Monday, May 28, 2012

Poppy Appeal

Standing gracefully in the herb garden this Memorial Day morning are the brilliant red Oriental poppies (Papaver oriental), still dewy before the heat of the day sets in. Some of the poppies flaunt their ruffled petals opened wide to the sun pushing out the deep blue pollen from the whorl of stamens in their centers while others bow their heads sleepily down not quite ready to greet the day.   Their prickly stems and leaves stretch upward and outward claiming their prominent and rightful place among the early summer bloomers. The poppies' fiery hue and flouncy petals bring a joyous riot of color to their surroundings and, they seem to me, to be emblems of a sweet country life full of the richness the summer season has to offer.

Yet, their appearance does not truly reflect their persona in the world of floriography. Poppies have long been used as a symbol of deep, peaceful sleep and even death.  Sleep because of the opium that comes from them and death from the common poppies' blood-red color that bloomed in fields throughout Europe where World War One was fought.  Poppies symbolize the sacrifices made in war and most especially our remembrance of the fallen soldiers on battlefields. 

Although it is customary to wear a red poppy on Veteran's Day in November, the season for blooming poppies is late spring into early summer in just about every country all over the world and are often used on tombstones to convey eternal sleep--think Dorothy and her friends laying down in the field of poppies, falling asleep and never meant to wake up again, just before they reach the The Land of Oz.  Adding to sleep and death in the meaning of poppies is another twist which comes from classic mythology where their scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection after death--again, think of  Dorothy, the scarecrow, lion and tin woodsman awakened when it began to snow and they continued on their journey to OZ. 

Lest we not forget that poppies come in a rainbow of colors and varieties from the pale pink-purple of the the Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) to the oranges and pinks of the California poppy and the azure blues of the Himalayan poppy.  There are even white and black varieties.  However, these in my garden are the fire engine-red prickly poppies, a bittersweet reminder of the losses in war we have all been touched by and the bucolic life portrayed in the scenes of French toille. So, I shall revisit these graceful herbal flowers, weeds really, throughout the day, so appealingly beautiful and full of peaceful remembrance.  Have a Happy Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Blooming Thoughts On Lavender

'Thumbelina Leigh' L. angustifolia is a favorite of mine here at Blooming hill.
During the Loudoun County Spring Farm Tour, this past weekend, when it seemed as though I talked endlessly, even by my standards, about lavender, it occurred to me how confusing this plant can be.  I must have heard, over and over again, "I had no idea that there were so many kinds of lavenders out there!"  Then I would reply, "There are literally hundreds of varieties classified under the genus of lavender that is comprised of more than thirty species of small shrubby, uniquely fragrant semi-woody plants and what I have here is only the tip of the iceberg."  They would then look at me, their eyes clouding over, and respond with an, "OHHH!"  I went on to explain that the genus lavender belongs to the Labiatae (Lamiacea) family of plants which contains square (or rectangular) stems such as thyme, mint and sage.  This only  resulted in further clouding over of their eyes.  Time, I realized, to stop being boring and just let visitors to Blooming Hill enjoy the gardens and the lavender in particular.

'Hidcote' L. angustifloia is an old variety and favorite of almost everyone I know who likes lavender.
'Melissa' L. angustifloia.  A pink variety that's a culinary type as well.
Somewhere in my rambling on about what were some of my favorite lavenders and what were new lavenders to me, and so on, I realized that these people were merely interested in it blooming...period!  And, although it was still a little early to see even the earliest lavenders in bloom, I think visitors were able to see differences in plant structure such as height and width as well as the burgeoning rainbow of hues from a myriad of purples to pinks and whites in the newly forming buds.  I could see that they were as captivated with lavender, at that moment, as I am always. Although probably not as crazy as me as to have over 600 and counting lavender plants in my backyard to tend to on a daily basis.

Several different lavender beds surrounded by stone paths still a few weeks away from being ready to harvest.
In the distance, beds of different varieties.  The tallest you see here are 'Grosso' L. x intermedia and 'Provence' L. x intermedia still a long way away from their bloom time.
Today, while surveying the property after a heavy nighttime rain making it probably one of the last cool mornings of this spring season as we approach Memorial Day Weekend,  I've decided that lavender is lavender, no matter what the differences from one grey-green variety to a silvery-green variety and on to a true-green variety.  Lavender's allure, stemming from a kind of  practical magic or just plain practicality, only contributes to the beauty of this complex plant that has a history dating back to long before the bible, itself.

The gracefull, bowing wands of 'Sleeping Beauty' L. angustifloia.
An early bloomer, 'Irene Doyle' L. angustifolia.
I always chuckle when I see lavander plants labeled as "true lavender" in plant centers. Afterall, what is true lavender?  Well, any species or variety of lavandula should qualify as "true lavender" no matter how they are classified from angustifolias to intermedias and chaytoreas (hybrids), to stoeches, dentatas, delphinensis and the list goes on and on.  From there the list of varieties ranging from the popular Hidcote (typically English) to another popular one called Grosso (typically French) is even longer.

'Pink Hidcote' L. angustifolia coming into bloom.
The truth is that the vast majority of plant nursery customers or those looking for lavender to plant in their garden beds just want a common or garden variety lavender that will look pretty and be hardy through unpredictable summers and winters with everythng else, season-wise, thrown in. That includes me as well although it seems I'm on this unending quest for the fairest of them all. However, believe me when I say every last variety of lavander out there is somehow already the fairest.   Yet, different strokes for different folks keeps me searching for new varieties.

