Plein Air Painting

          Last Wednesday I joined a group of local artists for a plein air painting session.    They meet once a week during the summer, always at a different location, (garden, park or water view), paint from 9:30 until noon, then break for lunch and social hour – and show and tell if you wish to participate.   I did not, as my mother is the artist in the family.   I was only there as the driver and unofficial brownie-baker.   I never took art in high school, can’t draw a straight line and have no desire to learn.  The few times I have attempted to paint I sit there with a clenched jaw, frustrated that the end result does not in any way resemble the vision in my head.    My mother on the other hand, finds it pure bliss, and paints almost every day, although she has no formal training.   Still, plein air painting looks like fun, if you enjoy dabbling with a brush.  

Plein air is the act of painting outdoors.   Artists have always worked outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, the en plein air approach became more popular as painting in natural light became important to groups such as the Barbizon schoolHudson River School, and Impressionists.      In Canada, the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson are examples of en plein air artists.    (Wikipedia source)

The invention of a portable box easel which held paint and palette, as well as the availability of paint in tubes, made this outdoor activity much more convenient.   Previously oil paint was made from pigment powders mixed with linseed oil.   As there was no photography to record a scene, if you wanted to paint a landscape you either conjured up the image in your head, or went straight to the source, be it harbor, garden, or field of wheat.   

Monet

Impression, Sunrise – Monet

For the Impressionists, like Monet and Renoir,  it was all about the Light.  How the play of light affects and influences a painting was important to them, especially if you were lolling about in the south of France where the light is reported to be particularly inspiring.   Imagine a sketching tour there!  

Monet painted his famous Haystack series (25 paintings) after visiting a wheat field near his home at all hours, seasons and weather conditions, in order to capture the effect of different variations of light. 

Haystacks - Monet

Haystacks Series – End of Summer – Monet

Below is my favorite Renoir painting – a testament to natural light, shade and color – plus it looks like a fun outing.  

Luncheon of the Boating Party - Renoir

The Luncheon of the Boating Party – Renoir

No problem getting your friends to pose for hours if you ply them with enough food and drink and a boat ride down the Seine.

The Group of Seven were Canada’s first famous artists, painting outdoors in Algonquin Park in the early 1900’s.   They would often take summer tours where they would do preliminary sketches in the great Canadian wilderness, then return to their studios to finish the work over the winter.   

The Jack Pine - Tom Thomson

The Jack Pine – Tom Thomson

Our Canadian summer is almost over.   It’s cooler now in September and nice weather can no longer be depended upon.   This outing was the last of the year and an add-on for a session which was rained out earlier.   

Germain Park Garden

While not Monet’s famous garden,

Bridge-over-a-Pond-of-Water-Lilies - Monet

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies – Monet

the park we visited is known for it’s gardens.   I here to photograph the flowers, which are at their fall peak. 

Germain Park Garden

We arrive a bit late, as it’s a fair drive from home, and I’m not an early riser.  These artists are all morning people, but I suppose it’s cooler then for painting in the summer.    Today is overcast with a cold north wind, so we are all bundled up in sweaters and jackets.  It’s a large park, basically deserted at mid-week, and the painters have already scattered along the paths and picked their solitary spots.  

Zen Garden

There’s a separate Zen garden with a tranquil waterfall but no one is painting there.    Maybe it is too Zen?

Zen Garden

I wander around the flower beds admiring the fall colors, 

fall flowers Germain Park

and stop to visit with several of the artists, marveling at their talent. 

Plein Air Painting

Fall Flowers - mums

Most of the artists have been painting for years, but some, like my two friends, are relative beginners, 

Plein Air Painting still learning the tools of the trade.

Watercolor and oil are best for painting outdoors, as acrylic dries too quickly in the hot sun.

At noon they break for lunch, (brownies anyone?) in a spot sheltered from the wind,

Plein Air Painting - lunch

and afterwards, show and tell.   They pass each painting around the circle and I’m totally intimidated by then. 

Plein Air Painting

 And also grateful for that thermos of hot coffee.  

