Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Memory of Violets

Hello there dear friends & readers.
Here we are, once the time of violets,
and daphne...
 toasty wood fires, chicken stock in the slow cooker & pretty vintage blankets on our knees in the evening. The winter sun is low on the front veranda. Most days we put out fruit at the gate: lemons from Ted, grapefruit from the giant tree (huge as far as grapefruit trees go) across the road, walnuts from Ruth's gatherings & local oranges.
Violets & seeds & even rose cuttings are continually being dispersed around the countryside at quite an alarming rate. So, as it happens, it was quite a challenge to create a little space so that I could go to Palmerston North with Rob, a week or two ago. He attended a Champions of Nursing training & I had a lovely time op-shopping.
What an utter delight it was to hear a "Hello, Catherine?" in the Red Cross shop, only to discover Gina, my friend (that I'd actually never met)...visiting from way up north & having the presence of mind to recognise me from this blog. We had such a lovely catch up over tea & I think we're both still marvelling at such an act of pure grace.
On our journey home Rob & I found a lovely old oak mirror in the Woodville Mart. Clever man discovered that we had very nice hooks in the back of one of our old wardrobes to make it perfectly useful. Our hallway has become a cloakroom
 & even had a jolly good old clean. The ever patient driver screeched to a halt several times on the return journey home, so that I could pick some...rather sort after verbena bonariensis seeds. Good man, now the coat hook mirror is already half paid for!
 I found this dear jug in The Salys in Dannevirke.
 So cute.
I really do find violets enchanting. 
I've decided I shall be a Collector of Violets.
Might be how I came across this little novel...the scent of them sent me on a violet mission; the memory of violets, the enchantment of these delicious little flowers,
 coaxing out the stories stored in many I've heard these passed few months: a mother who would gather bunches at the kitchen table & tie them up with string to sell to the florists, a grandmother who always gave a granddaughter a fragrant posy from the first of the violet blossoms each late winter. It's the simple warm memories that weave the most charm & remain indelibly pressed in to our hearts. One whiff and...
 you could find yourself transported to the flower markets of old London.
Primroses & polyanthus,
the promise of bluebells,
 and sweetest primlettes.
All bring me back round to the scent,
 the memory
 of violets.
 The memories stretch oh so far back in time. I have recently discovered that this particular violet Mrs David Lloyd George was introduced in 1915 & described as
"A pretty and rare violet originating from Corfe Mullen in Dorset, so is sometimes known as the Dorset Violet.".
 And so I began Hazel Gaynor's novel A Memory of Violets...
Life was terribly tough for the poor in London in the late 1800's & the little girls that faced life mired in poverty & orphaning, often survived on the filthy streets by selling violets or watercress to the wealthy passersby. They were known as The Flower Sellers.
 The story unfolds with deceptive simplicity & reminded me of books of my childhood; yet slowly & surely the story is woven together with colourful threads of fragrant intrigue & purpose.
"1876. Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden’s flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by the presence of each other. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.
1912. Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s orphaned and crippled flower girls, taking them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start; a chance to leave her troubled past behind.
Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora’s entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her sister.  Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart." 
The story, I found fascinating on so many levels. So close to my own heart, the resonance of loss & struggle & abandonment...the sense that the world has set it's face against you & that you have no one to truly care for you & protect you.
 The real Albert Shaw of the story, was a christian man named John Groom, who always had a sense that he was called to do more with his life than engrave silver. He eventually fulfilled that calling & set up homes for the Flower Sellers with charming names like Violet & Foxglove House, where they learnt to create artificial flowers as a way of life. Wonderfully, the girls work & plight was acknowledged in the most delightful way, told so well here:
"With a dozen occupants in each home, under the care of a Housemother, these women and young girls lived and worked together making artificial flowers in a nearby factory. It took them off the streets, gave them employment that wasn’t dependent on the seasons or the weather, and improved their quality of life immeasurably. The artificial flowers produced were mostly sold to the wealthy to decorate their homes, but the work of the ‘Flower Girls’ was eventually noticed by the Dowager Queen, Alexandra of Denmark (widow of King Edward VII).
Queen Alexandra was to commemorate fifty years since she had first arrived in England from her native Denmark and rather than the usual processional drive through London, she wanted to use the occasion to raise funds for the city’s hospitals. Aware of the work of the girls at Groom’s ‘crippleage’ she commissioned them to make thousands of artificial pink roses for buttonholes which would be sold all over London.

