Father’s Day 2018: Five Lessons Dad Taught Me About Life In the Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was always up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real work began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. My sister and I were a fundamental part of his crew.

Dad ran a tight ship and an orderly landscape was testament to our mighty team effort. As garden ‘personnel’, my sister and I raked, clipped, pulled weeds and hauled yard waste on a seasonal basis. We weren’t fans of the work, but we were big fans of dad’s, and the shared chores were a good way to spend outdoor time together.

It wasn’t until much later in life that we realized something more than gardening had been going on in the yard. While my sister and I toiled in the dirt, dad had been teaching us some valuable life lessons. Here are five things I learned from my dad in the garden that continue to infuse my life with purpose and meaning today.

Delay gratification

Until the work was done, there would be no rides to the pool, quick trips to Dunkin’ Donuts or play dates with friends. This was a hard lesson to learn since by Saturday morning most of our buddies were already hard at play. My sister and I gradually discovered, though, that delaying our playtime actually increased our enjoyment of it later. In finishing our yard chores first, we developed patience and strengthened our willpower. Over time, we grew to relish the psychic benefits of putting off fun until our tasks were accomplished.

Do quality work

One of my jobs was to crawl around the periphery of the house with garden shears to trim the stray grass left behind by the mower. About halfway around the exterior, I usually got tired and started cutting corners. My dad always noticed those areas where I had slacked off and though he never yelled, he seemed so disappointed. Many times I tearfully returned to the job. During the process, though, I gradually learned to do quality work and discovered that practicing quality was fulfilling and that it mattered to me.

Practice integrity

If you told dad you were going to do something, you did it. He expected no less. No excuses, prevarication or blaming poor work on your sister were valid substitutes for your word. Honesty was the rule and dad led by example, setting high standards in the yard. Dad taught us how to be respectful of each other and listened patiently to our endless strategies for reducing our workload. He also showed us that the key to good work was to finish the jobs that we started.

Push yourself

Dad had a riding lawn mower, but insisted on walking behind it to cut our 3-acre field. On the hottest of days, my mother would watch him incredulously from the kitchen window. My dad pushed himself to burn calories and probably to spend more time outdoors. Whatever the reason, his work ethic made it hard to refuse when he asked us to bag all the clippings.

Of course dad could have bagged the grass as he mowed, but that would have meant we missed out on the exercise. One year, as incentive, dad offered to pay us if we got all the clippings into 10 bags. We worked like demons all afternoon, devising efficient strategies for raking and fitting the most clippings in each black plastic sack. My sister was stamping on the tenth when it burst at the seams, but dad paid us anyway. We returned sweaty and tired to the house, and though dad disputes this version of the story, it’s still one of my favorite yard memories today.

Try not to complain

Dad showed us through example that even if the job got hard, or the weather uncomfortable, we should strive not to complain. Not only was it annoying, it made yard work unpleasant for everyone. He taught that seeing things in a more positive light was much better for all of us and improved our relationships.

Being young girls, my sister and I struggled the most with this concept. We tried hard to stop airing our yard work grievances, with incremental improvement over time as we aged. But, I’ll admit that it wasn’t until later on in life that I finally learned the true value of this lesson.

Thank you, dad, for all the lessons you taught us.  Happy Father’s Day. You are the best dad, ever.

 

How To Say What You Mean In The Language Of Flowers

Different flowers and flower colors carry different shades of meaning

Studies show that mastering a foreign language can not only boost your brain power but also provide you with important insights on how the world thinks. Unfortunately, though, not everyone can learn with the same facility. But, there’s one second language we all know how to speak fluently, albeit with slight variations. Colorful and often emotional, it’s called the Language of Flowers.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

Back in Victorian times, people really knew how to ‘say it with flowers.’ The 1800s were a buttoned-up time, with many social taboos against expressing emotions. So people found a way around the rules; they borrowed from an ancient language to convey their joy, pain and anger. They used flowers and floral arrangements as coded messages to express feelings they were otherwise unable to say.

