Come, view the winter’s beauteous scene,
The hoary frost upon the trees,
And snowy garlands, here and there,
And back of all this wintry gleam,
And when he spreads his dazzling light,
We’re glad there is such beauty left,
"Who would believe, that a most interesting and edifying book, and that, too, a romance, could be written, the scene of which should be laid in a dungeon-yard, and the main character should be a simple flower, that finds its way up between the flagstones?"
Yes, it may sound too wonderful to be true, but there really is such a book! I just read it and was so touched by it that I had to share my new-found treasure with you!
Picciola: The Prisoner of Fenestrella, or Captivity Captive, was written by the French novelist and playwright, Joseph Xavier Boniface-Saintine solely for his own enjoyment, but a friend happened upon the manuscript, read it through entirely in one sitting, and persuaded him to have it printed. Published in 1836, it was translated into English two years later and immediately became wildly popular in America. The Richmond Review called it "The most charming work we have read for many a day", and the New York Review wished "that those who rely on works of fiction for their intellectual food, may always find those as pure in language and beautiful in moral as Picciola."
It was beloved by several famous American authors, including Emily Dickinson, who received the book from her cousin and thanked him thus: "I'm a 'Fenestrellan captive,' if this world be 'Fenestrella,' and within my dungeon yard, up from the silent pavement stones, has come a plant, so frail, & yet so beautiful, I tremble lest it die. This is the first living thing that has beguiled my solitude, & sometimes I fancy that it whispers pleasant things to me - of freedom - and the future. Cans't guess its name? T'is 'Picciola'; & to you Cousin William, I'm indebted for my wondrous, new, companion."
Perhaps what makes this story so beautiful is the sweet simplicity with which it is told. As the author himself says in the preface, "Here are no stirring incidents, no thrilling love tale. And yet there is love in what I am about to relate; but it is only the love of a man for...Shall I tell you? No, read and you will learn".
By now you must be dying to know what the story is about, so I will tell you! The hero of the story is a young French nobleman, Count Charles Veramont de Charney, who by the age of twenty-five is already a master of seven languages. He has "a vast facility for learning" and devotes himself to the study of philosophy and metaphysics. At last, overwhelmed by contradicting truths, he loses his faith in both God and man, and comes to the conclusion that chance alone is the father of creation.
"Chance became his God, nothingness his hope!"
He seeks happiness in society. He gives concerts, balls, and hunting parties, yet he cannot find pleasure in them. His own great learning causes him to pity and despise the ignorance of his fellow men. At last, he throws himself into politics and joins in a conspiracy against Napoleon Bonaparte, for which he is arrested and imprisoned in an old fortress on the Italian border - Fenestrella. Here he is deprived of all communication with the outside world. He is allowed neither books nor pen and paper. He is alone with his own thoughts, which have oppressed him for so long and now become unbearable. Yet here, in the courtyard of his prison, where he is allowed to exercise for an allotted time each day, he is surprised by "a feeble growth", a tiny seedling, who, by its wondrous marks of design, rebukes his denial of an intelligent Creator.
"How had that tender, delicate plantlet, so fragile that a touch would destroy it, managed to lift up, divide and cast aside that soil baked and hardened by the sun, trodden down by himself, and almost cemented to the two fragments of stone between which it was confined?"
Daily he watches its progress, still trying to believe that it is the result of Chance, albeit a happy chance, but always the plant refutes his arguments. As he observes it closely, he is amazed to find that this tiny plant is provided with everything it needs to grow and survive even in adverse conditions.
"These things you would have known long since, Sir Count, if, stooping from the abstract regions of human knowledge, you had ever deigned to lower your gaze to the simple, humble works of God".
He soon comes to love his little plant tenderly, passionately. He fears for it in storms and even shelters it from hail with his own body. He watches eagerly for its first bud, its first flower. When he falls ill, Ludovic, his jailer, makes a tea of some of the leaves and he recovers. He owes his renewed faith and reason, yes, his very life to that plant, which he calls his Picciola (little one). He studies it constantly. He can tell the time of day by the strength of the flowers' fragrance. With the help of a microscope, a gift from his fellow prisoner and future father-in-law, he makes more discoveries, which he begins to record on cloth with a makeshift pen and ink.
