Sunday, 9 October 2011

Of Bright Hues and Cheering Books

Are you sitting comfortably?

I am in need of a little solace tonight as our gentle, barely-out-of-kittenhood cat, Sakura, has returned from an overnight stay at our local vet.  Forgive me for being prejudiced but there is this not-so-friendly black cat who stalks our neighbourhood, feared by all, who first chased our innocent feline (who is not so good at practising self-defence) around the houses and then dug her claws into her leg.This resulted in the most unsightly and, I imagine, very painful infection.  I am sure the vet has done a marvellous job but she is not quite out of danger yet.  It is daunting to see an animal suffering and to witness the children's sadness.

I shall move on to more cheering thoughts and ask you all  a deep and meaningful question;

 What do these colours conjure up in your mind's eye?

Think a moment... and tell me...
I see....


 Yes, those cheery hued embroidery threads bring to mind dahlias and quite possibly Chrysanthemums but could we please wait a while before thinking about Chrysanthemums?  They will be forever associated with La Toussaint - All Saint's Day - here in France and the splendid, somewhat gaudy bunches of flowers dotting those rather austere French cemetries.

These dahlias guard the entry of Chaumont Château with bright determination.

When I am in need of much cheering and a little instruction I turn to one of my favourite books which resides by our humble fireplace.  This book has been picked up by many guests (possibly weary of our post-dinner art of conversation) sighed and smiled over and jotted down on many a book wishlist.  "The Ivington Diaries" by Monty Don.  Now, some of my British readers may be rolling their eyes a little thinking such thoughts as 'goodness, I've had that book for ages'.  I apologise but I must confess to being a profound admirer of Montague Don. 

Before acquiring "The Ivington Diaries" I first read "The Jewel Garden" .  I was fascinated by the concept of a garden inspired by jewels.  Incidentally don't you think Dahlias are rather jewel-like in colour?  This book is the story of the garden that over the past few years has bloomed from the muddy fields around the Dons' Tudor farmhouse, a perfect metaphor for Monty and his wife Sarah's own rise from the ashes of the spectacular commercial failure of their fashionable jewel business in the 1980s. It was a quick and pleasurable read which gave me a taste for the beauty of Monty Don's writing.  

Wanting more I then devoured the more substantial "The Ivington Diaries" , published in 2009, a book with heavy creamy paper and splendid colourful photographs taken by Monty Don himself.  It is a month-by-month account of his work in the Herefordshire garden which he created with his wife from 1992 onwards.  This gardening space has been central to Monty's well-being and beautifully put down in words.  His passion for gardening shines through together with his need for consolation and a strong devotion to his (dare I say) patient wife, Sarah.

This is also a book you can dip into and so tonight I searched for Monty Don's thoughts on dahlias.  This is one of the jottings I found and I urge you, should you find yourself beginning to nod off, to read at least the second paragraph, please:

13 September 2003

Show dahlias are like Ascot hats.  They come out only for the big occasion.  But they got a bad reputation amongst those who care about reputations for being somehow a bit naff and lacking in the subtlety necessary to appeal properly to sophisticated tastes.  The truth is probably cruder.  Dahlias were considered common and vulgar in the same way that gladioli, hybrid tea roses and hanging baskets are still frowned upon.  Nowadays 'Bishop of Llandaff' is allowed within the inner circle of good taste, and perhaps 'Arabian Night', but as exceptions that prove the ghastly rule.  This is, of course, pure snobbery, and stupid snobbery at that.  For all the democratisation of gardening through television, there is still a ridiculous streak of aspirational snobbery that runs throught too many back gardens.  I hate it.

And I love dahlias.  They are undiluted fun.  The deep, dark ones are velvety and voluptuous like the inside of a bordello, and the bright, garish pinks, yellows and oranges have the 1950s sumptuous joyfulness of Monroe or Bardot.  They come as tight, minimal pompons of flower or clumsy starbursts of petal.  They can be childishly simple or mathematically complex.  They are busy plants, giving out more energy than almost any other.

 Beautifully written, don't you think?  

 So this is a tribute to those Monroe and Bardot-like dahlias cultivated by a charming man who cut us a bunch and donated a generous-sized butternut squash (which was devilishly hard to carry home with a wriggling, screaming toddler).

If all dahlia growers are as kind and cheery as this gentleman then I say three cheers for dahlias!


As an end-note to this VERY lengthy post I would also like to recommend a wonderful book I have just finished; Barbara Trapido's "Sex and Stravinsky".  It is a superb concoction of fairytale and opera written in a brisk and substantial style.  Whilst Stravinsky features as a leitmotiv there is virtually no sex to be found so I suppose the title was chosen mostly for its alliteration.  I found the style and the storyline whisked me along at almost breakneck speed from Oxford to South Africa. Give it a try if you do not know it already?

