Monthly Archives: April 2011

Planting, Painting and Poetry: Dahlias

We planted 28 Dahlias this weekend. There were so many varieties and colors, I had to make a schematic to keep up with them all. Part way into the process I realized I could do it with watercolors, and so I transferred the image to watercolor paper and had a try at it. (This is just the front yard!)

So far, I’m really enjoying my watercolor class. We’re still getting used to our brushes and learning how to mix colors. It’s a lot of fun and very relaxing.

Here are some of our previous Dahlias. They have huge blooms and grow quite large. They are fabulous. If you’ve never planted them, give them a try! You’ll love what you see. Just one or two of these cut flowers in a little bowl will liven up your table all through summer. But watch out for earwigs–they LOVE Dahlias and will eat them up and fall off the petals and onto your table. Make sure to choose some system to keep them off your flowers and then continue to maintain them. Also, cut off your spent blooms–they attract the earwigs.

And here is the symbolism behind Dahlias from the little book, The Bouquet: Containing the Poetry and Language of Flowers.

Symbolism: Elegance and Dignity.

I loved thee for thy high-born grace,
Thy deep and lustrous eye;
For the sweet meaning of thy brow,
And for thy bearing high.
I loved thee for thy stainless truth,
thy thirst for higher things;
For all that to our common lot
A better temper brings.
And are they not all thine—still thine?
Is not thy heart as true?
Holds not thy step its noble grace?
Thy cheek its dainty hue? –
And have I not an ear to hear?
And a cloudless eye to see?
And a thirst for beautiful human thought,
That first was stirred by thee?


Earth Day: All Creatures Great and Small

“Flowers have a soul in every leaf.” Thomas Moore

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry from the 1800’s lately, expanding my sphere around Emily Dickinson’s era, and what I’ve discovered is that the Victorians had an understanding and respect for the natural world that we just do not have today.

It left me wondering why. Is it because we don’t live and work on farms anymore so we’ve lost an understanding of the very real spirituality in a flower–a horse–a cat–a blade of grass?

I don’t know, but all this reading has left me wishing we were more like them. If we spent the rest of our lives trying to plumb the mysteries of the natural wonders that surround us, being good caretakers, respecting the spark of life in every thing, I think we’d be on the right track.

I would love to see our children taught to understand this, but I don’t think it can be done in the classroom or on television. Well meaning cartoons just don’t do it. It takes getting out and living in the natural world. It takes someone pointing out these little wonders and weaving stories and magic around them. And then, this would have to be done year after year after year so that when a young man or woman comes across a beautiful Grass Widow in a field they stop and admire it and understand what it means because of what it has always meant. Only then will anyone want to caretake the earth.

I don’t know how this respect and wonder can be transferred except through hands-on experience: a greenhouse in every school? That would be a start. More field trips to our national parks? Campouts? Maybe wildflower fieldtrips where every student makes their own flower press, collects the wild flowers, presses and identifies them and researches poetry, literature and history surrounding their specimen, then creates their own story or poem? I believe, if you can teach children to care about every living thing, you are going a long way in teaching them to respect themselves and each other.

Here is a little song you may know. Funny to think this was a common belief 150 years ago. So common, it was taught to the children–woven into everything they did.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren, 1848

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

I Love Robert Burns

I mean, who wouldn’t love this man?

It’s not his looks, though he is handsome for an old, dead guy. It’s not his money, because you know poets can NEVER have any of that. (Their code of honor.)

It’s his words I love. They tell of a big heart, a broad mind, a good sense of humor and a sharp wit–which is why men and women everywhere, but especially in Scotland, revere Robert Burns.

Three of my creative projects converged this week in that one man: Music, Gardening and Poetry. My piano teacher, sensing that I was getting bored with two years of intense scale work, gave me a creative assignment–choose any key, Major and corresponding Minor, and compose a song. Later that day, I was reading through a number of garden poems and came across Burns’, To a Mountain Daisy–On Turning One Down with the Plough. I started to wonder if it could be turned into a decent modern song. Here it is in its original, then I’ll follow with the modifications I made to fit it into a song.



