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Peak Season

My garden is a bit of a wild tangle right now, as usual, but I love it; I’ve finally got the layers that I have been seeking for some time, along with the right mix of leaves and flowers and textures. And the mix of colors is good–I have gradually weeded out annoying colors like red (I actually love red indoors but passionately dislike it out-of-doors, even to the extent of red roses. Not sure why).  It’s pretty much at peak; I knew I was going to be in class all week so I took some pictures this past weekend when the weather was absolutely beautiful: sunny and not too humid or hot. Now it’s muggy and rainy, and all the flowers are water-logged and a bit past their prime. The roses look very spotty so I’m not showing them here. Next week will be vicious deadheading week; I always leave the Lady’s Mantle flowers too long because I love them so much, so it’s going to be a big job to cut them back. Yes there are red berries on the thriving baneberry but that is my exception–it’s a great plant and you really don’t want berries to be any other color (its flowers are white). I absolutely love, love, love the fuschia flower of the bee balm in the last picture–wish I could remember its varietal name!

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The Drunken Saint

I am looking out on my garden this foggy morning thinking it is definitely going to rain–which would be momentous for it is Saint Swithun’s Day, and according to lore and legend: St Swithun’s Day if thou dost rain/for forty days it will remain/St. Swithun’s Day, if you be fair/for forty days ’twill raine nae mair. I wouldn’t mind a little rain every day for the next month and a half, typically a very dry time in our parts. Swithun was a ninth-century Bishop who became the Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral in England after his remains were translated from outside the cathedral walls to a new shrine within it in 971–on this very day. He is sometimes fondly referred to as the “drunken saint” not for his propensity to imbibe but rather because of his stated preference for the exterior grave site, where his earthly remains would be exposed to the “drippings” of water–but he became too important to remain without. His Winchester shrine by smashed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (which I’m talking about in class today), but it has been (somewhat) reconstituted within the Cathedral–and there’s a very lovely rose named for him as well.

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Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, c. 1930, Isabel Florrie Saul, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; the reconstituted shrine at Winchester Cathedral; David Austin St Swithun climbing rose (I have one; but it doesn’t look like this now!)


Too Much @Terrain

I’m ashamed to admit that a relatively large part of my paycheck goes to Anthropologie each month or season, so as I became aware that I was in the vicinity of one of their rarer garden stores as I passed through Connecticut last week, I had to make a slight detour for the Westport Terrain. What a store–I was a bit overwhelmed, which doesn’t often happen to me in a shop scenario. Actually, it’s a combination nursery/garden store/ housewares store/gift shop/bar-restaurant–there was a lot going on when I arrived, too much for me! I certainly hadn’t planned on getting any plants as I was on the road (and I like nurseries to be a bit more dirty) but I thought I might get some planters–as I had never really replaced the ones that were stolen last summer. But there were too many planters to choose from! And too many watering cans, baskets, and vessels of all kinds–along with candles and lanterns and wreaths and everything else. Sensory overload–though I plan to return, better prepared, in the not-too-distant future.

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Three Jacks and Fifteen Ladies

They’re back, thank goodness: the two most precious plants in my garden, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and yellow Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum). I had feared their demise because of our cold winter and their relatively late arrival, but the Jacks look as exotic as ever (though a bit shorter than usual) and the Lady Slippers are back with a vengeance: fifteen whereas last year there were only twelve. The garden is booming right now, despite some chilly nights–the night before last I think it was around 40 degrees. There are fewer bleeding hearts and Solomon’s seals, but those that survived are lovely, and the other ladies (mantle) are as vigorous as ever. I’ve had these slippers for over a decade now, and I’ve never seen any predators around them, but when I went out into the garden late last afternoon to take some more pictures (not quite satisfied with the first batch) there was a squirrel hovering dangerously close to them: he was up to something, I know it! I had the funny feeling that I had seen this scenario before, and I had, in a lovely illustration by the eighteenth-century British naturalist and illustrator Mark Catesby, who paired his yellow lady’s slipper with a black squirrel. My squirrel was the plain old garden variety gray kind, but just for a second, he appeared to be striking a similar pose.

