Daffodil – Regard

Daffodil - regardDay four #100daysnz

Daffodil – Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Meaning – Regard
(Modern meaning:’Sorry about the cancer you had that one time)

Most of us probably see Daffodil as the large showy yellow trumpet shaped fundraising flowers but Daffodil is apparently the official common name for any of the plants that fall into the genus Narcissus which includes jonquils and erlicheer.

From a Victorian Flower Language standpoint this could generate a little confusion. I might give you a daffodil as the sign of my regard, but you might see it as a Narcissus which has traditionally meant egotism, following the Greek myth of the beautiful boy who saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realising it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. I’m sure that happens to all of us from time to time.

Also, any daffodil you think is a King Alfred probably isn’t, but that’s enough floral disillusionment for one day and this has to stop somewhere.

#100daysnz #dontstopmenowbecauseimhavingagoodtime

NB Since I did actually have cancer that one time (here’s hoping) I feel entitled to be snarky about it – this is not intended to offend.


Dandelion – Rustic Oracle

dendelionDay Three #100daysnz

Dandelion: Taraxacum Officinale

Meaning: Rustic Oracle

Apparently the name comes from French Dent-de-lion or lion’s tooth, although that’s a bit of a stretch isn’t it? The meaning Rustic Oracle seems to relate either to its reputed fortune telling characteristics, especially in love, or to weather prediction as the ‘shepherd’s clock’.


Meadow Cranesbill – Steadfast Piety

cranesbillDay Two #100daysnz

Meadow Cranesbill – Geranium Pratense.

Victorian Flower Language meaning: Steadfast Piety

Different geraniums have represented an enormous range of meanings,from folly through to melancholy, however the wild form takes the meaning Steadfast Piety. Sounds like a Gloriavale elder.

This image was inspired by an unknown artist’s plate in Flora Londinensis which resides in the British Museum of Natural History


Marigold – Vulgar Minds

marigold 3Day One #100daysnz

African Marigold: Tagetes erecta (ahem)

Flower Language Meaning: Vulgar Minds (figures – you’ve got to love a flower that can throw some shade)

OK hold tight, we’ve got to shatter some myths here: Tagetes erecta, the Mexican marigold, also called Aztec marigold, is a species of the genus Tagetes native to Mexico, not, in fact, Africa.  Helpful!

Marigolds are often used as a companion plant as their pungent leaves and roots are are said to deter flying and nematode pests, however there is some evidence to show these benefits are quite limited and in a cruel plot twist, marigolds might in fact attract some pests.

Other myths dispelled by the marigold is that an image search on Google is the best way to find an excellent visual reference.  Those who foolishly trust a dodgy tattoo inspiration webpage called ‘Realistic Art’ may find that the marigold they have lovingly drawn might in fact be closer to a zinnia, especially the foliage which looks nothing like the feathery leaves of a marigold. Thanks internet.



The Language of Flowers – 100 Days Project 2016


For my 100 day project this year I will be drawing and painting one flower each day, noting the meaning each would have carried in Victorian Flower Language.

As a primary reference I am using the Illuminated Language of Flowers, illustrated by Kate Greenaway.  It is an update of the much loved but badly badly edited Language of Flowers published in 1884.

A Rose by any other any name might smell as sweet but what does it actually mean?

From before recorded history flowers been ascribed symbolic meanings. The Egyptians held the iris as their symbol of power, the Romans chose anemones to signify love.  In England the Wars of the Roses refers to the heraldic badges of the two royal houses, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. Some meanings travel unaffected across time and culture, such as ‘Narcissus’ which stands for egotism after the Greek myth.

Flower meanings originate from ancient folklore.  Shakespeare could not ignore such fertile ground, he brought together flower and meaning in Ophelia’s sad and beautiful descent into madness

“Look at my flowers. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts.There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died…”

‘Floriography’, the custom of interpreting the meaning of a flower bouquet as a communication is most commonly associated with Victorian England. But the custom can be traced much further back and further afield to the Middle East; Turkey and Egypt in particular.

The first recorded mention of a flower language in England was by a woman described as the most colourful  Englishwoman of her time by Encyclopedia Britannica. In a letter to a friend in 1717 the perfectly named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, described a Turkish love letter consisting of a pearl, a Jonquil and a rose in that order.

In 1718 the first European flower ‘dictionary’ Le Langage des Fleurs by Mme Charlotte de la Tour was published in Paris. English versions were produced soon afterwards, leading to the proliferation of over 150 different dictionaries and fuelling a craze which lasted through the reign of George IV and through to the 1840s.

The idea of communicating through flowers rather than words is an intriguing and sublimely romantic concept. The innocence and beauty of the flowers combines with the excitement of a coded message intended only for the recipient.

