Nature-Based Learning: Lily-of-the-Valley

In shade gardens across the Hilltowns, Lily-of-the-Valley makes its debut in mid to late May. This delicate, fragrant flower is rich in folklore and goes by many names. Learning through the lens of Lily-of-the-Valley, let the different names of this spring flower start as your guide for learning this week.

CHRISTIAN LORE: Names like “Mary’s Tears” and “Our Lady’s Tears” are associated with Christian Lore. Can you think of other flowers that are also related to Christian Lore? Have you ever heard of a Mary Garden? The University of Dayton has a list of “Flowers of Mary’s Sorrows” that are typically grown in a Mary Garden and can support learning about religion through folklore.

FOLKLORE: Pagan folklore associations can be found in the origins of alternative names of Lily-of-the-Valley, like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Ladder to Heaven.” In Irish folklore, the bell-shaped flowers of Lily-of-the-Valley were drinking cups for fairies. When Ireland converted to a new Christian-based belief system, these two alternative names with roots in paganism took hold.

WORLD CULTURE & HISTORY: In ancient European cultures, the Lily-of-the-Valley was thought to protect homes and gardens and to bring good luck when brought into a home. Even today in France, May 1st is a public holiday, La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). Let this annual observation day lead your learning about French history and culture! La Fête du Muguet is a tradition that dates back to the reign of King Charles IX in 1561. In more recent history, this fragrant flower has been linked to the worker’s rights movement, where they were worn on the lapels while participating in protests and marches.

ART STUDIES & MINDFULNESS: Lily-of-the-Valley has caught the eye of many artists. Looking through the lens of this delicate flower, let it lead you to learn about art history through the many depictions of Lily-of-the-Valley, including paintings by Marc Chagall and Albert Durer Lucas. Study how these artists interpreted the color and texture of this flower and see if you can find what they saw within your own observation of Lily-of-the-Valley closer to home. Photographing and sketching, or just sitting and observing, can train your eye to notice the nuances of light and shadow, shades of white in the flower, and tones of green in the leaves. Get up-close and give the flower a sniff. Does smell engage any other senses? Might you also interpret smells with colors, sounds, or tastes? These mindful moments make your learning relevant to where you live, connecting lessons with a sense of place through the senses, and through the seasons.

Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield


Nature-Based Learning with Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

Nature-Based Learning: Early May Buds & Blossoms

It was Albert Einstein, who said, “Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” During the spring, as nature bursts into bloom, help deepen your connection to which Einstein hinted by looking towards the emerging blossoms of flowering plants purposefully planted in gardens or self-seeded in the crevices of sidewalks or manicured lawns. Every spring, flower buds emerge and unfold into inviting blossoms, an annual appearance rooted in the seasons of the past. We can “look deep” into that past to learn about botany, ecology, art, and history. But to “understand everything better,” the beauty of a flower invites us into the present moment where it can spark reverence and capture faith in the process of bud to bloom to seed. It is there our understanding of “everything” can awaken.

 

 

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This spring, pick a flowering plant nearest you and spend a mindful moment with it every day. Use your camera or sketchpad to capture it’s unfolding process. Notice its pattern of opening, relationship with pollinators, variants of colors and tones, textures, and smells. Welcome a flowering tulip tree, azalea bush, or dandelion plant into your daily observations and appreciations. Use your senses to connect with the essence of your chosen plant and pair it with self-directed learning about plant science or natural history. Blending the two not only supports place-based education, but it also strengthens a sense of place through the cultivation of respect for nature’s process and, ultimately, “understanding everything better.”


Nature-Based Learning with Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

Fall Chrysanthemum Show at Smith Offers Community-Based Learning

Budding Botanists Will Love This Show at Smith College Botanic Garden

It might be chilly outside, but Smith College’s greenhouses in Northampton are bursting with color this time of year! Annually, with the month of November, comes The Botanic Garden of Smith College’s Fall Chrysanthemum Show, an exhibition filled with colorful mums of all shapes and sizes (some as large as eight inches across!). Budding botanists will love exploring the greenhouse and inspecting blossoms to learn about chrysanthemums.

Of particular interest at the show is the showcase of hybrid mums created by students in Smith College’s horticulture class. Every year, the mum show includes blooms engineered by students specifically for characteristics like petal shape, color, and/or size. Hybrid blooms are created by hand-pollinating blossoms, a process that requires careful attention to be paid to the plants’ reproductive process. Visitors to the show can view the students’ hybrid flowers and vote for their favorite of the original blooms. The competition has been going on for nearly a century, and past winners’ blooms can be viewed in an online gallery. Take a look at the archived blossoms and try to guess what the flowers whose genetic material was hybridized might have looked like! Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Chrysanthemum Show at Smith Offers Community-Based Learning

Budding Botanists Will Love This Show at Smith College Botanic Garden

It might be chilly outside, but Smith College’s greenhouses in Northampton are bursting with color this time of year! Annually, with the month of November, comes The Botanic Garden of Smith College’s Fall Chrysanthemum Show, an exhibition filled with colorful mums of all shapes and sizes (some as large as eight inches across!). Budding botanists will love exploring the greenhouse and inspecting blossoms to learn about chrysanthemums.

Of particular interest at the show is the showcase of hybrid mums created by students in Smith College’s horticulture class. Every year, the mum show includes blooms engineered by students specifically for characteristics like petal shape, color, and/or size. Hybrid blooms are created by hand-pollinating blossoms, a process that requires careful attention to be paid to the plants’ reproductive process. Visitors to the show can view the students’ hybrid flowers and vote for their favorite of the original blooms. The competition has been going on for nearly a century, and past winners’ blooms can be viewed in an online gallery. Take a look at the archived blossoms and try to guess what the flowers whose genetic material was hybridized might have looked like! Read the rest of this entry »

Flowers ❥ Happy Bouquets in the Pioneer Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 16, Flowers

Very often at Tuesday Market I come with camera and snap photos of flowers. In fact, often that’s the only thing I photograph at the market. (Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

It hit me yesterday at the Tuesday Market how much the flowers around here mean to me. I’m not a big bouquet person (although, as you read on, ask yourself why didn’t she buy some of these flowers she fell in love with?). I enjoy when we have flowers on the table, but then, they wilt and droop and dry up and eventually we toss ‘em and I think I didn’t care about them correctly and I certainly didn’t dispose of them quickly enough.

I think maybe because I walk so many places, my main enjoyment of flowers comes in motion. I loop around the Smith campus often, near the greenhouse and that’s like a living bouquet or very still performance art along a fence (hat tip to Jeff, the gardener there). Many neighbors have lovely gardens. It’s fun to see the first snowdrops and to make up haiku about irises and those floozies the peonies (I love when flowers bring words to mind like that, floozies.). Over the years, I’ve gotten more attuned to the way colors move in waves, the whites, yellows and purples bleed into the pinks and magentas to the orange and red tiger lilies and on, the black eyed Susans and sunflowers with their hearty rays and dark centers. Textures shift. The flowers’ march across spring and summer and fall evoke memories of visits to San Francisco and Berkeley and Oakland with their microclimates. Change is dramatic and subtle all at once. It’s so distinguishable.

As a person who prefers the temperate seasons—and truthfully, a more temperate climate—I am surprised again and again that I actually notice these flowers with such attentiveness and that I adore them so much. Grateful to gardeners and wildflowers, grateful to a part of the world that holds so much fullness each year—the rounds from first flowers to last, I guess I wouldn’t trade this. Except, perhaps in January or February, when I’d give almost anything for a balmy breeze.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

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