Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Book Society’

SWLA exhibition in Aberlady and Sasha Dugdale’s “Joy”.

March 1, 2018

The latest exhibition at Waterston House, home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, is a stunner. The quality bar has been raised for this exhibition as it is organised by the Society of Wildlife Artists and contains an outstanding selection of paintings by the cream of British wildlife artists. I chose to contact two of the artists which I have not featured here on the blog and they both responded immediately, sending me samples of their work at the exhibition. Firstly, Brin Edwards is a painter, illustrator and teacher who is based in Suffolk. In the first painting below, your eye firstly goes to the brilliant range of colours – of the different parts of the ducks, of the water and of the vegetation. Then you see the various patterns on the ducks’ feathers and in the water. This is a group of individual wigeon, which have the delightful scientific name of Anas Penelope. Each bird has its own slightly different colour and feather pattern but, as you can see by the open beaks and staring eyes, they are definitely interacting. This painting really does stand out in the exhibition and shows the artist’s superb technique in capturing the colour and the movement of the ducks.

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Wigeon Interactions by Brin Edwards (Click on all photos to enlarge)

In the second painting by Brin Edwards below, we see the artist taking a different approach. When you first see this painting, it is the blossom and branches that catch your eye, as they are depicted in a bright but slightly hazy manner. Then you see the bird, with its sharp features and looking happy to be camouflaged by the foliage behind it. The Pied Flycatcher, which has the less romantic  scientific name Ficedula hypleuca, and comes to the UK in the summer, is shown here in what is an almost abstract setting, as if the viewer is looking through gauze. It is a startling effect and makes you look closer. The two selected paintings from the exhibition show what a high quality artist Brin Edwards undoubtedly is.

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Spring Pied Flycatcher by Brin Edwards

The second artist I chose was Richard Johnson, originally from the north east of England and now based in Cambridge. He is a bird painter and book illustrator. The first Johnson painting below shows that he is a more naturalistic painter of birds than Brin Edwards, so has a different approach. You cannot compare the two artists’ style i.e. one is not better than the other. What you can say is that Richard Johnson’s paintings show the same high level artistry as that of his fellow SWLA member. This watercolour is of a male cuckoo, with the amusing sounding scientific name of cuculus canorus. It is an intriguing painting, as there appears to be some motion on the bird’s part. Has it just landed or is it about to take off? Johnson has a great ability to show the detail of the cuckoo’s feathers, with their contrasting patterns and I liked the way that the tail feathers were shown as sharp-pointed to the right and fan-like to the left. You also have to admire the colours, shapes and patterns in the branches and tree trunk next to the bird. There’s a mesmerising entanglement here and it is to the artist’s credit that he draws our eye to the detail of the woodland setting.

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Richard Johnson Male Cuckoo

The second painting is of a broad-billed sandpiper aka Limicola falcinellus. At first, this looks a simple painting but this view is to underestimate Richard Johnson’s ability to draw our eye to the lines – dotted and straight – in the painting. Everything is sharp about this sandpiper – the beak, what looks like a shaved line on its forehead which some modern footballers have, the flowing marks on its breast and the neatly constructed feathers. The back of the bird reminded me of a shell e.g. on a tortoise or armadillo. The thin but sturdy looking legs again suggest movement and there is concentration in that keen eye. Richard Johnson’s birds show his amazing skills and will always delight the viewer.

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Richard Johnson Broad-billed Sandpiper

This really is a must-see exhibition, so please spread the word and if you are anywhere near East Lothian, make your way to Waterston House and be amazed and delighted.

