Sunday, 19 May 2013

Three Colours Red (and Yellow and Lilac)

The garden is at the in between stage now, where the spring bulbs and blossom have finished (except for the bluebells), and the shoots of cosmos, lady’s mantle, sweet peas,  gypsophila ‘Covent Garden’, and ‘Blue Dress’ flax or linum are showing, promisingly. There was netting over the gypsophila and flax to dissuade the squirrels and foxes from digging them, but as the shoots have grown, the netting is off and I just need to hope that the animals go elsewhere for their dinner!

In the meantime, here are some pretty tulips in three colours, which I was given last month. They are such a bright and cheerful addition to a room.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Cherry Blossom Girl

It seemed as though the cherry blossom trees would never blossom, but they did. A month ago, the pale pink cherry blossom tree in the front garden was almost bare. Now the blossoms have come and pretty much gone. No wonder the Victorians took their flower meaning from the Asian countries where cherry blossom had originated from. 'Impermanence' feels like an unhappy symbol, especially when you consider something that you don’t wish to end. It’s a beautiful and dignified flower for mourning. But on the flip side, impermanence can give hope about something sad – illness, despair, anxiety – hope that it won’t last forever.

I have flowers now to give me a small amount of comfort when life feels difficult. But years ago, a friend quoted some lyrics to me from a song called Hang On by the singer Plumb, and the message was the same: I acknowledge that things are hard now; but hold on, and it will pass.
“Hang on when you're barely breathing
Hang on when your heart's still beating”.

I’d like to go to Japan one day (I blame Sofia Coppola’s sublime film, Lost in Translation, which has some lovely flower scenes), and it would be amazing to see cherry blossom trees there. If I ever get the chance, I’ll have to choose when and where to go. There are 20 000 trees blooming at the start of the season in late January in Nago, Okinawa, and 300-year-old trees flowering as late as the end of May in Kakudate, Akita. Apparently the temperature in Okinawa doesn't drop below 10 degrees Celsius, which sounds rather wonderful after the UK's cold and prolonged winter. The average winter temperature there is 18 degrees!

All of these photos are from Greenwich Park, two weeks ago. At the top of the park, where you can see the stunning views across London, there’s a tree that has both pink and white cherry blossom.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Small black flowers that grow in the sky

I had my first photography lesson last week. I’m usually content with pointing and clicking, but I know that the quick snaps I take on my simple camera are nothing compared to the stunning pictures that my dad takes on his photographer’s camera. He taught me how to change the light settings and focus and…bother, I’ve forgotten most of the lesson already. But I will practise again until it becomes more instinctive!

This was my first attempt at photographing our apple blossom tree. Pretty dark.

I’ve increased the light, but lost the focus!

Argh. Now I know that the little red boxes in the viewfinder show you what the camera is going to focus on. So it wasn’t a good idea to take a photo while there were red boxes all over the background.

The next two are better, and I’m rather pleased with them.

I wanted to see if I could photograph a high branch with the sky in the background. But it was very sunny (and the camera was heavy – it’s uncomfortable to cran your neck up, holding the camera above you for a long time), so I didn’t manage to get these pictures right. But I do like the dreamy effect of our eucalyptus tree in the background.

One of my dad’s photography tutors told his students that they needed to take about 200 photos a day. A day! I’ll start off by aiming at 100 a week. And I’ll report back after lesson two.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Take one bucket…

…and a pair of secateurs and get snipping! This bucket is only half full, but just looking at what’s inside makes me smile.

One of the great things about tree blossom is that it is so abundant, you can cut a few branches, enough to fill a jug with blossom, but it will barely make a dent when you look at the still flower-filled tree afterwards.

Jekka McVicar encourages the use of dandelions for medicinal and culinary purposes, but I’m sorry, I can’t get over their bright obtrusiveness wherever they appear! And also the guilt they evoke – I know they are there because we’ve been too busy or lazy to weed properly. Daisies, however, I have always liked. Indeed, when I started this blog, I was going to call it Daisy Shamini; Daisy being the middle name that I wanted as a young child. On Sarah Raven’s blog, Garlic and Sapphire, there’s a lovely post about writer Emma’s nature hunt with her young daughter, and daisies were first on the list.

Along with the dandelions, we do have a lot of bluebells that the wind has scattered our way – but their presence is more welcome. Partly because of their swaying, slender stems with pretty blue-violet flowers, and partly because of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Unfortunately, we don’t have English bluebells; just the Spanish-English hybrid, Hyacinthoides x massartiana. In my dream garden, I would have an English bluebell patch under blossom trees, and I would sit amongst them, pick them and smell them, as Winston did.

