Thursday, April 28, 2016

...fathers and irises...

 To a father growing old,

nothing is dearer than a daughter.
~ Euripides

Today was Dad & Daughter day. I made a date with my father months ago and announced that I would take off work and have a secret adventure. I shared with him this week that we would be celebrating his favorite president's 258th birthday by attending the grave-site presidential wreath-laying ceremony by the US Military. 

Each year on a former president’s birthday anniversary, the President of the United States sends a wreath of red, white and blue flowers to be placed on the tomb of the former president. Wreaths have been used at funerals since Ancient Greece. The symbolism is basically the circle of eternal life. The Victorians had their own language of flowers; the presidential wreath focuses more on colors which makes me smile since irises are used for the *blue*... but they're stunning so I'm not complaining. In my world, irises remind me of my father. In my family, it was always Dad who found some abandoned flower in the woods or in a neglected lot, dug it up and replanted it to help it thrive again.

Dad has never been to my favorite cemetery, Hollywood Cemetery, and when he said he was going to take pictures of President Monroe's gravestone, I discovered that my father has no idea what it even looked like.

James Monroe was one of the Founding Fathers and the 5th United States President, the 4th President from Virginia. Go Home State, err, Commonwealth; I digress. President Monroe was considered one of the most popular presidents, especially by Virginians; yet, my father is a Northerner and is still a big fan.

“Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.” ~Thomas Jefferson

After Monroe’s wife died, he went into a deep period of grief and left Virginia for New York to live with his daughter. When he passed, Monroe’s body was interred in New York City in 1831. In 1858, a movement began in Virginia to bring home the remains of her native sons. Monroe’s body was placed in state in New York City Hall on July 3. After a bit of journey south, the re-interment took place July fifth. It was a grand ceremony a great public occasion. Monroe was buried with full military honors. It was probably one of Richmond’s largest spectacles before the Civil War.

This monument in Hollywood Cemetery is one of my favorites. Alfred Lybrock was commissioned to design a suitable monument to cover Monroe’s remains. In 1859, the Commonwealth of Virginia installed Lybrock‘s design, “a granite sarcophagus surrounded by a flamboyant Gothic Revival cast iron canopy” (National Parks Services). Doesn’t that just roll off your tongue ;) Monroe’s tomb firmly established Hollywood as one of the foremost places of burial in Virginia.

When we arrived today for the wreath laying ceremony, I had completely forgotten that the *birdcage* tomb has been taken apart in order to restore it (sadly to its original lighter color) in time to coincide the bicentennial of his election as president.   

The birdcageless tomb did not spoil the day. My dad had a great time. We walked around the cemetery, peeped in mausoleums to see Tiffany stained glass windows, and discussed the history of some of the renowned figures. 

I do not typically steal a day for myself especially on a workday but my father and I have been discussing the “one day we will…” for quite some time. When Monroe’s birthday fell on a non-teaching day, I made the plans firm. We would not wait until 2017, 2018, 2019…or God forbid that day in the future when I would have muttered, “I wish Dad and I had…” I try to take trips; I try to be present in these moments because I know that they will not always happen. And, when I’m at my childhood home, I always take pictures of Dad's flowers, especially the irises.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

...ekphrasis of an enchanted garden...

   “The boundaries which divide Life from Death
are at best shadowy and vague.
Who shall say where the one ends,
and where the other begins?”
~ Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”

The Enchanted Garden behind the Old Stone House, the oldest house still standing in the original city limits, hosts pansies, roses, violets, begonias, clematis, geraniums, hyacinths, hydrangeas, and tulips, all of which are significant if you understand the Victorian language of flowers. The walkways hold repurposed bricks and granite lintels lined with ivy taken from a nearby graveyard. This is a haunted garden from which stories are made; yet, it was stories and poems that inspired this lawn, and this was the topic of discussion at the recent literary salon.

The Richmond Literary Salons have returned thanks to the Poe Museum and the James River Writers. These events encourage local “writerly types” and “readers, thinkers, and artists” to meet, connect, and find inspiration amongst one another.  The recent theme, “Garden of Inspiration – Ekphrasis and the Language of Flowers” included local poet, Joanna Lee, who led the group through a guided practice of writing an ekphrasis poem, a description of a work of art. The evening also included landscape architect and self-proclaimed “plant nerd,” Drew Harrigan who captivated the crowd with his seven years’ worth of research of the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden.

The participant’s goal was to “paint with language, transforming works of visual art back into Poe’s own medium.” Local artists who paint in the museum’s garden brought their pieces to display. These paintings were visual descriptions of a work of art (the garden); the garden, itself, is a botanical ekphrasis of Poe’s works (e.g. the evening’s goal was to write a poem based on the paintings that were based on the garden, which was based on several gardeners’ visions, which were based on Poe’s poetry, which was based on his experience with gardens).  Without trying to be too self-referential, this article is an ekphrasis of all of it. One cannot help but imagine that each ekphrasis is haunted by that which it attempts to describe.

In true Richmond style, the literary salon is held in an actual salon at the Patrick Henry Pub and Grille. Advertised as a pre-Civil War Inn a block from St. John's Church, the location of the famous Patrick Henry speech "Give me liberty, or give me death," and where Poe’s mother is buried, the building was once the home of J. W. Fergusson, an assistant to Edgar A. Poe at the Southern Literary Messenger, the most important periodical published in the South and where Poe first began a career as an editor in 1835. Fergusson was also one of the few individuals who attended Poe’s wedding so even the location of the literary salon feels a bit haunted. There’s just something about walking on the same cobblestones where Poe once walked, and sitting in a salon where Poe’s contemporaries once sat.

