Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Favorite photos from 2016

It's been quite a year for me. I traveled to Europe for the first time, one of my oldest friends died from pancreatic cancer, my husband's illness has worsened, and my dad died. Oh yeah, and the world has gone to hell thanks to our recent Presidential election.

Just. Breathe.

So I continue to avoid the news, tend my garden, bake bread, volunteer where needed to reverse this political tide, and remember the bright spots.

Here are my points of light represented in photos.
Bernini's David
Michelangelo's David

Never before have I stood in front of stone and watched the subject breathe. These depictions of David were alive. The detail, the look in his eyes, the muscular stance, all mind blowing. The Bernini statue is at the Borghese Gallery in Rome. The Michelangelo statue, which is about 17 feet tall, is in Florence at the Accademia Gallery. These photos aren't particularly artistic, but they take me back there, and for that reason are a favorite.
Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence

Florence was a schooling in the Medici family. Their status and wealth funded much of the Renaissance and their legacy is still staggering. The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River was basically a covered, elevated walkway for them that connected Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio. When I rounded the corner after visiting the Ufitzi it seemed to briefly transport me to the Florence of the 1500's.

The goal in Florence was primarily to visit the Ufitzi and Accademia, beyond that I didn't schedule us for anything in particular. After the Ufitzi we had lunch on the south side of the Ponte Vecchio and then wandered further south past Pitti Palace. I had no interest in touring that facility so we kept walking and crashed right into Boboli Gardens. I've seen photos of it in various books and magazines so am familiar with it. I could not believe I just walked right to it. Some sort of horticultural tractor beam, I believe. I had completely forgotten that it was in Florence and, duh, right behind Pitti Palace. I kick myself for not knowing that ahead of time so that we could have spent most of the day there. As it was, we were both tired and my husband isn't really a garden enthusiast, so I wanted to be sensitive to his health. This meant I went through that garden at 40 miles an hour.
Peonies in formal Boboli garden

Oh, and what a garden. The site is about 11 acres and overlooks the Duomo and the rest of downtown Florence. Florence is a busy place with lots of traffic and noise. But when you enter this garden it is completely muffled and all you can hear is bird song. This is mainly due to the use of "wild" areas. The individual garden rooms are all buffered by expanses of mature trees and unmanicured undergrowth. As a result, you have to really hike around to see everything - as if you could. This is someplace to visit multiple, multiple times, not only for the garden but for the statuary. When the garden was installed the Medici hired local artists to build pieces specifically for the garden. "Local" artists means some of the greatest of all time. Ah, the life of the Medici family.
Neptune's fountain, Boboli Gardens

It's not often that you can visit a garden that is 500 years old (construction started in 1550.) The allee of Cyprus trees features mature specimens and walking amongst them I felt like I was being ushered by benevolent, majestic, thoughtful, protective, Ents (Lord of the Rings reference.) The light was not the best that day but I love the perspective of the photo.
Cyprus Allee, Boboli Gardens

I'm hoping you don't see this as "How I spent my vacation" but most of my favorites are from the trip. We caught up with our booked garden tour in Varenna, Italy. The residents have done a good job of maintaining the neo classical buildings and all of the ones in the town were beautifully painted. Of course, I had to find the orange house with green shutters. I have no idea why I am attracted to Orange (my garage doors are the same color as this photo) but I spied this immediately. I love the color and texture contrast. I took about 20 of these all over town - thankfully you will be spared.
Green Shutters Varenna, Italy

Varenna, Italy
Varenna is on Lake Como so a lot of our activities required a ferry trip. I love this photo of the town nestled into the hillside in all it's colorful splendor. Around every corner and down every street was incredible beauty. I was out of breath a lot because I was continually gasping from delight. All the while though, I could hear my dad in my head. He always maintained that there is no reason to travel because the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful and jaw-dropping place on the planet. I have to admit that I am biased to almost agree. As I visited these places and wondered at their marvels, I couldn't help but compare it to places where I grew up. Rather than being bored or smug it made the world much smaller. Here the old world looks very much like the new world from a geography point of view. Seeing those Alps crash into the Mediterranean sea had the same effect as when I first saw the Rockies rise up out of the prairie. I felt as if I'd come home - and the people I met seemed like family. Probably WERE family since I am of European descent.

At the Melzi garden this gondola caught my eye as we approached the main house. The whole scene was beautifully framed by the pollarded London Plane trees. Those trees were all over Italy and the south of France. I learned that their horizontal branches provided much needed shade in the summer months.

