Monday, 28 April 2014

How To Fall In Love With A Flower

"Do you know a novel where someone falls in love with a flower?"
Husband, sitting with me on our balcony, blinks with his eyes. "Sorry?" "I asked: do you know..."
"I understood that well - but that's a strange question. No. No, I don't know any," says the literary scholar. "Why?" 
As I am too embarrassed to confess the real reason, I mumble: "Well, I have found two already. And if we count the Blue Flower of the Romantic Period, as it is presented in 'Heinrich von Ofterdingen' by Novalis, I have even three. Or, thinking of Tulipmania: four." 
Of course there are many definitions of 'Love'.
Passionate love: it exists defenitely also concerning flowers - think of Carolus Clusius, who started in Vienna to cultivate tulips since 1574 - and then the Tulipomania broke loose.
You might argue that this is not real love but only the attempt to get something into one's possession, (and later using tulips only as a sort of share to maximise wealth and thus leading to the big crash in 1637).
But what is love? I've seen people 'loving' others just that way - jealous people who wanted to "keep" their love, thus suffocating them, taking away the air by overprotecting their loved one, giving no chance of development - but love grows only in freedom, that is what I believe.
Beside crushes like Tulipomania there are the examples in literature.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry shows us the impressive love of 'The Little Prince' for his rose on his tiny planet. (A lot of people will turn their eyes up: yes, yes, I know the quote of "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly" is overused, but in the taming of the fox we get a wonderful explanation what love is.

"What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hu ndred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."
"It is possible," said the fox. "On the Earth one sees all sorts of things."
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
"Please-- tame me!" he said.
"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more . If you want a friend, tame me..."
"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me-- like that-- in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."
The next day the little prince came back.
"It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites..."
"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.
"Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all."
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added:
"Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world."
And the roses were very much embarassed.
"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you-- the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

I took this wonderful translation from 
Now, this post is too long already. I'll tell you of the other examples next times: Colette and Novalis, (which I have to translate on my own).
And if you found others: I'm deeply interested!

Monday, 7 April 2014

"Be like the sweet violet - humble, modest and pure..."

Britta Huegel

In the 'language of flowers' or floriography, which especially the Victorian Ladies stylised as an art, (who could resist a tussie-mussie, a 'talking bouquet'?), the little violet meant "Hidden love makes happy" or "Nothing is so sweet as secret love." (Now, if you read my last post on berlinletters, you might ask yourself why I am running after the scent through tout Berlin - but No!)
Having managed a big garden for a long time, I was always sceptic reading about "the modest violet". In my garden they behaved quite immodest and unhumble, acting like those tiny little helpless women some men so easily fall for... (a convincing exemplary you find in the hilarious book "Mrs.Fytton's Country Life" by Mavis Cheek) :

Which perhaps, (...) was her (Angela Fytton's) second big mistake. 
For just at that precise moment, in a small, smart restaurant at 's-Gravenhage, a pretty little woman, attending a conference on Europe and dentistry, and wearing too-high heels, slipped and fell at the feet of a tall golden-haired man, who bent to help her up and who insisted (as she brushed the pretty little tears from her eyes, and shook her pretty little curls into place, and whose dainty vulnerability was written all over her round little figure and quivering little mouth, and who kept drawing her skirt hem above her sweetly roundes knee and rubbing it to show that she was being brave), who absolutely insisted, that she should join him and his colleague, David, at their table and have a drink until she was calm again. Which same David it was who wrinkled and nudged him and said, much later, 'What's The Harm?' 
Blue skies, on the whole, are never to be trusted further than you can see them.  

