Margaret Farr's Story Behind the Art

Some thoughts on Nigella damascena
A dip into Alice Morse Earle's Old Time Gardens reveals that "Love-in-a-mist" (not to be confused of course with "Love in a huddle" -(Euphorbia cyparissias)!) has also over time and in various places, gone by "Love-in-a-puzzle", "Love in a tangle", and "Devil in a bush". Leaving the Devil aside, why do we love this flower, as seemingly did the Colonials and so many others  since its introduction into the western garden even before 1570?  (There is a drawing by J. le Moyne de Morgues in the Victoria and Albert Museum dated 1568.)
I've grown it in my garden for years.  What appeals to me no doubt appealed to the Bartrams.  First off, it's blue, and really blue, that so rare and treasured summer garden color.  Get out the cobalt!  Add to that, easy to grow--not a bit picky about soil and moisture--and a prolific producer of seeds.  Those fall pods are literally bursting with them--what a moneymaker for the nurseryman.
From an artist's point of view, despite the flimsy nature of the leaves and stems, the efflorescence in all of its stages has a beefy, sculptural quality with almost classical references--acanthus leaves come to mind.  Another moniker in fact, is "Katherine's flower"--referring to a wheel (on which the saint was martyred.)  The organization of the plant is largely symmetrical at each stage, and its life cycle proceeds likewise with an organized "symmetry": from globe-shaped bud to globe-shaped seedpod, with a stunning blue starburst in the intervening weeks.  Upon close observation, a delightful and fascinating little plant.  Until it came to my attention on the Bartrams' list, I had no idea of the historic continuum which it represented, lolling about out there amidst my marigolds.
It is a privilege to be able to paint a plant with such a legacy, and to do so we owe homage to the feisty immigrants who, frequently with the cares of the their families, themselves, and the world on their shoulders, thought to tuck in some ornamental garden seeds whilst packing out, with hopes of a "happy garden" on the other side.  Likewise, to such as the Bartrams, who ensured the heritage of such long standing favorites here in America, so that well over 200 years later, I am able to find the same joy in painting this plant as did an artist in 1568!
NEXT Story
BACK to list


  • (C) Margaret Farr