Blossom as Blossom

With frosty temperatures down to minus four, forecast tonight, I’ll be protecting my container olive tree and dwarf cherries with horticultural fleece. In the picture here, from Les Fleures Animée, 1847, Grandville personifies the peach tree as a shivering young woman espaliered against a wall. She’s dressed for a ball, not for the weather. In…

Entangled Roots

Unearthed, Photography’s Roots, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, explores the entangled roots of photography and botany, effectively telling the story of photography through plants.

Butterflies & Hearts

Petals, by James Sowerby (1757-1822) from A botanical drawing-book, or, An easy introduction to drawing flowers according to nature. First published in 1788.

Spring Messenger

“Spring is coming, Thou art come!” wrote William Wordsworth in his poem To The Small Celandine. He was delighted by the arrival of this flower, which promised the return of the sun “when we’ve little warmth, or none.” It may be an annoyingly persistent weed to some gardeners, but it is said to have been…

Vedas of the Violet

True Brahmin, in the morning meadows wet, Expound the Vedas of the violet (from The Gardener, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quatrains) Violets have long held a reputation for inspiring finer feelings, often associated with the spirit of childhood and innocence. Culpeper introduces the flower as “a fine, pleasing plant… of a mild nature and in no…

Witch Hazel

The poem below, Witch Hazel, by Theodore Enslin, (American poet, 1925-2011) perfectly conveys the sting of clarity offered by Hamamelis, or witch hazel. Flowering in an otherwise blunted winter landscape, witch hazel is impossible to ignore. It draws the attention tight. Similarly, it is valued medicinally for its great astringency – tightening and strengthening blood…

Flower of Invisibility

At the darkest time of year, this resilient flower emerges from the snow. It can be easy to miss –  white petals camouflaged by their absence of colour, leaves still frozen; its underground root, black as earth. Folklore tells that if you scattered powdered Hellebore root at your feet as you walked, you would become…

Nonsense Botany

The brilliance of Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Botany” (circa 1871-1877) is that it’s only a hair’s breadth from the truth. Created in an age obsessed with plants and their scientific classification, he married the anthropomorphism of plants’ common names with the pomposity of Latin nomenclature, added a twist of the absurd, et voila! Some say these…

Gracious Oak

In the Victorian Language of Flowers, the oak represented hospitality. With their capacious and sometimes conveniently hollow trunks, formed over hundreds or even over a thousand years, oaks are associated with tales of welcome, shelter, bravery and worship. Chêne chapelle oak in Allouville-Bellefosse, France, is between 800 and 1,200 years old. In its hollow trunk…

Tulip Time

It’s tulip planting time. November and December are the best months to plant tulip bulbs. Plant in any soil, as long as it doesn’t get waterlogged. In pots, make sure there is good drainage. To be extra sure, throw in some horticultural grit under the bulb. Plant at least twice the bulb’s width apart, at…

Iris Dancing

Named after Greek goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods, irises signal spring and lead us into early summer. Their foliage can inspire at any time of year. “In every year there are days between winter and spring which rightly belong to neither… Things must take a turn… Across the drenched borders the…

Magnolia

One sleeting February day, while walking through the City of London, I happened to pass the church of St Giles without Cripplegate. It has been a site of worship since 1090; John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, is buried here. Survivor of various incarnations, reduced to a carapace in the Blitz, the church, now long-restored, sits low and settled. It is stranded like…

Blueprints

The botanical cyanotype prints of pioneer female photographer Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and her collaborator Anne Dixon (1799 – 1877).

Magenta anyone?

Does colour have meaning in the garden? Why magenta has been viewed as a controversial colour by some gardeners…