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Ok, spring is moving by pretty fast. Where does the time go? However, despite the false spring back in February, the tulips in my garden came out really well this year! I thought I would share the pictures of the late tulips with you. These are lily flowering tulips. The delicate orange ones are named “Ballerina.” I bought them from a Dutch company which shipped the bulbs across the ocean last autumn. I lovingly planted them in a prime spot in the golden light of October.

Yet, I think the pink and white ones are even prettier. Their name is apparently “Lowe’s Discount Bin.” I bought them for three dollars and forgot they were in a plastic bag under my bed until I found them in January beginning to sprout among my socks and science fiction novels. I rushed out into the slush and hastily buried them in cold shallow divots and assumed they would all die. You get what you pay for, right?

Apparently not. The beauty of these tulips was undiminished by their low price and my slipshod gardening. I wonder if they will come back next year, and I wonder how I will ever find more of them.

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I love spring. Whoever designed the garden behind the Brooklyn townhouse I live in felt the same way. This unknown benefactor from the past planted three beautiful flowering trees which come into blossom at the same time (um, and a holly, but we’ll talk about that another time). The king of these trees (and maybe of all flowering trees is the Kwanzan flowering cherry (which I have celebrated in spring of years past, but there is also a dogwood and a purple crabapple.

I have been trying to plant flowers which come into blossom at the same time as the trees so as to have a perfect week of flowers. The tulips which I have found that work best are Leen Van Der Mark and Don Quichotte. Miami Sunset also unexpectedly bloomed at the same time (as did some white jonquils, which I rescued from a neighbor’s garden when it was replaced with turf).

This year the bleeding hearts (a perfect Brooklyn flower) also bloomed at the same time as the tree. There are also some primroses, hellebores, violas, and pansies in there too, but being a different scale, it is hard to see them. The April blossom garden is a success, but May should have some delights too, in the form of the iris, the peonies, and the azalea. Hopefully my Hydrangea was not nipped by the March blizzard to the point it will have no blossoms, this year. I guess we’ll find out. In the mean time enjoy the flowers!



I meant to finish off flower week last Friday with some photos of my garden in Brooklyn as it bursts into spring blossoms—but I was unable to find my camera (well actually I couldn’t find the charger for the battery of my camera). This past weekend I went through all sorts of drawers, shelves, and closets and finally found the missing unit in a cabinet which I swear I checked before—why don’t electronics manufacturers make these things the color of marine rescue equipment as opposed to matte black? Anyway, here is the back garden. After a long hard winter, it is pure joy to see the tulips, dogwoods, and bleeding hearts in bloom. I’m sorry I am not a very gifted photographer: the plants are so much prettier in the real world! However, maybe a little part of their beauty shows up in these photographs.


Above all else, the star of the garden is the huge stately Kwanzan flowering cherry tree which overtops the house. The tree is so big that it is difficult to photograph all of it. Additionally no camera can do justice to the ineffable beauty of its stately pink blossoms (which I have written about in past posts about the Japanese blossom viewing festival and about the wistful poignancy of ephemeral beauty). I love that tree so much—maybe I’ll go out and take pictures of it tonight with the lanterns on (sorry about all of the ugly cords).




There are some holes in the garden where summer plants have not yet sprouted (or where grim winter laid waste to the flower that was living there) but that is all part of the joy of gardening. I’ll try to post some more pictures with the irises, roses, and hydrangeas once they have bloomed. In the mean time it is a lovely season to head outside and enjoy the flowers!


Flower Still Life with Tulips and Roses (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder,, oil on copper)

Flower Still Life with Tulips and Roses (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder,, oil on copper)

Besotted with the beauty of spring, I am dedicating this week of Ferrebeekeeper to flowers and floral-themed posts (in retrospect I should have saved last week’s aquilegia post for this week—but consider that a teaser). To start this week’s flower celebration, we are returning to the Dutch Golden Age of painting to look at the life and works of Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621). Bosschaert was one of the artists whose work initiated the Dutch mania for still life paintings and for fancy flowers (he lived through the tulip mania and may have helped precipitate that economic bubble). He also founded a family dynasty of artists which endured throughout the 17th century—which is why he is styled “Bosschaert the Elder” (though I am just going to call him Bosschaert).

