In A Vase and more…


Easy-to-love sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) add an extra measure of charm to the sunporch.

Even though it’s a bit overwhelming for the small French table, I couldn’t resist putting this vase of sunflowers next to my favorite chair where I enjoy my first cup of morning coffee with Bella (seen here) and Rudy, both snuggled in my lap. It’s a great place to watch the sun come up and, in winter when the trees are bare, to observe the squirrels welcome the day, leaping from tree limb to tree limb.

Perched above a steep slope that reaches down to the Reedy River, the sunporch provides pretty views throughout the year, especially in spring when the Carolina silverbell (Helesia tetraptera) blooms. Last summer, miserably hot and dry from May through October, was cause for complaint, but we’ve had plenty of rain so far this year. The total for the first six months was just shy of 30 inches, which puts us nearly seven inches ahead. Fingers crossed our good luck holds, so nature continues to rebound from the drought of 2016.


The native sunflower is grown as a crop in all contiguous 48 states.

Sunflowers, such as these beauties, were domesticated in the western U.S. from native plants more than 1,000 years ago and were introduced to Europe courtesy of the Spaniards in 1510. It wasn’t until the plant reached Russia in the late 1800s, however, that its value was recognized and it began to be improved as a modern crop. Today, oilseed varieties contain nearly 50% oil, more than twice the amount of native species. Vegetable oil is the plant’s primary use, but it’s also cropped as a snack food, for bird and livestock feed, and for industrial uses. The hulls, a side product, are made into poultry litter, fireplace logs, and other high-fiber products.

These sunflowers were grown for a different reason, however. They came from a friend who plants 10 acres of the flowers on his farm to attract birds. Finches, he notes, will eat immature seeds, but most others wait for the heavy heads to mature. ‘Peredovik’ is the most common variety selected for wildlife.

Did you notice the vase? It’s a salt-glazed jug I found on my recent garden tour to Flanders, plucked from a flea market in Bruges for 10 euro. I have a weakness for old pottery and this jug, with its two-tone finish, reminded me of pots in Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower series. The vendor said it dated from the 1930s and was probably used to bring beer from a barrel in the basement up to the table. Overall, I found Bruges disappointing because of its commercialism and horde of tourists, but I did manage a few pretty canal photos, including this one.


Bruges, May 2017.

One visit on the tour that didn’t disappoint was the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands where I learned a great deal more about Van Gogh. Helene Kroller-Muller was one of the first to recognize the genius of the artist and the museum she founded has the second-largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

No print can do Van Gogh justice. Viewed in person, the colors and brushstokes of his paintings convey indescribable emotion. Β I was particularly drawn toΒ Wheatstacks in Provence (1888).


Wheatstacks in Provence, Vincent van Gogh, June 1888.

Wheat was a frequent subject for Van Gogh, who saw sowing, plowing, and harvesting wheat as symbolic of birth, life, and death; a way to find meaning in nature and its cycles. He wrote to his sister, Wil, “What the germinating force is in a grain of wheat, love is in us.”

Any gardener, I think, will appreciate this sentiment…and perhaps question if Van Gogh was as crazy as conventional history teaches.

Back in the sunroom, I’m celebrating nature on a much smaller scale with a little collection of houseplants, including staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum), crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium), and beefsteak begonia (B. x erythrophylla). This trio is nearly all that remains from the 30 or so potted plants I grew this past winter for a spring flower show. The begonia, cultivated from a stem cutting, received a blue ribbon, the staghorn fern a yellow, and the crocodile fern a white.


(L to R) Staghorn fern, crocodile fern, and beefsteak begonia.

Until recently, I’ve never taken to houseplants, but the shady garden here and lack of blooms makes growing any plant more rewarding. These, of all in the bunch, were the easiest to grow and were kept simply because I enjoyed them most.

There’s another collection of sorts too. These small ginger jars are also loot from the recent trip, found in a antique store in Weesp, just after the visit to Jacqueline van der Kloet’s Tea Garden.

More old pottery with a bit of bling.

Despite their grime (the jar in the foreground has been cleaned), I guessed they were vintage rather than antique. I don’t remember jars like this in use, but was told they were made for importing ginger from China, perhaps as recently as the 1950s and 60s.

The lamp is created from a pottery piece of unknown origin found at a flea market in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sparkling knife rests, also once covered in dirt and grime, were found in a tiny shop at Chateau de Loose on last summer’s trip to the Dordogne. They proved to be real treasure–lead crystal–when the airport x-ray machine read them as metal weapons, triggering a bag search.

Sunflowers, dogs, pottery, weather, hybridization, birds, art, travel, houseplants, souvenirs…goodness, I have rambled on, haven’t I? But it’s good to be home after a long stretch away, to relish family, friends, and the comfort of my nest, and to find, finally, the leisure to write.

38 thoughts on “In A Vase and more…

  1. ReginaMonteith

    Loved the ramble down Memory Lane inspired by the photos you took and the treasures you found. Great trips, exciting sites, memorable shopping, and unique souvenirs!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Regina–I’ve thought a lot about our recent trip. The gardens were great, of course, but this one stands out in my mind for the gorgeous countryside around Arnhem, the art museums, and the congeniality of our group.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Auto–No, I’m a light packer, so I always have extra room in the suitcase. Plus, I take bubble wrap with me. The items that go over in a small carry-on bag, come back in the suitcase, so I can carry any breakables on the plane with me for the trip home.

  2. Martha Robinson

    Happy Fourth of July Marian! The birds always plant my sunflowers and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Enjoy your time at home. Martha R

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Beth–Thanks! It’s interesting what sticks with us, don’t you think? And when I travel, I’m always struck by how alike we are, from one era to the next and one culture to the next. We think of ourselves as unique individuals, but yet, in truth, only small differences separate us.

