Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Flowers of Hokusai

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston currently has a beautiful exhibition of the work of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese painter and printmaker most famous for the work known as "The Great Wave of Kanagawa" from his series "Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji". It is so iconic that there is even a smartphone emoji of it! Yet beside that maritime scene with its luscious dark blues and many lovely landscapes and quirky snapshots of city life, Hokusai also produced beautifully cheerful - and botanically clearly identifiable! - depictions of plant life. Here are just a few from the exhibit.

Assorted chrysanthemums

China roses (Rosa chinensis cv.) against a blue sky

Four o' clock or marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa), just like I blogged about here and here

Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda)

Magnolia liliiflora

Fringed iris (Iris japonica) and China pink (Dianthus chinensis)

Leopard or blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis), which I have posted about here

As you may have noticed, most of these prints also contain birds rendered in no less detail than the flowers. They come out of a Chinese tradition, adapted in Korea and Japan, known tellingly as "bird-and-flower painting". Someone more knowledgeable than me in ornithological matters would be able to identify the species of birds much like I identified the flowers. I, for my part, forgot to photograph the descriptive plaques along with the prints themselves and now have no idea what they are.

Monday, April 27, 2015

More Spring Blossoms

Here are some more spring blooms, one from my own garden and a few from down the street.

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Hollyhock', the fourth of the historic double hyacinths I planted last fall

Tulipa turkestanica in a neighboring garden

Apricot blossom (Prunus armeniaca)

Some sort of ornamental cherry (Prunus sp.)

We also saw some beautiful flowers rendered in ink and paper at the Hokusai Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. Those will get a post of their own.

Friday, April 24, 2015


As part of the ongoing road work throughout our neighborhood, our street corner has been dug open and repaved multiple times over the course of the past year. The last time they redid the side walk before the winter, they were rather imprecise with the asphalt and spread it several inches into our garden, over the hostas and other plants edging the garden bed. Evidently, though, an inch of asphalt and tar is not enough to stop the hostas and common violets (Viola sororia):

Hosta shoots pushing through the asphalt

More impressively, perhaps, a violet struggling to free itself

Prettier pictures will return with the next post...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More Spring

Just a few more flowers from the garden...

One of the primulas (Primula vulgaris cv.) I bought to decorate the front steps


After this winter, I could just sit in the garden staring at all the blossoms and sprouting leaves all afternoon. Alas, I should try to be productive...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fancy Blooms

All sorts of flowering bulbs are finally coming along in the garden outside, including some awesome heirloom double hyacinth varieties I planted last fall - and some narcissi whose name has already slipped my mind...

Hyacinthus orientalis 'General Köhler'

 Hyacinthus orientalis 'Madame Sophie'

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Chestnut Flower'

Narcissus 'Avalanche'

This is supposed to be Narcissus 'Trevithian', though I am starting to doubt that is really what it is - at least the flowers have a slightly different shape and fragrance from what I thought was 'Trevithian' in the Michigan garden

The double narcissus, planted last fall, whose name I no longer recall...

Some tulips someone must have planted years ago in the tree pit in front of the house

Meanwhile, a new order of heirloom bulbs and iris rhizomes from Old House Gardens arrived this Saturday. Some day, there will be tuberoses and rain lilies and montbretias...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring Travels 2015 - Part 1: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France

On our trip to France a few weeks ago we visited a number of gardens, the first among them being that of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on the little peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat just outside Nice. Completed in 1912 for the immensely wealthy Béatrice de Rothschild (1864-1934), the villa is a lot like the famous mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, from the American Gilded Age - large, ostentatious, intended to be used for only a relatively short part of the year, and chock-full of very old and very expensive - and often very ugly - art bought up seemingly indiscriminately from former royalty and the aristocracy of days gone by. However, aside from the tackiness of the mansion's interior, which in its own way is still worth seeing, the estate is absolutely beautiful. The location is stunning, on the highest point of the narrow peninsula with views over other villas and lush grounds out onto the Mediterranean in almost every direction. Extending around the sides of the house and in a long axis in front of its south façade - the overall layout is meant to resemble the deck of a ship - are a series of themed gardens, all immaculately maintained. 

