For about a year when I was seven or eight my mom took me to Chinese brush-painting lessons every Saturday morning at a strip mall in Scarborough. I can't recall my teacher's face anymore but I remember she was about my mom's age, and gentle and patient. I remember the smells of bottled India ink and cracked tubes of rainbow paints; the dread of having to wash my brushes under a tap that only ever ran icy cold; the sound of my teacher's knife slicing through rice paper to cut sheets to size; and my frustration when I produced only clumsy-looking compositions. Perfectionist at seven years old, sigh.
Every few weeks my teacher would demonstrate a new form - either flora or fauna - and then I'd practice the brushstrokes in their particular order. I worked my way through grasses, daisies, helenia, goldfish and various seaweeds - but chrysanthemum blooms were my very favourite to paint. Starting with the two innermost petals and working outward from there, each incurve petal was its own study in brush control.
Sadly, when my teacher moved away, the lessons stopped and I never thought much about chrysanthemums again except to doodle them in pencil from time to time. I always appreciated the giant potted mums that show up each year in October (so robust, so showy!), but I didn't equate them with the elegant specimens I'd learned to paint as a child. Also I didn't know any gardeners growing up - and heirloom chrysanthemums aren't regular garden fare anyway - so it wasn't till I interned at Floralora Flowers that I realized they existed beyond the realm of Chinese paintings. I could grow them myself!
I got my first heirloom chrysanthemum plants in May and promptly lost all their labels, oh well. My chrysanthemum supplier had suggested I grow them on in containers so I could move them indoors if they hadn't bloomed by the time frost came. Well, about half of my varieties flowered before the frost and the other half afterward, so I'm glad I followed her advice. Here are the very last ones to bloom (they're still sitting on my table - I'm so impressed with their vase life):
My chrysanthemum memories are all the sweeter because my dad's mother practiced Chinese brush-painting too, in her later life. I never got to watch my grandmother work, but she'd tape her studies to her bedroom wall. Every Saturday afternoon when we visited, I'd examine them closely.
My grandmother died a few years ago, and my grandfather this past spring. I helped a little to sort through their things, and I made it my mission to find the paintings I remembered. It's not lost upon me how lucky I am to have found them:
What are your flower memories?
My final garden harvest of the year was giant brussels sprouts, ten purple and blue beasts that I'd tucked into various holes in my perennial beds. I lay them all in a row and marveled at them like I'd just returned from a prehistoric plant safari. I was hoping to store the stalks whole (with the sprouts still attached), but the sprouts were so tiny that I just harvested them all and we had a particularly sprouty dinner that night.
I considered including a recipe here, but I don't know the quantities of anything I used - I'm turning into my mom, haha! Briefly, I sauteed the sprouts with caramelized onions that I'd made in the slow-cooker and frozen in ice cube trays last week. Besides salt and pepper, I like to add a tiny bit of sugar to my sprouts, tho these ones weren't bitter at all to begin with. Next time I must add some bacon/prosciutto/pancetta...
If I grow these again I'll have to seed them much earlier and give them more sun - but I don't know if I can spare the space! For better or worse, my list of flowers to grow in 2018 is almost double that of 2017. Still, these purple-green gems are hard to resist, no?
Until next time, Gang.