Observe Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy by Spending Some Time in Nature

The front of a $2 bill showing Thomas Jefferson's portrait.
Since Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, today is an apt occasion to consider his legacy and follow his example.

White boards, cell phones, tablets, and computers are not the only things that assist and enable creativity. So does taking a break, particularly one outdoors!

Activity where we do something without needing to think about it very much actually shifts us into a different state of consciousness. Now there’s a term for this state of mind: “transient hypofrontality.” Long before this term was invented, however, the greatest minds of society had already figured it out.

When Thomas Jefferson wasn’t running the country or visiting France, he was usually working in his yard. When Beethoven wasn’t writing music or playing the piano, he often took walks in nature. When Emily Dickinson wasn’t baking or writing poems, she was often working in the garden or tending potted plants in the greenhouse. When Monet wasn’t painting . . . you get the idea. Read more

Sound of the Season: A Morning in Spring

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The oil painting Bluebells (1899) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema shows two women, one sitting on the ground, one standing by a tree, in a refreshing woodland scene loaded with bluebells in flower.
Bluebells (1899)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

In the late 1990s, I had a recording of this piece, D’un matin de printemps, for more than a year before I listened to it one day on accident. Boy was I ever surprised! I had certain expectations about a piece titled From a Morning in Spring written by a French woman, so I had avoided it on purpose until then. The reality was nothing like I thought. What the music presented is a conception of spring I still find difficult to explain. Read more

In a Persian Garden by Liza Lehmann

Note: the timing of this post is meant to tie in with both Women’s History Month and the Persian New Year known as Nowruz or Norooz.

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a 17th Century Persian panel of tiles in shades of blue and yellow showing people enjoying themselves outside in a setting of blooming plants and trees
Fritware wall panel now in the Louvre, 1500s-1600s, showing entertainment in a garden
(similar to this one at the Victoria and Albert Museum)

The word “paradise” comes from an old Persian word that means “a walled garden.” The intent of that walled garden, however, was indeed to create an earthly paradise. At the beginning of the Old Testament, Genesis 2 mentions four rivers in the Garden of Eden, so these spaces were traditionally divided into quadrants, known as chahar bagh. In addition, so was the country.

oil painting showing inner courtyard and garden at the Palacio del Generalife and Patio de la Acequia near the Alhambra in Granada, Spain painted in 1848 by Wilhelm MeyerThat design sounds formal, and often these areas were courtyards with pavilions and elaborate tile work. You might wonder: what did Persians plant there? Most had rows of trees such as cypresses, sycamores, or date palms, possibly low boxwood hedges, and perhaps sycamores, beeches, lindens, palms, or other trees such as mimosa or redbud at intersecting points or just planted around for shade. But despite its formal tendencies, Read more

Sound of the Season: Music for a February Sky

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a painting of a city street lined with trees called Night in February (1901) by Charles Conner
Night in February (1901)
Charles Conner

In England, there’s a group of contrarians who oppose “blue-sky thinking” by helping people appreciate the beauty of clouds, which makes you realize a curious aspect of our language. Although we commonly use the term “landscape,” we only rarely encounter the term “cloudscape.” Yet we look up all the time, and gardeners in particular often look skyward and spend time thinking about what kind of weather will come. And all this means Read more

WARNING: Winter Bouquet Surprise From the mid-1880s

a painting of white hellebores and ferns with a sprig of holly
Still Life with Hellebores (around 1885-7)
Charles Porter

This scene was painted in New York City not long after Porter had spent three years in France. As any gardener can tell you, these are hellebores that are shown, and the sprig of holly adds to a wintry theme. The maidenhair fern must have been a house plant; the other kind is probably leatherleaf fern, Rumohra adiantiformis, also grown indoors, though it could be Autumn fern, an outdoor type which is evergreen.

Get a Glimpse of Country Life in Late Medieval France From a Richly Illustrated Book of Hours

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an illustration for February for the book of hours produced for the French Duke of Berry around 1412 to 1416 showing an outdoor farm scene
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, illumination on vellum made between 1412 and 1416

Scenes typical of winter in central France from the medieval cycle of Occupations:

People toast their feet before a fire while the chimney puffs wispy smoke. Outside, a farmhand or probably a son, having finished chores with frozen hands, is ready to join them. Since it is winter, the plow sits idle. But nevertheless Read more

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