Sunday, 30 March 2014

Absent loved ones

I potted up some of my zinnia seedlings for someone who finds Mother's Day difficult. It is a tough day if a mother or a child has passed away or is out of touch. Zinnia means "I mourn your absence", and the bright flowers in summer are a reminder of absent loved ones.

There is support from Child Bereavement UK if this has been a difficult time for you.

Your Ma's a born lady

I had specific plans about which British flowers I would use for Mothering Sunday, but unfortunately, the local wholesaler had sold out of them at the start of this week (I guess it's a good sign - lots of people wanted to buy local!). The spring flowers I've grown haven't been prolific or tall enough to use in bouquets. So I had to come up with another plan.

My colour scheme was yellow, white, and pink or blue. I bought pink and blue campanulas, although the blue looked lilac. I chose acid-green bupleurum (which has all the zesty brightness of green euphorbia, but without the skin-irritating sap), and white lilacs for their lovely scent and their spring blooms. I also got yellow Guernsey freesias and French mimosa, which both have a sweet scent. There was lots of British foliage - variegated pittosporum, eucalyptus, magnolia, and philadelphus (mock orange blossom).

I used either pink or blue campanulas for each bouquet - most people didn't express any preference for one colour or the other. Known also as Canterbury bells, there is a wonderful entry on them in Anna Trenter's book, The Lore and Language of Flowers:

Canterbury bells “grew in great abundance in oak woods, and carpeted the Kentish countryside around Canterbury, hence its name. It was sacred to St Augustine who began the conversion of English to Christianity in the sixth century and was given the see of Canterbury by the newly converted King Ethelbert of Kent.”  Flower Fairies: The Lore and Language of Flowers by Anna Trenter.

Lilac represents the first emotions of love, and white lilac in particular symbolises youthful innocence, which is a lovely image of childhood. Freesias mean lasting friendship and sometimes when children grow up, that is what develops between parents and their children. Mimosa means sensitivity, bupleurum represents esteem, magnolia stands for memory, and the 'positive' meaning of mock orange is also memory.

People seemed to be going all-out this year - there were several orders for big bouquets, but not many for posies! The posies used more British flowers - forget-me-nots, narcissi, hellebores and pink bluebells. Forget-me-nots represent lasting love and, of course, a request not to be forgotten, narcissi have several meanings, including new beginnings and chivalry, hellebores mean wit and "relieve my anxiety", while bluebells symbolise constancy.

I'll finish with a few lines from The Railway Children, which is one of my favourite books about childhood. The author, Edith Nesbit, lived in Grove Park for a time. The book is set in beautiful countryside - I visited the Yorkshire locations of the 1970 film a few years ago. This is the walk up to Three Chimneys.

The children adore their kind mother who has to take them out of their home and into a strange new town, without their father. Flowers play a big part in the children's lives. Lilac, Canterbury bells, roses, wallflowers and blossom all get mentions, and the eldest daughter, Bobbie's birthday is celebrated with a floral crown and table decorations made of forget-me-nots.

This is when the children have presented the train station porter with gifts for his birthday, which they secretly collected from people in the town:

'"Little Clothes for Mrs Perks's children." Mother said, "I'll find some of Phyllis's things that she's grown out of if you're quite sure Mr Perks wouldn't be offended and think it's meant for charity. I'd like to do some little thing for him, because he's so kind to you. I can't do much because we're poor ourselves."'

Bobbie paused.

'That's all right,' said Perks, 'your Ma's a born lady. We'll keep the little frocks, and what-not, Nell.'

Monday, 24 March 2014

London's Garden Museum

It's Museum Week in the UK and Europe, and rather fittingly, I paid my first visit to the Garden Museum at the weekend. It's a ten to fifteen-minute walk from Waterloo Station, in an old church which was saved from demolition in 1977. It is nicely situated opposite the Houses of Parliament, so it would be a good excuse to visit London for a day trip!

I could not take photos inside the temporary exhibition, Fashion and Gardens, which includes a sumptuous, red cushion embroidered with borage, cornflowers, and aquilegia; gloves decorated with irises; a lady's pocket (as in "Lucy Locket lost her Pocket") embroidered with flowers; a floaty Valentino cloak inspired by cast iron gates; an Alexander McQueen dress inspired by a double anemone; and a Philip Treacy orchid hat.

However, you can take photos in the rest of the museum. Rebecca Louise Law has created a beautiful flower installation, with hundreds of stems hung from the ceiling. It feels like a floral Cornelia Parker artwork. I saw a photo in Wedding Flowers magazine a few years ago in which a couple had hung flowers as if from a washing line at their wedding - it's a fantastic and simple idea for a wedding, and if you choose scented flowers such as garden roses or stocks, the effect would be even lovelier!

