SAGT Special Edition Newsletter #2

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Dear Trust Members

Welcome to our second Special Edition Newsletter of 2021.

Firstly, a big thank you to all those members who have sent in their membership subscriptions for this year. We are hopeful that in a few months’ time we will be able to put this year’s programme into action.

In her book ‘Wood and Garden’ (1899) that great gardener Gertrude Jekyll wrote ‘There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer’.  So this newsletter has a definite early spring theme, with contributions this month from Pat Bazley, Wendy Head and Anna Mullett.  The early stirrings of spring bring personal reflections and observations, great paintings and a bit of history.

For many (though not exclusively) younger people, February means Valentine’s Day and is associated with love, though it was not always so.  Amongst other things, St Valentine is also the patron saint of epileptics and beekeepers, the latter appropriate as it is often during February that bumble-bees make an appearance in our gardens.

Leonhard Beck St Valentine healing an epileptic (c. 1510).

Leonhard Beck St Valentine healing an epileptic (c. 1510).

There are actually several St Valentines but the one we celebrate was martyred in Rome on February 14th in the third century AD. According to The Golden Legend of 1260 Valentine was a ‘priest of great authority’ who tried to persuade the then Emperor Claudius II to turn to Christianity. Initially Claudius took a liking to him, but was persuaded by the provost in the city that he was dangerous, this in spite of Valentine having healed the provost’s daughter.  Claudius subsequently had Valentine beheaded.

It is said that before he died Valentine wrote to the daughter he had befriended signing it ‘from your Valentine’. However no evidence exists of romantic celebrations on 14th February before the Middle Ages when it is believed the first link between St Valentine and love was made by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375. In his poem called ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ he links the date of February 14th to the idea of love. He describes a group of birds coming together ‘on seynt valentynes day’ to choose a mate. After that the idea caught on.

St Valentine and the Bees

St Valentine and the Bees

Claude Monet Spring, Fruit Trees in Blossom (1873)

Claude Monet Spring, Fruit Trees in Blossom (1873)

Who is not enchanted by Monet’s paintings and particularly by this painting of ancient blossom trees which are valued so much for their beauty, and eventual crop?  The craggy forms supported for yet another, hopeful, year.

A metaphor perhaps for our upturned lives during these Covid 19, blighted times.  And for the support we are all giving, in our individual ways, for those we love, and for those who work ceaselessly for the future, healthy, and productive growth, of the human race.

20th century painting of a farming man with a spade

20th century painting of a farming man with a spade

Something envisioned in a different way, is this striking 20th century painting of a farming man with a spade, in Springtime!

The figure is reminiscent, to me, of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting, entitled ‘Spring’. Painted almost 500 years ago, it shows a community, working together, preparing the soils of Communal Gardens for the sowing of spring seeds, with burly men in the foreground.  All working in harmony for the good of their community.

Pieter Brueghel, Spring, Preparing the Flowerbeds

Pieter Brueghel, Spring, Preparing the Flowerbeds

So many artists have painted beautiful representations of Spring.  And just as Spring warms the heart and banishes Winter blues these paintings delight our vision. They awaken our memories of what is to come.

And when we are in the depths of winter blues, they show us inevitable progress, with hope of sunshine, warmth, beauty and loveliness, to come. Not of course that winter does not have its own special undeniable drama and beauty, like this oil of a sun-bright, snow filled day at Wellington Park.

An irresistible vision, that I painted in February 2010.

An irresistible vision, that I painted in February 2010.

At the beginning of 2020 David Hockney moved to the north of France to sit out the Covid crisis and paint his heart out.

a glimpse of Spring to come

a glimpse of Spring to come

This final painting is a joy to see and I offer you a glimpse of Spring to come.  Do look him up and be cheered by what you see. 

Edouard Maubert ( 1806-1878) Celandine

Edouard Maubert ( 1806-1878) Celandine

I wish I was an artist, but on some crucial neural pathway there is a “No Through Road” sign, preventing translation from eye to hand. Instead of committing images to paper I fall back on the minutiae of observation, and on touch.  It seems that most of us have an affinity to one of the four main elements and of these, mine is earth.  One of my earliest memories is of lying on our lawn, scratching at the grass with my finger until it released the smell of itself and the soil beneath.

On the 1st of February we entered Imbolc; Celtic Spring, and for many years I have found these seasons far more meaningful than our more familiar ones. At this moment in the year, even through spells of harsh weather, there is a sense of stirring energy on the ground that will not be supressed. This is when I fondly anticipate, and seek out, three particular flowers.

The sweetest harbinger of spring is the celandine, and I scan those hunkered down clumps of mottled leaves for the first sighting of an emerging stem, with its tight green bud atop.  By now the sun is quite high in the sky and when it breaks through, for any length of time, an explosion of satin-shiny petals capture the light in a marvellous, heart-warming golden glow.

Edouard Maubert, Winter Aconite

Edouard Maubert, Winter Aconite

In my old garden, from around mid-January, I would search the ground often several times a day, until tiny yellow globes appeared on the surface.  It never failed to evoke a smile, knowing that any day those star shaped aconites would also emit a yellow radiance to enliven even a gloomy day.

The last one announces itself a touch more slowly, with a couple of centimetres of grey spiky leaf, enclosing a furled and silken bud. Blink twice and sufficient light will have unwrapped that bud, to reveal a poised and elegant reticulata iris, often in dramatic purple.

For me, every plant has not only its recognisable form but also its unique spirit, which makes the diversity of approaches to botanical art so intriguing.

The twist of a leaf, the curve of a stem, the undulations of a branch are expressive of movement, even in stillness.  Just as Matisse’s ‘La Danse’ lies motionless on its background yet its momentum sings in our veins.

I have always loved the feel of plants and find running my fingers over them irresistible: the grainy softness of a catkin, the frothiness of a meadow sweet, the corrugation of an ageing beech leaf all have their own special character and evoke an inner glossary of touch sensation.

At some point each spring I will find an unfrequented spot where I can kneel on the ground and bury my nose in a clump of sun-warmed primroses, inhaling their inimitable perfume and feeling the velvet petals on my skin.  As the world re-awakens to a pall of grief that hangs over it, we can still find hope and joy around us, even in the crevices of walls and paving stones that are the backdrop to yet another daily trail around the block.

2 birds

2 birds

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