Thursday, 27 February 2014

Iris, the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow

Van Gogh's 'Irises'

An alternative February Birth Month Flower is the Iris.

Whoever decided on these Birth Month Flowers must live in a part of the world where spring comes much earlier than here in the UK. The irises in my garden are usually in flower in late May!

I’ve never been very much attracted to irises. I do like the plain blue-purple ones but, like violets, irises often has that smudge of yellow that, to me, makes them look ‘dirty’. As well as that, I tend to prefer flowers that grow on curved branches or at least on stems that will sway and bend. Typically, irises stand a little too straight for my liking, though a clump of the light blue ones at the back of a border can look lovely.

And strangely, I think the iris is a flower that seems to grow more appealing when portrayed in watercolour, rather than as a photo. I became much more enthusiastic about this flower in the course of collecting paintings of them for my Iris Pinterest board

Hereford artist, Ruth S Harris's Irises,
print available from Society6

The paintbrush seems to lend them a softness that doesn’t come across so well in a photograph. Van Gogh’s irises are certainly not standing up to attention and Monet's are decidedly floppy and curvaceous!

Monet's Yellow Irises

A few things you may like to know about Irises:

  • Irises grow all over the world and they come in too many varieties and colours to list them all here.
  • The Iris is the state flower of Tennessee as well as the National Flower of Croatia
  • And in Japan, where they grow easily in the wild, people have traditionally used Iris designs on their kimonos, to protect themselves from evil energies.
  • Traditionally, the iris represents faith, hope, wisdom and courage and they are represented in very early art, such as Ancient Egyptian and in Greek mythology.
  • Iris is the name of the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow, who was also the messenger of the Gods. Purple irises were planted  on the graves of women to summon the goddess to guide the dead on their journey over the rainbow bridge. (I don’t know who guided the men!)


When I started to think about this blog post, I began to wonder whether there was any connection between the Iris flower and the part of the eye that controls the amount of light that reaches the retina - the ‘iris’. It seemed quite unlikely.

But wikipaedia, as usual, enlightened me - 

It is in the iris that we see the different eye-colours, blue, grey, hazel, brown and green – a ‘rainbow’ of colours! (Not quite a rainbow as we generally think of it but certainly quite a wide variety of colours.)

I’ve only ever seen blue, purple, yellow and white Irises but I like the pink and tangerine ones I’ve seen in paintings. 

It seems that William Morris did too:
William Morris's Iris pattern for wallpaper and home textiles

It’s too late for this February but maybe, next year, I should put my prejudices aside, like I did with the violets, and really get to know some irises through drawing and painting them?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Are you a Shrinking Violet?

The Violet is one of the Birth Month Flowers for February.

Poems about violets often refer to them as blooming in April and Yardley even have a range by the name of "April Violets". I shall keep a close eye on my front garden this year and notice when the violets start to bloom. 

What is the word that we most often hear in connection with violets? 

There’s the African Violet, the Dog Violet and the Parma Violet – the one that is sometimes used in confectionery and cake decoration - 

And of course there’s the ‘Shrinking Violet’.

Not because it can literally shrink – though when exposed to too much sun, it may shrivel up and die.

‘Shrinking’ in this case is another way of expressing modesty, humility or even shyness, human traits that have often been associated with violets because of their habit of hiding away in woodlands, close to the ground and often hidden by leaves.

Violet motif for the
repeating pattern.
Poems suggesting these qualities in the pretty little wild wood violets abound! Here's a selection.

While modesty and humility are surely positive qualities, shyness isn’t necessarily a good thing. It has been suggested that shyness is the result of too much preoccupation with oneself and how one appears to the rest of the world. And it can certainly hold us back from becoming all that we’re capable of becoming.

I’ve been a ‘Shrinking Violet’ in my time – until a very wise elderly relative pointed out to me that my ‘walking small in order that others may walk tall’ was not serving any good purpose!

But when I was looking up quotes about violets I came across one that stood out from the rest and I think it’s my favourite. It doesn’t deny that violets are not particularly showy; they don’t grab our attention like the daffodils and tulips that flower around the same time.

But they are tenacious! And there's power in that tenacity – as I discovered when I first dug over the ground beneath my Magnolia tree. 

'Tile' for the
repeating pattern.
When I moved into my house, there was grass beneath the tree but it wasn’t a pretty sight. It didn’t get enough light and it was impossible to mow because of the roots of the tree, even though I bought a strimmer especially for the purpose. Hence my decision to dig it all up and make a wild, woodland area of my front garden.

As I dug out the grass and the dandelions, I began to see the violets hiding closer to the ground. I was planning to scatter wild flower seeds in the soil so I dug out the violets as well – with some difficulty because of their long, enormously strong roots! 

But now, ten years later, the ground is covered in violets again! 

