Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Periwinkle and the quality of reserve

click photo to enlarge
"One of the attractive things about flowers is their beautiful reserve."
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), U.S. author, poet, philosopher etc.

When I first came across this quotation I immediately thought of the many flowers that are all showy flamboyance, blooms that exhibit absolutely no reserve - such as the the candy striped pinks in our garden. However, what I thought most interesting was not the accuracy or otherwise of the observation but the fact that Thoreau, an American, chose to call "reserve" beautiful. Reserve isn't a characteristic that the rest of the world associates with people from the United States; from Britain, definitely, but not America. And yet there will be people in both countries that not only display these qualities but also admire them. One might think that in the one hundred and fifty or so years since Thoreau wrote those words that both cultures have changed in significant ways. Ask anyone in Britain if the reserve shown by the lead characters of a film such as "Brief Encounter" (1945) are still prevalent today and the likely response is "No". However, personal privacy and control of emotions, two key characteristics of reserve, are still quite strong national traits that are passed down the generations, despite older people viewing the young as  more open, emotional, vociferous and gregarious than they were fifty years ago. Is reserve a quality that was formerly more common and admired in the United States than it is today? I don't know, but I'd be interested to find out.

Growing in the shade of a maple tree in our garden is some purple/blue periwinkle (Vinca major). This plant makes good ground cover in such a location, requires little attention, and at this time of year puts out beautiful sapphire coloured flowers that positively glow against its dark green leaves. When I saw it the other day the words of Thoreau came to mind. This isn't a showy plant glowing with reds, yellows and oranges like the pelargonium, nasturtium, gaillardia or rose. To my mind it is one of those beautiful unassuming, "reserved" plants that Thoreau perhaps had in mind when he made his observation. This particular bloom caught my eye because it seemed to have placed itself in a frame of its own leaves as it waited for a passing photographer.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On