I'm glad I let the weatherman on TV bother me. I heard him say that the weather was more typically what you would expect in early February. How depressing but so true, the chill just seemed to cling to the city refusing to release its hold. Like everyone else, I continued to trudge around under the weight of winter clothes and on Saturday slid back into hibernation. Come Sunday. though I was eager to get out of the apartment and camera in hand, I set off for Central Park.
Very quickly, it became clear that there was a story being told here. Things had pushed past the bud stage and I was seeing tender young leaves braving the new season. Sometimes this would be spectacular in its isolation, a single shrub or tree moving forward on its own, sometimes in concert. The forsythia was in bloom, as were aconites, daffodils and dogwood. The weeping willow, the red cardinal the sprouting leaves and yellow flowers all whispered reassuringly to me - fear not what the weather man says.
"How now, mad spirit!
What night-rule now about this haunted grove."
It's believed that on the night of the vernal equinox, Crocus Dell at the foot of the ancient Oak is the site of much reverie as all the faeries and elves of Olde Breuckelen celebrate the end of winter. They sup on the nectar of a thousand snow crocus that bloom here in the week prior and the locals know to bolt fast their doors and windows to thwart their drunken mischief.
OK, I made that up. I became a little boy again with a head full of fantastical nonsense the minute I saw this carpet of crocus at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Fairies and Elves live here I thought to myself -for sure, and that giant eye on the oak- that's to ward off Goblins.
Despite all this talk of spring the weather in NYC remains fairly chilly. My trip up to Mamaroneck last week was largely spent - not in the garden. Its currently over run with workmen and machines as they work on the new extensions to the house. Even the potting shed is out of bounds - it's now become command central for the construction team and warehouse for random displaced furniture. We did manage to plant some trays of seed. Fingers Crossed. I brought home some cut branches of pine which propelled a little bit of activity in my dining room.
The room has somewhat of a green bias mainly because there is a large green abstract painting of mine on the wall. As you can see, I am also clearly drawn to green objects as I have a steadily growing collection of green ceramics and those cloth bound flea market books, hmm they're green-ish too. Those pine branches are in a glass vase, on the window ledge behind the curtain. As the sun gets higher I begin to get more light and those branches throw some cool shadows- but I will only enjoy this in spring as the giant air conditioner will fill this space come summer to fend off the NYC heat.
One thing follows another- I score an inexpensive Alocasia from the Home Depot which performs morning duties of moody dark green silhouettes aginst the silk curtain. I want more. This afternoon I open my bedroom window, reach out and cut some twigs from the oak tree just outside thats beginning to bud.
It needed to be three things - the pine,the elephant ears and the oak twigs. The number three, the color green, glass, water, bud, leaf,twig, branch- Yin energy is activated. Winter Yang- begone.
I'm not a fan of Bonsai. Something about the interference, the constant pruning of branches and roots, the wiring, its all such an unnatural contrivance. This art of restriction, beautiful though it is, goes against the grain. If not for my friend, I would never have gone in to look at the Bonsais in the conservatory at The Brookln Botanic Garden today but thats where I found myself after our hearty lunch (the chili is wickedly good) at the cafe downstairs.
Outside, spring is already fairly popping. There is already an imminent sense of mass - many, many swollen buds and a sense of urgency and haste - quite a few early starters out of the gate already exploding in bloom. Whatever is going on outside however, is ignored inside the Bonsai room, where the pace is different, almost stately.
I contemplate the graceful unfurling of brightly colored acer leaves, the poetic curve of a branch laden with buds staged against the spareness of a blank wall. I am struck by the contrast of aged wood and bark against the lime colored freshness of new leaf.
I feel almost as if I have been invited to a private view of spring - uncluttered, unhurried and in detail. I totally had a zen moment, which I guess is the point of Bonsai. I might have to come back here in the fall.
According to Chandler Burr "no hyacinth exists in natural form in perfumes". Amazing, since its a note in some of the most well known ones from Estee Lauder's White Linen to Chanel No.19. This would apparently be the scent of phenylacetic aldehyde, hydroxycitronellal, cinnamic and phenylethyl alcohols, terpineol and phenylethyl acetate and more.
Right now, my hyacinth, a gift from a friend , is exactly how I like it. The flowers somewhere between bud and bloom and the scent only there when you are close. I definitely see how the scent is described as 'green'- and understand why it's considered in aromatherapy to be uplifting and a remedy for grief. It's almost exactly what's needed at the end of winter. Not just a hint, but a war cry of what's to come. I also understand as more of the scent is released and becomes more strident how people can find it overpowering or induce headaches. I'll probably have to move it into another room in a day or two. In any case, its for real.
The internet unfolds in interesting ways. One remarkable new development is the increasing availability of books in the public domain as libraries digitize their archives and make them available. For gardeners this means valuable gardening literature from botanic enyclopedias to landmark books by historically influential gardeners to interesting works from local horticulturists - all easily at hand. But thats not all, we are now also able to enjoy them in some interesting new ways.