One of the artists points out a white squirrel which frequents the park, so I pursue a picture, although I only have the zoom lens on my cell phone, so it’s not the best pixel-wise.  

white squirrel

White squirrels may be albino (with red eyes), caused by a mutation of a pigmentation gene, or they may be a very rare variant of eastern gray squirrels.    He was a strange sight – and definitely an antidote to all that color.  

After lunch, I’m in desperate need of a nap.  All that fresh air is so tiring – makes you sleep like a baby – maybe I will dream in technicolor? 

Fall flowers - Germain park

PS.   Although it was an enjoyable day, I think I’ll stick with my writing gig for now.   

A Colorful End to Summer

I was looking at my big fat beefsteak tomatoes the other day and it struck me how very green they were, so I thought I would do a photo essay of  summer ending – by color.   Color my world –  just like we used to back in grade school, with the big 64 pack of Crayolas.   I just happened to have a box with my craft supplies in the basement and they have the same waxy smell I remember.  

Crayola crayons

The Crayola company first began selling crayons in 1903 and since then they have made over 200 distinctive colors.  (Wikipedia link)  Although many of the original colors are still around, I believe they are a bit more inventive with the names now, so I’ve decided to help them out, (see brackets).

The very green tomatoes.    (Lean Green Tomato Machine, because what tomato plant isn’t this time of year)

green tomatoes

The purple clematis is blooming.   (Purple Rain, as in the Rock Star Formally Known as Prince).  

purple clematis

The neighbors yellow Black-Eyed Susans nodding hello over the fence, (so very Mellow-Yellow).

Sunflowers

The orange tones of fresh summer fruit – melons, nectarines and peaches. (Fruit Salad Palette)  

Ripening tomatoes.   (Red Hot Salsa)   

Red tomatoes

The Last of the Pinks.    This  Dipladenia was the best plant I bought this summer, water and drought resistant (we had both) and no deadheading.  It’s still hanging in there as if it was in the tropics, which it felt like some days.  (Caribbean Dream Pink).

Pink flowers

The first bouquet of fall flowers – yellow and green and pink.

Autumn bouquet

White for the clouds of late summer, towering and cumulus, but looking fall-like.    (Cumulus Cloud White)

seagull and clouds

Blue for the water and sky and sailboats.   (The original Sky Blue can’t be beat).   

Sailboat

And beige for the sand and the last trip to the beach.   (Sandblaster Beige)

beach towel

Let’s say goodbye to the last (Psychedelic Sunset) over the lake.   

Sunset over the Lake - AMc

The first signs of fall are already here – the sound of crickets at night, sometimes on the hearth – the first drift of wood smoke in the air – the maple tree with it’s leaves dipped in paint – that first chilly morning when you have to reach for your chenille housecoat and it’s not because of the A/C – and that dreadful/wonderful/your pick pumpkin spice which saturates the season! 

Class dismissed – put the crayons away and go outside and play while the sun is still high in the sky!      (Sky High Blue-Green)

seagull

apples

PS.  Red for the apple for the teacher and for the harvest coming in at the farmer’s market.   Speaking of farmer’s markets, I’ll be doing a restaurant review soon on a locally sourced Harvestfest Dinner (link) – so get your forks ready to join me.   I hear there will be pie – as in (Very Cherry Red)!    

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

 

The Subject Was Knock-Out Roses

The Knock-Out Roses are blooming again, starting into their second cycle of the summer.    While never as showy as the initial blooming, they are still a welcome sight, a bright spot of color among the withered baskets and dried up lawns of early August.   

Knock Out Roses

Knock OUt Roses 1 (2)         If you want a low maintenance, easy to grow rose then Knock-Out Roses are the rose of choice.   I have 24 of these rose bushes and it was one of the best garden investments I’ve ever made.   

roses and lavender

Knock Out Roses

At $20 per pot for the pink double ones I’ve had ten years of beauty from them.

Knock Out Roses

If you are not familiar with the family of Knock Out Roses they were created by rose breeder Bill Radler in 2000 and were a hit right from the start.  Traditionally roses have had the reputation of being finicky plants, hard to establish and prone to disease, requiring lots of tender loving care.   

