The connection between love and flowers goes back millenia. I think of it as poesy and posie. Actually the word 'anthology' derives from ancient Greek: anthologia, from anthos ‘flower’ + -logia ‘collection’ (from legein ‘gather’). So here is my small collection of ‘flowers’ of verse, spanning medieval Persia, Victorian England, and modern day San Francisco Bay Area.
Red plump tears hang from dusty vines
odd-sized edible jewels swaying
like lovers’ promises softly to a private tune
I am particularly excited to be taking my groups to Sissinghurst to see the newly reinvented Grecian garden. In 1935, Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson visited the Mediterranean island of Delos, reputed to be the birthplace of the twin gods, Apollo and Artemis. Vita and Harold were entranced by the colorful carpets of fragrant wildflowers enveloping the ancient ruins. They attempted to recreate this ancient landscape in the Kent countryside, but ignorance of Mediterranean plants led to failure and when we visited in 2017 there was no sign of the original concept. This is so surprising as these amateur gardeners created one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, influencing generations of garden designers.
Last year, I was amazed by the beginnings of a garden that I had never seen before. A bold project had begun to realize the original vision. The well-known designer, Dan Pearson, has reimagined the garden using modern design practices and a more robust palette of plants. Dan’s design aims to be both sustainable and authentic. I shall report back on the garden’s progress after this May’s tours. Incidentally, we are one of only three groups a week to be granted a private tour before the estate opens.
So why a Curse? According to the myth, Delos was the only island able to float freely around the ocean. Poseidon had lifted the island from the seabed with a thrust of his trident and it was the only place on Earth where the twins could be born. After the birth, their titan mother blessed the island and gave it pillars to hold it to the Earth. The flowers flourished but the island was now anchored and consequently the plant was nicknamed the Curse of Delos. Its scientific name is Delospermum from the Greek words for ‘appearance’ + ‘seed’.
Thank goodness for the seed banks of this world. The threat of extinction affects about 1 in 5 of the world’s plant species. This makes the work of seed banks a vital safety net for dealing with the problems of food security, disease, climate change and biodiversity loss. The seed collections can be used for all kinds of research, plant breeding, species re-introduction and vegetation restoration.
The Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex collects species that are most threatened and potentially most useful. With the help of partners in 95 countries, the seed collections constitute the largest and most diverse wild plant species genetic resource in the world.
Scientists focus on plants that are:
Using the state-of-the-art techniques, the seeds are prepared, dried and stored in a vault maintained at -4°F. The massive vault, located underground, is flood, bomb, and radiation-proof, and protected by alarms and automated systems. It is home to 2.3 billion seeds. Currently, the seed collections represent over 40,000 species, from almost 5,800 genera and more than 360 families.
That leaves the problem of the tropical plants, mainly trees and shrubs, where half cannot be dried. Research is underway to develop novel methods for such seeds, and plans for a large-scale Cryosphere are in the works.
We are blessed by the work of the Millennium Seed Bank and the other 1000+ seed banks in the world. Some notable seed banks are The Svalbard International Seed Vault (the “Doomsday Vault”) in Norway; The Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (established1894) in Russia; and more locally, Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank in Portland Oregon. Vital work!
Art enhances the experience of a garden, stirring the emotions. These images engender very different feelings - from unsettled to joyous, and lastly, tranquil. The Fences sculpture entitled "Escape" is based on the artist's disturbing family history. In contrast, peeking through the portholes into a plant-filled box lined with mirrors creates a sense of childish delight. And indulge yourself for 15 seconds to unwind by the beautiful 'Bride's Pool'.
,Green dominates the garden design trends in Britain: both figuratively and literally with lovely, loose natural designs and an emphasis on sustainability.
Greenery and ferns abound with texture and form supplying interest. The palette is greens, whites and pale yellows. Foxgloves and cow parsley remind me of sunny days playing in the woods, and meadows, whilst bold sculptural forms, copper features, and architectural frames focus the eyes and bring an element of control to the wildness. And in urban areas: miniforests, living walls and roofs can bring in a touch of nature.
Resilience in the face of uncertain climate change and stewarding of our resources feature strongly. A diverse range of plants capable of tolerating different growing conditions will reap rewards in the future. And for long-lived trees this is vital. Recycling graywater (from activities such as showering), collecting rainwater, and reusing timber, brick, plastic, and glass help conserve resources. Even the the enticing prospect of new technology that can generate electricity from living plants!
