Today is the anniversary of Cathy’s meme, In a Vase on Monday. To celebrate she invites us to bring flowers into the house and display them in a different sort of container, so it is actually ‘Not in a Vase on Monday’. Last year I chose a Victorian potty. Somebody else went a step further and arranged their flowers in the lavatory.
But yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day so I thought something more sombre is called for. I used my grandmother’s gas mask tin. Although this tin is from the Second World War, mustard gas was first used in the First World War and this is a grim reminder.
My grandmother used this tin for storing a muddle of needles, pins, thimbles, threads, knicker elastic and goodness knows what else. Like all her generation she always sewed; I suppose living through the war made everyone make do and mend. But she hated sewing and whenever you saw the gas mask tin brought out you knew that grandmother would be in a really bad mood. Eventually I inherited the tin and its jumble of contents along with my grandmother’s distaste for anything to do with sewing. A couple of years ago I discarded the contents and decided to use the tin to store seeds in. Today, it seems a fitting receptacle for flowers to pay tribute to the millions of men who were maimed or who died horribly in an obscenely pointless war.
Chrysanthemums have traditionally been associated with death. Christina at My Hesperides Garden says no one has them in the house in Italy. But I love them and I am always glad to have a cheery vase full of them on a gloomy November day. I am not too keen on the mopheads which look like over-lacquered hair styles and need to be fussed over with hairnets and disbudding. But I love the bright daisy or pompom types. Many of them start blooming in October but as the garden is full of so much else at this time I don’t take any notice of them until November. It’s one of my rules, like doing the garden tour in a certain order after a holiday, instead of rushing straight over to look at something eagerly awaited, or refusing to notice plump spring bulbs appearing until after Christmas.
Blooms are getting scarce in November so we need chrysanthemums not as memento mori, but as little patches of sunshine in the garden. My collection is growing but next year I hope to have even more.
Here are some of the ones I put in my tin. Pretty in pink we have the lovely, old, double, dusty pink Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’. This blooms late and its leaves turn red too.
Another double pink is the cute little ‘Mei Kyo’ which is a pompom rather than quilled like the Emperor.
The peachy pompom is ‘Picasso’.
I have several single pinks, this one is called ‘Stratford Pink’, I like it because it has a white halo in the centre.
The most vivid pink is ‘Mrs. Jessie Cooper’.
Chrysanthemum ‘Mary Stoker’ is a lovely peachy colour and blooms for ages.
Dazzling white ‘Edelweiss’ is quite rare.
Other rare ones include gorgeous ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ which is late blooming and one of my favourites. It is double and deep orange with bronze on the backs of the petals.
‘Margery Fish’ is lemony yellow.
This next one has a red label which means it is on the Plant Heritage Red List for Endangered Plants. I can’t remember its name so I am going to have to do some research. It’s possibly ‘Cottage Lemon’ It has terracotta buds opening to deep yellow flowers, so not really lemony. But it’s gorgeous.
I love this one which is called ‘Cottage Apricot’. It becomes deeper apricot with age and it has a lovely honey scent.
The rest of the ones in the tin are nameless passalongs. Now I have complied with Cathy’s rules I think I will put them into a vase. I don’t want to look at a gas mask tin all week.
The BBC’s Antiques Road Show did a wonderful programme to mark Armistice Day. It was very moving as people brought in artifacts and told heart-breaking stories about family members who had lost their lives and shown great courage and fortitude. A friend of mine was amongst those with a tale to tell.
I don’t have any stories to tell or medals to show, but after my grandparents passed away I inherited a beautiful gold hunter watch and chain. My son has it now. Inside the case, carefully preserved, was a white feather. I know that white feathers were sent to many of the 16,000 Conscientious Objectors who were vilified and treated incredibly harshly during the First World War. Some of them were sentenced to prison or hard labour. People who refused to be complicit in killing their fellow men were mocked at and ostracised. My ancestor was clearly not ashamed of his white feather and he carefully preserved it so it would tell its own tale today.
I have to admit to getting angry when we are told that millions of young men ‘gave’ their lives for their country. In fact they had their lives cynically stolen; a whole generation died, were maimed, or had their lives blighted. And all because as Wilfred Own said, they were told and believed: ‘… The old lie, ‘Dulce et decorum est
Pro Patria mori‘.
But as well as marking Remembrance Day, this is a celebration of the fifth year of Cathy’s enormously popular meme, In a Vase on Monday. So thank you Cathy for bringing us all together and encouraging us to enjoy flowers in the house all year round. Do pop over to Rambling in the Garden to see how Cathy and all her followers are celebrating the occasion.