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Catesby Lady Slipper and Squirrel

Jacks-in-the-Pulpit, Lady’s Slippers, Sweet Cicely, and Bleeding Hearts in my late May garden; page from Mark Catesby’s Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants. Second Edition, Vol II. (1754), University of Wisconsin Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

These late spring plants are so magical I actually develop a temporary tolerance for late Victorian “flower literature”, which I generally find a bit too sweet (and simple). Inspired by their sisters who celebrated “Shakespeare’s flowers” across the pond, a generation of American lady poets wrote odes to American wildflowers, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Lady’s Slippers prominently among them. When you’re surrounded by these almost-anthropomorphic plants, you do feel like you’re amidst a kingdom of sorts! Here’s Sarah J. Day on the elfin origins of Lady’s Slippers, from her 1900 collection Mayflowers to Mistletoe: a Year with the Flower Folk: When the fairy Cinderellas/Tripping it before their Queen/Startled by the stroke of Midnight/Fled in haste the moonlit scene/They their gold and broidered slippers/Left behind them on the green/Straightaway then the elfin pages/Sent to clear with care away/Gathering all the scattered slippers/Hang them up in neat array/Just within the shadowed woodland/”Where they grow”, dull mortals say.

 


Spring Snow

We certainly did not suffer the weight of snow dumped on the upper midwest yesterday, but T.S. Eliot’s weighty observation that April is the cruelest month seemed particularly apt when we woke up to white: and it seemed more like ice than snow! It might be aesthetically pleasing to see newly-sprouted grass and flowers frosted with white, but it does make you fear for your garden. Mother Nature is indeed a cruel master to tempt plants out of the protective earth with a warm weekend, and then slam them with an arctic frost! It was so warm a few days ago that I finally switched out the evergreen shrub in my front stoop pot with a tender purple-flowered variety, and now its leaves are black and curled. The same cats which frolicked in the back yard a few days ago are now back on their radiator perches, looking at me with suspicion.

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iPad version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), with really neat annotations.

 

 


The Woman Who Lived in My House

I knew that a woman named “Mrs. Rose” lived in my house in the middle of the nineteenth century, but nothing more about her: when I saw the name on the 1851 map that I featured on my last post my curiosity was piqued. So I took advantage of a free snow day yesterday and searched for some biographical details, which were not too difficult to find. I have a general disdain for genealogical work, but Mrs. Rose was so well-connected that at least an outline of her life came together pretty easily.

She was Harriet Paine Rose, born in 1779 to parents from two prominent Massachusetts families: the Paines of Worcester and the Ornes of Salem. Imagine being of her generation: she was born in the midst of the Revolutionary War and died on the eve of the Civil War, in 1860, right here in Salem (though not right here in my house, but that of her daughter’s, down Chestnut Street at #14).  Her father, William Paine, had come to Salem from Worcester to study medicine with the renown physician Dr. Edward Holyoke and presumably met Lois Orne, the youngest daughter of wealthy Salem merchant Timothy Orne, at some social occasion. There are two charming portraits of Harriet’s mother and aunt by Joseph Badger in the Worcester Museum of Art, and I can’t resist showing them here.

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Lois Orne (Harriet’s mother), at 21 months and Rebecca Orne (Harriet’s aunt) at age nine by Joseph Badger, 1757, Collection of the Worcester Museum of Art.

Lois and William were married in Salem in 1773, with Miss Orne’s dowry receiving considerable attention: an extravagant silver tea service made by Paul Revere, his largest private commission. This was a service that “attested alike to the solidarity of her fortune and lustre of her descent”. Quite ironic, as a year after their wedding the Paines decamped to Britain, as William was a Loyalist!  There he completed his medical education and was successively appointed an apothecary and surgeon to the British army. The family was stationed first at Newport, Rhode Island (where Harriet was born in 1779) and later at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they remained, as exiles, after the Revolutionary War.

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Paul Revere’s “Paine Service”, Collection of the Worcester Museum of Art.

Family drew them back, apparently, first to Salem in 1787 and then to Worcester, where they took up residence at “The Oaks”, the Paine family estate, now (again, rather ironically) owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. I don’t know how the Paines were received at that time, but Dr. Paine eventually became a naturalized citizen in 1812. So Harriet spent her adolescence and teenage years in Worcester, but that’s about all I know: I’m not sure if or where she went to school, or when or how she met her eventual husband, Joseph Warner Rose, whom she married in 1802.

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The Ancestral Homes of Harriet’s Grandparents:  The Timothy Orne House in Salem, Frank Cousins photograph, c. 1890 (the house is still standing on Essex Street, though much changed), and the Timothy Paine House in Worcester (“The Oaks”).

