Ceramicist Aviva Rowley

Interview by Eric Hsu

Photography by Aviva Rowley (except credited otherwise)

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A born and bred-Brooklynite, Aviva Rowley studied fine arts in Cooper Union during which she worked as a florist and continued to do so after graduation. Desiring something less temporal, Rowley turned to ceramics as a medium for holding flowers. She builds her vessels backwards, using her floristry background as an inspiration, and because her work is handmade, no piece is uniform and one of a kind. Texture and shape dictate her style while the matte black glaze unifies it. Please visit her site (www.avivarowley.com) or IG: @avivarowley.


 

For someone whose taste tends towards macabre, your ease and preference with clay as an artistic medium seem worlds away because clay, once fired, does not project rigor mortis. Clay feels alive and vital within one’s hands, hence why did you elect to work with it?

I never really thought of myself as macabre necessarily.  It’s funny because clay, while it is alive and vital in one’s hands while wet, once you fire it, it definitely does project rigor mortis. Frozen in time. A huge part of why I started to make ceramics was the experience of building these huge events as a florist, just to watch everything die within a day or two. I wanted to create something more permanent and unchanging as a vessel for things to grow, fade, eventually die…

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My parents have been a huge inspiration to me throughout my life.  My mom is a psychologist and self-taught ceramist as well.  I grew up playing with clay, and water and plants and weeds and dirt, with the backdrop of the wild city skyline.  My father is a brilliant painter and scholar, who definitely leans towards the darkness.  They both have been an incredible influence in my life as a creator. I grew up in Brooklyn and my kiln is still at my parents’ house, in the house I grew up in, next to my mother’s wild overgrown flower garden.


Constance Spry, perhaps the fore runner of the wild untamed floral style popular now, worked closely with Fulham Pottery in London to design and develop a series of ceramics for floral work. How did your florist training shape your perception towards ceramics, and has it influenced the form you prefer to work with?

It has completely changed how I think of the “vessel,” I consider what goes in my vessels while I am building them.  I like to create lips and shapes that will speak to flowers.  Some of my favorite forms I’ve built dictate the way the flowers fall – the slit vase, for example, lets flowers fall in a really elegant mohawk.

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She-oaks (Allocasuarina) drape around one of Rowley’s vessels like strung fishing nets. Styling and Photo Credit: Phillip Huynh

There needs to be a conversation between the vessel and what you put in it.  Our mutual friend Phil has been one of my biggest inspirations.  He would hate that I’m saying this, but he’s really been my muse for the past few years.  I make vessels thinking about how he would use them, I add snakes and handles and knobs and gaps for him to twist around.  While my own floral work is very simple, when I build a vessel I imagine so many possibilities – yet I’m always surprised how different florists use them.

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A cascade of Clematis seedheads from another Rowley vessel in a friend’s nursery greenhouse. Styling and Photo Credit: Phillip Huynh

Many of my dearest friends are still florists, which is a fascinating resource.  I am working on a collaboration with another of my floral friend Sophia Moreno-Bunge.  She lives in California so we have been doing a snail mail back and forth.  Making vessels with her in mind has been such a fun experiment, and I’m creating forms that I never would have imagined otherwise.

In addition, you have started a Keiki-Club “to create an open social community for friends and flora fanatics to come together and grow plants, share knowledge, and trade collections”. Does this exposure to different plants and individuals besotted with them inspire your work in interesting directions? 

One of the first ceramic pieces I built was a hanging saucer because it was an answer to a plant problem that had not been answered before.  Being a part of such a positive community, where people can get together and tell stories, and introduce one another to new things… I never thought of it as an inspiration to my pottery, but now that I think of it, it is. I tend to like older plants, ones that have a past, and have been growing and adapting to their environments.  I like to imagine my vessels as homes.

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Photo Credit: Phillip Huynh

Some ceramicists experiment regularly with glazes because they feel that the functionality, which underwrites the vessel form, is an artistic limitation. You have deliberately kept your glazes to a matte black or a weathered beige despite how varied you have manipulated the forms. 

I’ve always created intentional limitations in my art.  I chose the gun metal / matte black glaze because it really speaks to flowers, and definitely lets me experiment more wildly with my shapes.  When you see my vessels in person, there are a lot of slight imperfections in glazes; I’ve actually been experimenting a lot with different textures while keeping the black as a basic language.