Knock OUt Roses 2 (4)

Knock-Outs have become popular because they are basically no-care and disease resistant, but the biggest appeal for me was they are repeat bloomers.    After a glorious initial bloom in mid-late June here, they will repeat the blooming cycle every 5-6 weeks.   New growth on the bushes is seen as red shoots/leaves.   One year when we had a particularly late fall, I had roses up until December – they looked quite strange with a dusting of snow on them.      

snow on roses

Well more than a dusting….

They are also self-cleaning in the sense that there is no need to dead head them, although you can if you wish.  I spray mine with the garden hose on jet when they start to look too shaggy.   They are also heat tolerant and do well in most hot sunny locations, requiring 6-8 hours of sun a day.    The two I planted on either side of the house do not generally do as well as the others as they do not get enough sun, likewise several at the back which are in the shadow of the house. 

Knock Out Roses on Arbor

Made in the Shade

Although that is not true this year, as we have had horrible heat close to 100 for days, so the ones in the shade are doing better than the rest.   We also had a late cool rainy spring with little sun, so the bushes have failed to achieve their usual height.   I should point out that most of these pictures are from previous years, lest anyone think I have created miracles during this weird weather year.   

They also don’t need much water, so as they are the perfect plant-them-and-forget-them rose, especially important if you are a lazy gardener like me who hates to drag the hose around.   

Knock Out Roses

As tall as the shepherds hook

Pruning and height:   I prune mine back to about 12 inches in early spring, although last year I misjudged and pruned in late March then we had two more weeks of wintry cold, so I learned my lesson and waited this year.   If no pruning is done, they can reach 3 to 4 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall, and some years I have achieved this when we had a milder spring and a good growing season.   Although they may be shorter than usual this year due to our poor spring, they still have plenty of buds on them.     

Knock Out Roses

This year’s shorter bush

Caring and fertilizing:    I give them a dose of bone meal in spring and a sprinkle of controlled release fertilizer and that’s it.   The website suggests some winter protection in colder climates, but the year I blanketed them with a layer of fallen leaves, was also the year I noticed a lot of blackspot on the stems the following spring.  The nursery owner suggested I forego the leaf layer and spray them with horticultural oil to treat/prevent any fungal disease, which I do now every spring.    I do mulch them, but other than that they have survived our brutal Canadian winters, although this year I was a bit afraid as the stems were so late greening up and looked so dry and brittle for weeks, but they eventually came along….sigh of relief.    

Here’s the company’s website, with a page of FAQ’s – link.

There are ten colors.   I have the Double Pink Knock-Outs, as I love bright pink and when I bought the first lot the nursery owner suggested keeping the color the same if I wanted to make a statement.   The Double blooms are fuller and put on a nicer show, so I always recommend the doubles.  Unfortunately three of the Doubles I bought a few years later came out as singles, despite the silver grower tags on them stating double – liars!

I really wish they had climbers, but they only have shrub roses so far.   They do have a tree rose, which stands about 6 feet, but at $90 I found it hard to justify when I have so many others and being a small tree, I wondered how it would over-winter here? 

Knock Out Rose Tree

Knock Out Rose Tree

Of course there’s always a gardening mishap or two.   One year some unidentifiable slug (I was never able to capture one), started munching on the bushes on the west side of the yard and managed to steadily eat their way along the whole row.   I was busy with work and by the time I noticed it was too late – they had decimated six bushes.       

Knock Out Roses munched

2015 was not a good year!

Although I tried everything – soap, powder, washing them off with the hose – they continued their stealthy munch munch munch.    But the next spring they bounced back, good as new.   

Although they are bred to be disease resistant, a few years ago Rose Rosette Disease (also known as Witches Broom), started attacking the Knock Outs in some parts of the United States (see Southern Living article), but it hasn’t affected mine so far.   Knock on wood that it never moves this far north, but if does, then it’s game over and they all have to be dug up and discarded.    Best to check with your local nursery to see if this virus, spread by mites via wind, is a problem in your area before buying.     

While I do have other roses – an ancient climber, 

roses on trellis

with prolific blooms, 

Roses on trellis

This years abundant blooms.

and a ‘John Cabot’ climber, (also very short this year due to the difficult spring), the Knock-Outs remain my favorites.    

roses on arbor

So if you are looking for an easy care rose which will provide beauty all summer long, these are the roses to pick! 