I was also delighted to discover that my giveaway gifts found a loving, enthusiastic artist's home .  Go see for yourselves as Vanessa has just had these STUNNINGLY beautiful cards of her work printed.  I also discovered from her photographs that, by a strange quirk of magic, she has chosen the very same yarn for her Never Not Knitting pattern as I am knitting up right now for another (simpler) Never Not Knitting pattern. 

Love to you all and have a peaceful happy week with plenty of time for reading and creating.


  1. so sorry about your cat,that's terrible
    I love those Delhi's!
    did you get my email in regards to the giveaway?
    happy weekend :-)

  2. I completely agree with you, dahlia's are most definitely the jewels of the flower world. :)

    I hope Sakura feels much better soon, what an awful thing to happen to her, the poor thing!

    Vivienne x


    Wow. I love the idea of a garden inspired by JEWELS! And we do NOT get Dahlias here! The colors are outstanding indeed, and everything from your embroidery thread on the leaves to the charming MONSIEUR with the bunch of flowers speaks a charm to me that I embrace dearly. AND VANESSA'S ART!!!! Oh, how exciting. I just spent all day drawing and printing out my art work on card stock to get ready to sell some of my wares on Etsy. If you have a moment, go visit my sidebar gallery called, JUST THINKING OF YOU and see some of my work. It is rather PLAIN, but I am really not an artist. But on recommendation of an artist/friend, I am giving my art work a go.


  4. Ce pauvre petit chat! Thank God for vets and antibiotics. I wish her a speedy recovery.

    When I saw your thread, I thought of nasturtiums. But the dahlias are even better. I love bright, cheerful, flaunting flowers and especially admire dahlias as I cannot grow them myself. Those in your photos glow the more brightly for the pearly grey sky in the background. What lovely saturated colours.

    And those whimsical cards! Adorable.

  5. Hope your kittie gets better soon, poor thing... at least she is back home with you again for you to look after her. Love the dahlias too, lovely to have such vibrant colour around! xx

  6. Your poor little kitty, hope she will feel better soon. Recently my tomcat Joshi had a bad infection after a fight, too. Why can´t they just be friends with all other cats...?
    Those dahlias are smashing! I really don´t know why I only have pink and white shades in the garden, I love these bright, firework-like colours!

    Liebe Grüße, Bärbel

  7. We too have a little Vuddist cat who never stands up for himself and has several times been infected by a skirmish with another cat so I do understand your concern for your little one. I do hope that the infecftion will soon clear and that she will keep clear of any thuggish cats in future.

    The dahlias are beautiful - how can anything made by Nature in such cheering colours ever be construed as naff or in poor taste I wonder. An Italian friend tells me that in Italy chrysanthemums are considered funeral flowers and never brought into the house or given as a gift rather as they are in France when all the streets are decorated with them for Tousaintes.

  8. Lovely post, Stephanie. I too love the writing style of Monty Don, and have the Jewel Garden and the Ivington Diaries. He is both practical and lyrical which is the perfect combination for a garden writer, I think! I love the thread colours and the way they make you think of those gorgeous dahlias..I have always done that too, picked some threads that remind me of the mood or theme of a sampler I'm designing, it's the perfect starting point. I'm so sorry about your poor little cat, what a horrible thing to happen to her, and sad for you all. I hope she will be better soon.
    Have a good week. Helen x

  9. Oh I just LOVE Dahlias! They are proud, they are 'look at me', they are very jewel like. they are beautiful. I simply adore them.

    How awful for your poor small cat. I hope she manages to make a full recovery. It's hard for small children to see their pet suffer like that too. I hope there is a happy ending!

    Have a super Monday!

    Vanessa xxxx

  10. I haven't even read your blog post in full yet but I wanted to comment about your cat. Poor little thing, I hope she is on the mend bless her. I have a four year old little cat and she is small and extra vulnerable. She chooses not to go out much and we always make sure that someone is around to make sure she can come in in a hurry. She just seems very innocent and small and also inquisitive - she goes towards big cats and foxes so it is worrying. I've certainly had to rescue her once or twice. She just doesn't seem as mature as other cats I have had and has had extra looking after. She is adorable though and very sweet.

    I have a big male cat too who mostly stays out of mischief but occasionally gets into trouble; he has had an abscess on his face before from a bite. I am a huge cat lover and I love them all but I have to say that there are bigger cats - Tom cats - who do swagger around and terrorize others. I watched in horror as my neighbours female cat was pushed off a rather high wall. I couldn't do a thing in time. It was honestly like watching The Lion King (the Disney film). Fortunately she was OK, just frightened after falling a long way. Mostly the other cats learn to recognize the baddies and keep out of the way. When they are tiny like your little Sakura (lovely name) they have not learnt this yet. The odd thing is that these terrorist cats are often absolute babies (pussy cats in fact!) for their owners. Anyway, I listen out for cat fights and do try and step in before anything happens.

