Category Archives: Flowers

Praying for Spring

I crashed early this year. Usually, I can make it to at least February before feeling the drudge of winter. This weekend, I felt it. Too soon. Too early. There is too much more to go. The only thing that saved me was a visit to the market, where I stumbled unexpectedly upon a few classic spring blooms. Leaning into the hyacinths and daffodils, I breathed in the sweet scent of spring, a couple of months early, and just int he nick of time. 

I was talking to Kira last time I was in Boston and proposing a possible visit to the New England Flower Show (if such a thing still happens). This is the sort of thing that gets us through the winter. 

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Bright Flaming Pink

Some see a flower, some see a crucifixion, I happen to see the wizened face of a lion.

This questionably-monikered Thanksgiving Cactus began blooming a couple of week ago, which is why I’m considering it more of a Halloween cactus at this point. Such a strong pink is more apropos for that holiday rather than the amber and autumnal hues of Turkey Day anyway.

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All-Natural Super-Saturation

As much as I abhor photoshopping pictures, on my Instagram I tend to add a little boost of saturation to some of my nature shots. What can I say? I love color, and sometimes the intensity is lost in the lighting or shaky camera work. For these photos, no such amendments were necessary, supporting proof of my theory that flowers in the fall glow more brilliantly than at any other time of the year.

This simple Pelargonium veritably thrills with its neon-like sparkle. It sat in a lowly pot with another annual that had long passed its prime, but this one kept going, shining brightly until the first hard frost will finally strike it down.

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True Blue Blossom

It is often said that there are no true-blue flowers in the natural world. I’d fallen for this notion over the years, perpetuating the idea and even making vague plans to seek out the closest we could get (the elusive Himalayan blue poppy), yet it appears there are such hues, as this salvia begs to differ. Check out the vibrant blue tones here, in unfiltered, un-additionally-saturated form. It’s nice when the universe defies humankind’s stories. It keeps me on my toes. {Insert ‘Black Swan’ reference here.}

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Dahlia Days

The extended warmth of this fall season has produced a bountiful crop of dahlia blooms. I have a soft-spot in my heart for this flower, for myriad reasons. It was one of the first plants I ever planted and grew in the little side garden that my parents allotted for me. I watered and weeded and took care of them for the entire summer, wondering when they would deign to bloom. The payoff came later, but was worth it as shades of crimson and peach and lemon yellow exploded as the school year was about to begin. I wouldn’t grow them again for a long time; that was too long to wait for such color, and the idea of waiting until school began to enjoy a bloom sucked the fun out of it.

These days, I still find their blooming period a little too late. By this stage I’m ready to shift focus indoors. However, this year has kept us out later than normal, and it’s always nice to see how others have employed such a lovely garden plant.

Here, the late morning light softens the saturated glow of the dahlia’s fiery petals.


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Spiked Beauty

A number of years ago I saw my first castor bean plant. It’s not something one easily forgets. It was fall in Ogunquit, and my parents were staying at the Anchorage. That establishment always does an amazing job with their landscaping, particularly in their fall displays. Gigantic pumpkins lined the entrance, and the garden nearby was filled with these spiky scarlet seedpods. They rose high into the sky, and their vermillion brilliance popped against the deep blue of a fall day. At the time, they were an interesting sight to behold, but not something I particularly wanted for my garden at home.

Tastes change. Appreciation evolves.

Their dramatic structure and immensity began to haunt me. The fascinating armor of their seedpods was more interesting and colorful than many a flower. The burgundy leaves lent a compelling contrast to the world of green that is summer. When I went on a seed-buying spree for my Dad earlier this year, I bought a packet of seeds for myself.

I read that they liked a sunny spot, so I offered them some choice real estate right in front of our house. The noon sun hit that area directly, and with a slow-growing Japanese umbrella pine still working on its expansion, there was room for three castor beans to grow. After a rainy start (which had me worried that they might rot) they stretched their wrinkly first leaves into the spring air. Only when it turned hot did they truly take off, and then there was no stopping them.

The flowers and seedpods appeared earlier than I anticipated, then continued to come as summer turned into fall. Our late stretch of hot weather lengthened the growing season, and added to their already-impressive height – so much so that they almost overwhelmed their space. As it is, they soar above our little roof, and it’s only a matter of time before the squirrels and chipmunks realize they have a new ladder with which to ascend and wreak havoc. Next year, if these seeds ripen as I hope they will, I’ll see about planting them further away from the house, in the sunny side bank where it’s too difficult to mow. The ground is less fertile (these benefited from the amended soil and regular fertilizer that our front bed provides) but even at half this size they would make a dramatic statement. They are also said to deter moles and voles and other critters – a boon to our beautiful lawn that is in constant peril of one sort or another.

A word of warning if you are contemplating trying these out: every part of this plant is extremely poisonous. If you have curious kids or animals that feel the need to nibble on everything in their path, be very wary. A single seed is said to have killed a person; their spiky form is a telling warning label, as pretty and exotic as it may appear. Personally, I like a little danger in the garden. It wards off the ignorant and unwanted.

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Trumpet of the Angels

Sounding a clarion for beauty and perfume, the tropical angel’s trumpet plant (Brugmansia) was once a stalwart presence on our summer patio. After a few years, however, I got tired of lugging the large pots up and down the attic staircase, so they fell out of favor and have been missing for the last several seasons. This year, I found a large robust specimen at Faddegon’s for a relatively reasonable price (they’ve gotten way too expensive for such an easily-propagated species) and brought them back into our summer fold.

Luckily, they bloomed, which isn’t always the case with this plant. (It usually takes a year or two to get them going.) Their lemony fragrance is a delight, particularly as it ripens and becomes most pronounced as the evening progresses. It’s a magical thing when perched beside the pool on a hot summer night, emitting its lovely perfume and filling the area with sweetness. The pendulous dangling form of its flowers are just as enchanting as its scent, enthralling with their trumpet-like form, beckoning for a closer inspection like most objects of mystery and beauty do.

