ChatterLog May 2011

Gardens

Taurus, the Bull

Greetings everyone and welcome to the May Chatterbulletin! Back in March we heralded in the Spring and then last month on April 22nd we celebrated “Earth Day.” And now that we have moved from our fiery sign of Aries, the Ram, to our slower-paced Taurus, the Bull, we are looking at our 1st Earth sign of the Zodiac.

The “always-in-a-hurry” Aries typifies the “rolling-stone-gathers-no-moss” syndrome, whereas our Taurus would rather slow it right down and take their time as they plod on down the hill… they prefer to enjoy each and every moment along the way. Now, you may recall at this time last year, we talked about “Possessions” because Taurus loves beautiful things, and treats everyone as if they were a possession too! This time, we are going to look at another Taurus trait, and that is their connection to the Earth and their love of growing things! So this month’s theme “Gardens”is decidedly green and also happens to be the color associated with Taurus, and therefore connects us with the Earth and Mother Nature.

And speaking of mothers, my own mother loved her little garden more than anything. She was always quite modest about her gardening ability and enjoyed a more natural and “”wilder” approach to her little patch of land, but she had certainly inherited the family gardening gene. Both her mother and aunt were avid gardeners but I particularly remember our grandmother’s large garden filled with beautiful beds of roses, peonies, pansies and dahlias (one of my favorites!), with lupins, delphiniums, hollyhocks and sweetpeas to name but a few. And not only was our grandmother a fine gardener, she also taught classes in floral arrangement. Back in the early 60’s as a young child, I thought it was terribly “cool” to watch these women taking classes in Ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement, hosted by my own grandmother in the dining room of her house in a suburb of greater London. More than simply putting flowers in a container, Ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together with an emphasis on shape, line & form, as well as minimalism. Now here’s where it gets really interesting – the structure of an Ikebana arrangement is based on a scalene triangle delineated by 3 main points, considered in some schools to symbolize Heaven, Earth & Man, and in others the Sun, Moon & Earth.

Ikebana Arrangement with Exotic Irises

I was fascinated by this art form and would join in with the class and create my own arrangement along with the group of ladies, and one of the main rules I learned from back then and have always remembered is that when doing an arrangement, you must always have an odd number of flowers or stems, never even! The containers were as interesting as the arrangements themselves, and were often flat or shallow or unusual in shape, most unlike a regular old flower vase. When my sister and I were clearing out our mother’s house in 2009, we found a few of these shallow bowls and containers, no doubt once used back then in one of those classes, and I brought one of them, a beautiful shimmery orange bowl, back with me to New York. And my aunt, our mother’s sister, also learned the art of Ikebana, not only from my grandmother and great aunt, but also because she and her husband, my uncle, ended up living in Japan for 5 years, so she went right to the source, you might say!

Now gardening is to England what Baseball is to America really – everyone in the UK grows something and watering the plants both inside and outside the house is as natural for us as throwing a few catches in the backyard for you. Some people prefer to eat what they grow and lovingly labor over their vegetable plots, while others might enjoy the more aesthetic pleasures derived from simply growing beautiful flowers. Our own mother was not really one for growing her own food other than some fresh herbs for salads and mint for the roast lamb – instead she wanted a garden of trees, shrubs and flowers and took much pleasure, comfort and solace in the time she spent on her little patch of land. I can certainly grow the odd thing here and there and I miss being able to grow more than my New York apartment windowsill permits, but the one truly following in my mother’s footsteps when it comes to gardening is my sister, who is both a natural and talented in that area, and it was she who spent many hours with our mother pottering around in her greenhouse and flowerbeds. In fact, my sister and husband met when they were both working at one of the largest garden nurseries in Southern England!

