Tag Archives: flowers

14 November: Grief must be Digested, II

Elizabeth’s Rose

Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.

The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’

Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’

The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.

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6 September: Season of Creation VIII: Unloved?

the sun-flower, shining fair, Ray round with flames her disk of seed.

In Memoriam Stanza CI

Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
    The tender blossom flutter down,
    Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
  This maple burn itself away;

 Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair, 
    Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
    And many a rose-carnation feed
  With summer spice the humming air;

 Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
    The brook shall babble down the plain, 
    At noon or when the lesser wain
  Is twisting round the polar star;

 Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
    And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
    Or into silver arrows break 
  The sailing moon in creek and cove;

 Till from the garden and the wild
    A fresh association blow,
    And year by year the landscape grow
  Familiar to the stranger's child; 

 As year by year the labourer tills
    His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
    And year by year our memory fades
  From all the circle of the hills." 

(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete. Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.

The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester. Poppy seeds were sown on the land to the right and came up in profusion the following year.

During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *

Notes:

  • The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
  • Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
  • Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
  • A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
    • * Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.

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2 September, Season of Creation III: Seasons turning.

September! We are moving into Autumn, fruit, grain harvest, swelling pumpkins … return to school, reluctant scholars yet glad to see their friends. remembering Oscar Wilde yesterday, here is the XVII Century English-speaking Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan, looking for the luxuries of out-of-season flowers and fruit. He’d find them today of course, rushed to us from around the world. But note his conclusion!

The tender vine in our garden suffered from the North’s cold wind last winter, but we have a few bunches of grapes swelling; are they to be food for humans or starlings?

Who the violet doth love, 
Must seek her in the flow'ry grove, 
But never when the North's cold wind 
The russet fields with frost doth bind. 
If in the spring-time—to no end— 
The tender vine for grapes we bend, 
We shall find none, for only—still— 
Autumn doth the wine-press fill. 
Thus for all things—in the world's prime— 
The wise God seal'd their proper time.
St David’s Cathedral.

Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II.

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16 July: Consider the lilies of the field.

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. Matthew 6:28-29

The other day, as you can see, it was raining when I got to the Glebe, and it stayed that way all the time I was there. That’s not the reason for the post, though, but the plant the pictures show.

You’ll notice that it has no hint of green about it; this is because it is a parasite and cannot make its own chlorophyll. It derives this vital fluid from tapping into the roots of its host plant, which is ivy. It’s name is Orobanche hederae, or ivy broomrape.

When I was identifying this at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland there were very few records mapped in Kent, the nearest being at Eastry village 14 miles away. That of course does not mean there are none nearer than that, they may even be relatively common since ivy, the host plant, grows almost everywhere. I don’t think anyone has introduced it here on purpose, especially to the awkward corner it occupies, so the guess has to be that a highly favoured seed – they are like specks of dust – blew here from wherever the parent plant was growing. The third picture shows that there are more shoots to come, so it’s well established with us. Let’s hope we can keep it thriving.

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10 June: More Passion flowers

One day earlier this month, my walk took me through Canterbury cemetery once again. This time I saluted a few familiar names, since I passed near the Catholic corner, but then wandered into an older section I’d not visited before and found two passion flower crosses to add to our collection. One was covered in multicoloured lichen and not suitable for reproduction, but then there was this, erected in the first years of the XX Century.

It combines the Celtic Cross, the Greek Letters IHS – short for Jesus – at its centre, with the halo of passion vine leaves around it, and the passion vine itself, bringing the Cross to flowering splendour.

The passion flower represents the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns. The beauty of the flower proclaims the resurrection.

By carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the family were indeed proclaiming that the dead would rise again with Christ. When you see a passion flower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passion flower on a gravestone, pray for those lying there.

An earlier post about Passion flowers can be read here.

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1 June: an unfortunate shell.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester

John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor during the Great War. He is best known for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. This post describes an incident he witnessed 105 years ago, on 1 June. It is from the introductory material selected by his editor.

“Tuesday, June 1st, 1915.

1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee. Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards—a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads.

In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped.

In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33.

Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part—the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly—and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing.

From “In Flanders Fields and Other Poems” by John McCrae.

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26 April: Prostate before the Lord.

Peter (Piotr) Wygnański grew up in Cambridge and was an altar server for 11 years in the parish of St Laurence. He was ordained priest on 25 July 2019 in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Norwich, by Bishop Alan Hopes.