Violets neither.
They are worshippers of Kleistogan = "Secret marriage" - (the new model for the militant single?) -  meaning autogamy. (What a sacrifice of fun!) Violets use a sort of catapult to throw their seeds far, and they add flesh to each seed, which ants are wild about, thus shlepping them to all places.
Violets helped poor ugly Vulcanus, son of Jupiter: when Venus didn't want to answer his courtship, he garlanded himself with violets - and she surrendered. (I think it couldn't have been only the violets - maybe he was a Bel Laid, or had some animal-like charme...) In Renaissance it was part of the Christian canon, modesty, but also the wish that Christendom might spread like the violets, see as above... In 19th century (and these insights I owe to the marvellous book 'Symbolik der Pflanzen' by Marianne Beuchert), the followers of Napoleon wore violets - and he swore to be back from Elba when the violets would start to flower. As you know, Joséphine de Beauharnais threw a bouquet of violets at the young general Napoleon the first evening they met...
There are 400 different breeds of violets, and many of them have a beautiful fragrance (but each sort a different one - so you could not mistake the 'Königin Charlotte' (which grows on my balcony) with 'Viola Jooi'.
And another cliché has to be killed: violets don't prefer 'dark and moist' habitats - they thrive in sun and light!
Our powerfully eloquent breeder of herbaceous perennials, Karl Foerster (1874-1970), remarked: "Spring gardens without sweet violets are ridiculous, but very common", and thundered: "Throw out of your sunny garden corner the heinous common snowberry and thuja occidentalis!" - though not many listened over the years, I think. Most people prefer a thuja, praised as "tree of life" (boring forever) over three weeks (a year!) of real ecstasy - of "waves of cool, warm and hot fragrances of violets", promised by Karl.
If you plant them right - in drifts.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Even Londoners Might Not Know Everything

Britta Huegel

Maybe I should say "Even Londoners might not know every place."
I'm speaking of the Royal Park "Isabella Plantation" - a wonderful park in Greater London, and maybe you should wait a few weeks, but the first azalea on my balcony has opened her tiny buds and tries to envelope herself in a veil of fragrance (though today the weather changed: from 20°C yesterday to 7°C now.).
I visited the Isabella Plantation last year in my monthly stay in London end of May. Everything was still flowering, but on the verge to vanish. It was Trish, (my sweet landlady and now my friend) who told me about it - in her long life she hadn't been there, but heard about it.
And it was marvellous! The long way from the station and bus station was a bit -- very solitary -- but as an 'Urban Warrior' I wasn't that worried. And you can go there by car. It is in Kingston upon Thames.
It is a huge park, mostly rhododendron and azaleas, some very old ('Planted in 1831' reads the plaquette beside a huge rhododendron), and beautiful little brooks.

Britta Huegel

Britta Huegel

Then follows a heather landscape with a big pond.

Britta Huegel

Britta Huegel

Find the time - plan to go there - it is really worthwile, because gardeners and nature are giving their best - nature even as a florist.

Britta Huegel

Sunday, 16 February 2014

"The Sparrow Loves Berlin's Chaos"

... though instead of 'chaos' some choose the word "mess". 
Our mayor gaily coined the phrase "Berlin is poor, but sexy". And when the sparrows heard this they came in flocks to this wonderful city - opposite of our house about 70 of them sit in a huge bush (that is not a poetic hyperbole!) and yell - maybe they have worn headphones far too long, or went to too many rock concerts and thus are as deaf as many of our poor kids I see hear every day in the underground... 
In many regions of Middle Europe the population of sparrows has diminuished rapidly  - mostly because refurbished buildings don't offer many breeding sites in niches and cavities anymore. And there is not much sand to be found any longer, which they need to take their 'bath'. Cities for sparrows must not be too orderly - otherwise not even the best winter feeding will help. 
In Berlin they thrive, and  you see signposts in many Berlin restaurants in summer: "Please don't feed the sparrows" - because they are a real plague, jumping onto your plate with cake while you eat - wink insolently at you and munch. As they did to my utter astonishment at McDonald's: there are whole sparrow families living solely on French fries - though I think I don't see them here on our balcony on the second store, too obese by now... 
I read in an article that from most birds - we have about 200 species in Germany - only 15 come regularly to feeding places in gardens or balconies. 
Though I see in the year a wide variety of birds on my balcony (well - "wide" for a city), for feeding come mostly sparrows, followed closely by - sparrows, then five Brothers in Arms, meaning the great titmouse (I know them personally), and sometimes comes a blue tit (then I get excited - I love their heavenly blue!), while the Eurasian jay waits till warmer times to dig in my box pots. And magpies and doves and crows fly past, thank you very much, and the wren, blackbirds (who sang this morning for the very first time since late autumn), robins, a great spotted woodpecker  and even nightingales prefer to bustle in our huge and wild backyard. 
Today, after years of uncertainty, I got a bird riddle solved: I learned from Joanne Noragon's blog "Cup on the Bus" that in the time of my garden in Hildesheim we once had tufted titmice as guests. 
At that time I thought the mysterious birds wore a 'quiff'. 
Elvis - Reloaded.  