Mother’s Day card circa 1890

Sometimes referred to as floriography, the language of flowers can be traced back to ancient times, including the Hebrew Bible, where plants and flowers often figure as symbols. The Song of Songs is one such example:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2.As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:1-3

Apple tree blossoms

Turkish roots

The practice of floriography, though, most likely had its roots in Turkey in the 16th century when the Court in Constantinople was said to have an obsession with tulips. After they were discovered growing wild in the Kazakhstan mountains, the cup-shaped flowers were brought back to Turkey and planted in the gardens of some of the most powerful people in the city.

Tulips were an obsession in the Court of Constantinople

As Ottoman sultans began wearing them in their turbans, tulips eventually became symbolic of wealth and power. The flower’s name is believed to derive from the Persian word tulipan, meaning turban, with which it shares an uncanny resemblance.

The word tulip comes from the Persian tulipan, meaning turban

In the Western World, we have Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to thank for introducing the language of flowers to Britain. In 1716, she accompanied her husband to Turkey where he was stationed as ambassador. Montagu’s letters back to England often contained references to the Turkish use of floral symbols and language, including an alleged custom of using flowers to send secret messages in the harem.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

It wasn’t until Queen Victoria ascended the throne in the next century, however, that Montagu’s efforts to promote floriography were finally embraced. Seemingly overnight, books about flower symbolism began to be published. Many of these works continue to inform the floral language we practice today.

The first dictionary to associate flowers with symbolic definitions appeared in 1819 with the publishing of Le Langage des Fleurs a work attributed to Charlotte de la Tour. The author’s true identity remained a mystery for several years until it was revealed to be Louise Cortambert, wife of the geographer Euguen Cortambert (1805-1881). She would have been in her late thirties at the time.

1920 edition of Charlotte de la Tour’s Le Langage des Fleurs

Le Langage de Fleurs was organized by season and contained illustrations and essays on different plants along with their associated meaning. There were 330 different types of emotions. Listed in alphabetical order, they ranged from messages of love, acceptance and refusal to more specific feelings or psychological states such as Render Me Justice, My Regrets Accompany You to the Grave and the catchy Better to Die than Lose One’s Innocence. The book can still be purchased on amazon today.

Common flowers and their meanings

So what are some common flowers that we Americans know how to read? Maybe some of these generally accepted meanings will jar your memory.

Remember putting a buttercup under your chin and asking your friend if it gave a yellow glow? If a yellow reflection can be seen, a person is supposed to love butter.

Buttercups can tell if you like butter

Or did you ever pluck off the petals of a daisy one by one while alternately repeating the phrases She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not? A game of French origin, She Loves Me She Loves Me not can determine if the object of your affection returns those feelings.

Reading the daisy can tell you whether or not your affections are returned

Emerging from the hard ground in early spring, daffodils are the quintessential symbol of spring and rebirth. According to the The Language of Flowers, they can also mean Regards, while some dictionaries associate it with Chivalry. Other interpretations associate daffodils with self-esteem, and the Greek legend of Narcissus suggests the flowers could also represent egotism and vanity.

Daffodils symbolize spring and also regards

Forget-me-nots’ meaning is implied in the name. The true blue flower whose Greek name myosotis means mouse ear, is commonly associated with constancy and friendship.

Forget-me-nots symbolize friendship and constancy

Often flower meaning derives from the behavior of the plants itself. For instance, Mimosa pudica is often linked to sensitivity or chastity, as its leaves fold up when touched by another organism.

Mimosa pudica symbolizes sensitivity

And within the same species, colors can mean different things. In paintings, a deep red rose has been used for centuries to symbolize the blood of Christ, while also expressing the intensity of romantic love.

A red rose is associated with strong feelings of love

While pink roses express affection.

Pink roses represent affection

And yellow roses stand for friendship or devotion.

A yellow rose signifies friendship

If you really want to go for it, you can do like Felix in Honoré de Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley and compose elaborate bouquets built upon multiple meanings. In the novel, he uses flower arrangements to convey coded messages to his beloved that only she can decipher. This took some advanced study, however, with Felix spending days in the countryside meditating on the essence of each flower.

Regardless of your flower knowledge, the list is as long as their are flower species. And though meanings may vary across cultures, the roots of this ancient custom remain the same. Some feelings are best expressed when spoken in the Language of Flowers.