I really do wonder how Harriet met her husband because he was quite exotic:  Joseph Warner Rose was an Englishman who, at that point, had never been to England:  he was the son and heir of the owner of a large sugar plantation owner in Antigua, where he had been born. The Rose plantation, called “The Valley”, was located six miles outside of St. Johns, in an area which is still called “The Roses Estates”. By 1803 the newlyweds were on the island, and Harriet was in an altogether different world than her native New England:  a world of sun and heat and bright colors and slavery. I have no idea how she felt about this; I don’t think I could find out, unless there is some diary somewhere. What I do know about her life on Antigua over the next 15 years or so is revealed by parish records of births and deaths: Harriet bore nine children, seven of which died in infancy. Perhaps because of these successive tragedies and their impact on his wife, Mr. Rose brought Harriet back to Massachusetts with their two surviving daughters and remained there himself for a while. There are references to health problems (blindness?) on his part, which drove him to London for treatment, and then back to the island, to settle his affairs. While there, he died unexpectedly, and Harriet was left a widow in her early forties. She never returned to Antigua, and I have no idea what happened to the Rose Plantation or its inhabitants other than the fact that slavery was abolished throughout the British Caribbean in 1834.

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William Clark, “Digging or Rather Hoeing the Cane Holes in Antigua”, from Ten Views in the Island of Antigua, aquatint (London, 1823).

The very same year that her husband died, Harriet’s eldest daughter, also named Harriet, married John Clarke Lee of Salem, an aspiring businessman from the same interconnected social circle in which all of her cousins seemed to dwell. This union would produce ten surviving children and the Lees would build the grand Greek Revival at 14 Chestnut Street which would later become the home of the renown Salem artist Frank Benson. The senior Harriet, my Mrs. Rose, remained in Worcester until the death of her father in the 1830s (Lois had died a decade before) and then moved to the city of her maternal ancestors, and my house. The 1850 census lists her in residence, aged 70, with one Jane McCracken, 29, from Ireland, whom I assume was a servant: 10 years later she died at the Lee house just down the street.

In the last few years of the nineteenth century, several of Harriet’s direct and more distant descendants wrote genealogical histories which reference her, and even attempt brief characterizations. Her niece’s account, A Sketch of the Children of Dr. William Paine, 1774-1869, emphasizes her virtue (in her pew at St. Peter’s she prayed every Sunday for the President and all others in authority) as well as her great beauty, an attribute that is also noted in the slightly-more detached Pickering Genealogy by Harrison Ellery. Ellery also notes that Mrs. Rose was “the last person in Salem to wear a turban” and includes a heliotype image of a portrait miniature (below) in the possession of her grandson which is, he assures us, a very unsatisfactory likeness, and is said to give one no idea of her beauty.

Harriet Paine Rose


New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is generally and literally about dismantling for me: taking down the elaborate holiday displays I assembled only weeks before on my eight fireplace mantels and all of the other decorations around the house. The tree is relatively easy compared to everything else, frankly, and as I write it’s out on the sidewalk awaiting its transport to Dead Horse Beach for the annual Christmas Tree bonfire this weekend. I’m an habitual seasonal decorator but now I’m wondering if I should reign in this instinct a bit….that’s certainly an attainable New Year’s resolution! In between bouts of dismantling I wasted copious amounts of time browsing the web for the perfect 2014 datebook because the one I bought at Target the other day is so devoid of any aesthetic whimsy that I fear I will not use it, and I need to: this is another area where my life has changed since becoming chair of my department–I now need to keep track of everyone’s dates and not just my own. As usual, I had Turner Classic Movies on in the background, and several movies distracted me from my dismantling mission as well, most notably the original (1968) Thomas Crown Affair. I had to figure out exactly where Steve McQueen lived on Beacon Hill in Boston (85 Mount Vernon Street–the 2nd Harrison Gray Otis house!!!) and examine each one of Faye Dunaway’s amazing outfits. And then, of course, I had to keep checking the weather reports as we have a big snowstorm bearing down on us: it looks like I will have several days inside to come up with some new displays for my mantels.

A day in the life: outside my bedroom window, the calm before the storm; a Christmas mantel before its dismantling; I love these little fabric trees from Quietude Quilts so I’m going to keep them up for a while; great Christmas presents: Wanderlust plates made in Rhode Island; Jessica Hische pocket planner; 85 Mount Vernon Street, Boston.