    Mostly it is Tom cats who are the problem and actually they have quite a hard time of it themselves as it is in their nature to be aggressive and territorial. If more male cats were not neutered it would be far worse. As it is they are always being quite seriously hurt themselves in fights and other cats do not like them. Nature is often tough!

    I do hope this hasn't frightened Sakura too much and that she manages to keep away from the baddie, they do exist I know and it is a worry. Lots of love to her and hoping she cheers up soon and the infection gets better. Hope you and the children can stop worrying very soon XX


  11. p.s the colours made me think of flowers in the sunshine. The yellow reminded me of the sun and their light, while the other colours, jewel bright flowers. I am an ignoramus about flowers, so it was unlikely that I was going to think of specifics.

  12. I love dahlia's and I'm amazed by that basket full of blooming dahlia's. I try it every year but without success.
    Chrysanthemums are also very much associated with All Saint's day here in Belgium.
    Hope little kitty feels better soon!

  13. Hoping that little Sakura continues to recover!

    That collection of embroideries threads did remind me of the fabulous colorways dahlias provide. What brilliance! The photo of the gentleman gardener who gave you the bouquet is a salute to this season.

    Your embroidery is truly beautiful! The card that you gave Vanessa and the example shown in your own header inspire me to get my own long-idle embroidery hoop out and see what I might manage, stitch by stitch.

    Best wishes. xo

  14. Dahlias are amazing - so many different shapes and colours. It might be annoying that we have to dig them out every autumn and replant every spring, but to tell the truth, it's worth it every time.

    Hope your cat feels better? I love the name - Sakura, very original.

  15. Dear Millefeuilles,

    A post to my heart! Like you I love Dahlia's too. All those colours and shapes. You are right. Their colours look a bit like jewels indeed. I plan to plant more Dahlia's next year. I still take flowers home with me from my garden!!

    I am ashamed to say that I haven't read a garden book by Monty Don yet. However, I enjoy watching him and Carol Klein on Gardeners world on Friday evening!

    Have a lovely new week! The CL is on it's way to France.

    Lieve groet, Madelief x

  16. SO sorry to hear about your cat ~ our cat Willow is a petite Burmese and I am always wary of her when she is out as the local village cats are THUGS!
    Dahlias, you know I never used to like them and then we planted some plants we got from Villandry this year and I was rewarded with bright and breezy colours of all hues, and I am in love with them now!
    LOVELY post and I hope you Sakura gets well soon

  17. I do hope that your cat is improving - it is so upsetting when furry friends are suffering. Will be thinking of you.

    Pomona x

  18. I have made a major mistake in visiting your lovely blog right before preparing our evening meal...so taken with your writing and garden images and following Miss Curly Locks in her adventures...I fear dinner will be a little late!!:o)The threads match the dahlias perfectly -

    I will return again to linger & I must become a follower.
    Thank you for visiting earlier and commenting...

  19. Bonjour, Stephanie
    I've enjoyed reading your post (and browsing around), soaking up the colours of the dahlias, and enjoying your enthusiasm for gardens.
    Thank you very much for visiting my blog; I appreciated your comments and chuckled at your remark about "wholemeal-ish" muffins. I'll be sure to visit you again.

  20. Sorry about your kitty cat. Hope she heals quickly. The floss does look those gorgeous dahlias!! I had to laugh when I read about the gardens... I sure seem to like all the "wrong" flowers. A "jeweled" garden sounds absolutely delightful to me.

  21. I am sorry to read about your cat being poorly and hope Sakura will be much better soon. That has happened to some of my cats in the past.
    Dahlia are such happy flowers, I love them! I like how they are compared to Bardot and Monroe.
    It is a good title for a book The Jewel Garden, it instantly conjures up a beautiful colourful image.
    Isabelle x

  22. I love Monty Don's writing too. I was delighted by The Ivington Diaries and 'popped' in and out of the Jewel Garden throughout the summer.

    Those dahlias are such gorgeous colours!

    Sorry not to have got back to you sooner re A S Byatt. I have ordered a copy of The Children's Book from the library, I'm sure I will enjoy it very much. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Poor Sakura. Hope she heals very soon. As the owner of a very sweet black cat I feel purturbed that her assailant was of the same hue.

    I'm now going back to see your post on the Chateau Chaumont!

    Have a lovely week.


