Wisteria vine framing a porch

Wisteria vine framing a porch

” . . . twenty clusters of wisteria are hanging right outside my bay window, each one a tidy tumble of gray-purple faces with lavender bonnets.  I think they look like turn-of-the-century ladies seated in church pews.”
— Diane Ackerman, One Hundred Names for Love:  A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing

The wisteria is now past its bloom.  I took these photos last month when Seattle’s yards and gardens were graced with the purple clusters.  I wanted to try my hand at painting them, and I just now got around to it.  Enjoy!

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"Turn-of-the-century ladies in bonnets"

“Turn-of-the-century ladies in bonnets”

Watercolor sketch of wisteria

Watercolor sketch of wisteria

 

 

Wisteria in a Seattle alley

Purple wisteria

Dangling blossoms

Cascading veil of white wisteria

Detail of white wisteria in bloom

Looking down the street under a canopy of white blossoms

I pass this blooming golden chain on my walk to work.

Cheerful, yellow golden chain

There have been so many different flowers coming into bloom these past couple of weeks.  I feel compelled to jump from one bloom to another.  And for sure I had to do a post on wisteria and golden chain before they fade.  I lump them together not only because they bloom at about the same time, but because each glory under the prodigious weight of hundreds of dangling blossoms — a living curtain.  If I squint my eyes as I look at them, they remind me of impressionist paintings.

Among the impressionist painters, Claude Monet is perhaps most famous for his paintings of wisteria, which grew over the foot bridge in his gardens at Giverny.

Wisteria (Glycines) 1919-20 by Claude Monet from the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College

Monet Refuses The Operation
by Lisa Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

The wisteria is blooming, displaying cascades of purple.

Wisteria starting to flower

Three petals

Detail of wisteria petals

A profusion of blooms on a neighbor's front porch

Wisteria in the sunlight

Looking up into an impressionist landscape

My neighbor's porch

Watercolor sketch of wisteria

Another watercolor sketch of wisteria

Wisteria, a shower of purple blossoms

Ancient wisteria twines around a patio

Wisteria bloom from below

Wisteria blossoms

The Old Neighbors
by Katha Pollitt

The weather’s turned, and the old neighbors creep out
from their crammed rooms to blink in the sun, as if
surprised to find they’ve lived through another winter.
Though steam heat’s left them pale and shrunken
like old root vegetables,
Mr. and Mrs. Tozzi are already
hard at work on their front-yard mini-Sicily:
a Virgin Mary birdbath, a thicket of roses,
and the only outdoor aloes in Manhattan.
It’s the old immigrant story,
the beautiful babies
grown up into foreigners. Nothing’s
turned out the way they planned
as sweethearts in the sinks of Palermo. Still,
each waves a dirt-caked hand
in geriatric fellowship with Stanley,
the former tattoo king of the Merchant Marine,
turning the corner with his shaggy collie,
who’s hardly three but trots
arthritically in sympathy. It’s only
the young who ask if life’s worth living,
not Mrs. Sansanowitz, who for the last hour
has been inching her way down the sidewalk,
lifting and placing
her new aluminum walker as carefully
as a spider testing its web. On days like these,
I stand for a long time
under the wild gnarled root of the ancient wisteria,
dry twigs that in a week
will manage a feeble shower of purple blossom,
and I believe it: this is all there is,
all history’s brought us here to our only life
to find, if anywhere,
our hanging gardens and our street of gold:
cracked stoops, geraniums, fire escapes, these old
stragglers basking in their bit of sun.

Wisteria over garage door

Wisteria over garage door

Single wisteria bloom

Single wisteria bloom

Looking up from the bottom of a wisteria flower

Looking up from the bottom of a wisteria flower

Whenever I see wisteria, I am reminded of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim.  On a raw, blustery, gray and wet London day (so like many of our Seattle days), Lottie Wilkins reads this ad in the newspaper:

“To Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine.  Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April.  Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

Like Lottie, I am drawn by the allure of wisteria.  Lottie pools her funds with three other women, two of them strangers, in order to afford a magical month in Italy.  This year, I will be transported to sunnier, enchanted destinations in my imagination only.  The wisteria in my neighborhood will have to work its magic right here.

I am not complaining.

I always thought of wisteria as a spring flower, but this year I swear this plant has bloomed three different times.  How can this be?  I will take this phenomenon as a message from the Universe that it is not too late for second or third chances.