Sasha Dugdale’s book of poems Joy is the latest PBS Choice. The title poem Joy features Catherine, the widow of the poem William Blake. She is distressed by his death and feels isolated. Her memories are more positive and she remembers “The walls are wordless. There is a clock ticking./ I have woken up from a dream of abundant colour and joy/ I see his face and he is a shepherd and a piper and a god”. This long poem is presented as if Catherine is sitting on a stage, giving a monologue. She is angry at her husband for dying – “What right did you have? …. And here I am. Your helpmate… your Kate … Bonded to nothing./ How I ache, how I ache”. The poem is a powerful reflection on her marriage and how she feels abandoned by those who once feted her husband. Despite the book’s title, many of the poems involve people looking on the dark side of life. In Canoe, the people who set out on the canoe are never seen again and there houses are vandalised. Dugdale has some striking images  e.g. “.. there was nothing to see except white fog/ and the white sun which reflected itself in every droplet”. In Kittiwake, the poet begins “Your jizz, little gull is the traveller’s / jizz, the wanderer, who sees the black, flecked ocean/ barren like the steppe”. In this context, jizz is a birding term for the characteristic of a bird. This is an intriguing books of poetry and highly recommended by the PBS and by me.

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Joy by Sasha Dugdale, PBS Choice

The kittiwake poem neatly gives me an excuse to repost a couple of photos of kittiwakes nesting on the walls of Dunbar Castle (good photos).

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Kittiwakes at Dunbar Castle

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Kittiwake family at Dunbar Castle

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Darren Woodhead exhibition and Pascal Petit’s Mama Amazonica

December 10, 2017

The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady is by Darren Woodhead, a very well known and respected wildlife artist. This is a stunning exhibition, with the visitor impressed and intrigued from the first painting of Long-tailed Tits in Hawthorn (reviewed below) , to butterflies, geese landing over Aberlady Bay (good photos) and bee-eaters in Nottinghamshire (includes video). There is so much to see that a second visit will be necessary. I contacted the artist and he kindly allowed me to download two of his paintings. The first painting is a riot of colour, with the pink and red hawthorn berries immediately catching your eye – and the berries are depicted as lush, juicy and a feast for the birds. Then you see the bird themselves, nestling in the branches, well-camouflaged in their more subtle colours, but no less attractive for that. I really do like and appreciate the rather hazy parts of the painting – this is not photo-realism, but Darren Woodhead’s exquisite interpretation of what he sees when painting this busy scene.

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Long-tailed tits in the hawthorn by Darren Woodhead

The second painting features birds seen in this part of the country in winter – the fieldfare and the waxwing with the latter often seen in flocks (good photos). This is another very active scene with the birds, in particular the resplendent fieldfare, busy feeding on the buckthorn, which is called “the baked bean tree” around here. The painting also captures the very spiky nature of the buckthorn bush and it is this spikiness that can protect birds from predators. So, another rush of colour which takes your eye across the painting, with the spots on the birds not unlike berries. The artist also captures the elegance of these birds very well. The exhibition is on until mid January, so if you can get to see it, you will be wonderfully rewarded by a show by one of our finest wildlife artists.

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Fieldfare and waxwing among buckthorn by Darren Woodhead

From nature at its most colourful and joyful to a portrayal of nature which is both beautiful but also savage. Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica is a PSB Choice and it is one of the most intriguing and disturbing books of poetry I have ever read. The setting of the poems is a psychiatric ward where the poet’s mother is a patient. This is accompanied by a second setting – the Amazonian rainforest – and the poet’s interpretation of her mother as being transformed into a range of animals that inhabit the rainforest. We also learn of the mother’s trauma at the way her husband viciously treated her before and after the marriage. So, it is often a painful read but at the same time, it is often astonishingly beautiful in its depiction of the  rainforest’s animals. For example, in the title poem which begins “Picture my mother as a baby, afloat/on a waterlily leaf”. The mother is transformed into the flower in the jungle and, as a representation of her mother’s illness, “She hears the first roar/ of the howler monkey,/ then the harpy eagle’s swoop,/ crashing through the galleries of leaves,/ the sudden snatch/ then the silence in the troop”. Further poems outline how the mother was initially raped by the father and further mistreated, and when I read the poems – only a few at a time – I wondered if I should continue, but there is relief in many of the poems, which celebrate the wild. In My Mother’s Dressing Gown, the poet writes “Her face was an axed mahogany./ Her hands emerged from emerald sleeves/ to meet on the table, talons tensed,/ like a puma challenging a tayra”. We are presented with a superb metaphor but also – and this happens often – sent to the dictionary to identify an animal. A tayra is a large weasel. In a subsequent poem, in trying to describe  her mother’s illness, mania is seen as a side effect – “Imagine a mother with a mind/ hyper as a rainforest,/ the ward echoing with/ whoops of titi monkeys”. A new species of this monkey was recently discovered. In short, this amazing book of poems can delight, disgust and educate and while it is a challenging read, it often rewards the reader with spectacular images. Try it – even the cover is intriguing.

