August 26th was Women’s Equality Day. The articles and news stories highlighting this day and the reason for it got me thinking back to a road trip we took a few years ago. We decided we would head out to Michigan.
When Tree Boy* and I decided we would spend our summer vacation on a Road Trip to Michigan, most people couldn’t understand why we would go to Michigan. We were asked multiple times if we had relatives there, as if that must be a prerequisite for trekking way out there.
To be honest, we had a lofty goal – to kayak in each of the Great Lakes. The way we travel makes some anxious. No plans, no reservations, no place to be at a certain time. We just go and see where we end up. We may investigate a place or two that looks interesting to us, write it down so we don’t forget and if we happen to end up there, well, great! If not, well, that’s okay too. For us part of the adventure is not knowing what we’ll see or where we’ll end up. Has this meant sleeping alongside the highway, no access to state parks on busy weekends, sure! Has this meant we stumble upon things we may not have seen during a well-planned, each- minute-perfectly-scheduled-vacation – absolutely!
As we point our van towards Lake Michigan, imagine my surprise as I examine the map – yep, a paper map – difficult to get the big picture on a small screen – and notice a little green mark with the label LH Bailey Museum. There’s only one LH Bailey I know of. The “Father of American Horticulture” Liberty Hyde Bailey. How could a Horticulturist and a Landscape Designer NOT investigate?
“One may have land merely to live on. Another may have a wood to wander in. One may have a spot on which to make a garden. Another may have a shore, and another a retreat in the mountains or in some far space. Much of the Earth can never be farmed or mined or used for timber, and yet these supposed waste places may be a very real asset to the race: we shall learn this in time.”
~ L.H. Bailey 1915 The Holy Earth
According to the biographical memoir of LH Bailey by Harlan P. Banks “The career of Liberty Hyde Bailey—botanist; horticulturalist [sic]; plant breeder; teacher par excellence; visionary; astute, vigorous, successful administrator; lobbyist; prolific writer; superb editor; poet; rural sociologist; philosopher; environmentalist; traveler; and plant explorer—was remarkable for the magnitude of its accomplishments and the breadth and enduring quality of its influence.”
Study Nature Not Books
Known as the Father of American Horticulture and for enormous tomes on the subject – has anyone read his 1,000 page book on Raspberries? – Bailey’s connection to conservation has been overlooked. While people focus on his significant contributions to botany and the horticultural sciences, not many people connect him to the early conservation movement and he doesn’t show up on many lists of notable people in this field. But early on Bailey understood a need to conserve resources and protect land. He understood the way to do that was to connect people to the nature around them. In 1908 Liberty Hyde Bailey founded the American Nature Study Society, America’s oldest environmental organization. This organization set forth to encourage students to learn from “nature not books” and challenged the days religious based education by incorporating scientific evidence and teachings. (The irony that someone instituting Nature Study, the slogan of which is “Study Nature Not Books” would go on to pen 63 books, more than 100 scientific papers and at least 1,300 articles is not lost on me. In another ironic twist, Bailey became fascinated with nature when his father, a conservative Puritan, allowed him to read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection and botanist Asa Gray’s Field, Forest and Garden Botany.)
Encouraging a Role for Women in Horticulture
It was during this unexpected stop that I learned of the connection of the Father of American Horticulture to my role as a horticulturist. According to the RCC Library at Cornell University “Liberty Hyde Bailey placed great emphasis on the value of women’s education, and as dean of the College of Agriculture, he appointed Cornell’s first women professors: Anna Botsford Comstock (summer session 1899), Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose (1911).”
“I would not limit the entrance of women into any courses of the College of Agriculture; on the contrary, I want all courses open to them freely and on equal terms with men… Furthermore I do not conceive it to be essential that all teachers in home economic subjects be women; nor, on the other hand, do I think it essential that all teachers in the other series of departments shall be men. The person who is best qualified to teach the subject should be the one who teaches it.”
~ L.H. Bailey, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Cornell
“ON NOVEMBER 5, 1990, the American Society for Horticultural Science initiated a Hall of Fame designed to “honor distinguished persons who have made monumental and unique contributions to horticulture.” Only two scientists were inducted at the initiation—Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk who solved the riddle of heredity, and Liberty Hyde Bailey.” Memoir of Liberty Hyde Bailey by Harlan P. Banks.
The small museum, once Bailey’s home, is fascinating, I think, even for non-horticulture types. It is a view into the mid-west agricultural past. And an exploration of an influential person who found a way to not only connect people with nature, but encouraged and enabled entrance into the sciences by women. Wander through the house, examine medicine cabinet contents where the horticulture adventure continues. Bottles like this Black Haw extract contained distillations of the plants (Viburnum prunifolium) one could find right in the back yard. Take a wander through the woodlands at the back of the home, take a peak in the smoke house and the shed.
This unplanned, unexpected stop in western Michigan connected me in unplanned ways to the state and to my profession as a horticulturist. I am continually amazed at where our adventures take us, the seemingly endless connections between plants and culture and the things we learn along the way.
Learn more about Liberty Hyde Bailey by visiting this virtual exhibit hosted by Cornell University.
About those lichens in the picture above. While in Northern Michigan, we decided to follow a road on a map to see where we ended up. Here is the picture from our windshield. This road was on the map! We didn’t realize how rustic it would get and we never dreamed of the colorful, textural carpet of plants we would witness along the way. In these photos you see Cladonia stellaris, Star Reindeer Lichen in white puffy mounds on the forest floor. The lichens and mosses, alone, in this forest are worth going back for another visit. (By the way do you what lichen is? It is what occurs when algae takes a likin’ to a fungus!)
As far as Michigan goes, visit! There is an unbelievable amount of unique nature to take in, from huge sand dunes to limestone caves you can kayak in, to champion White Cedars and unique forest ecosystems, it is a treasure waiting to be explored. No need to have family there, just go!
So you know, horticultural distractions notwithstanding, we did get our kayaks into all 5 of the Great Lakes!
* Long Ago, when I first met my
husband’s ex-husband’s family, and they learned I was a horticultural compliment to the landscape designer of the family, they said “So we have a Tree Boy and a Plant Girl.” It stuck.