Roses on Trellis

PS.   An old oil painting of my mothers.

Roses - AMc

Roses in a Vase

 

 

 

The Blue Garden

Although the white garden at Britain’s Sissinghurst Castle may be famous, I have always wanted a blue garden.   Although there is a certain romantic appeal to a vista of pale white flowers glowing in the moonlight, white simply does not make a statement to me.   I need color in my garden – pinks and purples and blues, perhaps a dash of yellow or red.    White is an accent color, seen only in a few daisies which came up from last years toss of a wildflower mix into a back corner.  My grandmother had a white snowball bush, and my mother had white spirea bushes along the front of the house – I cared for neither.  I did like the white apple blossoms on the crab-apple trees in our old orchard, tinged with a blush of pink and heady with fragrance, but their show was brief, one glorious week in spring.   No, it is color I crave and blue is my favorite color.   Although my garden is predominantly pink and purple (see last years The Color Purple and the upcoming Rose Cottage), my attempts at introducing blue into my garden have not been very successful.   Blue flowers may be a rarity in nature for a reason.

These are delphiniums from a Nova Scotia vacation so long ago that I’ve  forgotten the name of the small sleepy town where we stayed, other than there was nothing to do after supper so we toured the local botanical garden.  Certainly I was not into gardening back then, but the image of delphiniums against a picket fence was striking enough to warrant a picture, although my memory of the rest of the place is vague – I think there were roses past their prime? 

Delphiniums (2)

And this is my one solitary blue delphinium, which bloomed one year and was never seen again, nor were it’s pink and purple cousins.   The same thing happened with the lupines. 

blue delphinium

 A neighbor of my mother’s had a beautiful display of delphiniums a few years ago, five feet tall and waving look-at-me,  but he is a wonderful gardener.   I suppose I can’t expect a scene out of Downton Abbey, if I don’t put much effort into it. 

Then there was the blue rose, which came up a pale lavender/lilac at best.  What a marketing scheme that nursery tag was, a scrawny thing, it bloomed for a few seasons, producing exactly one rose every year.    I was so annoyed with it, that this year I tore it out when I was removing the dead Rose of Sharon beside it which hadn’t survived the winter.

Those pretty blue lobelia flowers in garden baskets look nice for a month or two at most, but do not survive the heat and neglect of July/August.    I’ve given up on them too.

blue flowers

I love the first sign of Siberian Squill in early spring, especially vibrant with the contrasting yellow of daffodils. 

Daffodils & Siberian Squill

There is a large swath of them growing wild along the river road and another neighbor has a lovely patch in her backyard, but I have never been able to find them in a nursery.    Maybe next year I will remember to ask if I can dig some up.  It’s another invasive species I wish would invade my back yard.    

Siberian Squill

Blue Hydrangeas are always lovely, but how many bags of aluminum sulfate have I bought trying to get them to go true blue.    I’ve had some some success with this bush near the side arbor, but only because the neighbor’s overhanging cedars make the ground naturally acidic.   Last year it was covered with blooms, this year there isn’t a single one and yet all the other bushes have plenty.   How do they decide which one is going to take a vacation?

hydrangeas

Last week I dumped some more AlSo4 on the rest, hoping all the forecast rain would wash it magically into the soil, and had some success.   At least they weren’t all lilac.   

blue hydrangeas

hydrangeas

blue hydrangeas

I had some luck with forget-me-nots this year, which a fellow gardener shared, somehow it hurts less when things don’t survive if they are free.    Of the donated bunches I planted last spring, one came up at the front of the house, and two small patches on the side bed.   This year I transplanted some more, hoping they will become invasive.   They reseed themselves once past blooming.

forget me nots blue

My Heavenly Blue morning glories are the good old dependables, except one year when they didn’t come up at all.    They are hardy souls and thrive on neglect once they get started, growing a foot a day in late summer.  I blogged about them here – link – A Glorious September Morning.

Morning Glory with bee

Blue Morning Glories

Blue Morning Glories

This year I planted them in front of two recycled trellises, hoping they will be more contained so I don’t have to spend three hours tearing them off the neighbor’s fences in the fall.   