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Mama Amazonica by Pascale Petit

 

 

More Sinead Morrisey poems and Madrid’s magnificent architecture

October 12, 2017

 I have just finished reading Sinead Morrisey’s remarkable book of poems entitled On Balance”. In a previous post, I focused on the first poem in the collection The Millihelen which has been widely praised. For the rest of the book, Morrissey maintains this high standard with telling insights and memorable phrases. In Nativity which is about parents watching children in such a play, has these lines:

“mums and dads on loan from their workaday offices;/ littler brothers and sisters crashed out in pushchairs/ and parked along the aisle like outsize baggage”

The imagery continues later in the poem “… we are left/ with a row of just-licked-by-a cow-looking boys/ in dressing gowns, Mary in a dress, Immanuel/ in his cradle, low-key and ineffable …”.

In Meteor shower, “..and the stars in behind/ shining steady as lighthouses/ and yes, not once but twice/ – there and then there -/ dust on fire at the edge/ of Earth’s flaying atmosphere,/ scoring its signature”. The word “flaying” makes these lines, suggesting chaos. There are a sequence of poems entitled “Whitelessness” which looks at how different scientists might view Greenland. The Geologist finds ” .. the ridges of human teeth:/some early Palaeolithic adolescent caught/ grinning at the moment of death/ in a stone photograph”. The Photographer observes: “The red earth holds up/ a rainbow in its outstretched hands”. As The Geographer studies the earth, “Ridiculously/ overdressed, two musk ox trundle past. / We must sound enormous – / …. but they blank us nevertheless”. These are just a few examples from the book, which rightly won The Forward Prize for Poetry in 2017. It also has a beautiful cover. Get a hold of it if you can, preferably by buying it from the Poetry Book Society.

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On Balance by Sinead Morrissey (Click to enlarge all photos)

Where to begin with Madrid’s magnificent architecture? I’m concentrating on the older buildings and monuments, but there’s an excellent slide show of modern architecture here (good photos). Our apartment, with its high ceilings and cornices, beautiful parquet flooring in different designs, had two large windows, each with a small balcony which looked across the to Palacio Cibeles. You can sit in the outside bar at the top of the building for 4 euro per person and we enjoyed a glass of wine there one evening, as well as the stunning views across the city, in the photos below. The first photo looks down on the Casa America (good photos) and on to one of the modern art deco influenced buildings behind.

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Looking across Madrid from the Palacio Cibeles

The 2nd photo looks down on the extensive army headquarters, known as the Buenavista Palace and we were unfortunate to miss the Changing of the Guard (good photos).

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Looking towards the Buenavista Palce and woods from the Palacio Cibeles

Not far from the Palacio Cibeles, you come across one of the many puerta or gates to the city of Madrid. The photos below show the Puerta de Alcala, a magnificent structure ordered to be built by Carlos III, King of Spain in 1778. Carlos was obviously not a man to do things by half and the puerta dominates this part of the city. On the right of the puerta is the Retiro Park, featured here last week.

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Puerta de Alcala, Madrid

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Top of the Puerta de Alcala, Madrid

Madrid city centre is teeming with stunning buildings, from the apartments on the Gran Via (good photos) – 2 photos below – to the umpteen churches and palaces – too many to mention here. The Gran Via is Madrid’s busiest street, best avoided at weekends.