The first is that they can be enjoyed intact, as they were originally published, even the paper they were printed on as these books are digitized with high quality scans. For me, aesthetically, the thrill of seeing the illustrations, the font choices the cloth bound covers and how they have both aged and stood the test of time is phenomenal. Intellectually its interesting to measure if the gardening wisdom on offer from a hundred years ago is also perennial and still relevant today.
But its yet another technological improvement that makes this even more interesting- the ability read the document, by flipping through the pages, as you might a real book-except, in your browser. And so I launch my digital library of vintage gardening books. Select a book from the list below, and click on the top right icon which takes you to full screen mode-give it a little time to load and you are all set. You can also search for keywords in the document and view it in other ways.
This collection will increase over time but here are a few that I have chosen to begin with:
An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter
Old Time Gardens by Alice Earl Morse ( which I mentioned in this post).
The Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper
The Evolution of Plants by Dunkfield Henry Scott
Full List here
I like how the Cleome looks in this rework of a photo I took last summer of a small flower garden in Riverside Park. I like how prominent it looks, the detail of those tendrils against a dark background but the truth is I don't really like Cleomes. What works well in the context of a picture composition here doesn't follow through in the garden for me- I find the plant sort of showy and cumbersome and those tendrils - they're just weird.
I still cannot abide yellow marigolds or red salvias, and no impatiens will ever darken my garden gate says Michael Pollan, and I have to agree- I feel the same. I also struggle with Coneflowers and Golden Rod and Sunflowers. I'm not really a big fan of bulbs in general either - love daffodils in the park and tulips in vases- in the garden, not so much. There it is - I'm guilty of prejudice, and admit to practising discrimination at the garden gate- but I'm working on it (rehab is cool). What's the treatment plan? I take notice of how other gardeners have incorporated plants on my blacklist which is why I took the photo of the Cleome in the first place- they looked sort of good. One definite change in my thinking- I do like the smaller darker flowered sunflowers pictured on this page with Achillea at Sissinghurst and these that I saw at Wave Hill so they are definitely a possible future inclusion. Despite the nice picture, I think its' still a no for Cleomes.
Walking out of the conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens I was struck by the views of plants behind glass. It triggered a thought process- could this be the future of gardens? Not a hyper technological sanitized bio bubble dream but a clunky rusted, algae and condensation riddled reality.
It reminded me of the beat up dented spaceships in Ridley Scott's Alien movie. Would walking home past giant glass wrapped apartment buildings be like this with fleeting images of ghostly shadows and mournful decaying leaves that the indoor gardenbots forgot? Then again how lovely to buzz through the glass door of my apartment complex into an orangerie in the depths of winter.
Then I became aware through the camera viewfinder, when it cropped out discernible shapes of plants - compelling abstracted colors and textures. The blurred greens, dark shadows and reflections in the plate glass became abstract paintings confusing the organic with the architectural. When I got home I noticed that I had inadverdently captured a few images of myself reflected in the glass and have decided to bookend this series of images with those blurred self portraits. It captures the immersive, nature of the moment when one is at one with the subject.
Even with daylight savings time beginning a short few days a way, this image I took at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a few days ago seems pertinent to current gardening circumstances - garden not quite open yet. For some reason that day, gates seemed particularly interesting- the gate to the native plant garden was intriguing and deserved a peep and the main gates which I've not noticed before are a lovely rendering of leaves.
It wasn't all bad news, the witch hazel was flowering and the crocus had broken through.
I posted back in December that I really liked Pantone's color of the year a blue purple that I had an interest in. I want to expand on that with a theme I'm calling Mood indigo. Indigo is technically defined as the color between blue and violet so I'm using that term loosely to look at flowers that span the color range between blue and purple.
Sometimes going back to a subject reinforces certain ideas- one here is that blue flowers look really good together in a monochromatic border. This is borne out in some of the private gardens in Provincetown pictured here as well as the Shakespeare garden in Central Park. Its interesting to read that this held true back in 1901 when Old Time Gardens was published. See this excerpt- where the author reknown North Eastern gardener Alice Morse Earle, writes about "The Blue Border" and names many plants pictured above and many more.
I've been using this blue purple in my work recently - combining it with yellows that tend green and oranges that tend yellow. If you look at page 4 with the Alchemilla Mollis and and at page 6 with the purplish asters with yellow, orange-ish eyes, you can see how well these colors harmonize. One thing I noticed in the moment of taking some of those photos was how luminous the bluer end of this range looks in shade or contrasted against a dark wall or background- see the delphiniums on page 11 or the pansies at the feet of the hostas on page 16. The best example is actuallly the last page- the photo doesn't really do justice to how those Tradescantia glowed in the deep shade. Something that occured to me after I put the photo series together is how much I like the purple Artichoke and Clematis Jackmanii against a white wall or paintwork on pages 12 and 13.
Of all the gardens, I really liked the part of the Shakespeare garden where this color palette was planted in almost a glen like setting with plenty of cool upright ferns, the sculptural shapes of the purplish alliums and intense shots of color from the pansies. The overall effect was beautiful but calming and meditative.