Friday, November 19, 2010

5 Virginia Treasures!

5 Inspirations for the creation of this Deacon's Bench!

Hand-painted on this deacon's bench is  five of my favorite wildflowers from the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. The pattern, framing each of these hand painted flowers, is a tedious country paisley pattern done in a pretty shade of blue periwinkle. Soft white and yellow stripes are the background for each flower.

The first flower I decided to paint was, indeed, my favorite!  It was the Mertensia virginica commonly known as the Virginia Bluebell. Other common names for this woodland flower is Virginia Cowslip, Roanoke Bells and Lungwort Oysterleaf. As it's name implies, it resembles a blue bell. Or like a very old fashioned dress (with bustle, of course!) and frilly lace along the bottom. Its clustered blossoms start as pink buds and as they bloom graduates from various tones of pinks into various tones of blues.

I truly fell in love with this flower when it mysteriously appeared at the wooded edge of my vegetable garden, behind my green house, under a tree that I had buried my precious dog the previous Fall. She was 6 months shy of 20 years old. And after 9 years, I still miss her so...

The second wildflower I chose to include on the seat of the bench is Chicory, Cichorium intybus. Chicory may also go by the common names of blue sailors, succory, and coffeeweed. Some mistakenly call this flower Corn Flower (Centaurea cyanuswhich is a separate variety of flower all together. This wild plant has many uses including a coffee substitute, livestock crop and intestinal wormer. According to old European folklore has the ability to open locked doors! So be careful where you plant it and where you leave your bouquets! The colors worked perfectly in this piece, in ranges of blue lavenders. In the wild you may be fortunate spot a few white blooms in the mix and on rare occasions even pink!

The Rhododendron Maximum commonly referred to merely as the Rhododendron was my third choice in this project. It's also known as the Great Laurel and is in the heath family and often compared to azaleas and laurels. The color of their bloom ranges from paper white to pale and deep pink to a rare rose which includes green-yellow spotting.  I think what I love most about these plants, along with the luscious  blooms, are the dense evergreen foliage. Have you ever hiked through the Appalachian mountains of Virginia and had to maneuver through these bushes?   Rhododendrons are extremely toxic. Deadly to humans, cattle and deer! The Xenophon mentions that Greek soldiers in Asia Minor were poisoned by honey made from these flowers! And I was worried about copper heads on my hikes!

The pink Thistle that grows wild in these parts of Southwest Virginia are dear to my heart. To me they remind me of my Celtic heritage. Other NamesCarduus lanceolatusC. vulgareCirsium lanceolatum, bank thistle, bell thistle, plume thistle, spear thistle. Originally from Eurasia, bull thistle is now established on every continent except Antarctica. The species was introduced to northeastern U.S. during colonial times and is now widespread throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to Wikipedia, "the leek, the thistle, and the shamrock, stand for the other three divisions of the British Isles. In the language of flowers, the thistle (like the burr) is an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character as well as of birth, for the wounding or provocation of a thistle yields punishment. For this reason the thistle is the symbol of the Order of the Thistle, a high chivalric order of Scotland." Bull thistle roots are sold commercially in Australia for rabbit bait. Some people find roots and young leaves tasty, providing the spines are removed. They are a favorite of our local Yellow Goldfinch, who pair for life.

"Sweet, Sweet violets. Sweeter than the roses..." Why some folks work so hard to eradicate these little beauties from their yards, it's beyond me. Back in the "olden" days, folks made use of nearly everything they could. And I remember my grandmother talking about making jelly out of wild violets! I ran across this link that shows just how to make violet jellyCan you imagine how beautiful they must of been in the canning jars! I've always been told that white, yellow and blue violets are edible (all but too much of the root), but according to the Peterson Field Guide, some of the yellow species are mildly cathartic. "The corm contains the polysaccharide inulin and thus must be cooked to be edible. Native Americans wrapped the bulbs in cattails and reeds then cooked them in a pit covered with earth over which a fire was burned. Ten to twelve hours in the hot pit would render the corms delicious."  They are often consumed as teas, greens, salads and the blossoms are made into candies! The yellow flowers can even be used to make wineI'm told!   

The next time your wandering in your yard or on a hike, try to view the wild flowers and local plants in a different light. :)

"And Botany I rank with the most valuable sciences, whether we consider its subjects as furnishing the principal subsistence of life to man and beast, delicious varieties for our tables, refreshments from our orchards, the adornments of our flower-borders, shade and perfume of our groves, materials for our buildings, or medicaments for our bodies." 
(October 7, 1814, to Thomas Cooper)

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