Friday, September 27, 2013

Lydia- a Victorian Portrait

A picture from my antique photograph collection of women.  All that was written on the back of this photograph was Lydia. I purchased it from an antique store in Minden, Nevada. It looked like it was torn from an album, which just pains me no end! Her photo spoke to me; her intent gaze, the slight smile upon her lips, and a strong jaw. She looks elegant in her lace and large, beautiful, floral embellished hat but there is something rather small town about her. There is an interesting applique on the front of her gown that can be just slightly made out and a small pin at her throat. Lydia was lovely indeed!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Miss Crystal Beach

Miss Crystal Beach, Crystal Beach, Florida. Ca. 1925.

Look at this modern woman! I came across this postcard amongst my Grandmothers things. Note the cropped hairdo, the loose shirt and knee britches with socks and flat shoes. I love her relaxed, confident stance in the picture. No posing girlie-girl in a bathing suit! In fact rather a masculine shot.

Crystal Beach Florida was named for Crystal Beach, Ontario Canada and founded in 1912. It was founded by a Mr. Avery and a Mr. Rebstock. and their development company. Crystal Lake Beach in Canada was on Lake Erie and was a health spa at one time and an amusement park. It too was known for it's crystal cleat waters. Two gentleman from Texas then took over the development and laid out the streets in squares and they made a seaside parkway so that all the residents of the town could enjoy the beauty of the Gulf. These men were Dr. J.D. Hanby and Mr. A.D. Powers. "We will forever hold this strip of land as a park for the use of the residents of Crystal Beach." Florida in the 1920's was undergoing huge expansion as a destination and tourism area.. at least until the Stock market crashed in 29'.

My Grandmother, Signe Widestrand,  I discovered purchased property in St. Petersburg, Florida some time in the 1920's. She came from Sweden and apparently went to Florida on vacations with friends before she married my Grandfather (another Swede). She lived in New York City in the mid 20's. In fact, I have a rattlesnake skin that she said she shot while in Florida and she said they used to ride horses and go out shooting.  It's 6' long!

This postcard was sent to her from a friend also named Signe to an address in St. Petersburg and postmarked 1925. It asks when she would be coming up again. It is from Tarpon Springs, Florida which is only about  35 miles north of St Petersburg. I guess in those days thirty something miles was quite a day's journey.

I have not been able to find any information about this postcard or a Miss Crystal Beach, but it's fun nonetheless and I love the image. Think of the daring of the 1920's. The changing times. My own Grandmother wore a black, beaded, Flapper style wedding dress when she married in 1926. Our Grandmothers were inspired to dream then and they continue to inspire now.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Herb Lady of Coventry

Adelma Grenier Simmons, the First Lady of Herbs.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Adelma Grenier Simmons as she appeared seemingly to be floating down a garden path. In her long flowing cape and cap she looked like a ghost from the past and against the back drop of her colonial home ca. 1740 and the ancient trees and herb gardens I was instantly under her spell. Caprilands Herb Farm, her creation, was a magical place full of wonderful smells, beautiful vista's of farmland, lovingly tended herb gardens, and handcrafted food and decorations. My memories are perhaps rose colored but I found the place and Adelma an inspiration.

It was in the late 70's when my Mom and I discovered Caprilands in Coventry, CT. It was a lovely summers day and there was an inviting green lawn under large old trees the dark, colonial house  enveloped in green. People were laying on the lush grass relaxing after bike riding. It was a welcoming place. We were charmed by the 33 themed herb gardens. The Shakespearean with it's thyme, rosemary, chamomile, and Dianthus to name just a few. There was a Medieval garden, a Cook's Garden, a White Garden, a Silver garden, one dedicated to the Saints and one just to Bride's. So many gardens and so beautifully cared for; there was an area where they sold plants, a drying barn with bouquets of herbs hanging from the beams. Wreath's, garlands and swags were handmade and sold here as well and of course there were her many books and pamphlets. For a "budding" florist (pun intended) this place was heaven. We spent many summer's day there exploring over the next few years.

Drying barn at Caprilands.

