Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Amaryllis in Bloom

For the first time in four years of trying, two out of four potted Amaryllis bulbs have bloomed! One bulb even has two flower stems.

 I inherited these red Amaryllis bulbs from my Grandmother. She received them for Christmas one year and continued to take care of them after the flowers had faded since the leaves were still green and growing. When she left her home, I brought her plants to my home to care for. Pink geraniums which she had for many years have bloomed faithfully for me almost continuously. These Amaryllis bulbs are a different story.

I have cared for them according to the horticultural advice. The plants receive plenty of sunlight and water. After the last frost in spring, I move them to a shady but bright spot on the side porch and continue to water. In late September, I tip the pots so that they will not receive water or rain and are forced to go dormant.  I usually bring them in early October and store in the basement for a few weeks, bringing them upstairs to sunlight and resume watering. Each year new leaves sprout and grow but a flower stalk does not develop. This year I left the potted bulbs out until early November and brought in after a few light frosts. Bringing them up to the southern window in the dining room in early December, they promptly sprouted and this time produced flower stalks which are now blooming.
It may be that the colder temperatures forced it to produce flowers, or it may be that it needed five years to rejuvenate enough to produce flowers. We will see what they do next year. It is not clear why the other bulbs - white ones given to me by a friend before they moved - which were treated in the same manner are growing leaves but have not developed flowers. It may be because I haven't been growing them as long.

For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the rich orange-red color against the snowy backdrop outside the window.

The Hortus Conclusus and Me

Hortus conclusus - Latin for enclosed, or walled, garden.

Gardens were surrounded by enclosures as far back as ancient times. These walls were designed to keep out enemies, whether humans or animals. During the Medieval period, enclosed gardens took on symbolic meanings and were referred to as the hortus conclusus. Seen as examples of paradise on earth in both Christian and Islamic traditions, enclosed gardens were safe havens where only beneficial plants were cultivated.

Artists used the symbolism of an enclosed garden to portray love and religious ideals.  In both Persian and Christian cultures during this time, the enclosed garden represented domesticity, refinement and femininity. The maiden is placed within the garden. Her suitor is outside the walls in the rugged, wild, masculine landscape. The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child were often placed by artists of the Catholic tradition within the hortus conclusus.

I learned about the hortus conclusus in an art history course, The History of Landscape Architecture and Garden Design, at Southern Connecticut State University. The history of the hortus conclusus resonated with me for several reasons.

First, I have an enclosed garden designed to keep out enemies - deer and woodchucks. This garden contains raised beds, placed in orderly rows, as was often designed in Medieval monastery gardens. Our larger garden, the whole of our property, is surrounded by an imaginary enclosure - boundary lines. This acre of land is our personal piece of earthly paradise.

Secondly, the relationship between the garden and the spiritual lessons it provides speaks volumes to me. I am most connected to God when I am in my garden.

Thirdly, the feminine, domesticated symbolism of the hortus conclusus is appealing. A child of the 1960s, a teen in the 1970s and a young woman in the 1980s, growing up in metropolitan New York, it was drilled into my head by the prevailing culture that a woman must prove she is equal to a man. This culture stripped away femininity from women. I was ashamed to be a "girly-girl" who didn't know how to throw a ball or dig a hole to plant a tree when studying horticulture at SUNY Farmingdale. I was embarrassed to admit that I liked the old fashioned look of embroidered and lace tablecloths and dresser scarves that I grew up with. I made my way through those early years often feeling alone as an old-fashioned, feminine woman. Then in the late 1980s I discovered Victoria Magazine. Through the pages of romantic photos I saw that I was not alone in my love for flowers, lace, tea in pretty china, embroidery and other dainty, feminine things. I read about English cottage gardens, French potagers, poets, authors and artists of centuries past who found delight in the natural world as well as modern women who incorporated these styles and sensibilities in their lives. The decade of the 1990s was one of affirming my feminity and embracing the simple, joyful, fulfilling life of raising a family, creating a home and garden just as my mother and grandmother did before me. As my children grew, life seemed to get more complicated with all the options available in every manner for life today. My garden, my hortus conclusus, has been and continues to be my refuge.

So here you have a little information about me and the reasoning for naming this blog what I did.