The First Flowers of 2020

Last week in between Ciara and Dennis (that’s the storms) I ventured out into my backyard to check for damage and collect up the debris from the neighbouring eucalyptus tree (still standing). And, to my enormous pleasure I found that the hellebores I planted last year are now blooming.

The Lenten Rose. Helleborous orientalis

Now, I do not normally cut these flowers as with their drooping heads once cut they tend only to look at their very best as single blooms floating in a shallow bowl. A shallow bowl arrangement is fine as a table centrepiece, but in my studio I only have shelf space. The two tables I have are covered with frames, silk and all the associated bottles and jars of dyes with which I am currently working.

Nevertheless, even though I knew they wouldn’t last long, I did cut two stems. I then spent some time fiddling around propping up the blooms using some blossom-bearing twigs of an evergreen shrub (Viburnum tinus) finally making my first vase arrangement of homegrown flowers for 2020. Incidentally, it wasn’t just the first flowers that were picked, but the first caterpillar was also sighted.

A very green caterpillar

Although I don’t have space to grow bulbs for cutting myself, there’s no reason not to buy a bunch of Cornish-grown daffodils. At this time of the year they last a good week and absolutely brighten up my basement kitchen.

Daffodils all the way from Cornwall.

And, of course also at this time of year a stroll through the Old Cemetery finds the crocuses in bloom . . .

. . . but what’s all this noise? I raised myself, camera in hand, after kneeling for a crocus close-up, to find myself amidst a startled murder of crows. Wrong exposure and not in focus, but, for once, I managed to capture a half-dozen of the birds as they wheeled away. All rather spooky!

Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt

Ludwig Vordermayer Heubach

raven rossetti
The Raven – pen and ink drawing on paper by Rossetti.
ca 1848, V&A, London
It’s that time of year again with Halloween fast approaching that thoughts turn to the bleak and morbid and ravens. Famously, this ‘Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt’ bird inspired the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. A poem which in turn inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti to draw an intense, slightly creepy illustration.

Ravens also prompted the German sculptor, Ludwig Vordermayer to create the above dramatic ceramic piece for the Heubach factory in Koppelsdorf sometime around 1908. This hard-paste porcelain raven can now be seen lurking on a top shelf within the ceramics display at the V&A Museum.

The amazing genus Corvus gives us a group of birds that the derogatory expression ‘bird brain’ does a gross injustice to. Evidence suggests that crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens are top of the avian intelligence pecking order. These birds have been observed constructing tools, using bait and even possibly exhibiting self-recognition. As a child I remember being amazed by the size of the ravens at the Tower of London and being bewitched and entranced by the way they stared at me. But this morning I had to make do with a common, but clever crow on my neighbours television aerial.

Crow-not-Raven