Adelma Abbie Grenier was born December 16, 1903 in Sheldon, VT.  She was a buyer for the department store Steiger's.  It was one of those elegant stores that you went to downtown to shop and look at Christmas decorations. Apparently, she came across the abandoned farm in Coventry and purchased it with her parents in 1930.  She tried a number of things before herb farming.  She started with a small herd of some 50 or so goats.  That proved to be too hard and she sold them eventually. In fact, Caprilands is Latin for goat land.  She then tried farming but after losing all her crops one season she noticed that the only plants that thrived were herbs. Soon she was focusing on the production of herbs and the farm grew over 300 variety's. By the 1950's she was serving lunch inspired by herbs and using herbs from her gardens. Adelma wrote her first book in 1963, "Herb Gardening in Five Seasons."  All in all she published over 50 books and pamphlets on herbs, herbal craft, wreathes and decorating, folklore and cookbooks. She delighted in sharing her knowledge and stories with her visitors and gave daily one hour lectures after the luncheon. She became known as the "First Lady of Herbs." One of my favorite passages from "Herbs Through the Seasons at Caprilands" is the following;
"In the last days of November, when it would be pleasanter perhaps to stay by the fire, I start down the hillside with a basket to fill with herbs for making wreathes, part of the gardens contribution to Christmas decoration."

I can see the New England farmland and woods in November, it has a special light to the sky. It is my birth month. As kids we used to go into the woods to pick Princess Pine (in the days that you still could) to make wreaths and garlands. Sometimes we'd go out into the fields to pick dock, milk weed pods and dried grasses to decorate the house. Later in my life inspired by Adelma I studied the symbolism and folklore behind herbs and flowers to incorporate them into my floral designs.

Published in 1963.

I loved Adelma's book "A Witches Brew" and "The Strawberry Book" and used the recipes she shared to make our holidays extra special. I remember we tried to go to Adelma's luncheons but there was always a waiting list. Her food and service were legendary. Eventually my family was transferred back to California where I lived for the next 30 years so I never got to go back to Caprilands. Adelma passed away at the age of 93 December 3,1997.

Sadly I have since read that Caprilands has closed and is in a sad state. Litigation, family disputes and lawyers have lost sight of Adelma's vision and purpose. Perhaps it was her will, love and intent that kept the organization focused and moving forward. Her presence, her wit and knowledge were of course part of the draw...people were naturally drawn to her. She was Caprilands. I cherish the books that I have, autographed in her elegant handwriting, wishing me Magic in the Garden. Adelma's ashes were scattered on the grounds where they mingle with the great White Ash tree roots. She is forever a part of the land that she so loved and loved to share. Many thanks!

Adelma Grenier Simmons.

''Silver rosemary is good for mind and memory, in case you have need of that,'' she once told a visiting group. ''It's also good in tea. If you don't like that, you can wash your hair with it. If that doesn't work, you can wash your dog's hair with it.''  The wit of Adelma!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Paddling your Own Canoe

Here is another look into my autograph book collection. This one belonged to Alice Irene Renwick from Merlin, Ontario Canada. She went to the Merlin Continuation School. The book dates from Oct. 21, 1929 which I discovered was Alice's birthday. She was 16 years old at this time. Her parents were David and Jeanette Fraser Renwick. You'll be able to tell right away that times had changed from the earlier more formal and proper Victorian entries. These are more playful, casual and definitely more risqué. Alice wrote in the beginning;

School mates, friends, companions dear,
All your names are welcome here,
And all who love me I invite
In this book to write-

 My favorite has to be the following;

        In the parlor there were three,
        He, the parlor lamp and she.
        Two's company without a doubt,
        So the parlor lamp went out.
                      Olive Armstrong

When you are married
and mending britches
Think of me between
the stitches.
 Your pal- Gladys Graham

When you get a husband
And he is a clipper
Just make him acquainted
with the toe of your slipper.
  Your classmate-Manon G.

They were also fond of little one liners;

Yours till Lake Erie wears brown derbies instead of white caps.

Yours till horse's neck.

Yours till the side walks.

Of course there were still some that were sentimental;

        Friendship is a silver cord,
        which binds two friends together.
        And if this cord we never break
        We shall be friends forever.
              Lois Trevaskis

A teacher Margaret V. Skene wrote;

          Cultivate beautiful things, beautiful thoughts, beautiful deeds, beautiful surroundings.

I love the more independent and feminist spirit of the time.

Love many
Trust few
Always paddle
Your own canoe.

Your friend, Nancy