Archive for August 2010

More from Blithewold Poet-in-Residence   Leave a comment

More about the McKees to add to “Marvelous Cereus History,” and with thanks for Martha.

The McKees of  Blithewold were indeed affected by the Depression, Martha explained.  They did suffer reversals of a sort.  William Leander McKee  a “manufacturer” of leather, was forced to sell their Boston residence  when business declined.  The McKees then moved permanently to Blithewold, a not too shabby address, to be sure, but still a change in circumstances. Further, the McKees had to sell some 35 acres of their beautiful estate. Nevertheless, the parties continued.  As they should!

How long that enormous cereus survived, and how many parties it inspired, we do not know. Whether chopped chicken liver was later served instead of caviar, well, that we’ll leave to the archivists to uncover. What lingers in the imagination is the fragrance of 200 blooming cereus blossoms wafting out the greenhouse doors as guests came and went on a warm summer night in 1937,  having raised a glass to an exotic plant. A touch of the tropics in prim New England.

Advertisements

Posted August 14, 2010 by Canio's in history

Some marvelous Cereus history   Leave a comment

Dear friend Martha sent a clipping from the archives of the lovely Blithewold Estate. “Bristol’s Cereus Puts on Show” shouts the headline. An eye-popping photograph shows the trailing leaders of  a huge plant with about 29 flowers in bloom. The caption explains they are only a portion of the 200 or so that opened on a night-blooming Cereus in a greenhouse on the estate of a certain William L. McKee. This from the Providence Sunday Journal, August 8, 1937.

The article notes an “enthralled audience” gathered to enjoy the spectacle. It is reported that at about 8 p.m. the “gorgeous white blossoms began to expand from their green pods.” This corresponds to the time when our Blanca begins to move, give or take 20 to 30 minutes. A certain W.H. Owen, superintendent of the property had been caring for the plant over the previous 12 years and had become thoroughly acquainted with its habits. “He said he expected it to blossom several nights ago but it didn’t probably because it was bearing more blooms than ever before.”

By 8:30 p.m., it is reported, “fully 150 blooms, six inches in diameter and containing a circle of creamy yellow stamens within were exposed to view.”

“The flower bears some resemblance to a huge white tulip and exudes a powerful, sweet fragrance, completely permeating the atmosphere of the hothouse.”  This particular specimen, Mr. Owen explained, had been developed from a cutting brought from Peru 30 years previous.   The plant had spread the entire breadth of the building, some 14 feet.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Blithewold, the former estate of Mr. McKee. I strolled the beautiful grounds and visited its greenhouses with Martha, poet-in-residence there. No traces of the enormous Cereus were in evidence, yet the property boasts an impressive collection of trees and views of Narragansett Bay that make it a popular setting for wedding photographs.

It wasn’t hard to image this elaborate and romantic plant luring in late night visitors with its spectacular flowers and fragrance. Guests of Mr. and Mrs. McKee likely dressed for the occasion, perhaps in white, and perhaps sipped cocktails, maybe champagne. Bessie, the hostess and heiress and her husband were known for their gracious hospitality and carefully orchestrated parties for family and friends, according to Blithewold history. It would have been an elegant party, at which glasses may have tinkled, and ladies’ refined laughter mixed with the heady fragrance of 200 hundred exotic flowers, guests  insulated for a time from the Depression which those outside the gates might have been suffering under.  Such is the allure of the night-blooming Cereus.  She calls us like a Siren and we can do nothing but follow the sound of her beautiful voice wherever it may lead us.

Posted August 13, 2010 by Canio's in history

13 buds, August 13   Leave a comment

We missed the peak of the Pleiades’s meteor shower last night due to cloud cover, but we may have clearer viewing tonight. Meanwhile, Blanca has begun her third cycle of budding and is creating a little meteor shower of her own right here on the back deck.  This morning’s count includes 13 buds of at least one-inch on this prolific plant. Abundanza! Even her off-spring, this summer’s propagated plants sport buds, again. Five in all measure at least one inch. What wonders await!  We realize that as the buds lengthen some may drop off. Still we anticipate a late great summer extravaganza. Last year’s mid-October blooming showed off eight elaborate blossoms. Will this blooming cycle be a record breaker? Stay tuned!

Posted August 13, 2010 by Canio's in bud watch