This happy jumble of cleome, coreopsis, cosmos, cone flower, sweet peas, and morning glories has the power to draw me outdoors at all hours of the day to water, fertilize, and snag the weeds that elbow their way into the garden patch. Alas, there are no edibles this year — my focus has been on hardscaping, redefining the space as a whole and planting anchor shrubs. So much daily time spent amidst the purple, pink, and yellow blossoms — or checking on them from a window — has had me thinking about flora-as-vocation. Three books came to mind, by or about people (two real and one fictional) whose vocational pursuits were born from their passion for flowers. Is this not a true melding of joy and necessity? I love that notion.
Out in the Garden by Dean Riddle.
Dean and I met hitchhiking. My cottage-mates and I were thumbing a ride on Nantucket Island in the mid-1970’s, headed out for a night of dancing. He pulled over to give us a lift in his little pick-up truck, and we’ve been friends ever since. Out in the Garden is Dean’s life story, twined with his affinity for plants, and describes the life path of a gifted plantsman and designer. A charming and heartwarming read. And I’m not saying that just because I love the author! Although his book is out-of-print, copies are available for purchase here.
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock.
The first time I heard about Mrs. Delany, I was in traffic, listening to a radio interview with the author. Thank goodness for the red light that gave me the opportunity to jot down the title and author’s name on a coffee cup sleeve. This book is still in the to-be-read stack next to my bed, but just looking at the reproductions of Mrs. Delany’s work that are sprinkled throughout the book are inspiration. And how encouraging I find it that she was on the other side of 50 when she found her career stride. “A meditation on late-in-life creativity,” says Molly Peacock about her biography of Mrs. Delany. From the book’s website: “Upon her second husband’s death …, she [Mrs. Delany] arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of seventy-two, created a new art form, mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs. Delany created an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Flora Delanica.” In her video tribute to Mrs. Delany, Molly Peacock demonstrates how to make floral paper collage, suggesting fresh appreciation for the patience and skill of this 18th-century artist.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
This is my current fiction favorite: the story of a young woman aged out of the foster care system and on the street with no education, no visible means of support, not a friend in the world. But what she does have is her recollection of the meanings of assorted flowers, as learned from one of her foster parents. I’ll tell you no more, but please let me know if you read it and love it, too!
And then there’s yarn!
The floral influence in Kristin Nicholas ‘s wool-embroidered knitwear and other knitting designs is undeniable. From her sheep farm in western Massachusetts, Kristin blogs about color, yarn, design, family life, and on occasion, the grittier realities of farming. The natural world is inseparable from her creative vision. I’ve included attending at least one of her special weekend and one-day workshops, held on the farm, on my list of things to experience in this lifetime.
This hat (photo at left) was knit with Kristin’s Julia yarn (discontinued but newly available as Colors by Kristin from Classic Elite Yarns), following her “Quarters Cap” pattern, downloadable here. By the way, this pattern is versatile and super-fun to knit, and my brother loves the results.