The event on 26th June, 1912, was a huge success, supported by a thousand titled ladies who took to the streets to sell the roses. As The Times reported of the event, ‘the most noticeable sight was the enormous number of men who wore [a rose]. In the City and West End, at any rate, nearly every second men had at least one bloom and often had two or three in one buttonhole.‘ In total, over £30,000 was raised for charity (several million pounds in today’s equivalent). This was the very first ‘flag’ day of its kind, known as Queen Alexandra Rose Day, and the capital had never seen anything like it."  
Photo & excerpt form here with many thanks.
So it seems...that beauty & kindness remain a saving grace.
 And an honour it is indeed, to have become a "Flower Seller" too; a woman immersed in fragrance & grace & beauty.
Thank you dear readers & friends for you patience with me & for your visit here.
Much love,
Catherine x0x0x

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Growing An Angel In Your Garden

Hello there!
Well we've reached the chilly bit of our winter now. You know, when there's frosts & snow (well a day of it) & all the leaves have finally fallen off the trees and even I wear a hat & a scarf & a jacket to garden. I think that the Chinese have a good point about keeping your "wind points" covered. Scarves are a very good idea to protect your neck from rogue winds.
But it's also the time when we all start to go on about how we can't wait for the spring bulbs..but hold on, half the bulbs are flowering very nicely already.
My friend Ruth grows wonderful narcissus...many of them of the jonquil variety. Here are just a few, in all their lovely glory.
I thought I must show you our snow (since it's quite an event), up on Te Mata Peak just last week.
Wind chill factor kicked in making the temperature -6 degrees C about this point; brother's know these things!
One recent morning I happened to be in the kitchen looking out the window when I heard a great commotion & immediately thought that Whistle had finally captured Elijah, our visiting racing pigeon friend. Here he is, just yesterday...
He's still wandering around the neighbourhood visiting where-ever he pleases. We often spot him meandering along the footpath. But, no it wasn't Elijah at all. It was a Kereru, a native wood pigeon. I shouted quietly for Rob to come quickly, as this wonderful bird had landed in our olive tree right outside the kitchen window. The Kereru then dropped down on to a buxus bush below & promptly squashed it!
We've never seen a one in town or in our garden in all the 26 years we've been here, until now.
A little nibble of an old wrinkled fig,
a quick drink from the bird bath. Lucky he didn't tip it right over!
And then a wee rest up in the frangipani tree before departing.
 I am so grateful that I live in a place where I can be a Garden Fairy the whole year through. I love sharing my plants & seeds & cuttings & sometimes a little knowledge with others through Trade Me. Sweet violets are one of the most sort after of my listings. I love the little stories & memories that people tell me about violets; usually from their childhood & their favourite aunty or grandmother. The fragrance evokes the memory of connection in a heartbeat.
I received an email enquiry form a customer (oooh, I have customers!) a while back asking me for a little assistance as she had searched the internet for tips on growing the seeds that she had bought from me, but hadn't been able to find a thing. She'd been searching for a plant called "An angel in the garden". So funny & utterly delightful! On my seed packets I write the name of the seed & then where it says origin I write "An angel in the garden".
It's quite amazing when you keep your eyes open, what you find in the garden that does actually flower through the winter.
We both love cyclamen.
Every week I bring home bunches of rainbow chard from Gay & Robert, the organic growers at the Farmers' Market.
It doesn't grow like this in the summer! Such stunning colours full of goodness.
Finding a good movie to watch is such a treat. We loved "What We Did On Our Holiday" so very much. "We're all ridiculous, really", says Billie Connelly, as the grandfather. I agree!

In late autumn I harvested ginkgo leaves just as they were turning to yellow. Only trouble was...I popped in to a funny little park down the road where I knew there was a good big tree & as I jumped up & pulled down a branch to gather the leaves there was a loud crack & a large branch broke right off & nearly conked me on the head. Oh dear, what to do. I couldn't very well just leave it there, so I grabbed it back to my car & stuffed it in the back seat & drove it home to deal with it there. It took me weeks to get rid of all the leaves that fell off in the process & dispersed all through my car. However..I now have an almost mature ginkgo tincture that I plan on taking to see if it might improve my menopausal brain function. Now wouldn't that be something to look forward to!
I friend posted this wonderful turmeric milk recipe on Facebook a day or two ago. It is so delicious & really nourishing & warming. I popped the recipe in the kitchen blog just here.
As an angel in the garden I have even taken up the role of cupid...what fun. I had a random enquiry for assistance from one romeo looking for purple peonies for his sweetheart. It turned out that I could help with purple flowers (as they had to be live) & manage a delivery too. All just down the road from one of my gardens. There were some theatrics & a little drama but all ended in pure delight. It's worth remembering that a gathering of live plants can be much more economical than a picked bouquet. This little lot only cost $20 all up. The hyacinth was just about to come out & had 8 beautiful stems/buds. Good old Rob spotted it at Bunnings when he went to buy building bits.
"So...let's make this garden this year more lovely than it's ever been." Yes please!
As to the experimental present free with every order. Perhaps it'll be a packet of An angel in the garden seeds? Wouldn't that be lovely!
I am so glad that you popped in for a visit. Thank you!! Wishing you all a week with happy bits of learning something's so much fun!
Much love Catherine x0x0x0x

