Monday, July 22, 2013

Colette on Hyacinths

The brief spell of spring like weather last week sent my pots of hyacinths into a spin and out they came before really having time to develop a proper stem. 
As I am always interested in how garden plants are described in literature, I thought I would share a perspective on hyacinths held by the great French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954). In 1947/48 a Swiss publisher, Mermod, commissioned a small book, Pour un Herbier ,the writing of which was based on the weekly bunches of flowers sent to her by Mermod to her apartment at 9 Rue de Beaujolais , Palais-Royal in Paris. At this stage of her life Colette had become severely crippled by arthritis but by all accounts was still a bit of a "looker" with her frizzy reddish hair, alley-cat eyes rimmed with kohl and thin as wire lips painted a brazen hussy scarlet. Particular flowers jog her memory and she recalls hyacinths  in Parisian life during wartime Occupation when florists slyly offered a way to be seditious by selling potted bulbs 'from which there issued forth three gallantly chauvinistic flowers, one blue, one white and one red'. However the hyacinths she received in 1948 tell a different story. 'Today my gloomy privilege has fetched me a bouquet of white hyacinths. Their thick spikes, swollen with water, ooze where cut, like a snail, and bear little bells , heavy and opaque, as white as peppermint candy.' It seems that these 'fat, white, cultivated, well padded little city dwellers' were not really to her liking as they sparked an image for her of younger more mobile years when she was able to enjoy the wild type with their 'blue forest flourish, spontaneous and fragile, in numbers so great, to draw from it the illusion of standing on the edge of a lake'.
It is well documented that Colette received the 'gardening gene' from her beloved mother Sido, who was the subject of a memoir/novella published in 1929. The garden in the family home in the Burgundian village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye is described in terms like a French Impressionist painting: 'The warm garden nourished itself in a yellow light with trembling reds and violets, but I couldn't say if this red, this violet came from, if they still come from, a sentimental happiness or an optical dazzle'. It is a garden represented in shimmering heat and light, a dazzle of colour, children and cats playing, happiness (Sido has a 'garden face') rather than details of plants and design. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I love such vibrant descriptions of plants and gardens. Perhaps I will have to go in search of a copy of that little volume.