Amongst those fashionable Victorians who had the money and the time to do so, the language of flowers would have provided the repressed and socially hidebound with the opportunity to open their hearts, to flirt.  A flower would become part of the wit and conversational thrust and parry of a gentle courtship.

Of course to a prosaic and practical mind, this mode of communication immediately presents some issues. How might you communicate ‘mirth, say when the crocus is out of season?  Many of the 150 flower dictionaries published around that time contained inconsistent meanings. Sometimes the same flower might have different even contradictory meanings. The opportunities for misinterpretation and disaster would have been legion had truly significant messages been committed to floral form


Note: In this introduction to Flower Language I have relied heavily on the charming and entertaining forward to The Illuminated Language of Flowers, Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers, London 1978. Forward by Jean Marsh (Upstairs Downstairs’ Rose!).

The return of the 100 Day Project

100 days_TVG_poster_web

Way back in 2013 I completed a 100 Days Project, an immensely satisfying and challenging experience.  I learned a lot, and if you are interested you can read a little more about that experience here.  Some of the paintings I made as part of that process, I just love, others I’d prefer never saw the light of day again.  It’s a fact however, that none of them would have existed without the stimulus of this project.  Encouraged by my experience and the generous reactions I received, I have continued to paint quietly away on my own. But since the exhibition most of these tiny works have spent their time in a dark little tin in my desk drawer.

Fast forward to last week however, and I was in for a surprise.  Michaela Stoneman, the delightful curator of the Eltham Village Gallery in South Taranaki (among others) got in touch to ask if she could include my project in an exhibition she is planning of 100 Days Projects.   But of course!  And in view of the quality of the other projects selected I feel really very happy to be included.  Furthermore, the chancey to review my project has been quite uplifting and has me thinking hard about how I could use the images and what else I could attempt.  It’s also reminded me that the 100 Days project will kick off again in July, and perhaps I should get on that bus again.

Meanwhile, if you’re in Taranaki between 12 April and 6 May feel free to pop in to a lovely exhibition at the Eltham VIllage Gallery.


Back to the future with chooks (or how not to buy a hen house)

IMG_2772 (6)Over the last year I have been focusing on little changes that make our home feel a little more ‘homely’. I wish I could say that this has resulted in a massive decluttering and streamlining of our living areas, surfaces and bookshelves. Alas, this would be a big fat lie. Instead I am preparing the way for chooks.

When I was a very small child our family had two chooks, a large black orpington called Blackstack and Honey a bantam. They were charming and lived in an a-frame hutch at the bottle of our suburban garden. They would allow themselves to be held and to sit on the handlebars of our bikes to be wheeled quietly about. We would feed them warm mash in winter and sprinkle wheat about to their great hopping and darting excitement.

They taught me how to keep a hen quiet when lifting the sweet heavy heft of a fat bottomed chook.  I learned to take responsibility for looking after their food and water.  They were endlessly amusing to watch, and I have always associated the sound of their slow contented clucks and murmurs with a particularly happy time.  They were also productive, a warm, fresh egg in the hand straight from under the chicken was a child sized miracle, especially when one was a tiny banty sized egg.  And as a budding gardener it always seemed to be to complete a satisfying circle to be able to use their bedding and poo to make plants grow better.

Later, as a teen in lifestyle block land we had a flock of brown shavers.  Some of these hens were rescued layers with mutilated beaks who had to be taught to use the perch and to forage. This, more than anything, illustrated for us the great cruelty which is factory farming, and since then I have always paid above the odds for ethically farmed eggs.

While our brown shavers had less in the way of identifiable personalities, they had spirit. They would escape their pretty orchard occasionally and do their best to lay anywhere other than the warm dry, purpose designed shed provided for them. By the time a rogue clutch was discovered ( the biggest contained 22 eggs), it was often too late for the eggs. The smell of a recently broken rotten egg is physical confrontation with the fullest extent of stink.

Now for health, fertiliser and probably sentimental reasons I am looking to reintroduce hens to the back of our section. My mother-in-law and her siblings remember when they had to cart the household scraps up to the chooks in our backyard in central Auckland some seventy years ago. A meal of chicken was a rare treat then, with zero food miles on it.

Local bylaws now permit us to have as many as six hens. For sanity and neighbourly relations, perhaps it is a good thing that roosters are no longer an option.

So, housing was our first priority. A search on TradeMe showed there was very little between cheap and nasty Chinese manufactured hutches in poor thin fir wood and $800 palaces. So my first very idealistic idea was for the boys to build the hen house as a jolly togetherness project (hey, I never pretended to be clearsighted!). I even paid for and downloaded some plans from the net to take to Bunnings for pricing up.   After two weeks’ mucking around I was feeling like I should change my relationship status to ‘in a relationship with the nice but ineffectual guy at Bunnings Trade Desk”.   The eventual outcome was that it would cost me $1500 to build our own house and even Mr Bunnings recommended I head back to TradeMe.