As the installation is now a few weeks old, the flowers have started to dry. But they are still beautiful, and you can see that some things, like statice and solidago, are especially good for drying as they retain their colour and form. Others, like the sunflowers and roses, look like precious, beautiful relics.

The main collection at the museum is full of old gardening tools, seed counters, paintings, and all kinds of ephemera.

I liked this advert for a lawnmower...

Gertrude Jekyll's desk...

these old catalogues and this seed counter (to measure out seeds into packets)...

...the labels on old herbicides and pesticides...

...and the mural with Charlie Chaplin!

The building itself is gorgeous; it's ever so atmospheric to have this museum in a beautiful church. And of course it has a garden - a "knot garden", with hellebores, forget-me-nots, rosemary, snowflakes, and pretty blossom. It's the perfect museum to visit on Museum Week!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Loss and attachment

I've just written about bereavement for one assignment for my counselling MSc, and I'm in the middle of writing about attachment for another. I wrote about bereavements which are losses due to death, but bereavement and grief can apply to other losses, such as losing a job, breaking up with a partner, or giving up a child for adoption. Bereavement and attachment are linked, of course; without attachments to people (complicated or not), we wouldn't feel the losses.

People are familiar with the idea of "stages of grief", but I like J. William Worden's idea of "tasks of grief". It feels less passive and prescriptive, and grief isn't clear cut and linear most of the time. You think you're at the acceptance stage, then bang. You're back to guilt again.

My loss last year wasn't a death, but it was pretty earth-shattering to me. Shock serves a purpose; it allows you to carry on with life without being overcome by misery or yearning. And focusing on rationalising and reasoning, and being pro-active and showing everyone who's worried about you just how resilient you are...that's all very well, but it doesn't last forever. One day, something catches you off-guard: a song you hear when you're out, an innocuous comment that a friend makes, a film that you thought was a "safe" option when you went to the cinema. And then all of these feelings, which you think have no place in the life that you've readjusted to, hit you one by one.

I remember walking out halfway through Before Midnight last summer. I adored the first two films, loved Jesse and Celine, and couldn't wait for the third installment. But sitting in the Barbican, my surprise and irritation with the film and the characters rose until I couldn't bear it anymore. I waited for my friend in the quiet restaurant, but when I tried to eat, I found myself crying instead. When my friend found me an hour later (why couldn't it have been 80 minutes long, like Before Sunset?!), I'd stopped crying, but when asked if I was ok, I didn't know how to answer.

Last year, in that horrible, bitterly cold winter, I tried to force Bridal Crown narcissi indoors, in the hope that they would flower for what was meant to be our wedding in the spring. It didn't work; I had a few shoots and leaves, but that was all. Symbolically or not, the wedding didn't happen either. This year, the mild winter has confused my spring bulbs, which needed a cold spell, and the damp ground has resulted in short stems and fewer flowers. But my Bridal Crown narcissi have flowered.

The Honeymoon tulips, another bulb chosen as much for its name and what it represented as for its beautiful blooms, didn't flower last year. This year it has made a shy appearance.

And forget-me-nots.

Our lovely cake maker was going to incorporate them into the cake design, our jeweller in Birmingham's jewellery quarter had engraved them on my rose gold wedding ring, and I planned to get some from a flower farm we visited to use in the wedding flowers. Last year I made do without, but this year I bought some plants. The tiny flowers first emerged at the start of March, and the baskets are now a mass of bright blue and pink, with dots of yellow. After thinking it over, I started to wear my forget-me-not ring last month. It feels nice; like Worden's fourth task of finding a place for the loss in the present but still moving on with life.

I cut a Bridal Crown narcissi stem for a small vase, and once it opened up, I cut it short and put it with some blue and pink forget-me-nots. It's sad, of course, but there's love and wonder and hope there, so I smile when I think of the story behind them.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Each little pledge

Spring comes anew and brings each little pledge
That still as wont my childish heart deceives
John Clare

After spending a lot of time enjoying the warm sunshine at the weekend, I find myself with a lot of paperwork to catch up on now! So here's a post full of photos of the springtime.

I cut some Delft Blue and a Pink Pearl hyacinth, a Heart's Delight tulip, a lone crocus, a Penny's Pink hellebore, and quince blossom for some milk bottles. The hyacinths smell gorgeous, so it's worth cutting a few if you have any to bring indoors.

I confess I squealed when I saw that my forget-me-nots from Shannon's Garden Centre had begun to flower! I have been assured by the lovely #Britishflowers community on Twitter that squealing over flowers is normal.

The promise of this pink bluebell will keep me running back to the greenhouse every morning now.

Finally, I bought violets from Thompsons and planted some in hanging baskets. There's a dark beauty in the centre of one basket that puts paid to the idea of violets being shrinking; how bold is this stunning flower?

But these two remind me of the "shy little violets" in the 1951 Disney film of Alice in Wonderland.

I potted up the rest of the violets to bring indoors. They are such sweet flowers.