Photo by Louisa J. Curtis

Bronx Botanical Gardens, 2005

When we were growing up, we had a pretty large one-acre garden with a generous-sized vegetable patch and fruit cages. Back then we also had a gardener who came and helped out, because it was too much for our parents to handle by themselves. My sister and I were each given a corner of the vegetable plot in which we could grow whatever we wanted. We grew the standard childhood classics of marigolds, stocks, clarkia and candytuft, but without question, my favorites were nasturtiums, and lots of them. The Leo in me was automatically drawn to all of those sunny yellow, orange and red flowers. Another of my success stories back then was when I meticulously saved some runner beans one year and dried them out over the winter, ready to be planted in the spring. What began as a few old beans grew into some quite impressive plants, which also produced a substantial crop, I might add. The only problem was that rather than using wooden stakes for them to “climb” and grow up, I planted them by some old roses, so they climbed up and around them instead!

Remember last month I showed you my friend’s wonderful “vegetable garden cake” with all the hand-made miniature vegetables? Well, truth be told, I myself have always loved miniatures, and when we were little, one of my sister’s and my favorite things was to create our own miniature model gardens with these plastic kits we bought from the toy store. We began with the basics, a starter pack, if you will, and then added to it as we went along, so by the time we had finished, we had flowers and trees and all sorts of garden goodies laid out on the big table in our playroom. And included in the kits were these brown rectangular plastic flowerbeds with rows of small holes in them. The plastic plants had to be pushed down into the holes using a small pointed garden tool so that the foliage & flower went from flat to upright and was literally planted in the flowerbed. We planted rows and rows of miniature plastic tulips, daffodils and roses, and would fight over who got which colors! We loved this stuff and even built miniature garden sheds and greenhouses. There were miniature tools, including a mini lawn mower for the strip of fake felt green lawn! We would play with these models for hours and hours and hours…

Photo by Louisa J. Curtis

Miniature Garden Prize Winner, Guernsey North Show, August 2008

Back in 2008 when I was visiting with my “Ikebana” aunt in Guernsey, my stay coincided with the North Show. This annual event included a parade of fabulous floats, decorated with hundreds and hundreds of flowers as well as the wonderful flower and produce displays in the tents. This brings me back nicely to the topic of miniatures yet again, because amongst all of the displays of giant dahlias and red tomatoes, were the children’s displays – and they were some of the most adorable and imaginative creations. These two images show one of the miniature gardens on display and a few of the fruit & vegetable sculptures – brilliant! And continuing on with my love of miniatures this month, be sure to check out my latest article for PhotoServe, and interview with the queen of miniatures herself – Lori Nix!

Photo by Louisa J. Curtis

Fruit & Vegetable Sculptures from Guernsey North Show, August 2008

And in closing this month, how could I not make mention of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, which took place last week on Friday, April 29th. Unless you really are living in a cave, you would have been hard-pressed to not have seen any or some of the coverage, but I confess, I watched the whole thing ‘live’ with one of my neighbors and we enjoyed the entire thing as we sipped on our mimosas and munched on our pastries (they’d run out of scones!) Whether you are a royalist or not, whether you agree with the monarchy or not, you have to admit, nobody does it like the Brits and this was a historical event. And a royal wedding always cheers the country up! Interesting to note that as I write this article the Moon is in Taurus, as well as the Sun, and the Queen of England, is herself a Taurus, born on April 21st, and if anyone could be accused of owning some pretty fabulous possessions, she would certainly qualify! But the reason I wanted to make mention of the wedding was to comment on the couple’s decision to “bring some nature” into Westminster Abbey. Instead of the usual flower arrangements they lined the knave with six beautiful English Field Maple trees, symbolizing humility and reserve, and which was used in medieval times to make loving cups, and two Hornbeams, which signify resilience. I thought the effect was both simple and stunning without being over the top. Also interesting was the unexpectedly small size of the bride’s bouquet, but although seemingly understated it was perfect and really beautiful and contained Hyacinths, Sweet Williams and Lily of the Valley. And instead of following the more common tradition of the bride throwing her bouquet to all the single girls later on at the palace “bash” (!) the bride placed her bouquet on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, a tradition started in 1923 by the Queen Mother apparently, in memory of her brother Fergus who had been killed in the great war.

And Happy Birthday to all of you Taurus out there!

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