Passionflower – Religious Sentimentality

23-passionflowerName: Purple Passionflower – Passiflora Edulis

Meaning: Religious superstition

The most striking thing about the passionflower apart from its stylised and slightly alien appearance, is the extent to which it has been co-opted as a metaphor to explain a wide number of religious and cultural ideas.

First, 10 points for you if you knew that in Christian theology the ‘Passion’ in Passionflower refers not to garden variety lust, but to the Passion of Christ, that short and traumatic period between Christ’s entry to Jerusalem and his betrayal and crucifixion.

15th and 16th century Spanish Christian missionaries used the parts of the flower to illustrate the passion story as follows, (thanks Wikipedia!):

In India, it is also used to illustrate a religious idea as it colloquially called “Paanch Paandav”. The five anthers are interpreted as the five Pandavas, the divine Krishna is at the centre.

In less religiously charged interpretations, the distinctive shape of the flower leads to it being called some version of Clock Flower in such disparate cultures as Israel, Greece and Japan. In Turkey, the shape of the flowers have reminded people of Rota Fortunae, or the Wheel of Fortune.




Toadstool – Curiosity


Name: Toadstool – Fly Agaric or amanita muscaria
Meaning: ‘Curiosity’ (Meaning for all mushrooms)
All mushrooms are edible – but some only once (1). The Fly agaric is poisonous, and causes psychoactive delirium and occasionally death, (although it is by no means the most poisonous fungus) However the unceasing and apparently quite universal human desire to experience altered consciousness means that many cultures, such as Siberian, Finnish, and Afgans have found ways to prepare and consume the Fly Agaric to ‘fly’ whilst not actually dying. This quality means the fly agaric has been incorporated in the Shamanic rituals. It is also apparently a handy insecticide, although given its other qualities, maybe not a particularly user friendly one.
There are very strong fokloric associations with fairies, elves and pixies. The difference between these different types of magical folk is unclear but evidently you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them. A circle of tall, dark grass within a ring of toadstools, accompanied by a ring of dark earth, was called a Fairy Ring. Stepping into it could change your luck for good or for bad and cause or cure illness. Alarmingly unspecific as a medical technique, consult your GP first.
According to mythologist Robert Graves, this was the ambrosia of the gods and the food that centaurs ate. Go on, you always wondered didn’t you?
Day 21 #100daysnz
Painting inspired by image by Katie Scott, P13 Botanicum

(1) This is a saying, not advice.  Don’t eat mushrooms unless you’re 100% certain on their identification.

Violets – Faithfulness

13 violetsName: Violets -Viola odorata

Meaning – Faithfulness

Oberon mentions violets at his most poetic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  There he refers to the shy, downward facing nature of the flower rather than its sweet scent:


“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine:

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night”

In direct contrast, the Greeks saw the strong scent of the violet as sexy and so the violet, symbol of Athens, also became emblematic of  Aphrodite and  her son Priapus, the deity of fertility, livestock, fruit plants, and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his oversized, permanent ‘Priapic’ erection. Not so shy now, violet.

In other mentions, the goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Hades.

IMG_1407Violets are delicious and easy to crystallise for historically accurate cake decorations.  All you need is some violet flowers, egg white, table sugar and a small paintbrush. Here’s how to do it.  If you are unsure of your flower identification then it’s a bad idea to eat them as many flowers which look quite innocent are toxic. Garden flowers may be subject to sprays and animal pee.  You can buy edible flower selections now which removes the need for guesswork.


Foxglove – Insincerity

10 Foxglove

Name: Digitalis Pupurea
Meaning: Insincerity
Beautiful, elegant foxglove, that innocent exclamation mark in every cottage garden, is as insincere as they come.
Also called Dead Man’s Bells and Witch’s Gloves, foxglove is extremely toxic, a very small amount, even water from its vase, would be enough to affect the heart and cause nausea, delirium, vomiting and wild hallucinations and visual colour effects. Vincent van Gogh’s “Yellow Period” may have been influenced by digitalis therapy, thought to control seizures at the time. A Digitalis extract has been used since 1785 in the treatment of heart problems although even then it seems to have its downsides.
Knowing this, it’s hard to look at it in the same way.
The scientific name means “finger-like”, referring to the fit of the flower over a fingertip. Old English has it as foxes glofe/glofa ‘fox’s glove’.

Does the apple fall far from the tree?

Braeburn square Braeburn:100 days project #14

than 30 years after her death, my grandmother Ruth Haydon Duval-Smith remains one of the most influential people in my life. It’s hard to explain why.   We lived quite distantly and saw each other infrequently.  Yet all this time later, thinking of her can bring tears to my eyes.  It took me years to realise that she would not have died disappointed that I had failed to answer her last letter.

Ruth taught me how to identify shepherd’s purse and fuschia, morning glory and alpine strawberry.  She knew how to create a tiny mauve umbrella from the flower of a scotch thistle, a trick that even now, I have no idea how to recreate.

I could tell a pied stilt from an oystercatcher before I turned five, simply by our observing together at the water’s edge on the Otago Pensinsula.

We made afgans in a blue Kenwood mixer, cross-stitched on gingham and created elaborate paper cutouts from a yellow and black hardback book I still have today.   We read Thornton Burgess’ Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote, Ernest Thompson Seton and the frightening Victorian Struwwelpeter. We read Rackham’s Brothers Grimm, the Snow Goose and the Snow Queen, the black and white illustrations of which she had coloured herself, in an act shocking to my younger eyes.  Her Morris and Liberty fabrics lodged themselves firmly in my pattern consciousness.

