When the instruments of war are melted into fish hooks,
When the factories of death are finally stilled
When evil is swallowed up in a hot wind
That strikes our names into the base of the uncharted sea,
A garden fed by the streams of longing will rise up.
In limestone crannies the forget-me-not takes root
And how quickly the sky-blue agapanthus,
Flower of all love, restores itself.
–from “Poem with Blue Agapanthus” by Meena Alexander
This summer’s garden has been both delightful and challenging. The delight came from all the plants that flowered this year for the first time. The challenge came from the weeds, familiar and unfamiliar, that flourished as well. Of all the beautiful blooms: roses, daylilies, peonies, irises, and many more; one plant above all stole my heart. This was Agapanthus africanus, also called “Lily of the Nile” and “African Lily”, although it isn’t a lily at all: it is a member of the Amaryllis family. Agapanthus is a native of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, The Cape of Good Hope is an integral part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. Agapanthus was introduced to Europe towards the end of the 17th century as a greenhouse plant.
The name “Agapanthus” comes from the Greek words Agape (love) and anthos (flower), so perhaps it’s no surprise that I fell in love with the tall, straight, leafless stems and the rounded, airy flowers of this gorgeous plant.
I’ve heard Agapanthus variously described as graceful, elegant, sophisticated, aristocratic and regal. This may have been the unconscious inspiration for the use of the colour red in my painting of the “Love Flower”. While the plant was flowering in my garden, I was reading Elizabeth Fremantle’s latest book, Watch The Lady. Set late in the reign of Elizabeth I, it is a tale of the difficulties of life for the highborn and the low. While the common people were dealing with starvation and plague, the nobility were enmeshed in the struggle to maintain wealth and position by gaining and keeping the favour of the Queen. This story may have revived my memory of the association between aristocracy and the colour red.
The meaning of colors worn during the Elizabethan era provided instant information about the person wearing them. A man or women who wore purple clothes would be immediately recognised as a member of royalty. Gold, silver, crimson or scarlet, deep indigo blue, violet colors and even deep black and pure white colors were only worn by the highest nobility in the land. . .Elizabethan women and men were not allowed to wear whatever color of clothes that they liked. It did not matter how wealthy they were – the color, fabric and material of their clothes were dictated by their rank, status or position and this was enforced by English Law. These laws about the color of clothes that men and women were allowed to wear in the Elizabethan era were called Sumptuary Laws.