Muriel Howorth, founder of the Atomic Gardening Society, was a woman we wish we had personally known. Now we know about her because of the efforts of the author of the blog, "Garden History Girl".
You can enjoy the most recent post at
with the compliments of the Journal and the author, Paige Johnson (nanotechnology researcher at the University of Tulsa).
Johnson's earlier writing about Howorth can be read at
In Johnson's 2010 blog entry you see how this unusual pursuit was born:
"The Atomic Gardens grew out of post-WWII efforts to use the colossal energy of
the atom for peaceful pursuits in medicine, biology, and agriculture. 'Gamma
Gardens’ at national laboratories in the US as well as continental Europe and
the USSR bombarded plants with radiation in hopes of producing mutated varieties
of larger peanuts, disease resistant wheat, more sugary sugar maples, and
African violets with three heads and a singular atomic entrepreneur named C.J.
Speas irradiated seeds on his Tennessee farm and sold them to schoolchildren and
housewives, among them Mrs. Muriel Howorth. "
In an interview with Alexander Trevi that appears in "Pruned" Johnson says the "Atomic Gardens is particularly compelling for its citizen science component, as well as its potential to offer a historical perspective on the inflated claims of GM-boosters today.
As she points out, “It’s clear from reading the primary sources that most people involved were deeply sincere. They really thought their efforts would eradicate hunger, end famine, prevent another war.” These are eerily similar claims to those we hear from the Gates Foundation, for example, as they pour millions into the development and propagation of transgenic Golden Rice and BioCassava Plus.
Read more of Trevi's "Pruned" interview at
If you aren't sure what this all has to do with you, the New York Times reported, "most of the global production of mint oil,” with an annual market value estimated at $930 million, is extracted from the “wilt-resistant ‘Todd’s Mitcham’ cultivar, a product of thermal neutron irradiation.” She adds that “the exact nature of the genetic changes that cause it to be wilt-resistant remain unknown.”