 

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Photo Credit: Phillip Huynh

I like how they appear as silhouettes, and work well on their own… when you add plants or flowers it adds a whole other dimension which is generally out of my control.


If an Aviva Rowley ceramic was a plant or garden, what would it be?

I would be an undiscovered underwater ruin, left alone for so many years and enveloped in overgrowth. My partner said I’d be Psychotria elata… look it up!


Thank you for the interview Aviva!

Ceramicist Alana Wilson

Interview by Eric Hsu

Photography by Phillip Huynh

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** Her exhibit “T:  Exploration & Experience of the Teabowl”- with Romy Northover (pictures featured here) goes until  November 26 at FLOATING MOUNTAIN 239 W72nd St, New York NY 10023. Pieces are available for purchase and can be viewed at https://www.floating-mountain.com


`                    Photo Credit: Alana Wilson

Swimming brings one’s body with the water’s buoyancy, yet the process of molding and shaping clay is an anchoring force with hands. Where do you see the cross dialogue between the two activities?

Both are very meditative, predominantly done in solitude and combine physical movement and awareness of the body with a required mental acuity to work through a repetitive process. Both connect with a natural element – earth and water – which I find quite calming and humanly intrinsic. Over time, the wiring between brain and body becomes so ingrained that you can let your mind wander whilst the body is in automatic mode of a learnt technique. Both activities require a sense of technique, which is similarly soft, efficient, streamlined, responsive to the least amount of touch, and both techniques rely on a sense of flow and refining the surface resistance of the body against the elements.


 

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Your work belies the exacting but unpredictable process of overlaying different substances and glazing. What do you find fascinating about the alchemy?

There are endless parallels between the ceramic surfaces and surfaces and textures that exist in nature. Of course, ceramic materials all exist and are derived from natural resources but the process of firing results in a more compacted environment with the kiln’s heat and the firing speed. Scientifically, all of these ceramic results exist somewhere in nature that have occurred through varying means and all natural surfaces and materials will depict a chemical story of creation and destruction, as do the ceramic pieces.

As a child I would get lost in observing rock pools full of geological and marine life, collecting seashells and interesting rocks to study. This childhood fixation has informed my interest in the minute details of elemental decay and natural observation. Over time I have come to recognize stronger analogies between the natural destructive process and environments comparative to those in the medium of ceramics.

Within the ceramic process there are numerous aspects left to chance and susceptible to variation. Different materials will have specific reactions within the firing – how it transforms through heat exposure, how fast it is heated, its melting point, vaporisation point, oxygen content in the material and the atmosphere and its reaction with the other glaze ingredients it is mixed with.


 

 

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In its elemental form, the vessel projects functionality that people have difficulty divorcing when it comes to appreciating ceramics as an art equal to painting or sculpture. How do you hope to have someone see your piece beyond its basic purpose?

I used to look at this viewpoint as a hindrance, always trying to prove something with the vessel. There is an inherent conditioning when dealing with the vessel throughout anthropological, art, and social history. Functionality not only alludes to a use but also to a relationship to the human body and human life. I now embrace the steadfast connotative functionality of my work and prefer it over purely conceptual art (in terms of what I create myself, not necessarily as to what interests me as a viewer).

Having a pre-conditioned utilitarian context allows a certain scale of intimacy for the works to intersect the viewer’s perceptual / experiential process on a different level. Sociologically the viewer forms some sense of connection to it and hold it in a perceptual realm relative to their everyday life as opposed to a more conceptual work, in which they may feel separate from in terms of anthropological connection and conceptual understanding.

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The difficult concept to divorce from the vessel is its ability to hold something, therefore an empty vessel is often perceived as incomplete. I seek to highlight the emptiness and twist the conception to depict the potential to be filled, within which there are various possibilities – both physical and conceptual ‘fillers’. The depiction of the unused or empty vessel allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions based on their individual conditioning. In a sense this conditioning (towards an utilitarian object such as a vessel) is on a different level to the conditioning to comprehend conceptual or abstract art.

