Fuss about flowers

In the musical "Carousel," Billy Bigelow breaks out with the song "June is Bustin' Out All Over." The chorus joins in with a hearty "Look around! Look around! Look around!" Billy and the gang could have been singing about our garden at home. It is bursting with flowers. There is literally an explosion of color reaching skyward. In a couple of places, the rampant reds, yellows and blues spill over the rock wall, arching toward the path between the garden and the rest of our yard.

This is just the kind of scene that used to thrill Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard and the other French Impressionists back in the late 1800s.

Bonnard was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses which may or may not account for his love of flowers. Monet's address was his garden at Giverny, near Paris. He bought the place in 1890 after renting it for a while and turned it into what the world knows as the home of resplendent water lilies, brightly colored Japanese bridges and expansive sunsets.

Monet was content to allow the flowers to grow however they wanted to. Rather than planning a formal garden, he chose to arrange his flowers by color. As he earned more from his paintings he was also able to buy more rare flowers and plants.

"All my money goes into my garden," he said. And it is clear that this was a good investment. The gardens at Giverny fed his soul and the souls of other artists of his era who came to visit, including American painters John Singer Sargent and Willard Metcalf. People continue to draw inspiration from both Monet's painting of his gardens and Giverny itself.

Years ago I attempted to portray the beauty of my wife's garden in a painting. She is the artist who, with the help of several friends over the years, created our Giverny. As I am not Monet, my artistry was not able to capture my wife's on canvas. I labored at the painting, even adding a trellis where there wasn't one, just to make the whole thing work.

Finally an artist friend suggested that I turn the painting upside down, turn the trellis into a vase and make a few minor adjustments that would transform the garden into a still life. I did. It worked, and the painting now hangs in the living room, near the dazzling beauty of my wife's garden which is just outside the door beckoning me to "Look around! Look around! Look around!"

Gustave Caillebotte was another French Impressionist who enjoyed working in his garden and painting the results. He was fond of breeding orchids and would exchange new species of flowers and plants with Monet. Caillebotte died at age 45 in 1894, while happily working in his garden.

Edouard Manet was not officially an Impressionist, but he liked to garden and flowers figured importantly in his paintings. Manet especially liked to paint and grow peonies.

Shakespeare included peonies in "King Lear" and we have some in our garden. We also have coreopsis, several colors of roses, day lilies, great blue bells, Shasta daisies, cosmos, yellow yarrow, lavender and feverfew. And there are some tall, blue, pointy things, some reddish-pink things and some yellow flowers who, like Monet's visitors to his garden, have found the place peaceful and inviting.

Van Gogh, who came after the Impressionists, loved his sunflowers.

"You may know that the peony is Jeannin's, the hollyhock belongs to Quost," he wrote to his brother Theo in 1889, "but the sunflower is mine in a way."

And in a letter to Wil in 1890 Van Gogh wrote, "I feel the desire to renew myself, and to try to apologize for the fact that my pictures are after all almost a cry of anguish, although in the rustic sunflower they may symbolize gratitude."

A pansy plays a pivotal role in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Shakespeare mentions the rose in "Romeo and Juliet," hollyhock in "Macbeth" and the crown imperial, carnations and daffodils in "The Winter's Tale."

When someone is in the hospital, we send flowers. When a couple gets married, they get feted with flowers. When you want to say "I love you," "I'm sorry," "Congratulations," "Happy birthday," "Happy anniversary," "Happy Valentine's Day" or Happy Mother's Day," you send flowers. When singers, actors or dancers are honored at the end of a performance, they are given flowers. Corsages decorate prom-goers. Hawaiians greet people with a necklace of flowers. And we honor our dead by placing flowers over their graves.

So why all the fuss about flowers? The '60s notwithstanding, we are all flower children. Our original parents lived in a garden. Joni Mitchell sang, "we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

And while you're there, feed your soul. Look around.

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