But now Picciola is outgrowing her small crack in the flagstones. The sharp edges begin to cut into the sides of her stem and she is dying. Charney wants to remove a few of the stones to save her, but his jailer, a rough but kind man, who also feels an affection for the plant (he calls her his "goddaughter") nevertheless observes his own orders strictly and tells him that he must appeal to the commander of the fortress. At first, in his pride, Charney refuses, but he remembers all he owes to the plant and finally submits. But the commander refers the request to the governor, and the plant will die while he waits!
Ahh, I could go on and on, but I am telling you the whole story! So I will not give away too much more, except to say that the request is finally granted for Picciola through the intercessions of the Empress Josephine, herself (as is well known) a lover of flowers.
In the end, the Count is pardoned by Napoleon, who, having read the observations written on the handkerchiefs, which had earlier been confiscated (I didn't give away that part, anyway!), comes to the conclusion that "Count Charney is a fool, but a very harmless fool".
"A man who thus subjects his thoughts to a blade of grass", said he, "may make a very good botanist, but no conspirator".
I am so delighted with this book! It is no exaggeration when I say that it is the sweetest, most beautiful story I ever read - and I have so many favorites! I read the whole book in 24 hours, quite a record for me! But this story was something so near and dear to my heart, and in many ways I could relate to it from my own experiences. My love for plants has changed my life too, though perhaps not quite as dramatically!
A few more notes... You know how I enjoy finding familiar plants mentioned in stories. I was hoping to learn the identity of Picciola, and paid close attention to every description of the flowers, leaves, and fragrance, but to no avail. Her flowers are described as white, purple, and pink, with "tiny, silvery rays". Her fragrance became stronger towards evening. From the rapidity of her growth and flowering, one would think she was an annual, yet it seems that she is expected to return with the next season. The jailer refers to her as a 'gillyflower', but then he admits that "to my eyes all plants are more or less gillyflowers". My hopes were up near the end of the story, when the Count, still imprisoned but now enjoying certain special favors, is given some books on botany and begins to try to discover Picciola's true name. But then he begins to fear...what if her name turns out to be something like Hydrocharis morsus? Or in English, what if she bear a name like fly-trap, dog's-tooth, mouse-ear, or goat's beard? At last, casting aside the books, he exclaims, "Why should I consult you? Her name is 'Picciola'! Nothing but 'Picciola'! the prisoner's plant, his comforter, his friend! Why should she need another name, and why should I care to know?". Well, perhaps the author had no particular flower in mind when he wrote this, or at any rate he didn't care to reveal it!
I will close with yet another of my favorite passages from this enchanting book. I do hope you will be inspired to read it for yourself! 😊
"Of what use to the flowers are their sweet odors? Do they themselves enjoy them?
P.S. You'll be happy to learn that our great internet dilemma is over! We were only disconnected for a day! 😊
Just a quick post to let you know I'm still online! For the moment anyway. The phone company still hasn't shown up. They rescheduled for today but it'll be dark in an hour so once again I have my doubts. It worked out well though because I had some pictures to share! My father and I were in New Brunswick again. We left yesterday, spent the night in Miramichi and came home this morning. It wasn't all that eventful of a trip but I love the 100 mile stretch of wilderness on the Renous Highway. Oh how I would love to explore those woods!! We did see a very impressive bull moose this morning but there was no time for a picture. On the way through yesterday we saw about 12 deer and a coyote!
Click on the pictures to enlarge... 😊
This is going to be a very random post, so please bear with me! 😊 Yes, I'm still here! We missed the technician when he came out to change over the phone yesterday, so that is now rescheduled for Friday and we still have internet in the meantime. That gives me a chance to upload more pictures and research a few more things, so I'm grateful!
We just had a week or so of relatively mild weather but now it seems that winter is back. It is in the single digits right now and I keep interrupting my typing to blow on my hands because it's not all that warm in the house either! We had an interesting visitor this morning. This little fox was scampering around in the field. I think he must have been chasing mice under the snow, but it almost looked like he was just playing. He certainly was frisky!
