Monday, November 5, 2018

Fall Observations

Pansies and Maple Leaves


The weekend was delightful arriving with days of pure outdoor pleasure. The sky was a gorgeous azure with billowing white clouds slowly drifting as the calls of the crows could be heard in the distance. One could hear the call of the Canadian geese, barely seen in the distant sky in the familiar V formation as they began flying South for the winter. It is reassuring us that Nature does indeed have a plan which is known by her own.


The ants, whose activity in the fall is always an indicator of the degree of winter we may expect, are racing about storing tiny pieces of grain. And the squirrels too are hastily assembling a stash of buried walnuts for winter. The weather pattern, the critters, and the Farmer’s Almanac all point toward a relatively harsh winter so relishing these fall days is a must.


The wild violets have sent forth tender new leaves signaling it is time to plant the earliest spring bloomers. As with most plants, there is a colorful mythological history surrounding the violet. According to Greek legend, Zeus who was King of the gods, had taken a fancy to a nymph. Infidelity is certainly nothing new and Zeus was behaving badly in this instance so he attempted to hide his mistress from his wife, Hera, by changing her into a white cow. Needless to say the nymph was unimpressed with this change and complained bitterly over the taste and texture of the coarse grass. As she wept sad cow tears, Zeus changed them into dainty, sweet-smelling violets that only she was permitted to eat.


The Roman myth involves Venus, the goddess of love, who was always cross with mortal women. Apparently she fell into a jealous rage when foolish Cupid judged some mortal ladies more beautiful than she… in revenge she swooped down and beat the poor maidens until they became blue before transforming them into violets. The Church gave meaning to the heart shaped leaves which were said to represent the Virgin Mary’s modesty and loyalty.


Napoleon was a devout fan of the violet and when he married Josephine she wore them in her hair. On every wedding anniversary he sent her a bouquet and before leaving for exile he visited her tomb where he picked woodland violets. Following his death, these violets were found in a locket he wore around his neck.


The precious pansies, a cousin to the violet, are arriving in nurseries and it is time to plant them as they will bloom all winter even through the snow. Originally a common viola growing in fields and hedgerows in England their first noted appearance as a new species was on the estate of James, Lord Gambier. His gardener, William Thompson, crossed a viola species with a viola tricolor in an effort to achieve a round flower of overlapping petals. In the late 1830s he found by chance a flower with a broad dark blotch instead of narrow nectar guides; from this singular pansy came the future ‘flowers with a face’. Released to the public in 1839 with the name "Medora" this pansy instantly attained rock star status among gardeners and breeders throughout Europe.

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