Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's Blooming Inside: In Praise of Heirloom Sweet Peas

It has been said many times over that a picture paints a thousand words.  However, as I contentedly find myself captivated by Lathyrus odoratus, that most delicious of summer's blooms, I ask myself how it could possibly be fair to share a mere picture with you.  Or, for that matter, few words.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


The humble sweet pea happens to be my favorite summer flower.  It helps, of course, that summers in the San Francisco Bay Area rarely ever sizzle; sweet peas loathe excessive heat.  On most days, the thermometer hovers around the agreeable lower- to middle-70's range.  All of this, of course, makes me a fortunate girl as I am able to enjoy a bountiful flower haul throughout the entire summer season and into early autumn.

I adore sweet peas so much that I would like to propose a new holiday in their honor, National Sweet Pea Day.  On this day, the ephemeral and beguiling beauty of Lathyrus odoratus will be praised and celebrated throughout the land. Gardeners will clip the flowers from their tangled vines to bring indoors by the basketful.  And, for those fellow admirers who lack either a garden or a green thumb, a trip to a local florist or market to procure a bunch to bring home will be the order of the day.

If you derive as much pleasure from this old-fashioned garden staple as I do, you'll be satisfied in the knowledge that the pretty undulating blooms should be clipped with regularity.  I can think of no other plant that replenishes its flowers as swiftly as the sweet pea.  It is nothing short of horticultural magic!  Happily, one's garden shears are pressed into service on an almost daily basis during summer's flush.

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Lathyrus odoratus Cupani's Original (circa 1699) basking in the June sun
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The sweet pea vines as photographed on a foggy day back in late June ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... and yesterday, mid-August, still going strong
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Daily cutting encourages a profusion of blooms
Photo: Chronica Domus


Once indoors, sweet peas should be arranged in vessels and vases and the posies placed about the house. The simple act of doing so provides me with the greatest of pleasure.  It is a rite of summer I look forward to undertaking each and every year.

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Ah heaven!... how I wish I could share the exquisite perfume wafting from these blooms with you
Photo: Chronica Domus  


Every room, no matter its size or decoration, will surely be enhanced by the delicate beauty and scent put forth by these posies.  At least, that is, if you select wisely and cultivate the old-fashioned heirloom varieties.  Some may argue that the daintier pink and white blooms of Painted Lady (circa  1730) for example, or those of Lathyrus odoratus America, a rich raspberry-red and white striped example dating back to 1896 are not as showy or as large as modern hybrids.  On that score, I am in agreement.  However, these are among the many older sweet pea strains I favor and believe to be far superior not only in their form and beauty, but in their scrumptious scent, an attribute so often lacking in modern sweet peas.  Why deny yourself one of nature's most luscious and exuberant scents I say!

As I meandered through the house this past Sunday afternoon, while snapping away with my camera to bring you the images you see below, it was as though I was being carried away upon a fruit and spice scented cloud.  Each room was saturated with that oh-so exquisitely delicious fragrance unique to older sweet peas.  I won't even pretend to do justice to the scent with mere words.  You'll just have to believe me when I tell you the agreeable air in those rooms could rival that of any fancy perfumery.  

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A bedside posy to sweeten the air and delight the eye
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A vase on the kitchen counter brimming with resplendent purple and violet sweet peas
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A diminutive posy of pink and cream, and a lone striated Lathyrus odoratus America bloom, is placed upon a table in the corner of the drawing room ... 
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... and its twin posy is perched atop the secretary bookcase to enliven an 
otherwise quiet corner
Photo: Chronica Domus


It is now midway through August and I've been clipping at the gangly sweet pea vines since late-June.  The blooms, I am pleased to report, exhibit no sign of dwindling just yet. Over the coming weeks I anticipate the good fortune of filling my vases with many more splendid stalks of Cupani's Original, America, Painted Lady, and other heirloom strains I planted in the spring.  

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Late-afternoon summer light rakes across a sweet pea arrangement
Photo: Chronica Domus


Won't you please join me in planting a packet or two of these older types of sweet peas in your garden over the coming year?  I highly recommend an Old-Spice mix for heat resistance and, of course, for an abundant yield of colorful fragrant blooms.  You will then be ready to celebrate that much longed-for future holiday, National Sweet Pea Day.  Now, isn't that a day worthy of a celebration?


Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Bird-Themed Silver Lustre Creamware Jug To Mark National Audubon Day

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Today, April 26, is National Audubon Day.  It is the day that Franco-American ornithologist John James Audubon (b. April 26, 1785 d. January 27, 1851) is commemorated.  Audubon is best known for his color-plate publication The Birds of America (1827 - 1838).  The multi-volume tome is still considered to be one of the finest ornithological works ever published and contains 435 hand-colored plates of North American birds placed within their natural habitats. The illustrations are a feast for the eyes.  

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I'm sure many of you are familiar with Audubon's work, here is
"Blue Crane or Heron" from the book The Birds of America (1827 - 1838)


Early this morning, after replenishing the seed in the bird feeder which hangs from the pear tree in my garden, I thought I would mark the day by making a simple flower arrangement using an appropriately decorated vessel.  Of course, as you can guess, the vessel is bird-themed.

The creamware pitcher I used was made in England during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  It is hand-painted using purple enamel (or would that be puce?), and silver lustre (or would that be silver resist?).  There is some debate in the ceramics world as to when exactly it was that the silver decoration, commonly referred to as silver lustre, was first utilized by the English potteries and ceramics factories.  In fact, it turns out that the metallic decoration is not derived from silver at all. While researching this post, I happily stumbled across an excellent and absorbing article published by Johnson Matthey Plc, found here.  It details how platinum came to be used to mimic the effect of silver on these early ceramic pieces.  And, although the label I found adhered to the base of my jug identifies it as having been manufactured between 1790 - 1800, the Johnson Matthey article states the first use of "silver" decoration began slightly later in 1805.  It was John Hancock of Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent who invented the lustrous decorative glaze while working at the Spode factory. 

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The label on the underside of my jug reads "Leeds: Resist Lustre Period 1790 - 1800"
Photo: Chronica Domus


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This type of decoration is known as silver lustre or more accurately as silver resist or steel resist lustre and is achieved by painting the design - in this case the foliage - with glue and a glycerin or honey mixture which is washed away after the jug has been dipped in the platinum lustre prior to firing
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Another view of the silver resist and purple (or puce) enamel decoration
Photo: Chronica Domus


I purchased the jug from an antiques shop one day while visiting my husband's uncle and aunt.  The shop is but a short distance by car from their house.  I happened to spot the jug sitting in a locked glass case in the back of the shop.  The dealer who opened the case for me made it impossible to walk away empty handed.  "I've had this jug for ten years and I want it to go to a good home" he said.  "If you like it, I will sell it to you for half the sticker price".  What the dealer did not know was that I had every intention of buying his lavishly decorated jug as not only did I find the piece to be rather pretty, but it was also in excellent condition with not a crack, chip, or nibble to be found upon it.  Frankly, I was astonished it had languished behind glass for an entire decade.  The dealer's offer certainly sweetened the deal and I am thrilled to have added the pitcher to my ever-increasing ceramics collection.  Below is an almost identical one sold at auction six years ago.

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Here's a mate to my jug, sold at auction in 2012 and described as a silver resist lustre 
Leeds "songbird on a fence" jug, circa 1810 - 1815


Before I get too carried away with the details of the vessel's decoration, here it is in situ, in our drawing room.  It holds lusciously dense panicles of lilac, the color of which is almost indistinguishable to the painted song bird decoration.  

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An arrangement of lilacs in celebration of National Audubon Day
Photo: Chronica Domus


Today, I encourage you all to venture outdoors and enjoy a little bird song, and to also appreciate the local variety of birds flying freely through the (hopefully) blue skies of your neighborhood.

John James Audubon 1785 - 1851
by John Syme

Within a few minutes of stepping into my own garden this morning, I have already heard the squawking of a Scrub Jay, the gentle cooing of a Mourning Dove, and the buoyant chirping of a multitude of Sparrows.  What a joy and a privilege it is to experience such an agreeable nature-borne melody.  Do please tell me what birds you might happen to hear singing in your garden today.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Norton Helps Prepare Some Easter Flowers

Although we won't be home for Easter Sunday this year, I am still compelled to add a few festive touches to the house to mark the holiday.  So, bright and early this morning, Norton and I trotted down to the garden to snip away at some of the narcissi I had planted in mid-February. Anticipating, with a bit of luck, that most of them would have bloomed for Easter, it turns out, most of them had.