The bucket of flowers, along with a couple of stems of pale pink cherry blossom from the tree at the front of the house, was enough to fill two jugs and four mini milk bottles. I especially like the small jug, with a Mount Tacoma and an Angelique peony tulip, quince and apple blossom, and bluebells. Quince blossom is long lasting in water, so it’s a good shrub for cutting. Apple blossom lasts a few days, but it’s worth cutting for the pink-edged flowers and the delicate scent.

Quince blossom represents temptation…I’m not sure what to make of that, other than it’s tempting to cut it because it looks so pure and white! Apple blossom symbolises better things to come, which feels to me like a glass half full response to cherry blossom’s ‘impermanence’. The first photo below is our quince blossom. The second is next door's apple blossom tree, much bigger than ours, but of course I didn't cut theirs. 'Temptation' is certainly what I felt when I looked at it!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Road to Wigan Pier

Well played, Wigan. That was an exciting FA Cup final and although I always support the underdog (unless the underdog is playing Sunderland), I was especially pleased for Wigan. And as an unrelated flower point, I did like the white rose buttonholes, although it looked like only Dave Whelan's and his wife's survived the game!

I went to a friend’s wedding in Wigan earlier this year, and I was excited to have an excuse for another George Orwell pilgrimage. After today, as far as I’m concerned, this has been Wigan’s year!

Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier after living with working class families in industrial towns in the north of England; the first half of the book is an account of his visits and his observations and the second half is an essay on the issues of class and socialism that come up in his work. I read it one summer holiday while I was at university, around the time I was devouring all of his books that I hadn’t read before – Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia and A Clergyman’s Daughter. I’m pretty sure Coming Up for Air was the last book I read, a year or so later. I bought most of these second hand from bookshops in Greenwich and Camden, and managed to get all four volumes of the collected letters and journalism second hand too. My main recollection of The Road to Wigan Pier is Orwell’s account of following coal miners as they worked, and the way in which he was treated differently because he was seen as a gentleman:

Even with miners who described themselves as Communists I found that it needed tactful manoeuvrings to prevent them from calling me 'sir'; and all of them, except in moments of great animation, softened their northern accents for my benefit. I liked them and hoped they liked me; but I went among them as a foreigner, and both of us were aware of it. 

I couldn’t believe it when I walked along the canal and saw Wigan Pier for the first time. It looks like a pair of metal skis. I was flicking though my old copy of The Road to Wigan Pier in the car, and I couldn’t resist posing for cheesy picture with my book. I’m sure Orwell would roll his eyes if he saw that photo, so I won't include it here.

There’s a new pub called The Orwell just across the canal. I don’t think Orwell went to a pub while he lived in Wigan, but I expect he’d still be pleased with the recognition. They did a great, strong pot of tea – and that, he would appreciate.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Queen Camellia

Move the last ‘i’and remove an 'e' and you have a novel by the brilliant Sue Townsend. But this post is just more photos from Greenwich Park, including lots of camellias. There are red, pink, yellow and white camellias, and they are so glamorous and rose-like. The foliage is bright and glossy – Jane Packer used it as backing for buttonholes in her book, Jane Packer’s Guide to Flower Arranging.

The leaves of this tree are a silvery-green, which makes me think it’s whitebeam. But I’ve never knowingly seen whitebeam in the flesh before, so I’m not sure.  Rachel and Jo use whitebeam in their work at Green and Gorgeous – see the first two photos in this gallery, with the silvery leaves which goes so well with the white, blue and pink palette.

There were stunning Gold Lace primulas, and some pretty yellow flowers and orange tree flowers that I don’t know the names of. I’d like to grow primulas like these, but they sound like they are difficult to grow from scratch. I’ve had no luck with my lily of the valley, and I wonder if this would be another epic fail!

These are some general photos of Greenwich Park last week. South London, we are so lucky to have this flower garden on our doorstep, free for us to enjoy all year round.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A tale of two symbols

The day my cousin and her family visited, I cut a few bluebells and Yellow Cheerfulness narcissi and put them in my little bottle set. My cousin also has a baby boy, and there is something about the gentle blue and yellow colours and the sweet, small flowers that makes me think that a bunch of these would be lovely to welcome a new baby.

Bluebells represent constancy, which is a great sentiment for a baby starting out in life. To me, narcissi represent new beginnings, although when I first looked them up I could see that there were different meanings. There’s an interesting article specifically about the different meanings for narcissi by The Daffodil Society.