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Gypsy Lunches & Teacup Angels

Golly, I've been gone for ages, I know!
I've not disappeared, truly.
It's so kind of you to visit me...
The past weeks have been rather a delightful & fruitful adventure here at an angel in the garden, but have also required copious cups of calming tea.
We have been so very busy with Sunshine Vintage, gathering, sorting, wrapping & posting & it's been such a joy. What lovely, lovely people there are out there in our little nation. As I list, describe & research the seeds & plants that I love to grow & would like to share with others, I have begun to see my garden & the landscape around me with fresh eyes. There are plants that I didn't even know had seeds, until now! 
It's the simple memories that remain with us through the years: the scent of violets from a beloved grandmother's garden, a mother's favourite flower, a father's collection of geraniums that we took no notice of at the time, but the memory remains attached. I find myself to be offering the plants of memory, the "Nanna plants" that line the garden paths of childhood & nostalgic memory; those that people cannot find them in the commercial places...they are only handed on through angel's in gardens & the such-like. 
 My mother kindly gave me a magazine for my birthday back in January & in it what did I find...
Tilda Teaspoon Ladies.
They can be found in the Tilda book Fairytale Wonderland.
Knowing that I simply would never get around to making them myself, I asked my dear & marvellously crafty friend Julie if she would make some teacup ladies for me.
 We managed an exchange of fabrics & teacups & hugs one day in Dannevirke back in January, when we were both traveling in different directions, one heading home from a wedding, the other a funeral, but passing each other by.
 Aren't they adorable!
And very fiddly to make.
You can read about the making of them here.
  I love them to bits! But of course they are in fact teacup angels!
 Nina likes them too.
I always know when she does...she stops quite, quite still & gazes silently, intently with a sparkle in her eyes; for a very long moment...before she speaks.

Along with the "girls" Julie sent this delightful dottie angel card.
 Which was a good reminder to check in & see how the dottie angel dress pattern was coming along.
And, what would you know....this week Tif announced that her pattern will be released by Simplicity in June. Hooray!
Rob had a little time off in early May. So much to do here in autumn, so we worked & we ate together & it was a good break from his nursing work.
I have been reading this book: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's taken a while...which is a good thing. I have savoured it.
I rather like this review over at Shiny New Books.

One night, sitting up in bed reading together.
  I came across this sentence..."They ate hot buttered toast together every morning, gypsy lunches out in the fields & stayed up late in to the night together...."
And so we did...
In amongst all the goodness & the wonder, the grand friendship & the seed selling there was also sadness & struggle...the tears & the grief, & feelings of worthlessness & not being ever safe that belong to the past; the itchy skin & inflammation in my eyes & sinuses & the really, really fat days! Sometimes I despair that my healing/menopausal process is so slow to move along. But I am encouraged, just now, to note many small things that are transforming & re-shaping before my eyes. Rob has quite brightly stepped in to real ownership of his own nutrition & is taking great pleasure in preparing meals & helping put things together..with care & intelligence.  
Our Gypsy lunches are truly delicious.
And it's not all hot buttered toast.
One morning he decided to make a fruit salad.

With so much abundance in our little back garden fruit forest...
it was easy to gather all that we/he needed (with the exception of the bananas!)
Our little blue friends will have been keeping something naughty at bay.
I love how the persimmon leaves transmute in to gold along with the fruit.
One morning this week as I walked to the gate to serve a fruit customer I realised I had a little visitor on the front lawn.
And then he had a graze in the back garden.
He's been wandering along the guttering on The Pansy (the shed) looking for grubs & things.
I am a little worried about Charlie & Whistle though, our borrowed furry friends.
I phoned Mr Harrison (who knows pigeons) he says he's not from around these parts & he's a racer. He tells me he should fly off on his way soon.
But this afternoon..pop, there he was again, wandering all over.
Meantime the morning glory got a bit carried away so we twined it around the washing line.
I am watching carefully, daily, for the seed to set.
More Gypsy lunches!
And shared excess.
And other small visitors.
Slightly larger ones too!
The light is marvellous in autumn. It brings a touch of magic to the world.
Thank you ever so much for visiting me!!
Much love & blessings of abundance to you all, Catherine x0x0x

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