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Planted on February 19, narcissus Cragford, an award-winning heirloom, 
is ready for picking
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Another heirloom variety that bloomed vigorously this year is the aptly named 
narcissus Cheerfulness 
Photo: Chronica Domus


It did not take long to fill my trug but I must admit, I did receive a little help from Norton.

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Norton supervising in the cutting garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


As you can see below, the effort of picking a few narcissi was all a tad too much for dear Norton. Declaring he'd had quite enough of it all, he proceeded to plonk himself smack dab in the middle of the vegetable patch, exhausted it seems.

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Gardening is so overrated!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Coming into the house via the back stairwell, Norton was obviously still very tired from his gardening escapades so I left him there, with the trug, while I nipped downstairs and around to the front garden to clip a few more blooms.

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Norton takes a well-earned break
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Narcissus Thalia, my favorite of the whites, has been reliably blooming and multiplying in 
my front garden for several years
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Just a few Thalia to complete the morning's pickings
Photo: Chronica Domus

I had adequate blooms to make two cheery arrangements to place in the drawing room, with a handful left over for a third smaller arrangement that I placed in the kitchen.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Here they are in situ
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, what would Easter be without a few chocolate treats to nibble upon?  Here are some chocolate eggs corralled in a favorite English Regency era teapot stand painted in a pleasing shade of orange to match the centers of narcissus Cragford.

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Please, help yourself to a chocolate egg or two
Photo: Chronica Domus


My collection of various bird eggs round out the decorations in the drawing room.  Eggs are, after all, symbols of rebirth and renewal at Easter time.  A glass vessel below holds quail, araucana chicken, and partridge eggs ...

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Photo: Chronica Domus

... and another holds a turkey egg, the egg of a scrub jay, and more delicately-shaded araucana chicken eggs.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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A simple but pleasing Easter arrangement in the drawing room
Photo: Chronica Domus


Oh, and I almost forgot the funnest, and smallest, decoration in the house, a charming vintage hen and her chicks.  They grace a porcelain stand on the kitchen counter.  Don't you think Mrs. Hen and her brood look quite at home surrounded by ... more eggs!

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Happy Easter Everyone!
Photo: Chronica Domus

Norton and I wish you all a very Happy Easter!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Bloomin' Lovely!

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Bringing flowering branches indoors is an annual and pleasurable rite of spring
Photo: Chronica Domus


I know that spring has not officially begun but I have felt its impending arrival keenly these past few weeks.  Refreshing downpours and even a rare pounding of hail has helped paint the Bay Area's open spaces green ...

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Sonoma county's verdant farmland
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Happy cows in pastures green
Photo: Chronica Domus


... and awakened its gardens from their winter slumber ...

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Like clockwork, my garden's white wisteria is in full bloom by mid-March each year
Photo: Chronica Domus


Even the birdsong has intensified with the arrival of March's lengthening days.  Of course, with rain comes flowers and although the majority of my own spring flowering bulbs have yet to put on their show this season (I was a wee bit late with the bulb planting I'm afraid), that does not prevent me from enjoying the store purchased varieties.  My thoughtful husband presented me with several bunches of yellow daffodils a few weeks ago, just because he knows they are my favorite flowers.

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A cheery gift from my husband
Photo: Chronica Domus


I always feel that bringing the outdoors inside helps usher in that feeling of renewal and helps to put a kick in one's step.  I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.  The plum tree in the garden is already in full burst but as I hesitate to hack away at its branches - springtime blossoms are summer's fruits remember - I instead seek out bundles of pre-cut branches to purchase from the San Francisco Flower Market.  This is what I brought home two weeks ago:

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A lovely spring vision to behold!
Photo: Chronica Domus


I don't recall having seen such showy double blossoms before so I asked the vendor if he could identify them for me.  I was taken aback when he replied they were peach.  Yes, peach.  It appears I had been under the mistaken impression that peach blossom was exclusively pink.   As it turned out, the double blossom of this highly ornamental white flowering peach is particularly fetching and takes an age to unfurl from it's pompom-like buds. It is a joyous vision of spring to behold.  The branch arrangement lasted a full two weeks, right up until I replaced it on Saturday morning.