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

"When my time comes, I have to flower" - Snowdrops once again

Britta Huegel

little ballerinas - so fragile-looking in their white tutu - and, like dancers serving up Illusions: both, dancer and flower, are working hard and unrelenting against gravity. 
I love them in their simple form - elegant Art Nouveau style snowdrops, with a hint of virginity about them - their frilly sisters, the 'filled' ones (I hope you will kindly tell me the adequate term) are not my cup of tea. 
Snowdrops balance on the line that divides winter from spring - the quote in the headline is from a snowdrop-poem that the German poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote. And the author Robert Walser (rough translation by me) remarked: 

"They still talk about winter; but also of spring; they speak of the past, though at the same time boldly and cheerfully of the new. They talk about coldness and yet already about more warmth; they say: There is still a lot of snow near the shadows and on the heights, but in the sun it has already melted. Still there can come quite a lot of roughness. You can't trust April."

You, my ardent reader, will startle at this last sentence. "April?" you will ask. "When I look into the front gardens they are already here!" I know - but Walser lived in Switzerland, and there many things come a bit later. 
In our gardens you will mostly find Galanthus nivalis - the 'common' snowdrop, though there are - as Vita Sackville-West points out - 14 different species (and not all are flowering in spring). 
I saw a beautiful little video on youtube - filmed by Artur Homan for Sir David Attenborough, called "Early Spring" - indulge in those 2 mesmerizing minutes! I cannot load it up, but here is the link: it is worth to paste and watch it.
As a practical gardener you have to plant snowdrops 'in the green' (if you take dry bulbs they often don't flower for years). Then, hopefully they spread - left on their own they weave huge carpets of white and green in the woods.  
In 'The Morville Hours' Katherine Swift mentions an 'Old Tom the shepherd': 

"(...) who has been planting snowdrops for more than fifty years. He started in 1953, the year he married. The date was written in snowdrops on the front lawn of his cottage, flanked by two snowdrop pheasants (...). He lives at Broncroft Parks, (...) he used every year to take clumps of snowdrops from the banks of the brook and plant them out along the lanes, each year a little further - from Broncroft Parks to Broncroft; and on towards Broncroft Castle: and now other people (...) do the same (...) spreading the snowdrops from Broncroft to Broadstone, from Broadstone to Tugford, from Tugford to Holdgate, lining the lanes with snowdrops, a ribbon of white." p.65

That sounds so marvellous! 
And as inviting as the Scottish Snowdrop Festival: 

Have you ever been there? 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

If a snowdrop can come through the frozen earth, I can be persistent too - and write again.