 

Valentines Day 2018: How To Really Say It With Flowers

This winter, I’ve been passing the time rereading a few French classics. It’s been a great way to while away the hours, especially since many of the books focus on life in the garden. Such is the case with Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Lys dans la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley). It’s a great story of French love and society and how a pair of frustrated lovers establish a secret correspondence by flowers. Continue reading

Falling For Wilson Bentley, The Original Snowflake Man

Wilson Bentley Digital Archives of the Jericho Historical Society/snowflakebentley.com   

‘No two snowflakes are alike’ is a saying that many of us have grown up hearing. But few of us are aware of the person who coined it, a farmer from a small rural town in Vermont by the name of Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931). Bentley was the first person to photograph a single snowflake, thus opening a window into this astonishing world of unique crystalline sculptures. Continue reading

Nine Things To Ask Yourself Before Designing A Garden

celeste in garden

One of the many things I love about being a garden designer is getting to know my clients’ story. By this I mean what role gardens have played in their lives, what plants, structures, and ornaments evoke certain memories, and what kind of garden makes them feel relaxed and most happy. Continue reading

Planting the Seeds For A Happy New Year

‘Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.’ – Alfred Austin

My first adventure with gardening of sorts involved a decrepit white begonia in a cast iron pot belonging to my mother. Frail and anemic and sporting only one bloom, it languished, (but never died!) in its water logged container. I decided to give it a haircut to see what would happen.

I was very young and my first cut was rather severe. My mom and I waited anxiously for the plant to recover. But over time it did, and as I began experimenting more and more with the forlorn little specimen, I eventually discovered that by careful pruning I could coax the plant into a more uniform shape.

I also found that by playing with the plant’s watering schedule, the begonia gradually lost its yellow-green color and formed deep green healthy stems. Finally one day, I was rewarded with a few tentative white blooms.

Gardening has taught me a lot over the years. I’ve learned to anticipate the needs of my plants and to sense when they’re thirsty or feeling poorly. I don’t love weeding, but I know that it is an essential chore to help my plants thrive. I’ve become sensitive to the slightest shift in the sound of the wind rustling through leaves, the particular calls of my neighborhood birds and the stillness that envelops the garden with the approach of a storm.

These things and more, await even the most amateur of gardeners (and we are all gardeners.)

So as a new year begins, I ’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from a life taking care of plants in the garden. These are not resolutions so much as ways of looking at things. (You don’t need to be a gardener to ‘get’ them.) Here goes:

 

No matter how long the winter, spring always arrives.

Following the particularly rocky year we’ve all experienced in America and abroad, this comes as a reminder that things never stay the same and that life can spring forth from even the darkest of times.

 

Perennials may look like they’ve died, but they’re only resting beneath the surface.

And not only are they resting, they are gathering strength for the coming spring.

 

A little TLC can make almost anything look good.

This goes beyond a good haircut. All living things respond well to a little personal attention. And practicing tender love and care benefits the giver, too.

 

It’s important to periodically clear the weeds.

When weeds become invasive they can have a devastating effect on life’s quality. Taking the time to remove them benefits everyone.

 

Nursing a sick plant back to health produces a really good feeling.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of bringing a sick plant back to health and being rewarded with new foliage and blooms.

 

Life springs eternal

Ok, so maybe this sounds a little hokey, but all gardeners know that new life is always waiting just below the surface. May 2017 be the year that we all strive to tend our own gardens by pulling the weeds, extending a hand to those who need it and appreciating those cycles of life that are so essential to our well being. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Jardin Botanico in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ lovely Jardín Botánico

 

Is the Self-Healing House the Garden of the Future?

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-12-25-16-pm

Image via Edwin Indira Waskita

There’s a fascinating image that has stuck with me ever since, years ago, I read the sci-fi novel Goodbye and Thanks For All the Fish (the fourth installation in the series the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) In the novel, author Douglas Adams describes a four-walled house turned inside out. If you entered the house, you found yourself ‘outside’ in a green space, complete with lawn, benches and walking paths. If you exited the house, you found yourself ‘inside’ in a far less desirable place Adams termed the Asylum. Continue reading