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.
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.
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. I was particularly drawn to Wheatstacks in Provence (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.
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.
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.