Tulips, Roses, a Pink and White Carnation, Forgets-Me-Nots, Lilly of the Valley and other Flowers in a Vase (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, ca. 1619, oil on copper)

Tulips, Roses, a Pink and White Carnation, Forgets-Me-Nots, Lilly of the Valley and other Flowers in a Vase (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, ca. 1619, oil on copper)

Bosschaert was born in Antwerp, but to avoid religious persecution, he moved to Middleburg where he spent most of his life painting with his equally famous and important brother-in-law Balthasar van der Ast. Bosschaert favored symmetrical bouquets of April-May flowers (mainly roses and extragent tulips) which he painted on copper—a surface which allows artists to paint in exacting detail. Unlike van der Ast, Bosschaert did not obsess over multitudinous insects, mollusks, and other crawly animals with symbolic meanings (although are usually a few dragonflies, cone snail shells, or moths at the edges of his paintings). Instead he concentrated on the pure formal beauty of flowers. Bosschaert concentrated on the lambent translucent beauty of an unfurling rose or the perfectly harmonized stripes of newly hybridized tulips. There are irises, poppies, and ranunculuses in supporting roles with their own elegance, but tulips and roses nearly always take a starring role.

Flower Still Life (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, ca. 1619, oil on copper)

Flower Still Life (Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, ca. 1619, oil on copper)

Bosschaert was extremely popular and his works commanded top dollar…er guilder, but there are fewer than collectors and museums would like since he also worked as an art dealer. The paintings we have from him, however are magnificent. Even after all of the intervening centuries of decorative art, Bosschaert’s work has an unrivaled power to call attention to the pure mesmerizing beauty of flowers in carefully organized bouquets.

Last spring my flower garden was sad.  I planted a ton of daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and irises, but, thanks to squirrel depredations, I ended up with one mangled tulip of indefinite color (which was ripped apart by a squirrel the day after it bloomed).    The squirrels in my part of Brooklyn are angry hungry monsters.  Rap music and powerful Jamaican curries have desensitized them to noises and smells which would scare off lesser squirrels.  No one traps or shoots them–so they do not fear the fell hand of man.

Imp, Monster...Demon!

Imp, Monster…Demon!

This year I have been desperately trying to keep my bulbs alive long enough to bloom properly.  Every evening since mid-March you can see me out back throwing hot pepper and garlic powder on the garden like some maddened chef.    I have spritzed an ocean of animal repellent on the little green buds.  I have studded the garden with glittering mylar pinwheels and festooned it with scary helium balloons. Yet every day another bud is taken.  The crocuses were all ripped up.  In the end, I wonder if anything will actually blossom, or if it was all once again in vain.

I bet the Dutch don't put up with this sort of thing...

I bet the Dutch don’t put up with this sort of thing…

However there is one exception to this story of attrition and doom!  Yesterday the first flower bloomed in my back yard…and it was not at all what I was expecting.  Primulaceae, the primroses are native to Europe from Norway south to Portugal and from the Atlantic coast east all the way to Asia Minor.   Perhaps I should not be surprised that the primrose is first to bloom considering it lives wild in Norway, the land of polar bears, glaciers, and marauders.  Most garden primroses have been heavily hybridized, but last year I bought a specimen which looked most like the common European primrose, Primula vulgaris, and it survived a whole year to bloom again!  The flower has five beautiful butter yellow petals with center around a bright yellow eye.

Yellow Primrose

Yellow Primrose

I was hoping to provide some exciting primrose lore, but the humble flower does not seem to feature in many myths and legends.  According to Wikipedia, it was Benjamin Disraeli’s favorite flower, so crafty parliamentarians should at least be drawn to this article.    Anyway, spring is finally here so prepare for everything to get better.

Benjamin Disraeli in the garden?

Benjamin Disraeli?

Since a blustery cold front seems to have put spring on hold, I thought I would post a gardening update.  Although my stony north-facing garden runs a month behind everyone else’s, my tulips finally came up!  I have a large bed of delicate pink tulips (appropriately named “Don Quichotte”) along with a smattering of maroon-black “Queen of the Night” tulips around my rose.  It’s sad to think that my garden is probably as lovely on this cold windy workday as it will ever be again.

The tulips survived winter’s chill and put roots in the grim waste only to narrowly escape an unexpected adversary.  Just as they were about to bloom, a creature crept into my yard and gnawed the heads off my flowers!  What could it be?  Memories of raccoons and slinking possums ran through my head along with more esoteric terrors (wolverines? bears? giant sloths? harpies?) however, internet research revealed the culprit to be a humble squirrel.  After spraying a variety of vile “critter ridders” on my garden with no effect, I put up some jaunty mylar balloons.  Their shining, lurching presence has driven the culprit off.

Ignore the camera angle and pretend the heart balloon represents my appreciation for my readers.

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