I think I have only gone to the woods without the camera twice this year, both times because I had just been out a day or two before and didn't think there would be anything new to photograph. The first time, a coyote ran right out in front me - a perfect photo opportunity! But I guess I didn't learn my lesson because I went out without it again a few weeks ago. No animals this time, but there was a very interesting "story" written in the fresh snow. I noticed some large tracks going across a little clearing and went to investigate. They turned out to be lynx tracks, and the smaller tracks near them were most likely those of a snowshoe hare - the lynx's favorite food! Following the tracks backwards, it was interesting to see that the lynx's tracks came from deeper in the woods while the snowshoe hare had come from the field. They apparently met in the middle and the chase was on! I would have liked to follow and see how it ended, but it was getting dark. That night it snowed again and then we had a couple of windy days, so the tracks were mostly filled in, but you can still see traces of the lynx's trail in this picture from a few days later.
One of my hopes for this winter is to see a lynx again. We had two of them visit our property about 5 years ago and what a thrill it was! I had just gone out to the field where I run with my dogs. My two oldest goldies were just puppies (although big puppies!) at the time. Thankfully I didn't have them with me at the moment! I kept hearing a very strange "meow" coming from behind me, turned to look and couldn't believe my eyes as two lynx nonchalantly crossed the road and came right towards me! Once again, I had no camera with me as this time I was only out to get some exercise, but I ran back to the house to get it. When I returned, the lynx had found the open gate and walked right into the fenced area! I left it open but it took them a while to find their way out so I was able to get the pictures, although now that I look at them I wish I had gotten closer and that the fence wasn't in the background! Honestly I was so excited I wasn't thinking too clearly! 😁 The lynx didn't really show much concern about my presence which surprised me, but I've talked to others since who have had similar experiences, so apparently it wasn't that unusual. I'm really hoping to see them again and get some better pictures of them!
The long evenings are made pleasant by reading and studying everything I can possibly lay hands on about plants. I'm living in a state of breathless anticipation right now because I recently ordered Gray's School and Field Botany and Gray's Manual of Botany, both original copies. I am terribly ignorant of even the most basic botanical terms (someone recently commented on the variegated "cotyledons" of my baby morning glories and I didn't even know what that meant!). Only a year ago I wouldn't have cared, but now I'm just scratching the surface of all there is to learn about plants and realizing what complex and wonderful creations they are. Everything I learn only increases my love and reverence for the Creator!
So that's my winter day's ramble...hope you got something at least out of it. 😊 Stay warm and enjoy the beauty and joy the season has to offer...before we know it, the days will be getting longer!
"We would have flowers in every home, for their sunny light, for their cheerful teachings, for their insensibly ennobling influence."
It's finally December so the two feet of white stuff on the ground is almost normal now! It already seems like it has been winter a long time, which I guess it has! Yet, as much as I am looking forward to spring, this winter is already teaching me a lot about finding beauty in even the smallest things and cherishing what I do have all the more. A few flowers to "fuss" over and tend go a long way in charming away the winter dreariness! What would we do without plants, and especially flowers?
Since the first African Violet has been doing well, I recently "adopted" another one! They are so delightful! I have a feeling there are going to be more additions before the winter is over! 😁
Only one of the Paperwhites has bloomed so far and the other three are at various stages from "almost-ready-to-bloom" to "just-emerging". But I guess that just extends the joy and anticipation a little longer! Their fragrance is heavenly!
The Sweet Marjoram continues to flower and all I need to do is brush against the leaves whenever I need some aromatherapy!
And of course, I must have some Heartsease! 😊
My Japanese Imperial Morning Glories (Ipomoea nil 'Chocolate') are thriving, despite having been nearly frozen three times already! I've learned to move them away from the window at night and not put them back too early in the morning! If you haven't tried growing these indoors I highly recommend it! I am told that they should bloom quickly too, because they are sensitive to day-length. They seem perfectly content indoors and their roots don't take up a lot of space so they don't need huge pots. I just need to figure out what they're going to climb once they start sending out their little tendrils!
We are expecting our internet to be cut off in a couple of days. Hopefully it will just be temporary, and in the meantime I should be able to check in and do some posts from the library. So you will still hear from me, just not as frequently! The hardest thing will be that I won't be able to share new pictures. I have saved lots of pictures in my drafts to use for the flower histories I plan to write over the winter, but hopefully this will be resolved before Spring so I can share new pictures of my flowers! 😊
Seeing how excited I was about finding pressed flowers in that book from the antique store, my father suggested that I look through some of his great aunt Pearl's books, thinking I might possibly find plants she had saved as a girl. So, I just spent a very enjoyable morning going through boxes of old books! I did find many pressed flowers and leaves, along with newspaper clippings, calling cards, old receipts, etc. I shouldn't have any need to borrow books at the library this winter! There are dozens of books belonging to her and her sisters...histories, biographies, and classics. Some of them are books I've been wanting to read and didn't even know we had!
