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Worts and All

When I first planted my garden, I was studying horticultural texts from the late medieval and early modern eras, and determined to have the same plants that I was reading about in my own backyard. In particular, I sought out plants that ended with the suffix wort, Old English and German for “plant” or “root”, believing that these ancient plants would connect me to the past–no matter what they looked like! And so, for the past decade or so, I’ve had some rather straggly plants in my garden just because of their heritage–or supposed heritage. Actually some “wort plants” are quite commonly used in modern gardens: varieties of stachys (woundwort), epimedium (barrenwort–containing an aphrodisiac essence), St. John’s Wort, pulmonaria (lungwort), the indestructible groundcover herniaria glabra (rupturewort, sometime called “burstwort”), saponaria (soapwort), astrantia major (masterwort). According to the Doctrine of Signatures and their appearance, the vernacular names of these plants reflect their uses. I have all of these plants in my garden still:  they survived our tough winter. However, it seems that some of my lesser-know wort plants did not: I seem to have lost my motherwort (leonurus cardiaca, of which Nicholas Culpepper commented in 1653, there is no better herb to take melancholy vapours from the heart … and make a merry, cheerful, blithe soul for mothers and everyone else), the variety of campanula that is called “throatwort” is gone, as are many of my ferns, including a maidenhair variety referred to as “spleenwort” in the medieval herbals. Actually the motherwort was much too big for my garden, so I don’t think I’m going to miss it, or the very common mugwort (artemesia) which seems to be gone as well.  I ripped out my spiderwort (tradescantia) long ago because it was so ungainly, and I’m not convinced it was even that old: from the 17th century on, the word wort seems to be rather liberally applied to plants of all kind, even those from the New World.

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Bloodwort and Hazelwort from Leonhard Fuchs’ New Herbal of 1543 (all plates available here; a great resource!); my surviving soapwort, lungwort, and barrrenwort.


Enchanted Gardens

I’m rather depressed about my garden: I think I lost a lot of perennials–including many dear old friends–over this past bitter winter. This is generally the week–or even earlier–that my favorite spring plants pop up, but so far all I see is trillium and pulmonaria in the “woodland garden” out back. Notably missing is my all-time favorite, the almost-magical Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), which should definitely have popped up by now. I think my Jacks are dead, although several of my gardening friends tell me to not give up hope as we are as much as four weeks behind this year, but there is not a single little sprout to be found peeping through the mulch. I fear for my Lady Slippers, but they come up a bit later so I have not given into despair quite yet. The center perennial beds seem to be in better shape than the shady back, with the exception of the germander edging border that I’ve been slowly developing over the past few years: quite a few of the individual plants have been lost, breaking the uniformity of the border. I’m tempted to just rip them all out and start fresh with a hardier plant, and so I would really welcome suggestions for low-lying, traditional, hardy, front of the border alternatives.

So I am not spending these first precious days of May dancing around my lush, flowering garden (in a flowing white dress) because it is neither lush nor flowering: looking for inspiration (or escape) I am instead delving into the “Enchanted Garden” sub-sub-sub genre of paintings. Of course medieval-esque fantasy gardens are a favorite Pre-Raphaelite theme, but even before their Decameron-inspired images appeared in the nineteenth century, artists were inspired to amplify nature in rather seductive ways. In the later sixteenth century, the popular poem by the Italian poet Tarquinato Tasso, Gerusaleme Liberata (Jerusalem Liberated), inspired several paintings of enchanted gardens. The poem turns the Crusades into an epic fantasy, in which heroic Christian knights confront all sorts of obstacles in the Holy Land. One particular knight, Rinaldo, is enticed by the beautiful Saracen sorceress Armida to enter her lush garden, and there she keeps him occupied for quite some time, until he is rescued by his comrades. I like the painting by Flemish artist Jan Soens best among several illustrations of Rinaldo and Armida, because it seems to focus as much on the garden as on the sorceress.

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Jan Soens, Rinaldo and Armida in the Enchanted Garden, c. 1581-1611, The Walters Art Museum

Several centuries later, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron inspired several pre-Raphaelite painters to depict one of its most popular stories (the 5th to be told on the 10th day): the tale of the besotted Ansaldo, who conjured up a magical May garden in the midwinter for his lady love, Dianora, who had promised him that she would leave her husband and run away with him if he completed this seemingly-impossible task. Ultimately Ansaldo releases Dianora from her promise, and the garden dissolves “like the morning dew”, but it seems to have been a collective aim of British romantic painters to recapture it and other enchanted gardens for posterity.

