Six on Saturday: Plants With a History

Yellow flag Iris psuedacorus is one of the earliest Iris species recorded in our history.  Native in parts of Europe and North Africa, it was grown in palace and  temple gardens in ancient Egypt .  Considered invasive in North America, it produces very high quantities of nectar when in bloom.

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Why does May hold such nostalgia?  All seems right with the world when early summer settles over the neighborhood; the air is sweetened by blooming hollies, roses, and honeysuckle, and something is blooming in nearly every yard.

May is a month for Mother’s Day, college graduations, weddings and family trips.  We allow ourselves a mental break from the news of the day as we reconnect with loved ones and simply enjoy the pleasures of May.

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Peonies remain some of the most popular garden plants and cut flowers. They bloom for only a few weeks each spring, but remain a favorite artistic motif in temperate climates around the world.

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Many of the shrubs and perennials that bloom each May carry with them an air of nostalgia, too.  They may remind us of our mother’s or our grandmother’s gardens.

My great grandmother had an old craftsman style house in an established Richmond neighborhood.  Her back garden was filled with luxurious climbing roses, blue spiderwort, peonies and a giant old mulberry tree.

I have vivid memories of wandering around her yard when I was a very young child, enjoying the flowers while the grown-ups talked inside.  The grass grew long and lush as she could no longer mow it herself.   I’d pick the mulberries in season and she would serve them over heaping bowls of ice cream.  She was elderly when I knew her, already an invalid.  But her garden told me all I needed to know about her loving spirit and her joie de vivre.

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Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  It grows best in the mountains, and follows the Appalachians from New England to the Gulf Coast.  Native Americans used this poisonous shrub for many purposes, including medicinally.  The wood is extremely hard and was carved into many useful household items.

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The beauty of antique, heritage flowers is their persistence.   Most are so easy to grow that once planted, they largely care for themselves.  A gardener’s skilled hand can certainly help bring out their full potential, but they generally outlive their gardeners and can fend for themselves decade after decade.

Heritage plants bring us comfort, through their beauty and fragrance, as they return us to people and places and times long passed.  They have a long and rich history themselves, even as they help us follow the threads of memory to recall our own personal history.  Yet they bloom fresh and beautiful each year, insinuating themselves into our hearts anew each time we encounter them.

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We always had Azaleas in our yard to admire each spring,  These Southern Indica hybrid Azaleas, dating back to the 1830’s, have especially large flowers and will grow to 10′ tall.  We enjoyed viewing them at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Richmond’s Bryan Park when I was a child.  Here, ‘Formosa’ and ‘Delaware White’ were planted by a previous gardener on our property. 

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Plants carry our history more surely than any diary or text.  They form a living archive of our lives:  the flowers we grow, the foods that recall childhood pleasures.  The trees we played under and in when young, and trees planted at our homes along the way.

All are a part of our story, and we a part of theirs.  And when better to remember the joy they brought us than when the world is renewed each May.

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Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, ‘ the poet’s or pheasant’s eye daffodil, is native to the mountains of Europe.  One of the earliest cultivated species daffodils from the ancient Mediterranean world,  it is one of the latest daffodils to bloom each spring.  Here, it greets visitors at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“If you don’t know history,

then you don’t know anything.

You are a leaf that doesn’t know

it is part of a tree. ”
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Michael Crichton

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

 

 

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Hexagonal Patchwork

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The women in our family learned to embroider as we learned to write.  Grandmother taught Mother, and Mother taught me.

There were beautiful pillowcases and dresser scarves, table linens and hand towels.  My favorite project was a pair of well-worn jeans, first repaired with embroidery floss and then embellished with free hand embroidery.  As the denim frayed and tore, my ‘repairs’ grew ever more colorful and inventive.

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We sewed, too; and we crocheted.  Grandmother seemed to always have an ‘Afghan’ in progress during her later years.  She claimed it kept her fingers moving properly as arthritis set into her joints.  She made them for each child and grandchild in her large family, often with pillow covers to match.  I cherish a beautifully crocheted lace bedspread she made for me from pure white cotton thread.

Mother learned to knit and made sweaters for us when we were little.  She tried to teach me several times, too, but it didn’t hold my interest as much as a crochet hook and a ball of thread could.   I used to crochet lace, like Grandmother did.  I made delicate snowflakes for the Christmas tree and little clutch hand bags for my friends.

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And I still keep a bag of yarn and thread beside my chair, and a collection of crochet hooks close at hand.

Lately, I decided to master hexagonal crocheted ‘motifs.’  I guess one shouldn’t call them ‘squares’ when they sport six sides, should we?  beyond-the-square

I’ve been using Edie Eckman’s Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs: 144 Circles, Hexagons, Triangles, Squares, and Other Unexpected Shapes for ideas and tutorials on style.  This is an easy to understand, beautifully illustrated guide to the finer points of crochet.  While a beginner could figure it out, there is enough challenge here to keep my interest for a long time to come!

Through a combination of reading this book and visiting craft blogs, I’ve figured out how to add 3D flowers to the motifs and have even explored the ‘Dragon Scale’ stitch, something I’d never seen before.  It turns out that these ‘dragon scales’ make great flower petals, too!

This is the first ‘granny square’ style Afghan I’ve attempted, and it remains a work in progress.  I like the geometry of it.  I’ll finish it off as a rectangle, which means figuring out how to crochet ‘half-hexagons’ to even out the edges.

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I also like that the ‘flower’ centers remind me of Daffodil trumpets.  These are fantasy flowers for sure, but I’ll have a knitted garden filled with them by the time this project is completed.

And once it is completed, then what?

That is usually the question, isn’t it?  My own daughter learned to crochet after my last visit to her in the spring.  Not that I didn’t try to teach her before, because I did.  But we worked on it together in April, and what I showed her finally ‘stuck.’

Someone is only interested in learning when they have a reason to want to learn.  With a little daughter of her own, and a nephew, and friends with new babies, there is a good reason for her to crochet.  She whips out baby blankets now and has gotten very good at the patterns she’s mastered.  She doesn’t need me to give her another crocheted anything at this point in her life!

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This design makes me happy and so I’ll probably keep this Afghan for myself.  It will be a fun on those cool winter nights ahead, to keep me cozy while reading garden books and sipping tea!

It’s not perfect by a long way.  But more will follow, now that my interest is piqued by crocheting these odd geometric pieces with raised embellishments.  Those can be planned to give away, perhaps.

Handmade things feed our sense of connection to one another.  Perhaps there is a note of nostalgia, too, as they bring to mind the loved ones who made them for us.  Even those things we craft and keep, like my old pair of embroidered blue jeans, remind us of other versions of ourselves; of people we knew and loved and far-off times and places.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Nostalgia

Woodland Gnome 2016

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