Wednesday, October 22, 2014
There’s a building there, somewhere
I often look at old photographs – postcards, pictures in mid-20th century books like those volumes about the regions of Britain published by Batsford, Victorian images – and I’m frequently struck by the way in which so many buildings are covered in vegetation. Ivy, Virginia creeper, and other boskage winds its way up walls, clings to window frames, aims for high battlements. Wisteria blossoms are blurred as they move in the breeze. Tendrils tap on window panes.
Today, conservation conscious, we’re more likely to strip away creeper and discourage this kind of threat to masonry and woodwork. Trees keep their distance. ‘Wisteria rhymes with hysteria.’* But flowers against a wall, even trailing ivy, can be good to look at. As the leaves turn in autumnal England, here’s an example I photographed a couple of months ago in Cookham, the town immortalized in the work of the artist Stanley Spencer.
Spencer, famous for his paintings of people, was also an exemplary painter of plants, flowers, fields, even of wisteria (‘Wisteria at Englefield’). I think he might have liked this display, with its splashes of colour that almost completely hide the building that supports them, a memory of summer as the nights draw in.
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* ‘Wisteria (Rhymes with Hysteria)’: the title of an essay by John Russell, The New York Times, 1980