A setting of Laura  Ashley's lovely 'Mayhill' dinerware that my dear friends, Kim, Joan and Karen of Two Broads and a Brit Afternoon Teas gave to me recently.  I shall be bold and classify this variety as L. china.
So, as I watch my collection of lavenders green up, and now begin to "purple up," I'll enjoy the view just as the farm tour visitors did this past weekend and I am grateful to them as they reminded me not to get too caught up in the logistics of the plant itself but appreciate lavender's beauty and grace in my gardens all year round.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fifty Shades of Green

No. This blog entry is not about what you may be thinking.  I'm not going there because I'm not talking about the color grey. It really is about the color green and, okay, maybe green is a little seductive especially during this beautiful month of May.  Green's allure conjures up thoughts of how a mystical emerald city comes alive in the trees and foliage here in the fresh, clean air of the countryside. Trees, now leafed out and ladened in their prettiest of ruffled finery, create lush canopies over winding roads while early morning dew magnifies the beauty of the scenery.

Anyone who has lived through a long and colorless winter can appreciate the verdant freshness of green. The meaning of green in flower color is about renewal, hope, growth and youth. Think of how you feel when you smell the intoxicating scent of a newly mown lawn and it's lushness as it shines in the daylight. Green in nature is so complex and vivid yet it seems as though it's easy being green in the springtime. Even a grey day seems to glow in the shimmering green of May with it's juicy goodness. Bright green is the color of Mother Nature at her highest peak and May is Mother's month so enjoy her bounty and embrace the gifts of green paired with purples, yellows, pinks and reds of the season's flowers.

May is the month of pure green enjoyment.  The harvest is still months away and the weeds, although they have made an earlier appearance this year, have still not attained their midsummer stronghold in the garden beds. The shades of green in May should not be missed--think mint juleps, fresh herbs, crisp lettuces and cool vegetables, rolling lawns and swaying trees in the breeze.  Not a trace of winter is left and, I think, we can attribute it all to at least fifty shades of green.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Garden Week "Do-over"

Tree Peony briskly blooming in the garden during Virginia Garden Week.
Chris and I at Loews looking for blooming begonias.
These past two weeks have been a whirlwind with garden work, shows, events, crafting and more with my sister, Chris, coming to visit us and help out with everything in between.  I could hardly keep track of the days with the weather shifting from 40's to 90's on a whim or, at least on a shift of the winds.  Still not much rain to speak of either, unless I'm at a show or holding a tea, of course!  Okay, dearest Mother Nature, I apologize for any impertinent comments that I have made in your direction, but could you please talk to all of your weathermen and ladies out there and tell them to get their ducks in a row and start forecasting a little more accurately?...PLEASE?!?!

Saturday, April 21, and hardly far from the maddening crowds at the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival.
Sunday, April 22, was cold and rainy, but a good day all the same!
The Leesburg Flower and Garden Show was totally awesome with a record crowd recorded on Saturday, holding off the bone chilling Sunday and it's continued traffic flow of die hard gardeners, even in the wind and pelting rain.  Virginia Garden Week, at least up here in Loudoun County, was cold, a bit rainy and very unpredictable with it culminating in a smorgasbord of weather, all the way up through this past weekend.  And, with the coming heat wave, I think I want a "do-over" with a little bit of nice spring weather. You know--the kind of nice spring weather that calls for cool, dewy mornings that lead into soft, breezy afternoons with azure, clear skies and puffy white clouds that give way to nighttime gentle rains-- a pipe dream, I know.  We used to call spring, "sweater" weather, not "go back to the hall closet and grab your winter coat because you're gonna need it until summer comes" weather.

One eerie and frosty morning last week.
My sister, Chris, channeling Grandma Helga Charlotta.
Tea time at Blooming Hill where, as our grandmother used to say, "the sun always shines" even in cold, rainy weather.
Even with the frost free date still yet to come, somewhere around Mother's Day here in Northern Virginia, the nights have been chillier than expected with almost all of the contents from my linen closet outside, most nights, creating ghostly images floating through the garden beds and rising out of their pots in the early morning hours.  Wait a minute-- is that an apparition of my dear departed grandmother, Helga Charlotta, checking out the tea tables?  Of course not!  It's just Chris setting cups and saucers and gathering flowers for centerpieces as Friday, which was sunny, cool and blustery, moved into cloudy and raw Saturday when the temperature never rose above 47 degrees.  In fact, it was so cool and damp, we set out small heaters to warm the "tea toatlers" feet as they sipped their cups of Darjeeling and nibbled on scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Iris in my garden.
Iris in my garden
Petunias in my garden.
Kevin (the prodigal son), Chris and Lara...quite a nice looking trio, if I do say so!
The iris blooming in the gardens seemed definitely interested in all the activity from uncovering plants to inquisitive and friendly garden visitors as the petunias talked amongst themselves taking bets on when the warmer weather would return.  As it turns out, we didn't have to wait long.  In any case, Sunday was an absolutely spectacular day, after all was said and done, including Virginia Garden Week.  We went and had lunch with the prodigal son and his lovely girlfriend, Lara, just before Chris flew back to to her home in Wisconsin and, I think, a much more sane life than this gardening business.  Let's look forward to May flowers with maybe some much needed April showers thrown in for good measure since they were slow in coming this last month and we can dream of next year when we will have our Virginia Garden Week "do-over."