Spring is the season for ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection, and regrowth. The first day of Spring, the vernal equinox, has 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The term vernal is Latin for “spring” and equinox is Latin for “equal night“.
1. Spring was called Lent in Old English. Starting in the 14th century, this season was called “springing time”—a reference to plants “springing” from the ground. In the 15th century this was abbreviated to “spring-time,” and then further shortened in the 16th century to just “spring.”
2. The growing season in England is now a whole month longer compared to the average for 1961-1990.
3. All cultures celebrate the spring in some way, looking forward to the burst of growth in plants and the birth of baby animals, signalling more food to eat. Ancient cultures recognized the equinox with their architecture. Stonehenge functioned as both a pagan site of worship and a celestial observatory; in Egypt, the Great Sphinx points towards the rising sun on the spring equinox; and the setting sun creates a triangular shadow on the El Castillo pyramid that looks like a descending snake, or the Mayan feather serpent god Kukulkan.
4. Spring fever is a real syndrome. It refers to restlessness, daydreaming, and increased sexual appetite. While the exact cause is unclear, scientists believe that warmer temperatures, increased light, more exercise, and more bare skin influence hormone levels.
5. The spring and fall equinoxes are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west. On the first day of spring, a person at the North Pole would see the sun skimming across the horizon, beginning six months of uninterrupted daylight. A person at the South Pole would experience the start of six months of darkness.
6. The first day of spring does not always fall on March 20th as the earth does not circle the sun in exactly 365 days (actually 365.42). This means that eventually Easter would occur in midwinter. Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar in 1582, thereby continuing the tradition of the early church by keeping the equinoxes more or less at the same time each year: 19-21 March.
To celebrate Valentine's Day, I have selected some of my favorite quotes about love and gardens. I hope that you find them inspiring. I do.
If I had a flower for every time I thought of you . . .
I could walk through my garden forever
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Flowers are the beautiful hieroglyphics of nature with which she indicates how much she loves us
Johann von Goethe
The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies
As the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle became the backdrop to a turbulent period that changed British history, monarchy and even religion. This medieval castle was rescued from ruin by William Waldorf Astor (yes, the American). Between 1904 and 1908, he completely renovated the Castle and laid out the gardens on a majestic scale. Over 1000 men worked on the grand design of the gardens with 800 men taking two years to dig a 35-acre lake!
I particularly love the eclectic nature of the design: there is a surprise around every corner. The work on the castle and gardens is reputed to have cost over $1 billion in today’s prices. The result is spectacular
Rudyard Kipling’s life was a story of fame and misfortune. A most colorful life: from his birth in Bombay and his career as a journalist in India, to his instant success as a writer in England, living in Vermont, and winter holidays in South Africa with Cecil Rhodes. He needed to live peacefully.
To Kipling, Bateman’s house and 33 acres of land was an English idyll. Yet tragedy has left a sense of sadness amidst the tranquil gardens and home that had mellowed over the centuries. It feels very intimate. I was especially moved by Kipling’s voice reciting his poem ‘If’ and imagined him walking through the woods deep in thought.
The Bohemian circle of artists and writers, known as the Bloomsbury Set, spent many creative years at Charleston. Artists, Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Wolfe) and Duncan Grant, formed an idiosyncratic household in a modest farmhouse tucked beneath the Downs. They proceeded to craft paintings on every available surface. The neglected walled garden and paddock became a prolific kitchen garden, lawn, and a ‘dithering blaze of flowers, butterflies and apples’. A place to dream, play and perform amateur theatricals.
Whilst you are in England, you may want to add the Chelsea Flower Show to your trip. It is a fabulous, hugely popular Show that will be staged from Tue 21 - Sat 25 May, 2109. And it is in Central London, so easy to get to by public transport.
I first encountered the Chelsea Flower Show when I worked for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea in Parks & Rec. We managed the South Grounds at the Royal Hospital, which is the retirement home of the red-coated Chelsea Pensioners (all former soldiers of the British Army). The Show has been held there since 1913 and now covers 11 acres and has over 500 exhibitors. Parks & Rec actually exhibited at the Show, winning a silver medal (a source of enormous pride). I was blown away by the gorgeous gardens and superb blooms displayed in the Great Pavilion. It was really the start of my odyssey into the wonderful world of gardens.
Enjoy these two short videos: one that excites and one that relaxes. And both inspire!
Highlights of the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show [1:40]
Health and Wellbeing [3:40]
The gardens and countryside simply glowed in the warm Autumnal sun of this October. Even the roses were still blooming!