This beautiful poem was tucked into one of her books...
I found pressed flowers and leaves not only in Aunt Pearl's books, but also in books belonging to two of her sisters, Aunt Jennie and Aunt Addie.
Some of the plants I found in their books. I loved the pansies especially! There were also quite a few four-leaved clovers. Notice the cut-out poem in the bottom left picture, titled Four-Leaf Clover.
My GG grandparents...my GG grandfather was in the Civil War.
Flowers I found in a couple of books belonging to them. I'm not sure but I believe the first one is a rose...
Found this in the back of one of the books. Looks like a plan for an orchard?
I also found this old McGuffey fourth reader. The name in the cover reads Eugenia Schubers (?), dated 1859...not somebody in our family that I know of. But I was fascinated by the leaves...possibly gathered by a girl on her way to or from school in 1859?
As you can guess, I'm pretty elated right now! :) And there may be yet more to find. It was definitely a morning well spent!
The common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is one of those lowly weeds that seem to have taken a liking to mankind, following him wherever he settled. It is perhaps best known as a favorite food of the canary and other small birds, both caged and wild, but is also considered "a source of endless vexation" by gardeners because it springs up everywhere, and a single plant can produce one million seeds! It is also remarkably hardy, blooming almost year round in all but the coldest climates. I found two blooming plants today after my father finished plowing the snow. They had been buried for over 2 weeks and we have already had temperatures as low as -7 F!
The name Groundsel is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon grouneswelge, meaning literally, "ground swallower", and in Scotland it is still called Grundy Swallow and Ground Glutton. Anyone the least bit familiar with this plant will guess why! (Fortunately for gardeners it is easy to pull up, but if it sets seed once you will be weeding it out continuously). Its Latin name Senecio is derived from Senex (an old man) because, as one old writer puts it: "the flouer of this herbe hath white hair and when the wind bloweth it away, then it appeareth like a bald-headed man". The specific name vulgaris simply means "common".
Although neglected by most herbalists today (to my knowledge anyway), it was once considered quite useful. In his book The English Physician (1652), Culpeper writes that it is "as gallant an universal Medicine for all diseases coming of heat, whatsoever they be, or in what part soever of the body they lie as the Sun shines upon". Groundsel was used as a gentle purgative and diuretic, and has also been used in poultices. One old herbalist claimed that smelling the fresh roots was an excellent remedy for headaches, but the roots had to be dug up with an iron tool to be effective! An old-fashioned remedy for chapped hands is made by pouring boiling water over the fresh herb.
Sometimes even the most despised weeds can brighten our days, and finding this little one blooming in the snow certainly brightened mine!
I'm joining Clay and Limestone today for Wildflower Wednesday.
My father and I were in Baie-Sainte-Anne NB for a little while today. We took some friends who had an appointment there, so he and I just did a little sight-seeing in the meantime. I think this was the first time I've seen the ocean (well, the Gulf of St. Lawrence) in winter!
The bay was almost completely frozen over already as you can see in the first picture...
We stopped at an antique store on the way back and found this book, published in 1913. I love reading about early arctic explorers, so this was a very exciting find! Somehow I find it comforting to read these kind of stories during the winter months...maybe to remind myself that it isn't so bad here after all? 😁
But when I got home and started to look through it, I was doubly thrilled! Tucked between the pages are several pressed plants! How special to see and handle these and wonder who picked them and how old they are? I'm not even sure what these plants are, except for the clover of course. If anyone recognizes them please let me know (you can click any picture to enlarge it).
I actually had another, similar discovery when my father and sister found and gave me this old medical book, published in 1893. They thought I would like it because there is a section on medicinal herbs in it. But when I looked through it I found even more!
A lovely drawing, newspaper clippings, a calling card, and even a picture of a little girl, unfortunately not identified.
I love finding these little relics the past. This has been a long and tiring day, but it has been well worth it! 😊
"If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere."