Wee modest crimson-tipped flower,
Thou’st met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stour
Thy slender stem;
To spare thee now is past my power,
Thy bonnie gem.

Alas! it’s no thy neeber sweet,
The bonnie Lark, companion meet!
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet!
Wi’ speckled breast,
When upward springing, blithe to greet
The purplin east.

Cauld blew the bitter biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce reared above the parent earth
Thy tender form.

The flaunting flowers our gardens yield,
High sheltering woods and wa’s maun shield!
But thou, beneath the random bield
O’ clod or stane,
Adorns’t the histie stibble-field,
Unseen, alane.

There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snowy bosom sunward spread,
Thou lift’st thy unassuming head
In humble guise:
But now the share uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!

Such is the fate of the artless maid,
Sweet flowret of rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betrayed,
And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soiled, is laid
Low i’ the dust.

Such is the fate of the simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,
And whelm him o’er!

Such fate to suffering worth is given,
Who long with wants and woes has striven,
By human pride and cunning driven
To misery’s bring,
Till, wrenched of every stay but heaven,
He ruined sink!

Even thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern ruin’s ploughshare drives clate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crushed beneath the furrow’s weight
Shall be thy doom!


It’s a bit long for a song, so I cut it down to the first four stanzas with a chorus, and I placed it in C# Minor. At first, I kept six stanzas, but when the chorus was added, the song seemed too long. Also, it sounds a bit like something else I’ve heard, but I can’t pinpoint what. The chords go, C# minor to E to F# to C#. The minor chord makes it feel gloomy, but then the chorus starts to get upbeat. Also, the E has a feeling of rest at each second line–a little like what the poet accomplished with his four syllable lines. Here are the lyrics:

Modest Flower, C#
This is the evil hour, E
I must crush your slender stem F#
Among the stour. C# (Stour is an interesting word–in Scottish it is a term meaning stout and hardy. It’s also an english river and means turmoil and storm and conflict.)

There’s a sweet, sweet song, C#
Bending among the wheat, E
With feathery breast, F#
It flies to meet the purpling east. C#

Cold blew the bitter North, C#
Still you came forth, E
Barely rose amid the storm, F#
Such a tender form. C#

The garden flowers yield, C#
You have only woods to shield, E
Beneath the dirt and stone, F#
You come alone. C#


C# Soft beneath the stone, it rises
E Crushed beneath the clod.

C# I can find no power to save you,
E Still you will arise.

As softly as a feather, F#
As tender as a song. C#

So, here’s to Robert Burns–who cared enough to write about a poor Mountain Daisy about to be crushed by the plough. Reading his poem reminded me of my feelings for this wild flower that appeared a few weeks ago among the rocks–braving the cold–standing alone. How wonderful that a poet two hundred years ago saw, felt it, and kept it alive through song.

The Pleasure With Trees: Magnolia

O the farmer’s joys!
Ohioan’s, Illinoisian’s, Wisconsinese’, Kanadian’s, Iowan’s, Kansian’s, Missourian’s, Oregonese’ joys; …
To train orchards—to graft the trees—to gather apples in the fall.

O the pleasure with trees!
The orchard—the forest—the oak, cedar, pine, pekan-tree,
The honey-locust, black-walnut, cottonwood, and magnolia.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) from Poem of Joys–Leaves of Grass

My Royal Star Magnolia is living inside with us until after the last freeze.

In the Victorian era, it was associated with the symbolism: Peerless and Proud. The South.

In the book, The Poetry of Flowers, it says, “Of this splendid family of trees the American continent has many species. They are distinguished by their rich, smooth foliage, large, fragrant flowers, and aromatic bark. Some of them are of very exalted stature, taking rank with the highest tenants of the wood.’ In the Southern states, whole groves of the magnificent magnolia grandiflora are found scenting the air for miles around, with their rich and delicious fragrance. The large white leaf of the flower often serves the romantic southern youth for paper. He pricks upon it with a needle or pin the passionate thoughts of his heart, and commits his perfumed billetdoux to the care of zephyr to be wafted to the feet of his ladye-love.”

Emily Dickinson And Buttercups

The Butterfly’s Assumption Gown
In Chrysoprase Apartments hung
This Afternoon put on-

How condescending to descend
And be of Buttercups the friend
In a New England Town-

Emily Dickinson (1329B)

“I send you inland buttercups as out-door flowers are at sea.” Emily Dickinson
(Mid-April 1875, ED to Mrs. Edward Tuckerman)

“When it shall come my turn to be buried, I want a Buttercups—Doubtless the Grass will give me one, for does she not revere the Whims of her flitting children?”

“The grass of the lawn was full of buttercups and violet & wild geranium.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson writing about Emily Dickinson’s funeral, May 19, 1886:

A Children’s Poem by Mary Howitt: Buttercups and Daisies

Buttercups and Daisies
by Mary Howitt

Buttercups and daisies-
Oh the pretty flowers,
Coming ere the springtime
To tell of sunny hours.
While the trees are leafless,
While the fields are bare,
Buttercups and daisies
Spring up here and there.

Ere the snowdrop peepeth,
Ere the croscus bold,
Ere the early primrose
Opes its paly gold,
Somewhere on a sunny bank
Buttercups are bright;
Somewhere ‘mong the frozen grass
Peeps the daisy white.

Little hardy flowers
Like to children poor,
Playing in their sturdy health
By their mother’s door:
Purple with the north wind,
Yet alert and bold;
Fearing not and caring not,
Though they be a-cold.

What to them is weather!
What are stormy showers!
Buttercups and daisies
Are these human flowers!
He who gave them hardship
And a life of care,
Gave them likewise hardy strength,
And patient hearts, to bear.

Welcome yellow buttercups,
Welcome daisies white,
Ye are in my spirit
Visioned, a delight!
Coming ere the springtime
Of sunny hours to tell-
Speaking to our hearts of Him
Who doeth all things well.

Garden Journal

Have you ever wanted to keep a garden journal and draw pictures of your treasures as they emerge?

I have, and now I’m going to take on a fun new adventure–watercolor journaling!

I was over at Joanne’s blog, Whole Latte Life, this morning and read her interview with Laure Ferlita–watercolor artist–and found out she teaches online classes. I followed the link to her website, Imaginary Trips, and thought–now that would be a blast–a watercolor class!

Imagine this: a watercolor journal of my garden–crocus, lilies, daffodils, daisies, snowdrops, lilacs, dahlias….ahhhhh.

I reserved my spot. I purchased my supplies. I’m counting the minutes!

Stages of a Crocus

This diagram is from A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners by E. A. Bowles Ma.A., F.L.S., F.r.E.S., V.M.H. published by The Garden Book Club, 121 Charing Cross Road, London WC2. in 1955. I found this on a wonderful British site: Ivy Dene Gardens.

“She opens the paper wrappings,
hands delicate as a crocus unfolding
in the morning light. Little hands working
to part the frail chapter of circumstance
where histories float like clouds on an untouchable scrim.”

From, The Vistor, by Anya Russian

Here are the stages of the Crocus, in pictures, taken from my own garden Spring 2011.

1. Leaves push up from the ground.

2. Spathe emerges. You can see the purple of the flower cocooned within. This is like the birthing phase and the spathe is like the womb. It almost looks alien.

3. Bloom pushes out of the spathe.

4. Bloom begins to unfold.

And unfold…

And unfold.

More crocus in The Garden:

Karin Gottshall from her book: Crocus

To read entire book, click on link above.

I was in bed all day with the sun

and a heavy dictionary.
I watched the cat fall asleep
on the wove rug. Outside

a bird unspooled its song in wide,
round loops: drifting off,
coming back. Memory is like that—

words loosed like dust motes,
a dream I slip into: this cat’s
green-eyed mother, her grave

under licorice root and money trees.
Then come the angels of the afternoon
with their wings of flame.

one day language will unbind itself
from me—even to the barest
particulars: the first time

I heard the word crocus, the new
spring sun on my shoulder, smell
of mud—quick freshet
working itself free. At last
to release this word I
into the long blue currents of the sea.