Their care is simple – lots of sun and heat, lots of water and regular fertilizing, and then over-wintering indoors if you’re in the brutal Northeast. I’m pretty sure they’re only hardy to about zone 8 or warmer, but I’ve heard tales of plants surviving in unheated garages. That’s too risky for a grand specimen like this, so I’ll bring it in to the basement for a change. I can usually get two or three years out of a plant this size without needed to repot – just a top dressing of new soil and some additional fertilizer throughout the year usually suffices. After three or four years, you’ll need to repot or start over again with cuttings. The latter is often easier.

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Mooning in Boston

This post is for my friend Diana, who once coaxed a moonflower to the brink of bloom last year only to have it wither on the vine a day or two before blossoming. That kind of heartache is a blow to even the most seasoned of gardeners, but I’m happy to see that this year she’s had several big blooms to make up for it.

I happened upon this particularly robust moonflower vine the last time I was in Boston. Paired with a traditional old-fashioned morning glory, it makes for a full day of flowers: there are early blue blooms at the break of day, and these wonderful white beacons in the afternoon and evening.

They have a very delicate fragrance that becomes slightly more pronounced in the evening, but this is one flower that doesn’t shout its presence out with vulgar lily-like bombast. It whispers. Evokes. Sighs.

This is how we say goodbye to summer.

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Adding Fireworks to Roses

It’s difficult to upstage two dozen roses, particularly when they’re in fiery shades of orange and salmon in the hues that Ina Garten so favors. The only way is to shock and awe your way into new realms of wonderful by complementing them with an equally-striking shade of chartreuse, as seen in the pair of sweet potato vines I added to this already-remarkable bouquet.

There’s something to be said for the simplicity of a single-flower-style arrangement, especially when the blooms are super-saturated in these rich pigments. I appreciate the elegance of the notion, the way form and architecture come to greater light through repetition and symmetry. Almost anything can be made more impressive when en masse. Sometimes, though, you need a little extra pizzazz. Something that adds a sparkle and pop, the glittering cherry on a sundae dripping with sweet goodness. That finds form in the humble sweet potato vine, which winds its way through those rosy environs to set off its lime-green leaves in striking contrast. The first hard frost will instantly fell such delicate foliage; this is one way of prolonging the beauty if the weather forecasters give warning.


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Friendships Old & New, Tried & True

We’ve had a darker start to summer than anyone would like, but there are ways to bring a sunny side to circumstances no matter how much rain, or lack of electricity, might work to dampen the day. Such was the state of affairs when JoAnn and some of the Cape Crew stopped by this weekend. It’s been too long since we hung out, and this is something for which we’ve all been waiting. Reunions with dear friends are somehow more wonderful in the summer, as if the universe is conspiring to create its own dose of happy kismet. We all seemed to need that.

There’s an awful lot of sadness and heartache in the world today – on a universal and personal level for some of us – and the only way to get through it is to surround yourself with friends and family and hold on until things get better. Parents have passed, relationships have ended, and everyone feels a little lost lately. Summer can only ease so much; one needs a good group of friends to make up for the rest.

They arrived to a batch of lavender martinis, and brought with them roses and crystal cuff links and Portuguese pastries. We hit it hard – but not too hard – starting early in the afternoon, and by the time dinner rolled around, we were feeling no pain. Good thing too, as the electricity went out just as the meal was served. The sun was starting to go down, so we brought in some extra candles and had an old-fashioned candle-light dinner. It added to the atmosphere and the intimacy, and maybe those little foibles are meant to be. Like clockwork, the electricity was back on by the time dessert (New York cheesecake!) was being plated. Afterward, we played a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity, then called it a relatively early night.

The next morning was greeted with brunch and then a full day of poolside revelry. The sun gods, so fickle and moody these past few weeks, smiled indulgently and granted us a perfect day. Our guests, friends old and new, eased into the weekend. The first night is always flush with excitement and catching-up; the second day is when you can ripen into relaxation. We sat by the pool letting the sun move slowly overhead, lazily draining the cooler of beer, and digging into the red pepper dip once brunch had settled.

As with most summer weekends, it went by too quickly, but we’ll have the memory of it when the days turn cold again.

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Purple Perpetrator

Here we have the classic clematis, which in this case climbed so high I never did get a proper full-on view of the pretty flower. There’s something enchanting about viewing it all from below, however, as these shots will attest. It leaves a little more to the imagination, and we fill in the missing parts with tales and notions that might be far more interesting than what could ever really be there.

The idea of a flower being out of reach lends temptation and desire to an otherwise common clematis. Too often we want what is just beyond our grasp.

Here’s to straining to see it.

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Fuchsia Hurricane

A yellow ceramic hurricane vase forms the perfect backdrop to this bold fuchsia bloom. The colors depend on one another for maximum pop, complementing and cajoling each to loftier heights of greater glory. It is my humble opinion that one can never have enough color. Our bleak world demands it.

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Beauty & Reverence

“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves. No-one would desire not to be beautiful. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”  ~ John O’Donohue

“How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name. In the word, the earth breaks silence.” ~ John O’Donohue

“When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.” ~ John O’Donohue

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Progression of a Peony

A promise of beauty, kept.

The gradual unfurling of a peony bloom.

A subtle perfume, befitting the fewer petals.

This is no bomb-style blossom.

It is impler. More elegant. More refined.

And it’s only just begun.

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Bashful Peony

Some peonies are shy at the beginning, bashfully peeking out from a cloak of petals.

But this one open up into something gorgeous.

It just needs a little coaxing.

The best always do.

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