Morning Glorious

Morning Glorious

I’m planning on checking out a blue clematis the next time I visit a nursery, but it must be blooming, so there are no surprises like the one I planted last fall which turned out a dark purple not the vibrant Jackmani I was expecting.    All future flowers must show their true colors before they are purchased!   

A few years ago a local garden tour brochure described one of the entries as the Blue Garden.    I was so excited to see it – and so disappointed to find there were no blue flowers at all, except blue planters, painted rocks and bits of blue ceramic garden kitsch.   I have a limited tolerance for most garden kitsch, no cutesy signs,  rusty iron figures or painted trolls are allowed on my castle grounds.    However I would like a cobalt blue garden cat to preside over my garden like Linda discovered at Walking Writing Wit and Whimsy.   It would provide the blue color I desire, a dose of whimsy and it wouldn’t need watering.   Forget the blue flowers, better to get a cat!  

Have I missed any blue flowers?  What is your favorite blue flower?

 

Strawberries, Snakes and Jane Austen

Strawberries

It’s strawberry season again, but this year seems to be a washout.  Blame it on the rain and the lack of sunny days.  The local berries are just coming in but they are so sour I’ve decided to wait a week hoping we’ll get some sunnier weather.   The kitchen reno is still ongoing so I can’t bake a shortcake or make jam anyway. 

strawberry plant

For every one sweet one ripening in my little garden plot, there are two that make your mouth pucker.   Maybe that’s why the birds are leaving them alone?  And here I thought those plastic snakes I bought at the dollar store were working!    

snakes

This was a tip from another blogger last summer, as plastic snakes are supposed to act as a deterrent to the birds.   Walmart was out of snakes, so these are cheaper versions from Dollarama and the clerk told me they work so well they can’t keep them in stock.   They look more like skinny worms to me – and neon pink and blue?    Those birds must be color blind, but upon further research it appears birds have better visual acuity than humans and can see UV light and a wider range of colors.   I suspect they must be waiting for sweeter fare too.  

So I’ll leave you with a link to better days and last year’s blog, Strawberry Fields Forever, plus some Jane Austen.  

Strawberry Field

Flower Power

The only positive thing about this cool rainy spring is that I haven’t had to water anything…not even once.   Mother Nature has done it for me.   In fact it’s rained so much this past month that most of the farmers haven’t even been able to get their crops planted, the latest season ever as many recall.  It’s sad to drive through the countryside and see all those bare soggy fields.  The crop insurance has been extended a few days, but things are looking desperate, and the forecast is more of the same.  Let’s send out a few prayers for our farmers – because if they don’t plant, we don’t eat.   

I’ve been preoccupied with the kitchen reno, but here’s a recap of the best of the spring flowers, even if I’ve been too busy and it’s been too rainy to enjoy them.  

The hyacinths at the corner always make going to the mailbox a treat. hyacinths

These little purple violets scattered in the grass are always so pretty, especially if you ignore the weeds!  violets in the grass

The nicest thing about this picture, also taken near the mailbox, is the shade, which means the trees are finally leafing out.   TulipsI love the play of the shadows on the lawn. tulips

The squirrels dug up most of my tulips, tulips for lunch

so I really appreciate it when someone else makes an effort.   It’s always a treat to drive down this street and see this yard,  tulipsand this one. hyacinths spring garden

Last year I transplanted a few blue forget-me-nots from my neighbour – they were so pretty I hope they are invasive.  forget me nots

My only purchase earlier in the spring was a pink and yellow dahlia and a couple of bright pink begonias, my first for both types of plants.   I didn’t know what to do with them, and read that the dahlia had to be dug up in the fall so I just stuck them in bigger pots.  dahlia The dahlia has flourished, with many buds again, but the begonias got too water-logged.  dahlia

The lilacs finally bloomed, mine pale and anemic, so I enjoyed the neighbors dark purple ones which hang over my fence.   The bloom-again lilac was a few weeks later, but I was disappointed in it’s smell.   We’ll see if it lives up to it’s name.  

