I remember hydrangeas being everywhere when I was growing up during the 1970s. Now they are back in vogue and you can't walk down the street without seeing their audacious pom-pom flowers billowing over walls and paths, I suspect many may have been there all that time, though the last few years have commanded my attention. One of the loveliest things about making nature jewellery is constantly noticing natural entities to make into pieces and those little hydrangea petals are no exception.
There is an ancient Japanese legend whereby an Emperor who was in love gave hydrangea to the family of the girl he loved to make up for neglecting her and putting his business first. The hydrangea, native to Japan and Asia (and Americas) more generally, has become associated with heartfelt emotion, gratitude for understanding and perhaps, and at least in Japan because of this myth, apology. They have also been used by ancient healers to break curses, if you've been unlucky enough to experience a curse you know which flowers to reach for. The Victorians thought they've symbolised boastfulness though I think they might have felt that about anything as flamboyant as a hydrangea!
These unapologetic blooms have been in the UK since the 18th Century. They are robust, they can be grown in pots and many of the 70 varieties in shady spots. Even when the flowers die and dry out their beauty remains, as a brief look through the Instagram hashtag #lovelydeadcrap will reveal, or the shelf of any forager you know! Some varieties even change colour depending on the pH of the soil they are planted in. If you're thinking of getting one plant in the autumn or spring for it to be happiest. Hydrangeas needs a lot of water and well-drained soil (hydrangea comes from the Greek word for water vessel). You can find out more at the RHS: www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=122. If you are in Cornwall you can visit Trebah for a whole valley of hydrangeas.
I would love to hear your hydrangea stories, do you remember them growing up? Do you have any tips for this care?
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We are already some way into March, the daffodils blooming all over are a sure sign of the start of the spring season, I eagerly awaited their appearance in my garden and the splash of joyful colour they bring. Whenever I see them they certainly lift my spirits. Presumably because of their flowering time they are known as Easter Bells in German and sometimes known as the Lent Lily in the U.K - traditionally they would open on Ash Wednesday and finish at Easter time, though most of the daffodils I've seen are on their own schedule! Grown here in Britain since the sixteenth century, mentioned in Shakespeare more than once, painted by Van Gogh and celebrated in a William Morris design, not to mention Wordsworth famous poem - daffodils have inspired us since forever.
Even in Ancient Rome - they are mentioned in Pliny's poems, seen on a fresco excavated in Pompeii; in Egypt - depicted on an ancient Egyptian headstone; and in the Homeric Hymns to Demeter from 700BC; and versed in Solomons Song of Songs, they have been observed and celebrated, it seems through all human history (they were the flowers in the Greek underworld too).
When daffodils begin to peer
With hey the dozy over the dale
Why then comes in the sweet O'the year
And the red blood reigns in winter's pale.
Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares,
And take the winds of March with beauty.
As February begins after a long and cold January I'm so conscious of the new season lying dormant in the winter and signs of spring emerging slowly from their slumber.
February, says Edith Holden, derives from the word Februa, the Roman festival of expiation which took place at this time of year. I confess I had to look expiation up - the act of making amends, atonement, or ritual purification. Essentially this is spring cleaning for the person and their household, for themselves and to appease the gods, which they ritualised at this time. I do feel a natural draw to take stock and clear at this time of year, perhaps it is embedded in our bones, clearing out so that new things emerge, in synchrony with nature. (It was at this time last year I took Marie Kondos advice to keep only things that 'spark joy' - I'm naturally a little chaotic so love this simple advice which had a big impact on me and my home).
Linked to this idea is the concept of hope. If we purify, surely it is in the hope that it will make a difference for our unknown futures, that it is worth our effort and attention. In her beautiful book 'The Language of Flowers' Mandy Kirkby says the Snowdrop represents hope. 'I am come to calm your fears; to console you in the a sense of bright days and to reassure you of their return'. How comforting are these words right now in our uncertain world?
I know that I'm not alone in adoring the snowdrop (Galanthus), the pioneer flower of the year:
...And though the distant hills are bleak and dun
The virgin snowdrop, like a lambent fire,
pierces the cold earth with its green-streaked spire...
Originally from Turkey and Greece, Kirkby writes, we have grown snowdrops in the U.K. since the Elizabethan times; the Victorians were obsessed by them, going on snowdrop walks, planting huge woodlands with them, and soldiers returning from war having collected new varieties (I love the idea of a soldier in his army gear with a pocket stuffed full of snowdrops - an excellent sense of balance and priority in my opinion!). A brooch with a snowdrop was given if someone had suffered a loss, or a posy to lift the spirit and remind that happier times will return. I've suffered many losses, as have many of us, so perhaps that's why I feel compelled to capture one in jewellery too, of course, also for the beauty and general sense of hope this little drop represents.
Many, many welcomes
February fair maid
Ever as of old time
Coming in the cold time
Prophet of the gay time
Prophet of the May time
Prophet of the roses
Many, many welcomes
February fair maid!
Alfred Lord Tennyson
I've been making snowdrop models to be cast in silver which will be ready soon - I'll add the link when they are finished. I also shared some beautiful snowdrop images from #inspiredbynature_ participants over on Instagram so do take a look. And please leave comments, I would love to hear from you! You can find more nature inspired Jewellery here in the shop section, in my Etsy shop or on Folksy. More beautiful snowdrop images available on Pinterest too!