Late Bloomer Gilds the LilyAugust 13, 2012
‘Clivia, oh Clivia, say have you met Clivia … Clivia the Tattooed Lady’.
OK, if you’re not a Marx Brothers’ fan, you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about. If you are a fan, please indulge me. It’s of course the wacky song Groucho sings in the 1937 film A Day at the Races.
Sometimes pronounced “clive” after their namesake Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, I much prefer the flower name to rhyme with “trivia’ – otherwise how could I possibly burst into song each year when they show themselves?
Who says gardens are dull in winter? Apart from my singing (and clivias) we’ve got an explosion of pale pink marguerite daisies, cymbidium orchids, violets, snowdrops, enormous calla lilies and gorgeous bearded irises that just keep on giving.
I love calla lilies and they’re especially striking this season, standing tall opposite the front door. I like to think we chose that position in keeping with the Romans who planted them inside the portal to their homes for a winter solstice bloom, simulating indoor sunlight for the darkest days of the year. The greater the display usually meant the wealthier the resident. We’re still playing Lotto with no success, so the display’s modest.
Such a versatile flower too: it’s both a symbol of fertility and death – used at weddings and also placed on graves. Or on female TV vampires in 1960s sitcoms as they slept corpse-like at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
American artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted some exquisite calla lilies in the early 1930s.
As for memorable calla lily film scenes, there’s a pearler in the 1937 comedy Stage Door, about a boarding house full of aspiring actresses and their dreams and disappointments.
“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower…” Can you guess the actress in the scene on this sound clip from Stage Door?
I’m a late bloomer, much to my mother’s delight. Neither of my parents were good gardeners, only growing an essential patch of north-east Italian radicchio and various herbs (see earlier post Secret Radicchio Society).
For a while, my mother tried her best, showing a talent for breaking off geranium stems, sticking them willy nilly in dry garden beds and hoping for the best. (I think she secretly wanted to create a bit of Tyrol in Sydney’s inner-west, bless her.) The result was a little sad until I took over and brought many neglected plants back to life.
I’ve left one geranium for her to tend round the back of the house. And I tend the lilies.
It’s a win-win really.
The photo at right is of my mother and me in 1960, in our Sunday best, standing proudly in front of a spider fern. Notice the ubiquitous geranium lurking in the background.