So whenever I have time in the autumn, I plant daffodils and irises around the tree, removing just a few of the violets to make room for them. As the tree has grown over the years, it has become harder and harder for anything else to grow beneath it – except for the violets! 

So maybe the violets are telling us something, especially those of us who are introverts by nature. Perhaps their lesson is that we don’t need to put on a show, to draw attention to ourselves in order to be purposeful. 

As the quotation suggests – and as I discovered in my front garden! – tenacity and modesty, strength and humility can happily rub along together!

Please feel free to pin or download and print
 this 300 dpi image (for your personal use only).

PS I recently discovered that the Violet is associated with Mother's Day.

Originally known as Mothering Sunday, it fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and in the 16th Century, it was the occasion for everyone to visit their 'Mother Church', ie their nearest large church of cathedral, for a special 'Mothering Sunday' service.

Later, the idea of honoring all mothers on that same date meant that domestic servants were given a rare day-off to visit their mother church or, more often, to go home to visit their mothers, whom they probably hadn't seen for months or even as long ago as the previous Mothering Sunday. The servants would gather a posy of wild flowers along the way and the most prevalent wild flower at that time of year was, yes, you've guessed it - the violet!

This year, Mothering Sunday (or Mother's Day) falls on Sunday, 30th March in the UK.

There are plenty of Mother's Day greeting cards and gifts to choose from in my Zazzle stores but here's a link to the cards that feature the Violets.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

What are your Valentine’s roses telling you?

Valentine’s Day is upon us again! 

And whether it’s a special day you look forward to or something you’d rather forget about, you can’t help noticing the abundance of hearts and red roses in shop windows, especially, of course, in the greeting card stores!

Roses are red . . . in fact roses can be almost any colour under the sun and many are a mixture of colours. But it’s the red roses that we see around Valentine’s Day, because we all know that a red rose is one of the best known symbols of love.

The symbolism goes back many years, to the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, who identified the red rose with their Goddess of Love, Aphrodite (Greek) and Venus (Roman). It has also been traditionally regarded as sacred in many other cultures and religions, including Islam, Sufism and Christianity.

But wait, there’s a bit more to it than just picking up a bouquet of red roses from the supermarket or petrol station! 

It’s not just a question of any old red rose – to symbolize love, it must be the right shade of red:

  • Bright red symbolizes ‘sincerity’, ‘passion’ and also ‘respect’ and ‘courage’.
  • Burgundy means ‘unconscious love’ or ‘unconscious beauty’.
  • Dark Crimson is associated with ‘mourning’!

And the number of roses in a Valentine’s Day bouquet is also significant:

    o A single red rose in full bloom means, ‘I love you’.

    o A dozen red roses can also be a declaration of love – or gratitude.

    o 25 red roses are used to congratulate.

    o A bouquet of fifty red roses signifies ‘unconditional love’.

So if you are thinking of ‘saying it with flowers’ this Valentine’s Day, make sure that you know the language of roses so that you pick exactly the right combination to express your feelings!

Much as I love the roses that ramble all over the walls of my house and garden, I have no enthusiasm at all for those horribly stiff, tightly-budded, almost black monstrosities that fill the stores at this time of year. I've seen artificial roses that look more alive!

On the other hand, I've had fun concocting patterns from this little watercolour painting I made of a single red rose.

to see what it turned into!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

February Birth Month Flower - Violet

I’ve never much liked violets. 

I tend to prefer bright, colourful flowers like Pot Marigolds and Daffodils. By comparison, I always thought of violets as rather drab and dreary, too much leaf for such tiny flowers and anyway, purple is by no means my favourite colour, especially in the garden. I tend to think of Violet in particular as an 'old lady' colour . . . 

But I’ve noticed that when I draw flowers for painting or for making a pattern, it feels as if I get to know them. It’s almost like getting to know a person, like making a new friend.

And that’s exactly how it was with the violets I needed to paint for a new series of February Birth Month Flower Birthday Cards!

In fact, even before I’d made the violets into a birthday card design, my enthusiasm had grown so much that I began to make ‘Violets’ repeating patterns and coordinates to create all sorts of pretty products for my Posh & Painterly store!

I made my patterns using Photoshop and if you’re interested in how to do it, you’ll find some easy to follow instructions HERE, on some of my blogs from 2013. 

The main violet pattern was based on an ogee-shaped repeat, instructions in #4. But if you’re a newcomer to repeating patterns, you’ll probably benefit from starting with #1 and working your way through.

If you don’t have Photoshop, don’t despair! 

I made some of my best and most popular repeating patterns, such as this one, using paper, paint, scissors and sticky tape! 

I found the very clear instructions for making repeating patterns without a computer on another blog, Design Sponge .

Good luck with this - but just think carefully before you get into making repeating patterns - you may easily find yourself getting addicted like I am!