The lily of the valley was plentiful too, another invasive gift from a  fellow gardener.  lily of the valley

My 50 cent bargain iris from last years horticultural sale bloomed for the first time, all of them coming up purple, except for one ugly burgundy one I gave away as it didn’t fit the color scheme.    iris The second year for this fuchsia clematis.  My new one, planted last fall, is not out yet but as it is a Jackmanii, it may be later. clematis

Sometimes I’m not sure if things will bloom the first year, but the half-price peonies planted last fall burst forth a pretty pink.    peonies

When I finally got to the nursery again, these were my selections.  I’ve never had a dipladenia plant before (smaller than a Mandevilla), but it looks very tropical. garden flowers on tableAnd one can never have enough lavender.garden flowers on table

 I may pick up some half-price geranium pots if I can find any, but even the nursery plants are struggling this year.   Many look so pathetic no one would want to take them home, which is just as well, as man does not live by flowers alone.   I planted lettuce in early May and all the rain has made me the Lettuce Queen of the neighborhood.   Let us be grateful for homegrown salads!lettuce

Lilac Time

Our old white farmhouse was surrounded by lilac bushes, which were often out in time for Mother’s Day, an occasion we always celebrated on the farm with a big family meal which my mother prepared.   Looking back, it seems strange we made her cook on Mother’s Day, but then my grandmother always came over, so she probably considered it her daughterly duty, and was happy having all her kids home, even if it did mean we ended up doing two hours of dishes by hand in the days before the dishwasher.   Out would come the lace tablecloth and the good china, and the long farm table, dating from 1870, would be extended to its maximum length, with later another set up in the kitchen for the ever-growing collection of grandchildren.   Of course, this was in the days before going out for brunch became popular, which we tried occasionally but which was often a disappointment, restaurants always being so busy that day, and the kids not being able to play outside, where the lawn and orchard would be sunny with dandelions.    

Those old farm lilacs were common in the countryside, with almost every farmhouse (which back then only came in two types, white clapboard or yellow brick), sporting a bush or two.   But ours were special, as they surrounded the house on three sides.   If it was a nice day with a south breeze and the windows open, the smell was heavenly.    The fragrance would waft in through the kitchen and living room windows, and also the upstairs bedrooms, as the bushes were quite tall.      

lilacs 1 (3)

We also picked some to bring inside and put in vases, something I still do to this day.   Even when I was older, I would always take a bouquet or two home, wrapped up in tinfoil, to put on the kitchen counter.  

lilacs

After my father passed away and my mother moved into town, my sister brought her two lilac bushes as a house warming present.   They lasted about fifteen years and then had to be cut down.   I planted two lilac bushes in the corner of my yard ten years ago, and they are now starting to look spindly.  One bush smells like what I remember, the other does not.    Of course, they are late this year, like everything else, so these are pictures from last year.

Lilacs

There are over 2000 varieties of lilacs, according to the International Lilac Society, in a wide range of colors, sizes and blooms.    Common lilacs generally prefer cold winters, well drained soil and full sun.   They are low maintenance and require little watering, once established – my kind of plant! 

lilacs

My neighbor has the darker purple kind, which does not smell nearly as nice, but then maybe I’m just being nostalgic.

lilacs

All lilacs are lovely, (except those four foot Korean Dwarfs, my Miss Kim never bloomed once), but it is the old-fashioned kind I love the most.   While the nursery sold me the variety known as “common lilac” they certainly don’t seem as hardy as those old farm lilacs, which must have been heirloom stock, as they were still going strong at eighty years plus.   (Some varieties only last 10 to 15 years.)   The “common lilac” has the largest and longest blooms and the most fragrant flowers and can grow up to twenty feet.   Ours would be pruned back once in awhile when they got too tall, (only prune immediately after the spring bloom), but they were always leafy and full, and the branches made excellent spears for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a backyard bonfire.  

Lilacs

I was told my grandmother planted them sometime in the 1920’s when she was newly married, after the house was raised, a basement put under it and a veranda added.   She also planted a row of white spirea bushes beside them, so it formed a little alcove.  lilacs 2 revised I would sometimes take a book or magazine there and sit and read, sheltered from the wind, stopping once in awhile just to breathe in the scent.   Here’s the view, looking out. 

lilacs on the farm 1 (2)

Someone needs to cut the grass!