Part of the ordination rite has the deacon lying flat on the floor while prayers are said or sung.

In his homily, Bishop Alan said: “Jesus tells us we must be prepared to share in his suffering and death…and at the heart of our ministry must be humility”. Priesthood, he added, “Is nothing to do with status”.

The Bishop told Peter: “Your prostration before God…is an abandonment of yourself to His love and will” and he encouraged him to “model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”.

I’m not sure that these two friends from L’Arche Ipswich were thinking of any of that as they got down close to the tulips, but the flowers are given to us by God’s love and will, and by abandoning their upright dignity to wake up and smell the flowers they got closer to His loving gift of tulips, their colour, shape, texture and scent.

If you wait till July you can look up humbly at 3 metres high sunflowers instead!

  • Peter Wygnański’s story shared from the East Anglia diocese website; see link above.
  • Tulip lovers’ photo courtesy of L’Arche Ipswich.

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18 April: A sabbath day’s walk

Through early mist, the nail marks show a risen, if bewildered, Jesus.


This goes alongside today’s Gospel reading, and last year’s Easter walks.

We walked the fields and woods on Easter day,
Considering the flowers: bluebell, gorse for Edward Thomas, 
Campion for the martyr, David’s daffodils; and for 
Christ’s Mother, Lady’s Smock, a blue-white garment. 

For himself? I see him rising, feeling each rib, gingerly 
Easing the circle of thorns from his brow to spin it 
High and higher out of his ken, to Paris: 
Disputed relic but reverenced for his sake. 

His feet have stopped bleeding. He can walk 
Across the grass without pain. Almost. 
‘Mary, Please, please; do not touch me; not just yet, 
But tell them all, I’m going North to Galilee.

‘Oh, and Mary: just a dab of your oil on my brow. 
The scratches sting, but I find I’m healing like a babe, 
As Lazarus did last month when he came forth. 
Time now to take a walk, to find my legs and feet again. 

‘My feet are fine, thank you Mary. Go to Peter now, 
Give him my message, tell him what you’ve seen 
And rub his brow too with oil to firm his courage. 
I’ll see you by the lake, if not before. Now for my 

'Walk. I feel my legs can take me far, without 
Tiring. Those scars are not pretty but who looks 
At feet, except a salesman selling shoes, 
Or serving man with water, soap and towel? Or you.’

     .     .     .

Who is that ahead? I should know the gait of 
Clopas and his friend, red Isaac, expecting a kingdom by the sword. 
‘What are you saying on your way? Now, listen 
With your eyes and heart. Consider the flowers of the field. 

Do they toil and spin? No, all they have is gift of sun, and rain, 
And red-tailed bumble bee, loving them into growth 
And fruition. The grain of wheat has fallen. Stay with me 
My friends. Take and eat my given body. Stay with me.

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3 April: If we will hear.

white violets

It’s that in-between day. The day when fresh linen is spread over the stripped altar, when church dusting is done, the floor and brass polished, the flowers gathered in and arranged. Christina Rossetti invites us to Consider the lilies of the field; her message, one we have been reminded of more than once this week, is HOPE. Jesus found Mary in the garden, after all. Consider that one small seed that was laid in the garden tomb.

A Scottish Rose.

CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD.

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:–
The rose saith in the dewy morn,
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
 

But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”

From Poems by Christina Rossetti.

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15 February: Gilbert White XI: a reflection on the crocus.

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The 18th Century curate and scientist saw no conflict between these two ways of looking at the world; here it is science inspiring him to a prayer in poetry.

The crocus sativus, the vernal, and the autumnal crocus have such an affinity, that the best botanists only make them varieties of the same genus, of which there is only one species; not being able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often in very rigorous weather; and cannot be retarded but by some violence offered: — while the autumnal (the saffron) defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed.

This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation, little noticed, because a common occurrence: yet ought not to be overlooked on account of its being familiar, since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most stupendous phaenomenon in nature.

Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow,
Congealed, the crocus’ flamy bud to grow?
Say, what retards, amidst the summer’s blaze,
Th’ autumnal bulb till pale, declining days ?
The GOD of SEASONS; whose pervading power
Controls the sun, or sheds the fleecy shower:
He bids each flower His quickening word obey;
Or to each lingering bloom enjoins delay.


 Letter XLII from The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White.

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