Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Edgeworthia chrysantha

The edgeworthia chrysantha has begun its slow creep toward spring -- I noticed this morning that some of the silvery parasols have begun to swell a little, possibly because of the warmth of the past few days. The first picture is taken today, while the second (assuming Blogspot agrees with my placement) was taken last February.

I planted this shrub on the bank in my front garden about seven years ago and it is the only plant in my garden which is guaranteed to bring people knocking on the door to ask what it is! It is, mesdames and messieurs, edgeworthia chrysantha, the Japanese paperbark mulberry and a relative of daphne -- as one expert told me recently, "a daphne which lives". It is handsome rather than pretty and has a science fiction quality in winter when its reddish stems are bare except for the silver-grey buds. It wants to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub -- about 6 feet high, with a similar spread, and is not too picky about soil and light. Mine is planted in partial shade against the background of a large American holly so as to put it into relief. Its summer foliage is dull green and its buds form sometime during the summer so that when it changes to butter-yellow in autumn, the buds are there waiting for spring.

Its greatest glory, for me, is its scent -- daphne-like, wafting around the neighbourhood in gusts. When the little umbrellas open, the flowers are an intense orange-yellow as you can see in the last photos. It is uncommon in my area, and I love to watch people stop dead in front of it and scratch their heads before coming to ring the bell and ask about it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let's Go Travelling!

The winter has been so cold here that the garden has no joys for me at present. The house plants are hunkered down in the sunroom, sulking and refusing to smile; those that aren't in the sunroom are in the garage on a regime of water once a month, from which they will emerge in spring, alive (I hope) and ready to meet the challenges of summer outside.

In the meantime, the gardener is hunkered down too and would like to sulk. So I decided to find something about which to blog which would help me to pass the long January days until I can find the first snowdrops and aconites and resume gardening.

In 1908, just a century ago, my husband's grandparents went on the Grand Tour. They visited the capitals of Europe and brought back many interesting things, most of which have disappeared into the great family diaspora. Because my mother-in-law knew of our interest in Russia and our possible posting to Moscow, she rummaged around and gave us a couple of things which we still have and treasure. One of them is a huge painting -- about 6 feet by 3, in an ornate gilded frame. It depicts "The Boyar's Wedding" and was supposed to be quite valuable. So, I trucked it off to an appraiser a while ago, only to find that it is a print touched up with oil paint and has no value whatsoever and the frame is worth lots more than the picture. Oh, well. It is so large and so over the top that I have never hung it, and I threaten grandchildren that I will give it as a wedding present to the first to marry. So far, none of them have tested me.

The other pieces though are charming. They are two plates of Russian lacquer, from either the villages of Fedoskino or Palekh where lacquerware has been produced for many many years. One shows a winter troika, horses with tossing manes linked to the traditional high-yoked three-horse sleigh, and carrying three jolly peasants on an excursion. In the background is a traditional wooden church, all against a gold background. The other is slightly smaller and shows an elopement -- a gentleman in a blue satin coat and red turban is carrying a young woman in a red dress and the old Russian headdress down a ladder from the window of a wooden house. I am sure this is a scene from a Russian folk story, but I don't know anyone who could interpret it for me. Again, the ground is of gold lacquer and there is a little scene of a church in the background.

My other Russian souvenir, not Palekh but very fine, is a silver samovar which I purchased in a commission store in Moscow, so dirty and dilapidated that no-one knew it was silver (except me, because some of my own silver was in similar condition). I treasure all my Russian pieces because, although life there was very hard at the time for the Russians and for foreigners, it was a stupendous adventure and a time that I would not have missed for anything.

Friday, January 15, 2010

No Bloom Day

A lovely day here, but after the past month's ice and snow the garden looks terribly tatterdemalion and there is nothing in bloom. The snowdrops (I love their French name -- perce neige, pierce snow) haven't even dared to show their noses, the aconite patch is covered with solid ice, the helleborus niger is sulking, although I do see some little white eggs down low among its roots, and it is cheerless and discouraging out there.

I know that next month I will be able to be outside pruning the viburnums, cleaning up, and pulling the leaves of the white oak out of the borders and shredding them -- drat that tree, though, because it holds its leaves until long long after the fall cleanup is done and now I must clean up again.

So,since I have no blooms for Bloom Day, I decided to go to the beach instead. On the way to the beach we'll pass an old farm house with feral arum lilies -- in Australia, they are like daylilies in their habits. Once they escape domesticity, they arrange themselves gracefully by roadsides and dams and become enormous and ancient clumps. The winter beaches are in eastern Australia, and I no longer remember exactly where although I think that the one with the sky reflections is at Lorne, in Victoria. (And, once again I see that Blogspot has its own ideas about where my photos look best.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

They are all in my garden this year, I think. After a lot of snowless years here in zone 7, this year we have had already a generous 19" dollop of the white stuff the week before Christmas. Plans upended, Christmas shopping unfinished, traffic snarled, general chaos and confusion -- so much for peace on earth, goodwill to men, and dreaming of a white Christmas!

Herewith a couple of photos, to remind me that nothing lasts forever -- not snow, not flowers, not summer nor winter. If the Blogspot agrees, these are pairs -- front walk, back patio, winter/summer.