Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Greek mythology has it that a beautiful nymph by the name of Syringa ( lilac's botanical name), was pursued by Pan, the god of the forest. Pan chased Syringa through the fields and forest. To avoid capture she turned herself into a bush, the fragrant and most beautiful lilac.

Our garden is lush with lilacs. Lavender, magenta, white and blue blossoms create hedges that offer beauty and aroma to walk along on a spring morning. Later , after a day in the studio, a walk ( "passeggiata") through the garden before dinner with a glass of campari & soda, is ever so rewarding.
This is also the time to fill a bucket and cut lilacs for tomorrow. More on that later.

lilac 'Krasavitsa Moskvy'
A white/pink variety that is my favorite this season. I find it especially stunning when used solo in a vase.

" And where are the lilacs?"
Pablo Neruda

The Spanish poet Pablo Neruda was familiar with the lilac and used it symbolically in his writing. A line from a poem written during the Spanish Civil War, asks the question where are the lilacs. The use of lilacs in the phrase often interpreted to point to innocent children that go into hiding in time of war, or noting of the absence of happy times. The lilac representing youthful innocence and humility.

The common lilac ' Syringa vulgaris' is part of the olive family, with it's origins in Europe and Asia. The lilac's popularity and hardiness prompted the early colonists to transport it to the New World. The earliest known lilacs in the USA are in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. These lilacs at the Governor Wentworth Mansion date back to 1750 .

Time to bring lilacs into the house to be a visual treat and add fragrance to fill the room.
Here is what I have found to be the most successful way of cutting lilacs for a vase.
The best time to cut lilacs is early in the morning or at the end of the day. In this arrangement I have featured Wedgewood Blue, Ludwig Spaeth, and President Lincoln lilacs


First, fill a clean bucket with warm water, then take it with you into the garden along with a sharp pair of pruners. Cut the stem at an angle, remove the lower leaves, and immediately put it into the bucket of warm water. Once the desired amount of lilacs have been cut, place the bucket in a cool, dark place for at least 5 hours, overnight is desirable. Re-cut the stems at an angle before placing them in a water filled vase.

Along with lilacs there are tall late tulips and the viburnum 'opulus' is just starting to flower with it's characteristic chartreuse color. The chartreuse color is a great alone or as a punctuation in an arrangement.
Still ahead in the garden are the later lilacs, 'James Macfarlane', ' Miss Kim', 'Miss Canada' and another favorite and perfume filled meyeri 'Palibin'.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Over-the-Top Colors of May

Look at the color of this old crabapple tree!

After a long NewEngland winter of white and shades of gray it is such a thrill to see this old crab apple turn to a jewel .
Standing beneath it one is illuminated in crimson, bathed in that glowing crimson.

Trying to mix this color from tubes of paint is just not to be, almost but not quite there.
Nature is good at reminding us that we are mere mortals!
How over- the- top the color of these blossoms are. What joy they offer us!

Once I can leave the lovely old crabapple I walk to the lilac hedge where beauty and fragrance draws me in for a closer look. Lilacs are a favorite here in our garden, this one is President Lincoln. This lilac hedge was planted nine years ago and is quite mature now. This is one of the first to flower each year, with the other following close behind. The lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire, so it is a must-have in our garden. I adore lilacs.

My four favorite fragrances in the garden start with lilac followed by lavender, Apothecary rose and Old Maiden's Blush rose. It is just impossible to walk past any of those flowers without being captured by their fragrance. All, of course, make it into the house to perfume the rooms .

These Rembrandt tulips light up the back garden. They also are cut to become subjects of paintings, or fill vases that bring color into our table.
Tulips punctuate our gardens,there are always Rembrandt tulips, Parrots, Fringed ,and the tall elegant French tulips.
Savour these now for they are all fleeting, but as days pass the late tulips, nepeta, viburnum opulus and an early peony are to be looked forward to as their blooms unfold to delight us!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Happy May Day!
Daffodils are in bloom at last!

May Day, Primo Giorno (the first day of May), is a national holiday in Italy. The holiday, called Festa Dei Lavoratori is to honor workers and can be compared to Labor Day.
Our first experience with this Italian holiday happened several years back. We were sitting in a bar (cafe) in the small hill town of Panicale. This region of Umbria is quite agrarian.
An area of farms with sheep grazing on fields of grass, hills patterned with olive trees, vineyards, and apple orchards. The land around the nearby Lake Trasimeno is where tiny lentils are grown, that are unique to Umbria.
That morning, sitting with cappuccino to our surprise trucks, large tractors, impossibly tiny utiliatria ( 3-4 wheeled trucks), every type of farm vehicle on wheels began to fill the piazza.
This was quite amazing since Panicale is a walled medieval town with a rather small arched entrance into the piazza. It was delightful to see the farmers in their "Sunday finest" and their farm vehicles polished for this parade!
This was a Festa dei Lavoratori gathering, a workers demonstration with speakers, a poet and more speakers.........essentially "workers are the heart of the community, workers unite!"

For us, May Day is a day to get more serious about the garden. We are happy to see the daffodils proud in full bloom. Lilacs are setting flower buds. Each morning the pale green of new leaves increases on the trees just outside the window.
Some of the seeds that have been started inside come outside to adjust to the still cool air. Peas will get planted, then planted again in another week or two. Greens, spinach, rabe and chard are next on our list of soon to be planted seeds.

A picnic! Deviled eggs with chives topped with smoked paprika. Grilled chicken and a salad of fresh greens. The chives are from our garden and all the other ingredients for our porch picnic are from local farms.

So, our May Day has Italian roots. We begin to plant our garden. We start our picnic with a toast to the farmers who the heart of our communities. Providing good fresh food for our tables is tireless work.
Celebrate the farmer and support local farms!

Happy May Day!