More often than not the flowers I share here tend to come from the grocery store. (At the moment only two gardenias are blooming on my little brick landing, both in yellowed shades of sepia rather than creamy white.) Supporting local businesses is a great thing, but I thought it would be nice to look at a few blossoms that really were cut from someone's private garden.
Ryan in D.C. has a dad who is an avid gardener with a tendency to become very focused on a particular plant. "First there was the Japanese Maple Period," says the son, "Fortunately for us, he had a peony phase that started about 10 years ago. I look forward to this time of year when, after Sunday dinner, my parents send me home with buckets full of richly fragranced color."
Ryan's vignettes made me think of Julie Miller's quote brought to life, so I asked him to fill us in on the backstories.
[Via Google maps.]
"The large Buddha sculpture on the mantle commemorates a summer my brother and I shared what is undoubtedly the smallest house on peninsular Charleston (its roof makes a cameo appearance in Susan Sully's Charleston Style: Past and Present). It was one of those rare gems of an apartment with provenance -- a line of occupancy that could be traced back through friends of friends (or in my case an ex of a friend). Whether or not the story is apocryphal, the previous tenant claimed it was a Speakeasy in the 1920s, which was very appropriate, given the time I spent there during my sophomore year in College." Ryan goes on to say that their digs had a wonderful little courtyard that hugged Elliott Street. At the end of the summer, as a thank you, his brother surprised him with the sculpture, which started the collection.
[Capitol Hill Eastern Market logo.]
Ryan is quick to point out that none of these objects are overly precious in the monetary sense. "Their value is in the associated memory," he explains, "I spent many a weekend of my childhood roaming estate sales and antique malls around Northern Virginia and Maryland. At an early age, we were taught that old objects should be respected."
The small landscape, titled Vermont, was purchased at a threadbare shop in South Carolina. "When you are a kid and make an allowance of, say, $5 dollars a week, $25 is a lot to pay for a small painting. My father, noticing how much I loved it, went back the next day and bought it along with a second painting by the same unknown artist. Both were waiting under the tree the following Christmas."
[Photo by Joe Shymanski via Eastern Market.]
The Audubon is a reproduction "purchased for a song" at Capitol Hill's beloved Eastern Market. Ryan notes, "In addition to the families that run the bakery, butcher, seafood and produce counters (some have served the community for generations) on the market's interior, an open air market is held every weekend where, in addition to picking up locally grown produce, you can find everything from West African textiles to Persian rugs to used bikes."
[Painted ox-horn and lacquer on wood, Korea, 1800-1890, acquisition made possible by Dr. and Mrs. David Buchanan, Asian Museum of Art.]
As you probably know, peonies are ubiquitous in Asian art. Surprisingly, the symbolism behind my favorite flower is a tad less romantic or earthy than I imagined. According to the Asian Museum of Art, peonies signify financial security and honor (all good). There are beautiful examples in D.C.'s Freer + Sackler galleries, but I stumbled upon a very interesting box at the San Francisco museum, shown above. Apparently the deer, turtle, and yeongji fungus are longevity symbols, while the phoenix and peony represent peace, harmony, and prosperity.
[Auspicious elephant hanging, China, 1800-1900, embroidery on satin, Asian Museum of Art.]
And what could be better than an embroidered elephant carrying a basket of peonies and magnolias?