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Apartments on the Gran Via, Madrid

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Apartments on the Gran Via, Madrid

The Plaza Major is often described as being at the heart of Madrid and it certainly is beautiful square, comparable in terms of the buildings/apartments, to St Mark’s Square in Venice. Again, if you go at weekends, you might never see the square properly, as there are so many tourists, but go midweek and you’ll be able to appreciate its grandeur to the full.

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Plaza Major, Madrid

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Plaza Major, Madrid

Tracey Herd poems, crocus show and shiny sea

February 27, 2016

Last week, the new Poetry Book Society padded envelope came through the letter box, with the new Choice inside. I didn’t (and haven’t) opened it as I still hadn’t started the previous one, Tracey Herd’s Not in this World. I heard Ms Herd speak at the Royal Festival Hall in January – see previous post – at the T S Eliot Prize readings. Herd has some arresting images in her work which is often quite dark, not to say menacing. In the first poem What I Wanted “There was a muffled/ silence each night when/ darkness married with snow”. In the 3rd poem Little Sister, the younger sibling of the narrator from America’s Midwest is killed “in a moonlit road accident”. The final 2 lines are hauntingly ambiguous “She was pushed in front of a car./ I pray to God for my own salvation”. In The Living Library, a woman’s bookshelves are filled with crime novels and the books are “sitting/ well-mannered on the shelf,/ pushed in tight to keep/ their suave murderers inside/ their victims’ choked cries unheard”. I’m only at p20 of 73 pages, so I’ll come back to Ms Herd.

 

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Tracey Herd Not in this World

Last month it was snowdrops, so this month it must be crocuses. There is some debate about whether it should be crocuses or croci as the plural of crocus, but as that word is mainly thought to be originally from the Greek then, as my Latin teacher Mr Jack Milne would have said, it can’t be croci. Around Dunbar over the past few years, there has been a welcome upsurge in the planting of spring flowers by the local council and, just up the road from me at Spott Road, there has been a sudden growth of bright yellow on the grass next to the pavement. The crocus flavus – to give it its Sunday name – originated in Greece and Turkey and the ancient Greeks saw it as a bringer of cheerfulness and joy in the late winter – it is thought, although I’m never too sure about the veracity of some websites on this. Emily Dickinson’s poem LXXXIV starts with “The feet of people walking home/ With gayer sandals go-/ The Crocus-till she rises/ The Vassal of the snow”. An interesting take on the crocus being a vassal as this was a feudal tenant who was granted land by a nobleman in return for loyalty and perhaps military service. Even although the crocus is in the earth, Dickinson sees the snow as its master – until of course, she rises.

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Crocuses at Spott Road Dunbar

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Crocuses at Spott Road Dunbar

Having taken photos of the crocuses, I walked back down Golf House Road, near my house, to the beach. You could hear the waves before you saw them – an incessant, unstoppable  thundering. When I got to the promenade, the late afternoon sun was shining on the waves a bit out to sea and there was a superb light on the waves. This is very hard to capture i.e. with my limited photographic skills, but I tried. Hart Crane in his poem Voyages writes “The sun beats lightning on the waves,/ The waves fold thunder on the sand” and this beautifully describes what I was watching. I met my friend John who was coming along the prom and he said “Look at this! How lucky are we to have this on our doorstep?”. Very lucky indeed.

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Sun on the waves

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Rocks and the incoming sun-kissed tide

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

M C Escher, Mark Doty and garden shapes

September 25, 2015

A fascinating programme on TV this week, with Roger Penrose examining the work of one of his heroes, the artist/designer M C Escher. In the programme, which is only available to UK viewers on IPlayer. However, for those of you outside the UK, there are 4 clips from the programme (I’m hoping that you can access these). The most interesting to me was Ascending and Descending aka The never-ending staircase. When you look at this print (see below), Penrose notes that “the monks appear to be going nowhere” as the stairs are endless. Escher also produced fascinating tessellations and in another clip, Penrose points out how Escher’s design replicates the angels and devils in the print. For Penrose, this echoes his own mathematical studies of shapes and for the lay person, it presents a fascinating series of replications which seem to blend into each other. An exhibition of Escher’s work is currently on (but ends this weekend) at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Escher's Ascending and Descending (Posted in accordance with fair use principles)