Wisteria with blue summer sky

Wisteria with blue summer sky

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On the scenic Train des Pignes

On the scenic Train des Pignes

After almost two weeks together, my sister and I parted ways.  She returned to the kibbutz in Israel, and I flew to Nice, France for the next leg of my journey, a five-day guided hiking expedition along the trails in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence that featured several land art installations by the artist Andy Goldsworthy.   I had long wanted to see some of Goldsworthy’s work, especially after seeing the movie Rivers and Tides about his unique vision.  When I ran across some newspaper articles (here and here) about the Refuges d’Art and Goldsworthy sculptures along a trail in France, I added this experience to my wish list of things to do before I die.

So I was very much looking forward to the France part of my vacation, although I did not have many details about the hike itself.  I did not know who else might have signed up and I knew little about the area.  My guide, Jean-Pierre Brovelli of etoile-rando.com, was taking care of all meals, lodging, transportation and logistics.  All I had to do was to show up in Digne on the morning of our first hike.

I took the little scenic train, the Train des Pignes, from Nice to Digne, enjoying the warmer Mediterranean weather, the blooming lilacs and wisteria, the green grassy pastures, orchards of white blossoms, and villages (Entrevaux and Puget-Theniers looked especially interesting) from the train windows.  I arrived in Digne in the late afternoon, and had time for a short walk around the town before turning in early.  I wanted to sleep well before the hiking started the next day.

In the morning, I was met at the hotel by Jean-Pierre and then the rest of our group made introductions.  There were five other hikers, all French, four women and one man, and I was heartened to see that they were all roughly my age.  We would be lead by Jean-Pierre and his fellow guide, Eric.  I felt we were in good hands.

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

Trees were in bud

Trees were in bud

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

Weathered blue doors

Weathered blue doors

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne

The formal Baha'i Garden in Akko

The formal Baha’i Garden in Akko

The center walkway, Baha'i Gardens, Akko

The center walkway, Baha’i Gardens, Akko

The Baha’i Garden in Akko was a quiet, open and contemplative oasis after the beehive of activity in the Old City’s port and market.  This garden, along with the one in Haifa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of pilgrimage for followers of the Baha’i faith.  The general public was allowed entrance only to the large formal garden; the mansion and inner gardens were off limits.

Old olive trees in an adjacent park

Old olive trees in an adjacent park

Wisteria graced the entrance

Wisteria graced the entrance

Sculpted hedges framed red geraniums

Sculpted hedges framed red geraniums

Pink hibiscus

Pink hibiscus

Orange hibiscus

Orange hibiscus

Blue doors

Blue doors

Well-groomed gardens

Well-groomed gardens

My sister called this "rooster comb"

My sister called this “rooster comb”

Baha'i mansion and grounds

Baha’i mansion and grounds

Layered plantings

Layered plantings

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Gate to the inner gardens

Gate to the inner gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arbor of golden chain at the Bayview Nursery

While we were on Whidbey Island, we stopped at the Bayview Nursery to see the laburnum in bloom.  They are stunningly displayed in two arbors.  To walk through the golden arches is enchanting.

Double arbors of golden chain, Bayview Nursery

Golden chain remind me of yellow wisteria

Blooms hang like pendulums

A curtain of golden chain

An enchanting spot

Doesn't this resemble an impressionist painting?

Looking back through the other way

Golden arches

Spectacular laburnum at the Bayview Nursery

 

Old wooden wheelbarrow, Lakewold Gardens

If you are looking for serenity in a natural setting, I highly recommend the Lakewold Gardens about 10 miles south of Tacoma.  It is just a few minutes off of I-5 between Seattle and Portland, and I can’t believe that no one has told me about it in the 30+ years I’ve lived in this region. It’s definitely worth seeking out this “undiscovered” gem.

The gardens are on a formerly private estate, and they were the creation and vision of Eulalie Wagner.  The gardens unfold in a series of “rooms” or nooks — a rhododendron path, open lawn, fern garden, tea house and cherry trees, pond, rock garden, knot garden, etc.  At the center is the Wagner House, where visitors can enjoy a wisteria-covered veranda and peek into the elegant rooms on the ground floor.

Here are some photos to give you a sense of this special place:

The wisteria-covered veranda of the Wagner House, Lakewold Gardens

Staircase, Wagner House

Wallpaper mural covers the wall in the foyer, Wagner House

Veranda scented by white wisteria, Wagner House

Himalayan Blue Poppies, Lakewold Gardens

Rhododendrons along Circle Drive

Tea House with lattice roof

Moss-covered branches in Lookout Peace Garden

Foliage against towering evergreen trees

Allium in thee cutting garden

Unusual purple stems with leaves fanning out

In the Garden Shop, Lakewold Gardens

In the Garden Shop

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