It’s difficult to know what kind of a relationship we might have had if she had lived longer, but I would like to think that our shared interests would have endured.  I find that even in some of my modern decisions, my feeling for what is right is rooted in a sense of her, and in particular her connection to Anthroposophy and the natural world.

DUVAL-SMITH, Ruth, ca. 1920-79 Dunedin, view from Queens Drive watercolour on paper: 360 x 237mm (sight) Given by Professor F.N. Fastier, Dunedin, 1980

DUVAL-SMITH, Ruth, ca. 1920-79
Dunedin, view from Queens Drive
watercolour on paper: 360 x 237mm (sight)
Given by Professor F.N. Fastier, Dunedin, 1980

Publically, she was well known as an accomplished watercolourist, specialising in South Island landscapes, one of which is held in the Hocken Library.  I have some on my walls today.  I also have a small brown vinyl notebook in which she pencilled the prices paid for some of these lovely works, heartbreakingly low by today’s standards.

Ironically, it was precisely her talent which created in me the odd idea that I would never be able to paint, let alone in ‘her’ medium of watercolour.  Somehow, I absorbed the idea that watercolour is a precise, difficult, unforgiving form, intolerant of error and hidebound by a number of arcane rules about equipment, paper treatment and colour order.

To my complete surprise I have found out that quite the opposite is true.  It’s fast, Great, I’m impatient!  It’s portable.  Excellent, I like to carry it with me!  If you don’t stretch and tape your paper down it warps and creates strange blotchy runbacks in that paint.  I particularly like that.  My painting is nothing like hers.  Doesn’t matter!

For me watercolour is primarily an expressive and emotional artform, not an intellectual one.  It requires a relinquishing of a certain amount of control.  You can see this in some of the more Steiner influenced works Ruth made, which were not made public.

One of my favourite things about the medium is that you never know quite how it’s going to turn out, which makes for surprises.   Like many of us today, in this thinking age, my life to date has been overwhelmingly brain-led.  It’s such a relief to go somewhere where thinking doesn’t matter, only creating.

I think my grandmother would have understood this.

NOTE: My father has supplied the following biographical information:

Ruth was born on 21 May 1915 and died 21 June 1978. After schooling in Gisborne and Levin, Ruth studied at the Elam school of Art for one year, but was unable to fund further training. After raising a family she studied under H.V. Miller in Dunedin. South Island landscapes were her love and watercolour her medium. Her skies are particularly beautiful. 

Feijoa frenzy, and a poem (sorry about that)

FeijoaFeijoa: 100 Day Project #9

One of the things we miss when we live overseas, as so many of us do, is the Feijoa, that love-it-or-hate-it Brazilian native which we have clasped to our hearts as our very own.

The eating experience is not easy to describe.  It has a strong perfume, a granular texture and an almost jellyish centre when ripe.  The taste gives rise to its other name, the ‘Pineapple guava’

The feijoa doesn’t travel well and as a result it’s a delicacy best enjoyed on the spot armed with a Swiss Army knife, teaspoon and sticky fingers.

Feijoas freeze pretty well, though they do go a little brown, so it is possible to enjoy them throughout the year in crumbles, cakes and fruit sponges.  At my friend Matt’s house they get made into spiffy turnovers.  Another friend (Dr) Jane pointed me to this excellent blog resource for feijoa lovers which includes a fantastic Peter Gordon roasted Feijoa chutney which you do not even have to peel or scoop out the feijoas!  True bonus!

Most of us with a feijoa tree in the backyard know the delight of the start of the season, and the inter-household bartering which goes on.  After a period the massive abundance can start to feel a little onerous, leading to surprisingly profitable, if short-lived, roadside stalls and shopping bags hauled into office lunchrooms.  That feeling inspired this poem.

The feijoas

The first resounding plop

is feted by all,

fought over and devoured,

still hard and sour,

by the victor.

Then a thudding,

steadily increasing in tempo,

A green inundation.

Like sorceror’s apprentices,

we press our abundance

into lunches, crumbles, jars

and our neighbours’ hands.

Silent in reproach,

the invaders occupy the grass,

softening and slippery,

Until the lawnmower relieves us

of our embarrassment.

Grapefruit: 100 Days Project #5

GrapefruitDid your nana have a grapefruit tree smack in the middle of her neatly manicured lawn?  Seems like at one time just about everybody did.   More often than not these leggy, bountiful trees would cast their golden harvest unappreciated on to the lawn.  If they lay there, the fruit would soften and rot, eventually to pass under the lawnmover and fling their sharp scent into the air like a citrus IED.

There were no juicers then, well not in our world.  The squeezers we had were made for lemons and much too small.  Besides those old grapefruit were just so lip puckeringly sour!   Nobody would buy them if you tried to sell them at the side of the road.  Mostly they ended up as part of the neighbourhood arsenal, lobbed over fences, at sisters and passing bike wheels.

My Dad would slice one in half and sprinkle a little sugar on top.  He would leave it overnight on the top of the fridge in our cold, old Christchurch bungalow kitchen.  In the morning, the sugar would have formed a small but highly sought after crust.  He would cut around inside the pithy circumference for us with a small serrated knife he had customized for the purpose, and separate the juicy segments.  It was a highly satisfying act of frugality and self sufficiency.

When we took over our house and old garden from my Nana-in-law’s estate there was a grapefruit tree in the back yard.  Leggy and borer-ridden, it bit the dust some ten years ago, and we didn’t miss the small, hard green tinged fruit.  Then last year my generous friend Tracey gave me a bag of her excess grapefruit.  They were golden, juicy and very sweet and I was filled with jealous nostalgia.


You can see the rest of the 100 Days Project here