Enchanted Garden Stillman

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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Marie Spartali Stillman, Messr. Ansaldo Showing Diavola His Enchanted Garden, 1889; John Waterhouse, The Enchanted Garden, 1917, Lady Lever Art Galler, and study for above, Victoria & Albert Museum Collections

Also romantic, in a more naive way, are the paintings of British artist Helen Fielding (1900-1979) who depicted her Lancashire environment in an ever-charming way, including a garden that seems enchanted in all seasons, here pictured, as vividly remembered, in the spring of 1908. I love the inscription on the back, from the Christie‘s catalog: The Enchanted Garden was very/beautiful in April, when Father thought it would be better to send Mother, George and I also the Aunts, Grandma and Miss/Carter (who wore pink) to Grandpa’s at Blackpool/to be safely out of the way of the Suffragettes/in Lees. We saw for the first time the/Wild Cherries in flower and small trees/covered in the palest pink blossoms/which Grandpa said was the Crab apple, George and I had never seen trees/with blossom which covered them like/snow, also in the Enchanted Garden was/the pond which would soon be full of frogs/and tadpoles and the year was 1908/Helen Layfield Bradley 1975. I know just what she means by “trees covered with blossoms like snow”, don’t you? Still waiting for that here.

Enchanted Garden Bradley

Helen Fielding, The Enchanted Garden, 1975


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.

House Harriet's Mother

House Rebecca Orne Worcester Art

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


The Redcoat Next Door

There is always something interesting going on in Salem. Yesterday my over-the-fence neighbor, a museum interpreter turned screenwriter turned romance novelist, was shooting some six-second Vine videos next door at Hamilton Hall to publicize her forthcoming book, The Rebel Pirate (2nd in the Renegades of the Revolution series).  She graciously allowed me to pop over and see the action. As one of the central characters in the novel is a British naval commander, the redcoats are in the picture and it was fun to see one running around the Hall–especially in sneakers (the floor was a little slippery for swordplay). The conceit of the scenes was a romance reader sitting amidst the characters of the novel come to life, and so they were played out, again and again–including a last bit where the characters creep in and turn the pages for her! (Really cute but hard to photograph from afar–look at the Vine). Observing how much effort goes into a six-second film certainly gives one an appreciation for how long it must take to produce a full-length feature! Despite some ongoing window restoration (inside and out), the Hall looked great and provided the perfect romantic setting.

Redcoat First

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P.S. This was not the only Salem “set” I visited this past year: now that it is beginning to get accolades, I do want to remind everyone that several scenes of American Hustle were filmed in Salem last spring—see my post Filming on Federal.


Embracing Winter

What a difference a day makes: while we woke up to a rather brown and barren streetscape on New Year’s Day, yesterday we emerged from sleep into a winter wonderland. I love the day after a big snowstorm because everything looks so pristine, before the cars (and the dogs) make things less white. Because it was (and remains) so cold, this particular storm produced a light, fluffy, crystalline snow that was easy to shovel, so we were done in no time (plus a really nice guy came by with a bobcat and opened up our little driveway for us). As you can see from the pictures below, it was very grey in the morning but got progressively brighter throughout the day, creating some beautiful contrasts and shadows.

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I’m determined to embrace winter this year: my snowshoes and skates are by the door. Why shouldn’t I? I can walk to work (when I have to; our university cancels classes at the drop of a hat) and everywhere I need to go. For those that can bear the cold–and I’d much rather be too cold than too hot–winter is only a hassle if commuting by car is involved. Our preoccupation with–and anxiety over–winter storms seems to have intensified so much over my adult life; when I was a kid I associated winter with fun. And since I don’t have to brave the challenges of commuting by planes, trains and cars on a daily basis I should be able to approach winter with a sense of wonder, if I can ignore my heating bills.

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Houses on Chestnut and Broad Streets on a bright winter’s day in Salem: I love the way this last house–the colonial revival Wheatland-Phillips House designed by John P. Benson, marine artist and brother of Frank Benson–looks in the winter. Built in 1896, it is actually one of the newest houses on Chestnut Street.


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.

Hellebore BM Egerton

Hellebore after John White BM 1600

Hellebore Mary Delaney BM 1770s

Hellebore Cooper Hewitt early 19th century

Hellebore McIntosh

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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.


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