I avoid using flowers or herbs in floristry that only seem to have a negative meaning, such as basil which means hate. Having said that, if someone especially wanted basil in their flowers, then I would use it. I remember using this ethereal-looking photoshoot in lavender fields on the Ruffled blog as inspiration when I was doing my floristry diploma; lavender symbolises mistrust, but it's hard to care when it creates such a dreamy blue backdrop. Scabious doesn't exactly have a pleasant flower meaning, but I find the flower far too pretty for me to care. I enjoyed picking them at Blooming Green near Maidstone and they added to the cottage garden feel of the wedding flowers I was doing, and I saw rows of them when I visited Green and Gorgeous near Oxford. I'm growing some pink and red scabious now and I can't wait to mix them up with other flowers that I'm growing. These are my 'Pink Mist' scabious.

Generally, when there are contradictory flower meanings (e.g. hydrangea, which can mean heartfelt emotion and gratitude at being understood, or heartlessness), I choose the positive sentiment, which is the sentiment that I wish to convey. And I think that personal sentiment, ultimately, decides what flowers symbolise when they are given or used for an occasion. This is especially the case when it comes to using seasonal flowers – I think it’s great if people decide to use peonies for early summer weddings or cherry blossom for spring ones, rather than relying solely on air-freighted flowers.

This is a big bouquet I did for my friend Jo's grandparents, who were celebrating their anniversary on the same autumn day that Jo got married. Hydrangea symbolised heartfelt emotion, the snowberries fate, and the lilac 'Memory Lane' roses, apart from their appropriate name, stood for enchantment and love at first sight. Definitely no heartlessness here!

I've mentioned this before, but Mandy Kirkby's book, The Language of Flowers, is a wonderful introduction to the symbolism of flowers. She has a lovely writing style and the cover and illustrations by Katie Tooke are beautiful. This book, along with the RHS Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants, has been my dusk and dawn reading for a few years.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Make cake while the sun shines

For a family evening with my cousin and her husband and children, I wanted to make a big cake, rather than my usual fairy cakes.

There is a recipe for a pecan and lemon celebration cake in The Great British Bake Off book, but I wanted to make one without nuts, so I added more flour in place of the ground pecans and also added some poppy seeds. I didn’t use marzipan (nuts!) and ready-roll sugar paste, so I made up royal icing with some lemon juice. I didn’t plan to ice the sides, but they looked a bit bare, so I did the two short sides and spaced out vertical lines going up the long sides.

The cake went down well with my cousin and her husband, who wanted seconds. But their five-year-old son, who isn’t keen on sweet things, took one bite of his mother’s cake and said, ‘Cake is yucky!’ Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A very merry May Day

On May Day this year, I saw the following in flower: daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, bluebells, muscari, forget-me-nots, roses and peonies. It was as strange to see early spring flowers so late as it was to see summer flowers at the same time. But the strangest thing was seeing winter flowers.

I saw a few hellebores when I was out and about in April, and Greenwich Park had some beautiful displays yesterday. Known as the Christmas rose, hellebores usually flower in winter and early spring. I’m sure there are some clever gardeners who can force their plants to flower for Christmas, but generally they flower a bit later in winter. They come in quite muted colours – white, apple green, pinky-white – and dramatic purples.

This is a green hellebore that I snapped on my travels in April.

And in Greenwich Park yesterday, there were a few solitary snowflakes. I don’t know if they were the spring or summer variety, but they were such pretty, delicate flowers. There you go – Christmas roses and snowflakes on May Day!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Don’t you (forget about me)

I can’t imagine that The Breakfast Club gets linked to pretty, little blue flowers very often, but here it is!

I adore forget-me-nots. They are such exquisite flowers. You know in the film Clueless, when Cher describes someone as a Monet because they look nice from far away, but up close, they’re a mess? Forget-me-nots are the opposite. En masse, they are just a pretty, blurry sea of blue (or white or pink). But up close…and you do need to get right down to the ground to see them up close…they are the most perfect, tiny flowers, they almost look unreal.

They don’t get used much in floristry, which is a shame, because they are the perfect symbol of true and faithful love. They could be used for going away parties or posies, anniversaries or birthdays, and I think they would be sweet for christenings. You can even buy pretty forget-me-not inspired jewellery from the British designers Dower and Hall.

Here they are in Greenwich Park. We had a long afternoon walking around the flower garden, and my brilliant photographer dad took hundreds of photos – so there will be more posts with other flowers in the coming week! It was amazing to see them everywhere, especially the less common white and pink varieties, and to kneel down on the grass and just study them. Breathtaking.

For the last few weeks, I have had a bad case of garden envy every time I’ve walked past a house nearby that has a front garden covered with forget-me-nots. It’s so stunning, my pace always slows down when I pass the house. My dad took a photo today; I’m just putting a close up, so as not to make the house recognisable. I wouldn’t want the residents to be besieged by forget-me-not lovers!