After my mother moved, the house and the lilacs were bulldozed down to make room for  more acreage – a sad fate after so many years of providing beauty.   I wish I had thought to take a cutting or two, but I was busy with life and not much interested in gardening then.       

Last fall, I bought two Bloomerang Lilacs on sale, a variety new to me, but then I’m always behind on the latest gardening trends.   (Here’s a link to more info.)   They are similar to the popular Bloom Again Hydrangeas, and will rebloom in the summer and fall after a short rest.  They will only grow to 5 feet, making them more like a shrub than a tree.   Mine seem to have survived the winter nicely and even have buds on them.   I like the idea of having lilacs for three seasons, as a week or two in May seems much too short.   

Lilac Bloomerang

This would make a nice Mother’s Day gift!

If you’re ever in northern Michigan in early June, check out the famous Mackinac Island Lilac Festival (link added to bucket list).   No cars are allowed on the island, but you can cross on the ferry and stay at the Grand Hotel (where Somewhere in Time was filmed) and tour via bike or horse drawn carriage – now that really is going back in time.   Visiting this lilac paradise is a nice way to welcome summer after a cold and snowy winter.  Here are a few pictures from Victoria Magazine, May 2000 issue. 

Victoria Lilacs 1 (2)

Victoria Lilacs 4 (2)

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lilacs - AMc

Farm Lilacs

 

 

 

 

   

The Literary Salon – Enchanted April

Last April I posted about a delightful book, Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnin, and since it is April again, I thought this would be a good selection for this month’s Literary Review.    Although this book was written almost a hundred years ago, it’s a favorite of mine for it’s theme of beauty and hope, and how a lovely environment can renew one’s life and perspective.  Here’s a link to the blog……Enchanted April.    I hope your April has been enchanting too! 

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book, but I had watched the movie first. A timeless tale with a lovely story line and such vivid descriptions of flowers, gardens and beautiful countryside that you almost felt like you were there.

Italian Villa - AMc - 2015

Italian Villa – 2015

Signs of Spring

Spring is late again this year.  Having survived a particularly brutal winter, which started early and never let up, we’re all tired of the snow and the cold, and anxious for the first signs of spring.   So, here’s my take on the Six on Saturday Garden post….   

March 20 – The first official day of spring – saw my first robin, who was uncooperative for a photo-shoot, hopping away every time I got near.  Unfortunately the zoom lens on my camera is broken so this is as close as I got.  Robin

March 22 –  The tulip and daffodil tips are peeking through on the south side of the house and some of the rose bush stems are starting to turn green.

daffodil tips

March 23 – Went out for a walk for the first time in weeks, the wind was cold but the sun was bright, and the neighbor’s snowdrops were out in full force.  

snowdrops

March 25 – The Angry Bird  – I opened the front door to check the temperature this morning and saw the morning doves have returned.   One was sitting on the front step, looking quite perturbed now that it has to find a new place to nest.   They are life long lovers and creatures of habit, but as they didn’t build a nest last year I thought it was safe to install new light fixtures.    I’m feeling guilty but my new lights are so much nicer than the old.  

Morning Doves

Mr. And Mrs. Lovebird

light fixture

March 26 –  So nice to see a blue sky again, especially against a budding maple tree.Blue sky and maple buds

March 27 –  saw my first crocus while returning a book to the library.   Their flower beds are always gorgeous because they have professional gardeners maintain them.  

crocus

March 28 – first spring-like day, 15 C, and first milkshake from the Dairy Queen –  chocolate of course.   Drove home with the windows down.  Dairy Queen Milkshake

March 29 – The ice is gone from the river and the sunlight is sparkling on the water again.    river view

March 30 – our first all day spring rain flooded the back forty, but brought a tinge of green to the grass.  spring rain

March 31 – brought a return to winter and a couple of inches of snow – the robin was not amused.    The snow hung around for a more few days – is this some kind of April Fools joke? Robin

A pot of hyacinths can provide a small dose of beauty, hyacinth

while we wait for this.        

Daffodils and hyacinths

What wonderful sights await us in a few more weeks.   Happy Spring!   

Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country