. . . So the Pink Hyacinth was a True Prophet, and I Went to Bed a Happy Millionaire . . .

two white hyacinths blooming against the foundation of a houseFrom the Journals of Louisa May Alcott, 1868, perhaps while she was finishing or proofreading Little Women, which would be published September 30. Note the reference to the Civil War: “all these years.” Also, these are forced hyacinths she is describing, in wintertime actually, so her thoughts ahead are prompted by the new year. These posts were written on different days over several weeks.

After last winter’s hard experience, we cannot be too grateful. To-day my first hyacinth bloomed, white and sweet, — a good omen, — a little flag of truce, perhaps, from the enemies whom we have been fighting all these years. Perhaps we are to win after all, and conquer poverty, neglect, pain, and debt, and march on with flags flying into the new world with the new year.

My second hyacinth bloomed pale blue, like a timid hope, and I took the omen for a good one, Read more

Flowers of the Forest by Jean Elliot

a woodland scene with bluebells carpeting the forest floor

There’s always a time appropriate for these verses, given the events in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the unchanging human condition. It is safe to predict the forests of humanity will always produce such flowers.

The best introduction to these timeless “flowers” comes from about 1,000 years ago: Read more

Sound of the Season: A Morning in Spring

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead.

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.

Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead.

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

The Shocking History Behind Two Brides of Spring by Edmonia Lewis

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead. Also, this writeup is long and strays from the topic of gardening. Initially all I wanted to do was share a lovely sculpture pertaining to the season and raise awareness of a little-known artist. As you’ll see from the background I uncovered, how could I not tell you about this?


“There is nothing so beautiful as the free forest. To catch a fish when you are hungry, cut the boughs of a tree, make a fire to roast it, and eat it in the open air, is the greatest of all luxuries. I would not stay a week pent up in cities if it were not for my passion for Art.”

letter from 1864

a statue of a draped figure of spring carved by 19th Century sculptress Edmonia LewisAt the end of the 1870s, while living in Rome, American sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis appears to have made two personifications of Spring evoking the Roman goddess Flora. Both figures are veiled and pose identically, but one statue, decked with beautiful garlands, is more elaborate. There is a fine essay by Theresa Leininger-Miller describing that piece. The simpler second one, exhibited in Boston in 1881, is shown here courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

A veiled figure was very challenging to portray convincingly in stone, so one was always undertaken to demonstrate mastery. Part of the inspiration for a veiled figure may have been Read more

Remember 19th Century Botanist and Pioneering Photographer Anna Atkins

a cyanotype of a fern taken in the 1840s by Anna AtkinsAlthough Anna Atkins was commemorated in a Google Doodle on her birthday in 2015, raising awareness of her work continues. She was born this day 218 years ago. During the 1840s and 1850s, working with botanist Anne Dixon, she documented most of the ferns and algae in Britain; this research was published in many volumes with some of the first photographs taken by women. Both Anna Atkins and Anne Dixon had learned most of what they knew on their own, not from attending institutions or through formal study, but that was somewhat typical of the time. As a result, it might be a mistake for us to assume that they felt marginalized or alone. As Rachel Carson later put it,

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. Read more

Meet the Garden Writer From the 1840s Who Believed That It Was All Right For Women to Go Outside and Get Their Hands Dirty

a portrait of John Loudon from the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society of EnglandBy the time he reached middle age, life had brought the Scottish botanist, landscape architect, and city planner John Loudon (1783-1843) an abundance of both triumph and trouble. He had traveled in northern Europe, learned French, German, and Italian, and published encyclopedias of gardening and agriculture. Thus he was worldly and intelligent and successful. Since he was a bachelor, these qualities certainly made him an excellent catch and a potentially ideal husband and father.

Health problems, however, Read more

“If That Isn’t Enough, Then What Is?” Vincent van Gogh’s Passionate Letter to His Brother From London

a watercolor of an Indiana wildflower called Dentaria painted around 1915 by Hannah Overbeck
Dentaria laciniata (around 1915)
Hannah Overbeck

In January 1874, Vincent van Gogh would write from London to his brother Theo,

How I’d like to talk to you about art again, but now we can only write to each other about it often; find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.

. . .

Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see. Read more

The Connection Between Tree Aloe and Women’s History Month

A tree aloe grows in Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens in Santa Barbara, California.

Aloe barberae was named in the mid-1870s. The name recognizes Mary Barber (1818-99), who collected the plant in the region of South Africa formerly known as Transkei. She sent pressed leaves and flowers to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and William Thiselton-Dyer named the plant for her in 1874. At the same time, Read more