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Throughout this consistent questioning within my own work, I have looked at and questioned other forms of art, architecture, design etc and its relativity to humankind. I am interested in its ability to intersect with the everyday life of the everyday person, to not exist only in the vacuum of a white box gallery or as a material commodity, financial investment, or interior decoration. Within my work I aim to honor the history of the vessel and the different historical values – emotional, cultural / historical, technical, conceptual – that all correlate to the final result.

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There is a consistent duality of logic vs reason, cultural vs individual; but in the sense of attempting to draw attention to the importance of humanity and humankind there is the critical requirement for communication, which is community. The viewer’s perception is a moment in time, yet can be long-lasting in terms of their recollection of reality and how it affects them. The majority of viewers would not be aware of their own perceptual process to this extent but I find the relationship between functionality, physicality, conceptual understanding and conditioning an extremely interesting area to observe and study in relation to my work, art and life in general.


Pot Plant, which was curated by John Tebbs for the Garden Edit, and Lilies of Forgiveness, placed your work in relation to ephemeral plant material. Did either exhibits re-center the focus on how florists utilize your ceramics?

As discussed in the above answer, I primarily look for highlighting an emptiness and the potential of completion based on societal conditioning towards and empty vessel. However, I love working with ephemeral plant material as it truly represents natural beauty and its decay, and takes away that sense of ownership or forever-ness that so many people crave. These ideas are constantly embedded within my work, so with the right people who appreciate these ideas I am always keen to collaborate. John Tebbs from The Garden Edit, Simone Gooch of Fjura, and Alia & Ezra from Regime des Fleurs all create beautiful work, utilizing nature as creator and transcending nature as decoration or pure product.


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There is an old Chinese saying ‘滴水穿石’ which translates to ‘dripping water eats away the stone’. It alludes well to how your pieces bear the corrosive effect of water almost to the point of close disintegration. Is it a mediation on the transience of humankind and material goods?

Absolutely. More so an exploration of the innate impermanence of everything and attempting to break down the societal attachment to completed or beautiful things; to encourage an acceptance of the process of continuous transformation and inevitable decay, in all things – physical and otherwise.


The marine environment is unforgiving to terrestrial plant life, but what would be an Alana Wilson ceramic personified as a plant or garden look like? 

This is an interesting question, and each ceramic piece has its own identity in a way … possibly a rockpool or reef, could that be classified as a garden?


Thank you Alana for the interview!

A posy of pansies

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Modern pansy hybrids (Viola x wittrockiana) often lack the fragrance of older seed strains, which gardeners in earlier eras enjoyed and picked for tussie-mussie or nosegays. These strains have delicate brush-like markings that appeared obliterated into indistinguishable blobs in modern strains. Some have attractive ruffling that recall the edge of crinoline skirts, giving the flowers a certain graceful femininity. Last spring, I grew some plants from seed, and took the liberty of picking a few to enjoy and smell indoors. Their scent was delicate, like that of a first June rose precociously welcoming summer.  ~ Eric

Floral Wizardry of Riz Reyes

A familiar face in the Pacific Northwest horticultural scene, horticulturist Riz Reyes increasingly concentrates on his floral art outside of his full-time job as the garden manager for McMenamins Anderson, Bothell, Washington State. Reyes employs flowers and foliage locally as much as possible, and his adroit skills in creating sumptuous floral arrangements can be witnessed in his top ten favorites. He offers the following three tenets of his design philosophy:

1.) Cut flowers are a gateway to the art and science of horticulture celebrating the diversity of botanical wonder all around us.

2.) Whether it be texture, scent, or serendipitous movement as the bouquet is being held, floral designers always possess a natural element inspired by nature so anyone can fully engage with the composition.

3.) Acknowledge the hard work it takes to plant, nurture, and harvest the bounty available to floral designers by letting very little go to waste and allow what’s not used to come back to earth to nurture the following season’s growth.

Those who reside in the Seattle metro region are fortunate to have Riz’s talents at your tip of the hat as he is available for floral commissions. Riz can be reached by email at riz@rhrhorticulture.com.

