It’s that time of year again when desperate for spring colour indoors I buy a bunch of tulips, then watch them slowly fade away. It has taken just over two weeks in my cool, basement kitchen for these pink ones to drop their petals. And, I think I have decided that there is something more beautiful about their fading glory than the stark, brash pinkness of fresh tulips.
There is something gently mournful about this process and this year it is more poignant than ever as we mark this day, March 11th 2021, when one year ago the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
It’s Chelsea this week and it’s pouring with rain, so English! And thinking of flowers I see that the tulips are just finishing their annual contribution to the garden. They provide beautiful strong intense colours,
but also delicate shades for the spring garden.
And, then there is the drama of using tulips in a restricted palette for the odd flower arrangement or two.
But it has been white, at least in my garden this spring, that has been the most eye-catching accent colour against the fresh green.
My friends know I enjoy down time in the garden and little garden gifts are much appreciated. I always plant out everything I’m given, but sometimes the colours don’t fit well with a particular planting. This situation at first may appear disappointing, but in general, it is a bonus as I don’t feel guilty when I immediately cut them for the house.
Tulips and euphorbia
Flowers in a Vase with Shells and Insects by Balthasar van der Ast (1593/94 – 1657) circa 1630 Oil on oak, 47 x 36.8 cm photo credit: The National Gallery, London
Every spring these striking red and yellow tulips (tulipa Gavota) return and, despite plenty of background green, do not fit with the main pink, white and orange display in the back bed. Therefore, it is the chop!
On cutting and arranging them I was reminded of the Dutch craze for tulips in the seventeenth century and the many beautiful still life oil paintings of floral displays that included tulips. The above painting, ‘Flowers in a vase with shells and insects’, is by Balthasar van der Ast and now hangs in the National Gallery, London. Photographic reproductions do not do these type of paintings justice. With a close examination of the flowers in the painting I can clearly see an iris, some tulips, a rose, some carnations, a pale pink and white antirrhinum, and, more in the shadows a fritillary and a sprig of mauve lilac.
I don’t grow carnations and I have lost all my snake’s head fritillaries as my soil is far too gritty and parched, but I’ve just been out in the garden (May Day) and located examples of flowers in the painting. Although some are by no means in full bloom and others have nearly gone over, the snap dragons (antirrhinum Night and Day) have not even started producing buds! We all know that the professional growers can keep flowering back or force it forwards, just think what they do for Chelsea each year, and I’m guessing some of these skills are centuries old. But we must not forget that however true to life a work of art may appear it is still the product of the artist’s creative interpretation. All those different flowers may or may not have been together in that pewter jug sometime in May 1630.
And, this wouldn’t be a May Day post without a photo of the classic May-tree blossom – the hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) – commonly used for garlands (outside the house only) for a traditional English May Day celebration.
Change in the season, change in the light and often a change in mood and we respond with seeking out a slightly different palette. I have just made up a selection of yellow tints to use as backgrounds. I’ve noticed a lot of pastel coloured jackets and shoes whilst browsing through the style pages recently and as you can see I’ve been influenced.
I’ve decided to combine the pale pinks and blues with a yellow background. In a spare moment I had a quick review of my other finished work and noticed more pink from the last 12 months than I’d remembered!
Hopefully from now on there will be a succession of blooms, blossom, foliage and flowers to provide the odd informal flower arrangement as and when needed. (Just a small word of warning – euphorbia bleeds a white sap when cut and can cause irritation to the skin. Best to wear gloves and sear the base of the stalks for about 10-15 seconds in boiling water.)
And, there’s even a spare pelargonium bloom for a little arrangement for the kitchen.