After a fortnight of enjoying the muted tones of the lovely peach, I was now in the mood for something a little more colorful.  These salmon-pink tulips fit the bill perfectly:

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Mother Nature provides us with the most luminous color
Photo: Chronica Domus


The two dozen tulips happen to look marvelous alongside these quince branches:

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Ornamental flowering quince is a particular favorite plant material of mine to bring
indoors each spring
Photo: Chronica Domus


Captured below in the cool light of Sunday morning, the kitchen was positively aglow with spring cheer.  No wonder those chirpy little birds just beyond my window are singing a little louder these days.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Flowering branches and tulips bring a welcome air of spring to the kitchen 
Photo: Chronica Domus


Is there something you particularly look forward to bringing indoors to place in your vase each spring?  Whatever it might be, I'm sure its bloomin' lovely.

Happy (almost) spring everyone!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Ivory & Sterling Mystery Thingamajig Revealed

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Did you correctly guess the purpose of the ivory and sterling thingamajig?
Photo: Chronica Domus


I have had such fun reading through the slew of comments received in response to the ivory and sterling thingamajig.  In fact, it has been one of the most popular mystery items in the entire series, inspiring many of you to come out of the woodwork in an attempt to solve this confounding little implement's intended purpose.  Without further ado, let's get to the answer.

The two most popular guesses were that it was either one of these ...

A marrow spoon or scoop


or one of these ...

A Stilton scoop


followed in hot pursuit by one of these ...

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A cheese corer
(this one is an English nineteenth century oak, brass, and steel corer belonging to my husband)
Photo: Chronica Domus


I had a sneaking suspicion that these would be the top guesses, all plausible to be certain but, surprisingly, all incorrect.  

Now, I'll be honest and admit to you that I purchased the mystery thingamajig because I too thought it was a scoop to aid in the delivery of Stilton to one's plate. I have been on the hunt for such a scoop for some time but those I've come across have been rather large and unwieldy, and better suited for use with larger truckles.  

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Plunged into a truckle of crumbly Stilton cheese the shovel-shaped scoop does an admirable job of delivering cheese to plate with minimal fuss and mess
Photo: Chronica Domus


Which is why when I first set eyes upon the mystery thingamajig, I knew it was going home with me.  At just shy of six inches, it was perfect for a smaller truckle. It could also, I supposed, be used to scoop out potted Stilton.  As a bonus, the sterling shank was fashioned into an unusual hemispherical scoop rather than the typical shovel shape.  

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The description on the dealer's tag read "English sterling Stilton scoop with bone handle" but my teenage daughter saw things differently
Photo: Chronica Domus


My observant and inquisitive teenage daughter took one look at my newly acquired prize and deemed it an apple corer.  "An apple corer?" I repeated, "surely not".  I was left somewhat slack-jawed by the suggestion but, suddenly, the shape of the scoop made perfect sense.  Sure enough, a quick gander on the Internet confirmed her suspicions.  Who'da thunk it?!  

Here's one made by Thomas Hyde I of London, circa 1770 ...


... and another, a Georgian ivory and sterling apple corer, circa 1816


I marvel at the fact that I am now the proud owner of an apple corer for the first time in my life.  And, its an elegant one at that.  I had no idea such utilitarian kitchen objects could be elevated to the sublime.  

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My thingamajig apple corer was made in London by silversmith Henry Holland Sr. in 1853
Photo: Chronica Domus


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It does a masterly job of removing the core from the last of the winter farmers' market apples
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Photo: Chronica Domus


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What a satisfyingly elegant way of performing a basic kitchen task
Photo: Chronica Domus


As it turns out, my apple corer is far from being deemed one of the more elegant examples available for sale during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Those were made entirely of sterling silver, like the one pictured below:

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Source


Some apple corers were even designed to be portable and used during travel or for picnicking.  The corer can be unscrewed from its handle and stored within it when not in use.

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A Georgian sterling silver traveling apple corer, London circa 1803


If you are interested in learning more about these little-known utensils, I highly recommend you read Dorothea Burstyn's informative article found here.

Thank you all for participating in what I hope has been a fun and enlightening guessing game.  I believe my daughter won this round and has earned her ranking, having been the only participant to have correctly solved the mystery of the ivory and sterling thingamajig.  She was also the inspiration for this post, of course.

Source: Pinterest

Do please join me in giving her a well-deserved round of appl(e)ause.


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