Thank you, Riz!    ~ Eric

Left: Rosa hybrid unknown Clematis 'Etoile de Violette' Achemilla mollis seed heads Cornus elliptica, Lathyrus odoratus vine Phlox paniculata 'Nicky' Astrantia hybrid Allium 'Summer Beauty'; Right: Brunia albiflora Asclepsia curassavica, Schinus molle Akebia quinata 'Alba' Echinacea Supreme(TM) Elegance Fatsia polycarpa 'Needham's Lace' Celosia hybrid
Left: Rosa hybrid unknown, Clematis ‘Etoile de Violette’, Achemilla mollis seed heads, Cornus elliptica, Lathyrus odoratus vine, Phlox paniculata ‘Nicky’, Astrantia hybrid, Allium ‘Summer Beauty’; Right: Brunia albiflora
Asclepsia curassavica, Schinus molle, Akebia quinata ‘Alba’, Echinacea Supreme(TM) Elegance, Fatsia polycarpa ‘Needham’s Lace’, Celosia hybrid
Rosa 'Auspastor' PATIENCE, Rosa 'Helga Piaget' Zantedeschia hybrid, Agonis 'After Dark' foliage, Blechnum spicant foliage, Jacobaea hybrid foliage, Papaver somniferum pods, Scabiosa stellata pods Tillandsia xerographica
Rosa ‘Auspastor’ PATIENCE, Rosa ‘Helga Piaget’, Zantedeschia hybrid, Agonis ‘After Dark’ foliage, Blechnum spicant foliage, Jacobaea hybrid foliage, Papaver somniferum pods, Scabiosa stellata pods, Tillandsia xerographica
Left: Leucodendron 'Inca Gold' Hyacinthus orientalis 'Blue Jacket' Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' Eucalyptus sp. Grevillea 'Ivanhoe' Brunia albiflora Tillandsia xerographica; Right: Dahlia 'Versa' Nelumbo hybrid pods Schinus molle Sorbus forrestii fruit Sorbus caulescens fruit Jacobaea hybrid foliage Euonymous fortunei 'Emerald 'N Gold' Hedera hibernica Eucalyptus sp. Echeveria 'Topsy Turvy' Tillandsia abdita
Left: Leucodendron ‘Inca Gold’, Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Blue Jacket’, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Eucalyptus sp., Grevillea ‘Ivanhoe’, Brunia albiflora, Tillandsia xerographica; Right: Dahlia ‘Versa’, Nelumbo hybrid pods, Schinus molle, Sorbus forrestii fruit, Sorbus caulescens fruit, Jacobaea hybrid foliage, Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald ‘N Gold’,
Hedera hibernica, Eucalyptus sp., Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’, Tillandsia abdita
Rosa 'Ausdrawn' The Generous Gardener Lathyrus odoratus hybrid, Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost', Astilbe hybrid, Dryopteris felix-mas 'Cristata', Cornus alba 'Elegantissima'
Rosa ‘Ausdrawn’ The Generous Gardener, Lathyrus odoratus hybrid, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Astilbe hybrid, Dryopteris felix-mas ‘Cristata’, Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’
Actaea 'Black Negligee' foliage, Clematis 'Etoile de Violette', Lilium 'Dimension', Allium hybrid seedhead, Astrantia hybrids, Jacobaea hybrid flower buds, Lonicera japonica 'Halliana', Alchemilla mollis seedheads, Lathyrus odoratus tendrils
Actaea ‘Black Negligee’ foliage, Clematis ‘Etoile de Violette’, Lilium ‘Dimension’, Allium hybrid seedhead, Astrantia hybrids, Jacobaea hybrid flower buds, Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Alchemilla mollis seedheads, Lathyrus odoratus tendrils
Rosa hybrid unknown Equisetum hyemale Cornus elliptica Papaver somniferum pods Jacobaea hybrid flowering buds Echeveria sp. Sorbus forrestii fruit Polystichum setiferum 'Plumoso-Multilobum' Blechnum spicant
Rosa hybrid unknown, Equisetum hyemale, Cornus elliptica, Papaver somniferum pods, Jacobaea hybrid flowering buds, Echeveria sp., Sorbus forrestii fruit, Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumoso-Multilobum’, Blechnum spicant
Left: Vitis cognetiae branch with lichen Zantedeschia hybrid Jacobaea hybrid foliage Brunia albiflora Aeonium arboreum hyrbid Akebia quinata 'Alba' Eucomis comosa Tillandsia xerographica x brachyculous Right: Tillandsia xerographica Aeonium arboreum Eucalyptus sp. Leucodendron hybrid Cymbidium hybrid Cornus sericea
Left: Vitis cognetiae branch with lichen, Zantedeschia hybrid, Jacobaea hybrid foliage, Brunia albiflora
Aeonium arboreum hyrbid, Akebia quinata ‘Alba’, Eucomis comosa, Tillandsia xerographica x brachyculous Right: Tillandsia xerographica, Aeonium arboreum, Eucalyptus sp., Leucodendron hybrid, Cymbidium hybrid, Cornus sericea