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Christmas Roses

I like to decorate with live plants at the holidays–and all year round–but I don’t particularly care for the traditional Christmas plants: cyclamen is too gaudy for me, as are Christmas cacti, and I can’t stand the smell of paperwhites. I suppose amaryllis are alright, but I can never get them to bloom on time and, again, I find them a bit showy. Poinsettias are too predictable (and I have cats). So the only flowering plant that I seek this time of year are hellebores, varieties of which are alternatively called “Christmas Roses” (helleborus niger) and “Lenten Roses”. You’ve got to love a winter-blooming flower, and the association with Christmas is based not only on the season but also on the story of a penniless shepherdess who sought to give a gift to the baby Jesus–an angel turned her tears into pale waxen flowers, which were, of course, the greatest gift. Like tears, hellebore petals are seemingly-fragile, especially in contrast to their sturdier stems, and white, like winter (although there are pale pink varieties too–but the Christmas rose is white). There is another dissonance between the virtues of the plant and its seasonal beauty:  all of the classical and medieval herbals testify to its toxic qualities.

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Hellebore after John White BM 1600

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A succession of hellebores:  British Library MS. Egerton 747, Salernitan Herbal c. 1280-1310; two images from the British Museum: after John White, c. 1600 and Mary Delaney, 1770s; early 19th century British soft paste plate from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian; a Charles Rennie MacKintosh drawing, c. 1901-1914, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; one of my potted hellebores, overlooking a snowy Chestnut Street.


Verjuice

From sweet to sour, or tart.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the most delicious pork scallopini at an Italian restaurant in Rhinebeck, New York. It had an interesting acidic flavor in its sauce–my stepmother identified it as vinegar, but after looking through a bunch of recipes, I’m pretty sure it was verjuice, a close relation with a long history. Verjuice (or verjus) just means “green juice”, and generally it refers to the juice of strained unripe apples or grapes, hence the tartness, but I’ve seen references to it in recipes dating way back–and most prominently in the late fourteenth-century household guide Le Ménagier de Paris and the Tudor cookbooks of Thomas Dawson. I always thought verjuice/verjus was just another name for vinegar (an incredibly important substance in the medieval and early modern eras–essential in both cooking and preservation), but upon closer reading, it’s clear that it is different, as this recipe from Le Ménagier makes clear:  SAUCE FOR RABBIT OR FOR RIVER-BIRD OR FOR WOOD-DOVE. Fry onions in good oil, or mince them and put to cook in the dripping-pan with beef drippings, and do not add verjuice nor vinegar until boiling: and then add half verjuice half wine and a little vinegar, and pass the spices. Then take half wine half verjuice and a little vinegar, and put all in the dripping pan under the rabbit, dove or river-bird; and when they are cooked, boil the sauce, and have some bits of toasted bread and put in with the bird.

Verjuice was (is) neither vinegar nor wine, but perhaps something in between, which is not my original observation. In this foodie world that we live in, it was only a matter of time before verjuice made a comeback, and the Australian chef Maggie Beer started producing it commercially a while ago. Just the other day, I was strolling through a shop in Newburyport, and there it was. So now I can try to make my own perfect scallopini–or maybe a traditional syllabub for our Christmas Day desert.

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Noble Verjus at Wishbasket in Newburyport; Title page of the 1610 edition of Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewel, which has many recipes calling for verjuice; “As sour as Verjuice”, George Hunt print c. 1825, British Museum.


Rhinebeck & Red Hook

Just back from a long celebratory Thanksgiving weekend in the Hudson River Valley, stuffed and tired. In between the festivities, I indulged in my usual activities:  looking around for interesting houses, and things. Almost as soon as you cross over the line from Massachusetts into New York the traditional domestic architecture is different, which never ceases to amaze me. You enter into a world of board and batten, center gable roofs, and little square second-story windows. Lots more pillars. I believe that the Dutch influence is much less evident on the eastern side of the Hudson River where my brother lives than the western, but I could be wrong: my favorite house of the weekend, which I’ll start with below, has a Dutch look to it along with lots of interesting outbuildings, all of which possess an irresistible air of abandonment–love the Gothic Revival windows casually propped up against the side of its barn.

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Some more Rhinebeck houses that caught my eye, beginning with the center-gabled ones that are everywhere in this area, and ending with a house that is in Red Hook, just to the north along route 9G: Rhinebeck was a bit crowded on Black Friday so I ventured up there.

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I have pledged to do all my Christmas shopping in downtown Salem, but I can look elsewhere, so I popped in all the shops of Rhinebeck and then drove up to less-precious Red Hook. Just a few things that caught my eye–still-trendy mismatched pattern plates from Spruce Design & Decor, embroidered pictures and cardboard “busts” (dressed for the holidays) from Paper Trail, and an assortment of creatures from Tivoli Mercantile.

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