A view towards the south front of the villa along the central axis of the garden

A view out over the bay towards the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer

A stone trough planted with Primula obconica in the entrance area

 A staircase and fountain clothed in creeping fig (Ficus pumila)

A fountain in the entrance court surrounded by velvet groundsel (Roldana petasitis)

In touring the grounds, one first enters the Spanish Garden, a lush space that evokes the Moorish gardens of southern Spain with pale yellow arches and a rectangular central water feature. Adjoining the Spanish Garden is the Florentine Garden dominated by sombre cypresses. Further on is the Stone Garden, a shady area where Béatrice de Rothschild arranged her collection of stone carvings - friezes, window arches, and the like - amidst azaleas and camellias.

View from the Spanish Garden towards the Florentine Garden

Arches and greenery in the Spanish Garden

More arches and flowers

An Italianate staircase

 A camellia (Camellia japonica cv.) in the Stone Garden

After the Stone Garden comes a shady, manicured Japanese Garden, followed in turn by a garden of succulents.

In  the Japanese Garden

More of the Japanese Garden, looking in the other direction

Into the garden of succulents

After the succulent garden at the very tip of the property is a large formal rose garden. However, since the roses were just beginning to break dormancy there was not really much to see and I did not take any pictures. At other times of the year, though, the rose garden is supposed to be one of the highlights of the property. 

For more information on the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild you can visit its website here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2015

Spring is only now really setting in so there are still not terribly many outside flowers, although more are popping up everyday. Inside, however, quite a few things are blooming:

Creeping bellflower (Campanula sp.)

A wild form of Canna indica

Abutilon megapotamicum 'Variegatum'

The azalea (Rhododendron simsii cv.) that the best of significant others got me is still going strong

Pelargonium 'Attar of Roses'

Outside in the garden, apart from the Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' that I blogged about a few days ago, these things have sprung up:

Crocus cv. 

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Finally, on the balcony I have two plants that just arrived from Select Seeds opening their first buds:

Parma violet (Viola odorata 'Marie Louise')

Double nasturtium (Tropaeolum 'Darjeeling Gold')

Yesterday I took a break from school work and spent all afternoon pricking out seedlings and repotting things. I am running out of windowsill space:

Just some of the seedlings I have been raising

Now to get ready for a very long day on campus...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Coming Up Roses

Or pelargoniums, rather, but this is actually the historic variety 'Attar of Roses' which, as the name implies, smells strongly of rose water.

Pelargonium 'Attar of Roses'

I have had this plant for about a year and it has been vigorous and largely carefree, apart from being very thirsty. However, unlike for regular pelargoniums or "geraniums", flowering seems to be an intensely seasonal affair for this cultivar. It was in full bloom when I bought it around this time last year but finished flowering by mid-June and did not produce a single new flower bud until a few weeks ago, when it began to sprout lots. Scented pelargoniums like 'Attar of Roses' are quite important in the perfume and cosmetics industry, and apparently in Tunisia they are also used to make a fragrant water used in cooking, similar to rose water and orange blossom water. Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli chef whose gorgeously illustrated cook books seem to have been appearing in every fashionable shop for the past couple of years - and the recipes, while sometimes quite intricate, really are very cool - is evidently a fan; in Plenty More he has a recipe for "Grilled Stone Fruits with Lemon Geranium Water" and writes, "so before I am accused of introducing yet another impossible-to-find ingredient, I would like to say that lemon geranium water is a wonderfully exotic scented liquid that is extremely difficult to find anywhere but in Tunisia, where I first came across it" (Ottolenghi 302). So of course now I want to try it.


Ottolenghi, Yotam. Plenty More. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Very very slowly spring is finally actually happening. Today, the very first flowers opened in the garden outside, a handful of little Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête'.

 Miniature daffodil (Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête')

I have also planted the first seeds outside, namely poppies and sweet peas and a few other things that are to be sown "as soon as the soil can be worked". Inside, meanwhile, all available window space is quickly filling up with pricked-out seedlings of all sorts. Somehow they, too, seem to be growing more slowly this year, but hopefully they will pick up the pace as the weather gets warmer and sunnier.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Happy Passover!

Here is an interesting piece from The New York Times about how these ludicrous winters we have been having affect the holiday table:

Happy Passover, or Not: Gefilte Fish is Back

Pesach Sameach!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Saving... Something

At the edge of one of the most horrific of current conflicts some people have been working to preserve a different kind of heritage:

Syrian Seeds Stored in Norway for Safekeeping

This makes me wonder just how many and what kind of plant varieties are being lost to war elsewhere all the time.