Floral Friday

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An arrangement for Floral Friday was the challenge for me today, restricted to using only materials that I was able to find on my terrace.  At first I was frustrated, due to lack of flowers and foliage but find creativity comes easier to me when faced with limited resources.  I started filling my teal colored Chinese pot with Salvia officinalis (sage), then some large headed Tagetes (from seed collected at Gravetye Manor), orange and peachy Zinnias and then I felt I had something but wasn’t finished yet. Layering more colors in with Artemisia foliage, a few small soft pinkish Dahlia blooms (unknown cultivar from DeWiersse), some Jasmine foliage and then filled out the rest with the sun faded blooms of Allium sphaerocephalon. Challenge met and pleased. – James


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Floral Fridays: Sweet Peas at Bi-Rite Market, San Francisco

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Sweet peas never fail to make one smile and smell them as they are seen here in the storefront of San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market and Creamery.

Floral Friday- Sweet Portugal Mix

Floral FridaysSome flowers stand well enough on their own to make a statement, without the addition of other foliage and flowers. These Sweet Williams, Dianthus barbatus, enhance the simple but beautifully adorned Portuguese pottery. Taking the same flower and just mixing with other varieties of itself proves successful.  Hope you have enjoyed this Floral Friday…- James

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Dear Jimmy,
Your post on daffodils reminded me how late spring has been this year in eastern U.S. Winter has been behaving like a dinner guest whose welcome has gone beyond stale, hence our ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and ‘Ice Follies’ have not flowered as they usually do at this time. The daffodils are only emerging, buds intact and tightly sheathed against the elements. However, their resilience has always reassure that winter has relinquished its grip, ushering in spring without delay. I long for warm days, with snow having lost its novelty.  My friends’ photographs in the Pacific Northwest already show Corylopsis, rhododendrons, and various spring ephemerals in full glory.
Narcissus 'Ice Follies' flowering early April in the Orchard at Chanticleer - these bulbs are only beginning to emerge now, and their late appearance indicates how late spring has been.
Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ flowering early April in the Orchard at Chanticleer – these bulbs are only beginning to emerge now, and their late appearance indicates how late spring has been.
Islands seem to be flush with daffodils – the Isles of Scilly off the southwest coast of Cornwall, UK, and Tasmania. Warm sunny summers and cold moist winters on the islands create optimal conditions for growing bulbs. The mild climate in the Isles of Scilly allowed the islanders the bragging rights to the first daffodils of the UK, as well as a head start on the cut flower industry; large quantities of cut daffodils were dispatched by boat and then transported on the rail from Penzance to London. In fact, cut flowers formed the cornerstone of the Scillionian economy for over 130 years. The majority, if not all daffodils grown are tazetta-types, which produce up to 15 highly scented flowers per stem. Tazettas need dry warm summers during dormancy for successful flowering, and the long season of Isles of Scilly from May to August, combined with sandy soils, makes a significant difference. Another crucial factor in the industry’s success was the use of windbreaks, an absolute necessity on the gale-exposed islands. Growers depended on two salt-tolerant and wind-resistant New Zealand shrubs, Pittosporum crassifolium and Olearia traversii
A daffodil farm and garden at Isles of Scilly Photo Credit: The Cornwall Coast by Arthur L. Salmon (1910)
A daffodil farm and garden at Isles of Scilly Photo Credit: The Cornwall Coast by Arthur L. Salmon (1910)
Daffodils are popular in Tasmania where the Tasmanian Daffodil Council promotes them.  You can expect at least three months of daffodils if varieties selected for different bloom periods are planted, and the cold nights certainly enhance flower longevity. The nucleus of Tasmania’s daffodil industry began in the 1920s when several enthusiasts imported bulbs from England and started breeding programs themselves. Their work was exhibited at the Hobart Horticultural Society’s annual daffodil show. Dr. Tim Jackson, one of the early enthusiasts, eventually started a business still going strong today. Evidently his passion rubbed off on the second generation, and one of the Jacksons who fought in the World World II even kept a pot on the British naval warship HMS Wanderer. A cousin, a warplane navigator, was once invited to a country estate near his airfield where the owner boasted a new daffodil, exclaiming: “You’ll have never seen anything like this before”. One only can imagine the owner’s surprise when the cousin recognized the hybrid and credited its origin to his grandfather.