Escher’s Ascending and Descending (Posted in accordance with fair use principles)

The latest Poetry Book Society Choice is Deep Lane by the American poet Mark Doty. These are very personal poems and the poet covers a wide range of topics but I’m enjoying the nature-related poems best so far. In one of the seven poems entitled Deep Lane “Later a storm blows down the moraine/ crisp and depth-charged with ozone and exhilaration” and continues further on “leaves circling in air like the great curtain of bubbles/blown by the humpback to encircle the delicious schools”. In King of Fire Island, the poet tells of a deer which comes to their garden and has lost the hoof of one leg. “A hoof’s a deft accomplishment,/ that hard-sheened shoe of blue-black carbon”.

Having seen the Penrose programme and having taken more photos in the garden, I became more aware of the shapes in the photos. In the first photo, the edges of the gladiolus flower are fan-like or like the edges of a scallop shell.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

In the 2nd photo, the bee’s wings have several different shapes within the overall shape of the wings, which look as if they might have been stuck on as an addition maybe for a fancy dress party.

Bee close up

Bee close up

In the 3rd photo, the petals of the begonia flower do seem to be replicated, as in Escher’s work but they don’t appear to have symmetricality of Escher’s angels, although there does seem to be some symmetry in the 4th photo – a close up of a hydrangea head.

Begonia flower

Begonia flower

Hydrangea head

Hydrangea head

The Beautiful Librarians, Le Tour ends and sweet peas

July 28, 2015

I’ve just finished reading The Poetry Book Society’s Choice –  The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien a professor at Newcastle University and well established British poet. For me, an educator of librarians in universities in Scotland and Australia for 34 years, the title was alluring, of course. As a member of the Poetry Book Society, I get sent 4 books a year – not chosen by me. O’Brien’s book is a mixture of what might be nostalgia and class consciousness “Scattered comrades now remember: someone stole the staffroom tin/ Where we collected for the miners, for the strike they couldn’t win”  and comic interludes such as in Old Lads at the Ramshill Hotel “.. these wobbly suitors with their grease-grey quiffs/ And suits that are older than they are”. The title poem, superbly analysed by Carol Rumens is also a nostalgic look back to when O’Brien was a student. The poem begins “The beautiful librarians are dead,/ The fairly recent graduates who sat/ Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters/ With cardigans across their shoulders/ On quiet evenings at the issue desk,/Stamping books and never looking up/ At where I stood in adoration”. The reference to Francoise Hardy is very meaningful to me because, as a teenager, I was lovestruck by Ms Hardy’s stunning looks and vertigo inducing French voice, such as in the song All Over the World. Some of the poems in this collection appeared to be very clever but lacked depth, while others were superb – try it for yourself.

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien

So, another Tour de France has come to an end. Three weeks of aching ascents and death-defying descents has thrilled millions of people across the globe and not just cycling enthusiasts. My cycling pal John maintains that even watching the cyclists go up some the high climbs such as La Croix de Fer (video) makes his legs feel sore. It was great to have a British winner again in Chris Froome and there were many exciting finishes. I’ve been wearing my Guardian cycling T Shirts recently but I was surprised – and shocked – at so many people not knowing what the third word in the slogan (photo below) originally was. As ever, I’ve promised my self that I’ll do more hills from now on, inspired by the teams on Le Tour. I would advise you to watch this space, but …..

Le Tour de France T shirt

Le Tour de France T shirt

My wife’s running partner brought us a beautiful bunch of sweet peas freshly cut from her garden. These flowers not only have soft but attractive colours but they also have a lovely perfume. These delicate flowers do not last very long but make a lasting impression as in the photos below, and some of the pinks were replicated in a rose I saw in a garden only yesterday.

Jar of sweet peas

Jar of sweet peas

Sweet peas close up

Sweet peas close up

Rose with burgeoning buds

Rose with burgeoning buds