Harrigan shared a brief history of the garden which was originally a junkyard until one woman had a vision to make it Virginia’s first memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. The gesture is fitting considering that Poe saw the landscape garden as the highest form of poetry. The name enchanted garden derives from Poe’s second “To Helen” (1848) poem. The layout of the garden derives from his poem “To One in Paradise” (1904) with the flowers, trees, and shrubs being pulled from the pages of Poe’s poems and short stories. Nearly everything in the garden has a bit of a backstory. The founders constructed the garden's pergola, walls, paths and benches from materials salvaged from a variety of buildings in which the author lived and worked including bricks repurposed from the Southern Literary Messenger building and stone benches brought from the boarding house where Poe once resided. The walkways are even lined with ivy that was allegedly taken from Poe’s mother’s grave at St. John’s Church. Of course, no one is quite sure where Poe’s mother is buried so unless the ivy completely took over the church at some point, which is completely possible, this is merely a legend.

Paranormal investigators believe a shadowy figure frequents the garden and favors the notorious walking stick and Poe’s wife’s hand mirror. Could this be Edgar Allan Poe visiting his possessions? He would have been quite familiar with the area; surprising to some, he would have been quite familiar with the layout of this garden. Aside from the landscape being taken from his works, a garden similar to this one had been part of Poe’s childhood and part of his adolescence where he courted his first love.

Gardens may not appear to be the most macabre setting but nature was very much a part of Gothic Literature. “It is also in the garden that we observe constant reminders that death follows life follows death in endless cycles” (Humphrey 5). Poe and his contemporaries would have been well-versed in the language of flowers; and, they would have understood that not all the plants held such positive messages. While pansies were considered merriment and violets were affection, clematis evoked deception and trickery; geraniums were read as stupidity, and yellow tulips were understood as hopeless love. Nothing says, “Beware of virtue” like a garland of roses!

Just as some believe that flowers convey messages, others believe that spirits are in the flowers. Paranormal investigators note that some hauntings include a residual energy of a person, animal, or even plant life that has been imprinted in the location, only to be replayed like a recording trapped in time. Perhaps the plants are haunted and carry their own messages. What do they whisper?

In addition, countless individuals over the generations have planted in the garden. In April 1922, the Enchanted Garden opened. In 1964, Charles Gillette, a nationally recognized landscape architect associated with the restoration and re-creation of historic gardens in the upper South, completed drawings of the garden. In 2008, our speaker, Harrigan, was commissioned to restore the property using the Gillette’s drawings. In 2014, the Garden Club of Virginia and Will Rieley and Associates continued this restoration work. On Saturday as an extension of the literary salon, volunteers gathered for a garden clean-up day. After generations of hands have touched the soil, the garden continues to be the heart of the museum. Perhaps each of the gardeners has left a little something of themselves to haunt the garden as well.
One of the volunteers getting her hands dirty!
Special thanks to the Poe Museum’s Jessica Stith for sending me notes from the garden tour that she had taken, and for being such a great volunteer coordinator during the gardening event!  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

... solitary goths- people and plants...

“There was something awesome in the thought
of the solitary mortal standing by the open window
and summoning in from the gloom outside
the spirits of the nether world.”
~ Arthur Conan Doyle

I had the kind of weekend that I truly needed! It had just the right mix of solitary time and connection for this introverted girl.

I already mentioned the Historic Garden Week which I’m sure I will mention again but that was such a nice event to see a few familiar faces while meandering the tour alone. That did seem to trouble some folks who continued to ask me which group I belonged. I smiled, "Party of one!" I love taking tours and even traveling alone. I would rather be by myself than be with someone who does not want to be there. My fella often goes along on my little adventures but he's very much an inside-doer who is much more still in his activities. I'm the outdoor *let's walk the entire city* no matter what the temperature or weather conditions.

Even though I was tuckered after the garden tours, I caught a second wind on Saturday night since a good friend happened to be in town. We sat outside sipping wine at the Caboose Wine & Cheese market which now is an actual café so we added some tapas and even a light meal. We walked around Ashland. There are some friends who are just so easy to be with and she's one of them.

On Sunday morning I woke around 6:30 and by 9am I was ready to get my hands in some soil. My fella had play practice most of the day (noon- 7ish) so I went out to Strange’s Garden Center partly to get out of his way and his morning sprint getting ready but mostly I headed there for Dianthus "Heart Attacks", which I found... but ended up with Black Satin petunias, Blue Velvet Verbena, Columbine "William Guiness", "Dragon's Breath" Celosia, Snapdragons Speedy Sonnet Crimson, and gasp! Iris "Superstition!" I also bought a red bromeliad. 
I spent the afternoon locating places I could tuck new friends and planting them. They're all planted and I'm exhausted but very, very happy.

I was pleasantly surprised to find so many plants that folks consider *gothic*. I tend to focus on reds and purples anyway but oh-my-word, these plants are pretty with their dark rich colors! The  Black Satin petunias appear both black and dark-dark purple depending on the light. I cannot wait for the Iris “Superstition” to bloom. I’m going to start my *impatient clock* right now!

The Columbine "William Guiness", of which I bought two, could only be planted in two locations in my garden since they require full shade to partial shade. They're somewhat isolated from today's collection of sun worshippers. 
In my backyard, I planted one Columbine under the Scotch broom which I’m surprised already has its first bloom. The Columbine is tucked in the shadows and will be shaded for most of the day. 

I planted the other one beside our front door. While the front garden is shade throughout the entire year, during June through August the sun moves and BAM the yard becomes full sun. That being said, right up by the house is the only location that remains shaded. I have an Oxalis or Purple Shamrock right beside where the Columbine was planted today. Fingers crossed that everyone is happy in their new locations.

While I was purchasing all the plants, I saw the cutest gardening gloves for kids. Why don’t they make patterns like these for adults?!? Anyone have any leads?