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On a blustery gray day, my friends and I drove out a hour away for an open day hosted by Jackson Daffodils near the Southwest National Park, a scenic area. Their bulbs can be bought from an Oregon firm who sells them for a princely sum. They are not the ‘bulk bag’ types one can purchase inexpensively at the local home improvement center. The fields were resplendent with varieties in whites, yellows, oranges, and pinks, and the gusts played up the flowers’ robust gaiety. Even my friend’s dog was excited, recharged by the new scents of the landscape. Who knew how much glee these flowers imparted? Forgetting the dull skies, we left smiling from the simple pleasure of seeing them.
Daffodil fields at Jackson Daffodils, Surges Bay, Tasmania, Australia
Daffodil fields at Jackson Daffodils, Surges Bay, Tasmania, Australia
Across from my friends’ coastal property used to be a commercial bulb farm that exported bulbs and cut flowers to the mainland. Although the majority of the bulbs were dug up and sold before the operation ceased, surviving remnants still sprout defiantly each spring. I learned from my friend that flowering bulbs can be dug up and transplanted without problems, taking out the problematic guesswork that accompanies dying or dormant bulbs. The bulbs need to be planted deep. After obtaining permission, he was able to replicate those naturalistic groups of daffodils without that hodgepodge effect. At first I was skeptical, only to be convinced the following spring when the same bulbs returned to flower. They look terrific under the vibrant green drapery of silver birches.
Tazettas have been 'rescued', collected in a wheelbarrow, and wait to be transplanted.
Tazettas have been ‘rescued’, collected in a wheelbarrow, and wait to be transplanted.
No matter how many bulbs we dug up, there were always more. The sandy loam soil made it easier to retrieve the entire plants, bulb and all, easily from the ground. Occasionally we did accidentally cleave a bulb, but once you gained experience, you were able to gauge how deep and what angle your spade went in, teasing out the plants out without much damage.
Glowing under the clear Tasmanian skies, daffodils, remnants of a bulb farm, still return despite the ground being plowed.
Glowing under the clear Tasmanian skies, daffodils, remnants of a bulb farm, still return despite the ground being plowed.
The Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain) is considered the centre of diversity for Narcissus. Several years ago, I remember seeing wild white daffodils growing in wild scrub near the Spanish border – we never disembarked from the car to identify the species. Perhaps one of the days you will have a chance to drive to northern Spain and bear witness to fields of wild daffodils.  Sad as Narcissus and Echo’s fates were in Greek mythology, a love affair with daffodils is hardly narcissistic.
A bouquet of various daffodils connect with the bright yellows and blues of the abstract painting in a private home.
A bouquet of various daffodils connect with the bright yellows and blues of the abstract painting in a private home.
~Eric

a tête-à-tête

Narcissus at Madrid Botanical Garden
Narcissus at Madrid Botanical Garden

 Mr. Eric,

As I sit at my desk and write this to you, the Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’ that I have planted on my terrace are now fiercely glowing silhouettes, brightly backlit by the sun that is also shining warmly on my face.  The smiling sun is a nice change from the cooler temperatures and gray days and from this late winter flu I have been entertaining these days.  Spring is almost here, I can almost smell it hence this cold, but the last day of winter is officially March 19th, so we are just about out of the woods.  From the windows, I can see the leaf buds of Platanus x hispanica swelling up and pulling away from the branches, just about ready to open.

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I haven’t been outside much the past few days but besides getting enough rest and drinking plenty of teas I have surrounded myself with multiple vases of these little striking yellow blooms to make myself feel better, a little extra sunshine inside. Who wouldn’t smile because of that?! Most everybody loves the Narcissus, for their own reasons, but for many it heralds the triumphant return of spring and an end to the long, cold months of winter.  But why else do we love it and what is it about them? Is it the piercing yellow color that demands the attention of our eyes in an otherwise still drab landscape? The color alone,  reminiscent of the sun,  invokes an uplifting feeling of happiness  and cheerfulness. Is it maybe because the rest of bloom parade is not far behind in the marching procession of blossoms known as spring? So while admiring them from my reclined position, the stories and symbolism of Narcissus started playing out in my medicated head….

