The Peony: Unforgettable Ephemeral Beauty

The Peony: Unforgettable Ephemeral Beauty

Peonies visit the garden each June. They blossom for a short while, filling the garden with a quiet beauty that although understated, lasts in memory well beyond the short weeks they live. As I write this, the peonies have already left, and I wait for their ephemeral beauty to return next year.

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Reading My June Garden

There are gardeners who see their gardens as works of art, paintings by nature that keep changing with each season, each day even, depending on the weather, light, and disposition of each plant and flower.

Although I like to photograph my garden and its many moods and changes, it is when I can sit and simply gaze at the flowers and plants around me that I am most happy.

I like to read my garden. By that I mean that by being attentive to the garden and observing how each plant and flower grows, I get to know their individual moods, likes and dislikes.  It helps me understand human relationships and their infinitesimal variety by associating people with plants and flowers.

My garden is mostly a perennial garden with different types of Hosta, sturdy and reliable, filling out the garden, year after year, lovers of shade, but burning with too much sun exposure; Peonies that grace the garden in June for a few weeks at the most, delicate and falling apart with the slightest disturbance of wind and rain; Irises, with long stalks that soon droop within days of their glory; Spirea that blooms in a shock of white beauty that within a few days starts to fall like dry snowflakes; Daylilies that open up and close up in response to light; Lilac trees that exude a sweet fragrance for a little while before turning brown after a short-lived season; Queen Anne’s Lace, delicate and white beautiful things; Bleeding Hearts that hang as reminders of human hearts and their frailty; Tulips in April, a splash of colour until their petals fall unless already eaten by squirrels; Hydrangea bushes that bloom in summer but are fussy and need watering, otherwise, they droop and shrivel up.

As I think of each of these plants and flowers that co-exist in the small garden space, living with their peculiarities side-by-side, I am reminded of people and their personalities. Each of us share qualities I see in flowers and plants: resiliency, strength, endurance, but also weakness, moodiness, temper tantrums, falling apart at the slightest thing.

So I like to read the moods and changes of each plant during each season. Like them, some of us survive longer, withstand more, while others are not able to weather storms and fall apart and die. June is a great month for living. Everything in the garden thrives and grows. It’s a positive month. I like to linger in June, before the heatwaves of July and August arrive. The extra care needed for the garden to survive: watering often, constant weeding, too, happens in summer. Each month has its own requirements but for now, I will only think of the ease of June.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Bairro da Graça

View of the Panteão Nacional cupola

During my visit to Lisbon, I stayed in Bairro da Graça, on Largo de Santa Marinha, with a view of São Vicente de Fora from outside the door of the small apartment I rented. Hearing the church bells every night put a smile on my face as did my early morning walks around the neighbourhood while it was still quiet and empty of people.

I visited nearby Santa Engrácia (the National Pantheon), as well as Graça church across from a miradouro with wonderful views of Castelo São Jorge and the city. Every night I sat in the outdoor café there and enjoyed the wonderful views while drinking a delicious galão and savouring a pastel de nata. On my last night, I had two pasteis de nata, to compensate for the fact that I was leaving the next morning for Toronto.

I have come to the end of my photo memories of the last time I saw Lisbon in 2011. It’s been good for my soul to revisit the city during these last few weeks but I must now return, sadly, to present time, 2020, a year that, so far, I don’t think I’ll be reminiscing about too much in the future.

Panteão Nacional

São Vicente de Fora

Bairro da Graça

Largo de Santa MarinhaThank you to all who have taken the time to accompany me on my photo memories of a wonderful visit to Lisbon in 2011.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Azulejos

The azulejos I was compelled to photograph on my walks around Lisbon are the ones that made me feel a tender sadness upon seeing their brokenness. I sensed that they were already fragments of a goneby era, on their way out, their beauty disappearing from the life of the city. I hope I am wrong and that they all survive, but it’s been a while since I saw them in 2011.

You can buy azulejos in places like Feira da Ladra and antique shops.  I hear that not all are stolen property, but who knows for sure. You can see a catalogue of Azulejos Furtados (stolen).

You can buy reproductions if you want to bring an azulejo souvenir back from your travels.

When I was in Lisbon I visited Tiago Praça’s Olaria. He is a gifted artist who creates modern designed azulejos as well as other decorative pieces.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Trams

Although walking is the best way to really experience Lisbon, on my last visit I took trams as much as I could, just for the pleasure of it.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Feira da Ladra

Can you spot me among the treasures of this shop?

Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s famous flea market, open on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Campo de Santa Clara, is always worth exploring. You never know what treasures you will find there, everything from old azulejos to records, prints, books, toys, and general bric-a-brac.

Since I was staying near the feira grounds, in the Bairro da Graça, I was able to get there early in the day before the crowds arrived. One of my lasting memories of walking around and visiting each booth was listening to Amália’s voice filling the air with a song called “Quando se gosta de alguém.” Luckily, I found where the music was coming from and I bought the CD, a collection entitled, Gostava de ser quem era. I still listen to it whenever I feel like revisiting the Feira da Ladra in my mind.

Here are some photographs of that memorable 2011 visit:

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Livrarias

There is nothing I like more than to walk into Lisbon livrarias and discover books I didn’t even know I couldn’t live without.

All my trips to Portugal have included visits to bookstores, whether in the Algarve, Lisbon, or Porto. I always bring a list of books I am hoping to find and it’s always a delight when I do see them on the shelf waiting for me. There’s nothing as satisfying as returning to Toronto with a suitcase heavy with books. That’s what happened the last time I was in Lisbon in 2011.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Museums

Museu Berardo for Modern and Contemporary art

These are a few of the museums I enjoyed meandering through at a leisurely pace during my 2011 visit to Lisbon:

Museu Coleção Berardo


Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves

and finally…

Museum Sé Patriarcal de Lisboa (Museu-Tesouro da Sé Patriarcal de Lisboa)


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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Graffiti

I can’t say that I like graffiti very much but it also tells a story. There are many photographs of graffiti and street art in Lisbon available for viewing on-line. It’s perhaps redundant for me to add a few more to the mix, but this is what I saw in 2011.

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The Last Time I saw Lisbon: Alfama

The Alfama is one of the oldest areas of the city and you can easily get lost in the maze of steep narrow streets and alleys. A perfect place to lose yourself in Lisbon.



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