Back at TradeMe I just happened upon a very nice little used plywood house which I bid for and won for $375 (worth about $900). All that remained was to take a trailer out to Karaka to pick it up which my beloved and my Dad very kindly consented to do.

IMG_2780 (2)A piece of advice to anybody looking to import a large structure for their back yard? Um, measure it. It had looked about right. Unfortunately the space through which it had to travel was approximately 10cm too narrow when you took the nesting boxes into account. My very kind and capable Dad then took it apart. Showers of ants, slaters and white tailed spiders jumped ship as he worked. We carried the pieces through, and then he nailed it back together. This was some distance above and beyond the call of duty. To his very great credit, not a single word of reproach was uttered. I think I owe him one for that alone.

Next:  Decorating the decile 10 chook house.




Dining on mince and slices of quince….

quince botanicalThe quince carries associations of medieval times and walled gardens which I find very intriguing. The fruit tree itself is sufficiently ornamental to make it a tempting choice for the garden. Spring’s prettiest pink and white blossom is followed in late summer by large hard yellow fruit, with a strong pineappley fragrance.

Usually when I have encountered quince, it has been in the form of neat little pottles of solid fruit paste. Quince paste is a lovely choice served with a sharp cheddar or a tangy blue. Dark apricot in colour, it has the sweetness and grittiness of a pear with a slightly more perfumed flavour.

Quince isn’t widely sold commercially, but I spotted a basket of pretty pale lemon quince for $5/kg at my neighbourhood fruit and veg shop and I was tempted to try a little something new.

Paris based cook and my go-to dessert guy David Lebovitz has a good recipe here and a gorgeously rustic quince tarte tatin recipe here . He also found that a lovely waste-not-want-not ruby red quince jelly emerges from reducing the poaching liquid, as quince is very high in the preserver’s best friend, pectin.

I discovered that raw, the fruit is far too hard and tart to eat.  In Turkey, the expression ayvayı yemek (literally “eat the quince”) means a bitter taste in the mouth or unpleasant situation to avoid. But peeled, cored and cut into sections quince can be poached slowly and at length in a sugar syrup with the spice of your choice, vanilla, cinnamon, star anise. The flesh is pale yellow to begin with, and develops a rich pink hue over cooking.

For my first foray into quince cookery, I poached three sliced quinces in a syrup made with brown sugar syrup and a sliced vanilla bean. Aside from the slight trickiness in peeling, cutting and coring such a hard fruit, it really was as easy as stewing apples. The amazing fragrance coming from the kitchen had all family members sitting up and taking notice.

Poached quince makes a delicious dessert with vanilla ice cream, crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt.  In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, it will make or a particularly decadent breakfast fruit with muesli.

Now, I’m starting to wonder where I could make room in my garden for a quince.

Botanical Image credit Wikipedia, artist Philip Miller

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Of roses and turkish delight

FullSizeRender (3)The first thing anyone does on receiving a bouquet of roses is to bury their face in them to breathe in the scent.  Beautiful roses with minimal scent are pure anticlimax. Pierre de Ronsard, I’m taking to you!

Nahema might well be accused of showing off at this time of year. But what might be quite an ordinary pale pink prettiness is lifted into the stratosphere of rose-y adoration by its strong scent, swooningly redolent of turkish delight.

Of all the roses available, Parfumier Guerlain created a perfume in 1979 named after this one which is still available today.  Guerlain records that the floral oriental fragrance was “inspired by the legend of a sultan who had twin daughters, the gentle and obedient Mahane and the fiery and passionate Nahéma. Built predominantly around rose notes, Nahéma was an early fragrance to feature damascones, a set of newly discovered aromachemicals with a profound fruity-rose character.”

This is Nahema’s first year in my garden.  Often roses flower well in the first year and then decline left unsprayed in Auckland’s humid climate.  Time will tell whether Nahema is up up to an organic mulch, water, squash aphids routine to earn a permanent place.  So far I am in thrall to its pretty and scented delights.

We all like different things

Everybody likes different things 001
When the student is ready the teacher appears right? With startling frequency, the kind and clever women at Slow Family Living (SFL) throw a quietly ticking inspiration bomb my way.

This week they snuck a new and deceptively simple phrase into my mind : “We all like different things”.

I’ve been turning it over in my head like a pebble, this one phrase crash course in acceptance. Of course we do all like different things. This often leads to conflict, but it’s the differences which make things interesting. And because we all like different things, we also all need different degrees of space, time, engagement and support.

It’s well worth reading Bernadette Noll’s article here to see how this might plays out amongst the competing forces in your own household. I was inspired to make a quick mock-up for my fridge. If you like it, let me know and I’ll send you one you can print out for yours.