Narcissus 'Fortune'

 

The Narcissus has been a subject for writers and artists for more than 20 centuries, often-symbolizing rebirth, new beginnings and  representing luck and prosperity. Could that be the reference in the cultivar Narcissus ‘Fortune’ as seen above? Giving daffodils as a bouquet  is said to ensure happiness to the receiver but remember to  always present them in a bunch  because though the cheerful flower is associated with good fortune it might forebode misfortune if given as a single boom.  Could this be why they are sold in florist shops in bunches rather than single blooms as other flowers?

Naturalized Narcissus at Great Dixter
Naturalized Narcissus at Great Dixter

There is one story about Narcissus and Echo that I love. I owe my introduction and love for Greek Mythology to  Edith Hamilton, when I purchased her book, Mythology, while doing research for a school report as a young kid.  I still have that same book packed away in New York, and escaped through all of the images those stories painted in my mind. But, yes, the story back to the story….

 Narcissus was a young man of immense beauty who broke the hearts of many lovers along the way, lastly in his mortal life was the wood nymph Echo. Narcissus not paying attention to anyone else and constantly looking at his own reflection in a pool of water, falls in love with himself, thinking of no one else. This is how he spends his time, leaning continuously over the pool and gazing, until he discovered he could not embrace his reflection and soon enough he fell into the water and drowned, with the gods immortalizing him as the narcissus. The story of Narcissus in Greek mythology, is a sad one where the flower symbolizes self-esteem and vanity.

Naturalized Narcissus in the garden of William Robinson at Gravetye Manor
Naturalized Narcissus in the garden of William Robinson at Gravetye Manor

There is a wonderful poem to read of this story, written by the American poet Fred Chappell

Narcissus and Echo, a poem

by Fred Chappell

Shall the water not remember  Ember
my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above  of
its mirror my half-imaginary  airy
portrait? My only belonging  longing;
is my beauty, which I take  ache
away and then return, as love  of
teasing playfully the one being  unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure  Is your
moves me. I live apart  heart
from myself, yet cannot  not
live apart. In the water’s tone,  stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower  Hour,
whispers my name with such slight  light:
moment, it seems filament of air,  fare
the world becomes cloudswell.  well.

bouquet sketcbouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile,bouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile, both by J.McGrath
bouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile, both by J.McGrath

The meaning and symbolism behind this flower has inspired many writers to artists and will continue to do so for a long time to come.  In Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers –  it is listed twice, once by the common name daffodil where it means regard and in its latin form Narcissus we see it listed as egotism. You choose.   Salvador Dali, Caravaggio, John William Waterhouse, and Poussin, among countless others have been inspired when putting brush to canvas,  using the the subject and the stories behind it as their muse.

display beds at Madrid Botanical Gardens
display beds at Madrid Botanical Gardens

The blooms are out in full force here in Madrid, and hope they are not too far behind for you in Pennsylvania, spring will be banging on your front door    soon enough.   By the way, did you know that ‘tete-a-tete’ means a face-to-face meeting, or a private conversation between two people?  It’s been nice chatting with you and I hope  these images and stories find you well and smiling……      -James

 

Voilà Viola

vaseSometimes it’s the flowers that set the idea in motion, and sometimes its the container, which happened to be the case for this.  I filled this bread-roll shaped ceramic container with water and then gathered as many blooms of Viola × wittrockiana as I could from my window box. Always seeing them outside, I wanted to bring them indoors and once completed, they gave a light fragrance once they adjusted to the warm room.  But there was something about it that made me laugh…

ViolaArrangementMaybe it started with this weeks quote about missing all the fun, maybe it was a slight aversion to writing something about love today, maybe it has to do with the winter and causing me to think of warmer temperatures, maybe it started from thinking about the Winter Olympics, I don’t know where it came from, but inspiration comes from interesting places sometimes.  And I hope it makes you chuckle like it did to me, we could all use it sometime… Enjoy your weekend my friend. – James

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