Britta Huegel

Yesterday I started to clean up our balcony. 
"What? You did what?" gasped a friend of mine. "That's way too early!" Maybe. 
But the weather was fine. I don't want to insult true Berlin-born inhabitants, but we had a blue-white Bavarian sky smiling down on us. No snow, temperatures about +5°C - and a weatherforecast that predicts it will remain so for some time. 
I longed to have my tiny little slice of nature back! Had looked long enough on opaque blister foile which did its job, but wasn't beautiful. 
So I lifted the veil. 
AH! The scarlet blossoms of the Chinese quince have survived! Bliss! And, and, and... 
This winter I did a lot of hard thinking. 
- 1. I saw that a lot of people still read my blog, although I haven't written since November. 
- 2. I told myself that it is absolutely ridiculous that I feel like an imposter - because my garden is (still)  in Hildesheim, but I am in Berlin. So what? Can I still 'publish' some of the texts I wrote there? You bet! All fiction is - fiction. Though my garden-fiction has real roots - to stay in the garden metaphor. Might see those texts as a sort of seed. 
- 3. Balcony alone is not enough. But I hate it when people always moan about what they don't have. I have so much: in Berlin and elsewhere I'm showered with botany. 
So I decided: 
        a) I will tell you about the plants on my balcony - hence the  snowdrop, which I will deal with in the next post - hopefully to amuse you and enrich your knowledge - though it might well be that you will enrich mine - you are oh so welcome to comment!  
        b) I will try to add my own photographs 
        c) and sometimes add quotes and poems of real poets  
        d) and - when I find them (and am allowed to take a picture)                 show you how painters and artists saw the flower. 
        d) and give you tips on beautiful gardens and parks -                           Germany and Great Britain, or As My Wimsey Takes Me, meaning wherever I choose to go. 
Sounds good? 
I will write (about) every second week. 
This way I can further indulge in my love to flowers, plants, and botany - and we can exchange our experiences. 
I know that contrary to the common prejudice gardeners like to talk. At least those in blogland. 
So let's start! 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Quinces and Marriage

Britta Huegel

(In 2010 I have posted this essay - slightly altered - before. But: I had quinces before - and you are new readers, so: why not?)

When I enter my study the whole room wraps me in a fragrance that is beyond comparison. I had put on my desk some quinces! Lovingly I had polished that fluffy fur away which sits on their hard skin and now they shine bright yellow. And scent! Yes, you can really smell that they actually belong to the rose family, rosacea.
"Cydonic apple," apple from Crete, so the quince is called in Greece. Cydonia oblong chez nous. But mine are pear-shaped, which means they are even more aromatic than their chubby sisters.
Quinces need to be cooked - although I have a Turkish recipe where I mix finely grated (peeled) raw quince (almost a mousse) with equal parts of runny honey and whipped cream - delicious! It is the favourite dessert of Husband, but I don't serve it often (though I have quinces en masse) - because I want him to stay the tall slim man he is now and not get the belly of a sultan in 'Thousand and One Nights'.
Another speciality is my 'North German Quince Compote' - which also brims over with calories (well - winter comes, you need some strength!) Here it is:
First you boil the peeled quince pieces in thick sugar syrup, the quince-pieces have to remain still a little bit firm (not mushy), and when they have cooled down you add your best Armagnac in which they bathe for six weeks (in a closed glass - and don't put it into the sun!). Then they turn deeply red and then, served on a plate, they cry out for a little bit of walnut-ice-cream with whipped cream...
But the quince is not only a beautiful canvas on which you can paint with calories - it is also a carrier of deep meanings. So prescribed Solon the Athenean 600 years before Christ a marriage ritual: the engaged couple had to eat a raw quince before the wedding night.
Plutarch interpreted this ritual by saying that the sweet smell and the lovely taste with the acerbic addition were "a forecast of the suffering and sweetness of marriage". (Interesting that he mentions the suffering first...)
And the Silesian preacher Johann Colerus jeered that by this ritual young women were shown "that they now must bite into some sour apples - on behalf of a man." But I think, as they had to do that both of them, husband and wife, maybe that's why we say in Germany: "Now we are even" = Jetzt sind wir quitt" - because the German word for quince is 'Quitte').
But that might be very simple 'popular' false etymology. I interpret the quince-biting my way: the character of a spouse is as difficult to see through as a quince is difficult to cut.
Or: do not rely on the shiny exterior of a just-married lover alone, but work hard to keep that love alive and sweet - you have to work on a quince to be able to enjoy it... And you yourself have to add sugar to your marriage - "Nothing comes from nothing." Ha!
Anyhow: I will have to think thoroughly whom I bestow the great masses of quinces in this harvest upon, because "the gift of a quince ... always is seen as a declaration of love."
OH!! Fancy a quince, dear??