I hope you all had a happy and blessed Thanksgiving! Among other things, I am thankful for the beauty that surrounds us every day, even in the dead of winter! 😊
This beautiful plant truly is a marvel! Although a native of tropical South America, it is almost effortless to grow, even in my northern garden! Come mid-summer, each evening brings fresh surprises as the flowers open to reveal their brilliant colors to the night!
Mirabilis jalapa is more widely known in this country as Four O'Clock, so called because the flowers typically open late in the afternoon, though from what I've observed, Five-Thirty or Six O'Clock would be more correct! Still, I like the name Marvel of Peru much better, and Gerard even goes so far as to say that it ought to be called "rather the Marvell of the World, than of Peru alone". Others were not so impressed, however. Rousseau, in his famous Letters on the Elements of Botany (1785), writes: "Upon the first discovery of the New World, as America was vauntingly called, everything found there was represented as wonderful. Strange stories were related of the plants and animals they met with, and those which were sent to Europe had pompous names given them. One of these is the Marvel of Peru, the only wonder of which is the variety of colours in the flowers". It has been given many fanciful names in the various countries where it is cultivated. In France it is known as Belle de Nuit (Beauty of the Night), and in Spain it is called Don Diego de Noche (Don Diego at Night).
The flowers are quite wonderful, many of them being fantastically striped in contrasting colors. No two flowers are quite alike, as Gerard says: "This marvelous variety doth not without cause bring admiration to all that observe it. For if the floures be gathered and reserved in severall papers, and compared with those floures that will spring and flourish the next day, you shall easily perceive that one is not like another in colour, though you shall compare one hundred which you gather one day, and another hundred which you gather the next day, and so from day to day during the time of their flouring".
The Marvel of Peru was first introduced into Spain and from there into the rest of Europe. It was named Mirabilia [admirable] peruviana by Carolus Clusius, from which we may conclude that the time of its introduction was about the middle of the 16th century. Gerard, writing in 1596, says that he had grown it for many years in his garden.
Later, it was renamed Mirabilis jalapa by Linnaeus, who mistakenly believed it to be the cathartic drug. The true Jalap is actually a species of Ipomoea, native to Mexico, but Gerard does mention that the roots of Marvel of Peru had been found to purge "waterish humours", although he says that it was "esteemed as yet rather for his rarenesse, beautie, and sweetnesse of his floures, than for any virtues knowne".
Speaking of Linnaeus, I can guess that he would have found this flower quite fascinating, considering his interest in designing a "floral clock" (a garden by which one could tell the time of day by the opening of the different flowers). The idea must not have worked out, although one of Linnaeus' friends commented that he "would soon put all the watchmakers in Sweden out of business", thus making himself highly unpopular! (quoted from The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus, by Wilfrid Blunt).
By the end of the 19th century, this plant, once considered such a wonder, seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor, and was grown only in "old-fashioned" gardens. In an article published in 1890, E. P. Powell laments, "Four O'Clocks were pretty then and are pretty now; but who grows them?". Yet it has always had its admirers, and probably always will. Though it doesn't seem to be very widely grown (I have not seen them here in any gardens besides my own), the name Four O'Clock seems to bring back happy childhood memories for many people...
I'm under the pear tree, sitting all alone ;
Even my father, who is completely flower illiterate (once while on our way to town, he noticed that I was admiring some Forget-me-nots growing along the roadside and startled me by exclaiming, "Oh, look at all the lovely HOLLYHOCKS! 😁), remembers Four O'Clocks growing in his uncle's garden.
In the language of flowers, the Marvel of Peru (or Four O'Clock--whichever you prefer!) represents timidity, because it is seemingly too shy to reveal its beauty and fragrance to the day.
Although a perennial in its native tropical climate, it is easily grown as an annual. The plant forms tubers which can be dug up in the fall and replanted in spring, but it is so quick and easy to grow from seed that it is hardly worth the trouble. Gardeners with very short growing seasons (that's me!) can start the seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. In my garden they usually start blooming about the middle of July and continue until the first fall frost. The flowers usually close as soon as the sun hits them in the morning, but on cloudy days, and as the season progresses and days become cooler, they often stay open most of the day.
To quote Gerard again, this is "a pleasant plant to decke the gardens of the curious". Such a beautiful and carefree flower certainly deserves a more prominent place in our gardens!
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading.