 NIV
The delight of the details…how richly the garden plants infuse the Word of God! The “thirstiness” of the plant species relates the subtle message to those celebrating the Tabernacle feast (and those of us reading about it) that our souls are thirsty as well—a longing the LORD is ready to quench with joy and feasting beyond this temporary world, in our eternal life with Him.
Pomegranates, Figs, Dates from First the Flower, Then the Fruit
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and [date] honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing
Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NIV
This picture with its parade of fruit offers a perfect image for the bounty of promise God had for his people in the land set apart for their ancestor Abram. Vivid before us, the fruits impart the metaphor of fruitfulness in our lives as well, a happy productivity whispered through produce. May God’s ever-present implore to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1) carry on in each of us as we work and take care of things today.
He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.
Acts 14:17 HCSB
For More on the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, visit www.brit.org
Fox, Frances Margaret. Flowers and Their Travels. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1936.
Gardner, Jo Ann. Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. Mount Vernon, New York: Decalogue Books, 2014.
Lucas, Jannette May with Helene Carter, Illustrator. Fruits of the Earth. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1942.
Lucas, Jannette May with Helene Carter, Illustrator. First the Flower, Then the Fruit. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1942.
See our Plant Guide for more information:
*Note: Come to think of it, pictured here is actually my endive in bloom! I pulled the whole heads of chicory, their red variegated leaves were so pretty in every spring salad. The flowers of the two are similar.
Photo Credits: ©2016 Shelley S. Cramm