  23. Poor Sakura. Wishing her well.
    Oh yes, Dahlias and Chrysanthemums, I love them. My Grandpa used to grow them both.
    Monty Don, what a wonderful chap he is , so soulful. I love his thoughts on Dahlias.
    Have a peaceful happy week yourself and yes lots of creating.
    Much love

  24. Poor little Sakura, hope she is all better soon, I know it's a worry. I have two kittens and one of them is smaller and seems to be a bit weaker, her sister looks after her very well!
    Love the dahlia's, what beautiful colours they are!

  25. I love dahlia's but am frightened to try and grow them because of all that digging up and keeping business in the winter! lovely post - thanks.

  26. I hope your cat is healing nicely - I'm so sorry to hear about her trauma and about bully in the neighborhood.

    The dahlias have been exquisite this year here too. I love your showcase of them and of that sweet looking man. Great post! XOL

  27. So sorry about the baby kitty! Horrid black cat and every neighborhood has one doesn't it!

    Stephanie we used to live behind a huge dahlia farm and the owner allwed my brother and I to pick as big a bunch as we could carry every Friday so I have very happy memories of dahlias and lvoe them.

    P.S. I really enjoy your posts, a lot!

  28. I love dahlias, they are just so gorgeous and I do hope Sakura recovers soon - such a nasty business.

    Nina x

  29. what a beautiful beautiful post, i adore dahlias and Monty don!
    and i hope your poor little cat makes a speedy recovery x
    have a lovely evening
    love jooles x

  30. Your poor kitty, I do hope she recovers swiftly. We have a nasty piece of work prowling around where we live, terrorising the neighbourhood, In fact our lovely Alfie had a run in with it and wasn't feeling so great as a result the other day.

    Those dahlias are so lovely, I never used to like them but have recently changed my mind!

    Take care, and sending a big hug to Sakura x

  31. I am sure the antibiotics will kick start her healing and rid her of the infection (I presume they put her one some). That is horrible. Have you talked to the owner of the other cat? It would be hard to prevent this from happening again unless one of the cats is kept indoors. Maybe showing the owner the vet bill might make her keep her fighting cat indoors.

    The Dahlias WOW what a pop of color and that green thumbed man. Your photos rock!

    HUGS for the cat and you,

  32. I wanted to come by and thank you again for your lovely comment on my blog last week and I find all this TREASURE! (not the injured kitty part, I am so sorry! Speedy recovery wishes for your little sweetie!) Such beautiful photos, and THANK YOU for the BOOK SUGGESTION!!! I've never heard of these and I am quite the Anglophile so I feel like Christmas just came early, book-wise! So happy to have found YOUR happy corner and a new friend!

  33. I do hope that Sakura is on the mend and back to her old self again very soon. There's a cat in our neighbourhood who really doesn't like dogs, he chases them, spitting and showing his claws, whilst they're on their leads. He's done it to my dog, Archie, a couple of times and all Archie does is stands there wagging his tail. The cat scares me half to death. The colours of the threads really do bring to mind the colours of dahlias. They used to be considered an old fashioned flower, I'm so pleased that they're back in favour again though now as they're such a lovely flower.

  34. Pauvre chat!! hope he’s feeling better now...

    did you know the symbolism of Dahlias is dignity, elegance and commitment? that would make a wonderful garden too!
    xo sandra
    (also i will check out Gallica - if i can handle it...)

  35. Oh...I hope your little kitten is feeling much better now Stephanie....some cats can really be quite vicious can't they and so territorial...
    Love your dahlias...they certainly are so 'jewel-like' aren't they?....I don't think they get the recognition they deserve....loved your post as always!
    Hope you have a lovely weekend,
    Susan x

  36. I'm late to the party here so I will ask the most important question ... how is your poor little kitty cat doing? Oh, and I adore dahlias!
    Thank you for the get well wishes x

  37. Love Dahlias, but I also LOVE Zinnias!
    Thank´s for your lovely comment on my blog!
    Have a great weekend

  38. I'm so sorry to hear that Sakura has an infection in her wound. I hate it when my cats are ill and I can't do anything to alleviate the suffering...
    As for Monty Don, the man is a hero as far as I am concerned. I have a real soft spot for him. The gentleman who grows the dahlia's looks like a total gem. I really enjoyed reading your post, and hope that Sakura is soon tip-top again. Em x

  39. As winter creeps up, any flowers, all flowers are just wonderful to me. I am a big fan of big gaudy colours as well, especially when all that colour is fading from outside. I love those dahlias they are gorgeous and as for a butternut squash how wonderful is that. I hope your cat gets better soon. - Annie

  40. The dahlias are beautiful, and your embroidery colors just perfect. I hope your kitty is on the mend soon, poor thing.

  41. The embroidery thread combo is SO PRETTY! Dahlias, too!

  42. I like Monty Don's writing too and have both of these books plus the earlier and also excellent "Fork to Fork". Dahlias have grown on me, particularly the dark coloured ones!


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