Chinese ‘Flowers of the Month’ Teacups – December/Wintersweet

This is the final post about my Chinese ‘Flowers of the Month teacups’. It completes the series of stories that I began in January about the twelve ( 12 ) seasonal flowers that are hand-painted on my cups.

The December teacup features a Wintersweet shrub (Chimonanthus praecox ) densely covered with small, fragrant yellow blossoms.  Wintersweet is a famous traditional flower plant in China, and it has been extensively cultivated for over one thousand years. Depending on where the bushes are growing, the blossoms will appear anywhere from December thru February.

This shrub can grow quite large ( 5 to 13 feet when established in a sunny spot ) and is prized for the cheerful color of its blossoms ( yellow to whiteish-yellow ). Wintersweet is cultivated worldwide and is a welcome addition to monotone winter landscapes. It is also used to created potted landscapes and it’s flowering branches are used in dramatic cut flower arrangements.

Wintersweet by Chinese artist Shuhua Jin

Six distinct species of wintersweet are indigenous to the mountainous regions of China: Anhui, Fujian, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang Provinces. Interestingly, many of these high mountain regions and their lush landscapes are also famous for producing exquisite Chinese green tea.

The verse on the back of my cup has been translated for me as such:
the fragrance of ancient tree blossoms are wafting at the mountains peak

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

Wintersweet photograph courtesy of http://www.huntingtonbotanical.org
Chinese
brush and ink painting  courtesy of La Galleria Pall Mall

Chinese ’12 Flowers of the Month’ Teacups – July/Rose

Is there any flower as beloved as the rose ?  Or one that has been featured more often in song, poem, and verse than the luscious rose ?  Demure in soft shades of apricot, peach, pink, yellow and white, and bold and blazing in deepest red, roses, from miniature to voluptuous, are a joy to behold, and a summer favorite.

According to the website www.herbs2000.com the rose most likely originated in Central Asia about 60 to 70 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch, and spread over the entire Northern Hemisphere. Early civilizations, including the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans, appreciated roses and grew them widely as long as five thousand years ago.

About 500 B.C. Confucius wrote of roses growing in the Imperial Gardens and noted that the library of the Chinese emperor contained hundreds of books about roses. It is said that the rose gardeners of the Han dynasty (207 B.C.-A.D. 220) were so obsessed with these flowers that their parks threatened to engulf land needed for producing food, and that the emperor ordered some rose gardens plowed under.

The early Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans all grew and traded in roses ( and olive tree cuttings )  which they brought with them as they traveled and conquered. As a result, roses spread throughout the Middle East and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Charlemagne (A.D. 742-814) grew roses on the palace grounds at Aix-Ia-Chapelle, but it was primarily the monks who kept roses alive, growing them and other plants for a variety of medicinal uses. Monasteries of the Benedictine order in particular became centers of botanical research.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, soldiers returning from the Crusades in the Middle East brought back tales of extravagant rose gardens, as well as sample flowers. Travel increased everywhere, and traders, diplomats, and scholars began to exchange roses and other plants. Interest in the rose was rekindled. Across the Atlantic many separate strains of roses had arisen in the wilds of North America. Of some 200 rose species now known worldwide, 35 are indigenous to the United States, making the rose as much a native of North America as the bald eagle. These roses include Rosa virginiana, the first American species mentioned in European literature.

Here in the Northeast gardens are filled with lovely roses in all colors and habit right now, so it is fitting that the July teacup in my set depicts the rose.  In the Flagstaff Museum in Hong Kong, the translation of the verse on the rose cup in their collection reads:
unlike a thousand other flowers that blossom and perish, it alone blazes red throughout the year
 
The verse on the back of my cup has been translated for me as such:
the fragrance beyond that of peaches and plums
 

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

Chinese ’12 Flowers of the Months’ Teacups- June/Lotus

Sorry for the delay in posting this image and poem for the June cup – we have just returned from a long tea and ceramics sourcing trip to Asia. While we are thrilled at what we experienced and accomplished this time in Asia, we are nonetheless buried under the chores of unpacking as well as attending to  miscellaneous store and house tasks that await us. More about the trip soon.

The June cup represents lotus flowers, and lotus flowers we did have the opportunity to admire on several serene ponds in temple gardens in Kyoto, Japan. Lotus flowers are revered for their soft, delicate colors; their ethereal, graceful, self-confident loveliness;  and are an important flower in Buddhist worship and symbolism. Lotus can be found in soft shades of pink, light red, purple, and white in late spring and early summer.

lily_pad_lotus_flower.jpg image by AuntCyn4Nikki

The poem on the back of the cup has been translated as such:

the sun’s rays on the water by the lotus flowers add more shades of red

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

FYI ceramics fans and readers: we did have the opportunity to once again visit the Flagstaff Museum of Teawares in Hong Kong and appreciated the new display they have created for their 12 Flowers of the Months teacup set. More later on that, too.

Chinese ‘Twelve Flowers of the Months’ Teacups – May/Pomegranates

The May cup is one of the most beautiful and well-detailed cups in the series. But it puzzles me that image depicted is of a pomegranate bush in full fruit rather than in full flower.

In researching what to say about the motif on this cup, I discovered a lovely website  – www.chinancient.com – that contains some interesting information about pomegranates in Chinese culture. Here, the emphasis is on pomegranate flowers. Perhaps this is just a case of artistic license. I will be back in Hong Kong soon and will revisit the teacup set in the Flagstaff Museum of Teawares for comparison.

The following two images and the copy about Zhong Kui is taken verbatim from www.chinancient.com. I hope they don’t mind this little bit of free PR – I just love the images and the story. Their words are in italic.

pomegranate-blossom

In Chinese folklore, Zhong Kui is a deity who can drive away ghosts and evil beings. It is said that he commands 80,000 demons. Based on Chinese lunar calendar, the month of May also means that midsummer is just around the corner. The hot weather used to bring various diseases, which would spread rampantly. Therefore, ancient Chinese always hung the pictures of Zhong Kui on their gates to drive out the evils.

May is also the time when pomegranate blossoms. Its flame-like color is always compared with Zhong’s upright character. Hence, Zhong Kui became the representative for pomegranate blossoms.

Zhong-Kui-03

The translation on the back of the May pomegranate cup reads like so:

at the fifth month, the pomegranate blossoms show their red

 

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

Chinese ’12 Flowers of the Months’ Teacups – April/Tree Peony

The April tea cup in my set depicts a glorious show of tree peony blossoms, a gorgeous flower that has often been represented in Chinese poetry, literature and painting.

Few plants are as revered in China as tree peonies are. In fact, tree peonies were once grown exclusively by the emperor for their magnificent blossoms, but today they are as close to a national flower as it gets in China.

Over the centuries tree peony blossoms have been revered for their  silky luminescence, and their exquisite, exotic, lushness. Here in New England, perennial peonies are better suited to our sometimes harsh weather conditions than tree peonies are, and gardeners prize these plants with the same zeal. In Boston’s Victory Gardens, there is a gentleman who grows such spectacular, snow white peonies ( which he sells to florists that cater to the bridal trade ) that he has to keep his garden under lock and key from all the ‘admirers’. Each May I cut a few stems of  lipstick red peonies from our garden and bring them into the store. These flowers receive more comments than any others that I bring in from our garden throughout the year ( and I see more customers giving them loving touches, too! )

 Here is the rough translation of the verse on the back of the cup:

100 flowers toss their heads to each other

 

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.