  3. Martha Curwen

    Loved the tutorial on sunflowers. Purchased 5 stems yesterday & they are on the mantel for all to see whether in the room or catching a glance thru the living room window. I know what you mean about seeing VanGogh’s in person. Been to the Amsterdam museum some time ago. Love the pottery and knife rests. When little, my kids said they were fancy weights. Glad I got to see you briefly in Palm Springs. Have a good rest of the summer.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Judy–I think, perhaps, we caught Bruges on a particularly bad day. The coach groups are funneled into an area where tourists are securing carriage rides and the drivers were very aggressive despite the crowds, which put me on edge. Plus, our visit was on a Sunday, so local shops were closed while all the American chains were open, including Foot Locker! Not what I expected. I could, however, see the charm of the old city and enjoyed my walk around the canals and visit to the Groeninge Museum.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Cathy–Prints of Van Gogh’s sunflowers decorated my first home with Tim (student housing at the University of Virginia just after we married), but I have to admit the visit to Kroller-Muller opened my eyes to a new richness and depth…and emotion.

  4. pbmgarden

    The sunflowers are beauties. Would love to have seen the painting with you in the Netherlands. In DC I sneaked in some time for Van Gogh myself at the National Gallery–gardening for the soul. Congrats on the show prizes. Beefsteak begonia makes a great houseplant.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Susie–I’ll have to make a special point to visit the National Gallery again next time I’m in DC to check out the Van Gogh paintings. Thanks for the tip. I’m very happy with my little beefsteak, which is growing quite well.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Mary Lou–Well, I might be musing a little too much lately. I need to get busy in the back garden, which is really a disaster after the mess of construction and last year’s drought. Time to start over!

  5. Pam Allgood

    Loved this post. Earlier this week a friend was photographing sunflowers and I was thinking about Van Gogh and all of his sunflower series.
    Happy 4th!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pam–Yes, I see a newspaper garden column on sunflowers in my near future:^) Hope you had a good 4th too. Tim and I explored a new waterfall hike, which was great fun.

  6. Beth @ PlantPostings

    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip abroad, and boy did you find some treasures! I really like the pottery style you highlight–earthy, artsy, and utilitarian. I don’t have much luck with sunflowers because of my mostly shade garden, but I do have one about to bloom. Who doesn’t smile when they see a sunflower? πŸ™‚

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Beth–Don’t get me started on pottery! The beer jug was an especially lucky find. Its mouth is wide enough that a canning jar can be slipped inside, which makes it perfect for a vase.

  7. germac4

    What a lovely post! The sunflower in your vase reminds me of my childhood in Africa, amazing to think they were introduced to countries as far north as Russia. I love Van Gough’s paintings…. It would be a joy to see the galleries you have mentioned. Enjoy your time at home in your nest, I always love coming home… I’m sure your dogs have missed you ..& hope your rain continues..

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Gerri–I think I’ll be looking for Van Gogh paintings everywhere I visit now. In September I’m taking a group to the Barns Foundation in Philadelphia and have already searched to see what they have, and hope to make time for P’s Museum of Art, too, where there are quite a handful, including one of the sunflower paintings.

  8. Chloris

    I enjoyed this post Marian and reading about your lovely sunflowers. It was also lovely to see some of the treasures you have collected on your travels. Bruges has become very busy over the years but the Groeninge Museum is always a great treat.

  9. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Chloris–I guess I have been very unkind to Bruges, which I caught on a bad day. Certainly, the Groeninge was the highlight. The guide I work with, an art historian from Leeds, is always very helpful, which is much appreciated, and the museum guides were very good too. One big regret–I was unable to find time for the Van Gogh Museum (though I did achieve an afternoon at the Rijksmuseum). Just too many good things to see and do in one short trip.

  10. Tonya

    I love sunflowers too! Grow some every year, this year Teddy Bear………so cute! I also like old pottery, have a few from antique shows in Western NY.

  11. Brenda

    I loved the rambling on. That first photo with your pup in the rocker and sunflowers in the jug was so inviting. I can imagine that it feels very good to come home to that as a morning coffee spot. I adore sunflowers. Perhaps it stems from one of those Little Golden Books that I had when I was young called “Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather.” The book had marvelous illustrations and featured a puffin carrying a sunflower in its beak. It must have made a huge impression on me because sunflowers still make me think of that book.
    What an excellent idea to bring bubble wrap on trips. I’m always afraid to bring home pottery for fear it will break. Now I know the trick!

  12. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Brenda–Yes, bubble wrap is a must. I just line the bottom of the suitcase with it. “Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather” must have been a very popular book. I just looked on Amazon and it’s being sold used for $49 and and new for $500!

  13. Eliza Waters

    I guess I missed this post last week – the fourth was a bit hectic! I love the pic of your sunroom with your sweet dog on the chair – the epitome of domestic bliss. πŸ™‚
    I admire your finds from abroad, old shops and flea markets over there are filled with such treasure. Too bad about Bruge, I guess one has to get off the beaten path to get a feel for a place without the presence of hordes of gawkers. There are more and more people as each year passes.

  14. digwithdorris

    I think most of us love to bring a souvenir from holiday and those useful ones from markets are great as they forever have happy memories. I’m well impressed that you have the foresight to pack bubble wrap. That shows determination!

  15. Linda from Each Little World

    I just discovered your beautiful and inspiring blog while searching for images of Bosvigo. I have one of these ginger jars that I bought (filled with ginger in syrup) via the original Williams Sonoma mail order catalog in the very early 1970s. I love everything about it and have never seen another one. So I salute your your taste and traveling eye.


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