Giardini di Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy

Still on Lake Como, a visit to Lugano Switzerland provided this unexpected sight. The sculpture depicts "Eros Bound". It is quite large and there were little kids climbing through it when we walked by. It's a haunting image to me even though severed heads are a commonplace on tv.
Eros Bendato, Mitoraj, 1999, Lugano, Switzerland

On the way to France we stopped off in Monte Carlo. That sea is such an amazing color of blue. The ubiquitous prickly pear was a little reminder from home. Elsewhere Agave Americana bloom stalks dotted the view. Apparently they are an invasive species in southern Europe. Makes me smile. Payback is a bitch.

Prickly Pear and Agave overhanging Mediterranean Sea, Monte Carlo
In France we were fortunate to visit the garden of Lawrence Johnston. Yes, that's right, HIM. After creating Hidcote he retired to the south of France and began work on his own garden, Serre de la Madone, outside of Menton, France. What I like about this garden is that I could just imagine him futzing around deciding where to put all the plants he collected.
Moorish Garden, Serre de la Madone, Menton, France

There were so many amazing plants and garden rooms, I was very glad we were allowed to just walk around and soak it in. The spent Chasmanthe bicolor danced in the sunlight in the Angels Staircase Garden. It was surrounded by an old and dark olive orchard. Rounding the corner into this spot of sunshine was magical.

Chasmanthe bicolor at Serre de la Madone, Menton, France
Menton, France used to be part of Italy, and has the same lovely neoclassical look. These buildings are made of stone blocks that have been stuccoed and painted. So beautiful you don't know where to look...
Basilique Saint Michel and red tile roofs in Menton, France
...until you see this, which is, by far, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  The bloom is about the size of a Peace rose, but the colors and form were like a painting. 

Jean Piat rose, Menton France

Market day in Menton was such a treat. Yes, I ate my way through it. Citrus has always been an important component to the Menton economy. They have a whole garden dedicated to it and a particular variety of lemon that they have developed. The limoncello they make from their lemon is very good. Two bottles (okay, and some jam) came home with me.
Farmer's Market, Menton, France

Pomelo Duncan - Citrus paradisi Macf. Menton, France 

Gratuitous cute cat picture. They have chicken wire over the window and the iron work is actually painted on the building. Menton, France
I really hated to leave Menton because there was so much more to see and I didn't get to any of the gardens along the beachfront. I also didn't fulfill a wish to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. It's definitely a place I'm going back to. And when I do, I know just where to start.

Beachfront, Menton France

It was May and the roses were at their peak, which was ever so evident at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

Pink was Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild's favorite color and roses were at the top of the plant list. The frothy blooms were spilling over edges, ballooning in between other plants, and pooling into soft mounds along the pathways.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild,  Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Like the other gardens we visited, new world plants were showcased, but put into the landscape in English Cottage style. The effect was mesmerizing and I'm trying to figure out how to do it properly in my own garden.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild,  Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
In Provence we encountered numerous Roman ruins, one of which is the Pont du Gard aqueduct. It's gigantic - and so precise. There's no mortar in this and running my hands over the stone in the arches gave me goosebumps. Human beings built this. Wikipedia has a great excerpt written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau when he first visited it in 1738. It describes exactly how I felt when I saw it.

I had been told to go and see the Pont du Gard; I did not fail to do so. It was the first work of the Romans that I had seen. I expected to see a monument worthy of the hands which had constructed it. This time the object surpassed my expectation, for the only time in my life. Only the Romans could have produced such an effect. The sight of this simple and noble work struck me all the more since it is in the middle of a wilderness where silence and solitude render the object more striking and the admiration more lively; for this so-called bridge was only an aqueduct. One asks oneself what force has transported these enormous stones so far from any quarry, and what brought together the arms of so many thousands of men in a place where none of them live. I wandered about the three storeys of this superb edifice although my respect for it almost kept me from daring to trample it underfoot. The echo of my footsteps under these immense vaults made me imagine that I heard the strong voices of those who had built them. I felt myself lost like an insect in that immensity. While making myself small, I felt an indefinable something that raised up my soul, and I said to myself with a sigh, "Why was I not born a Roman!" 

Pont du Gard aqueduct, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France
I love impressionist art and two of my favorite painters are Van Gogh and Monet. I've seen several canvases over the years and we were lucky enough to be in Arles when many of Van Gogh's Provence paintings were on loan from Amsterdam. What I like about Van Gogh, and this group of paintings in particular, is that he paints with a passion and fervor that matches my own love of the subject matter. When I saw one of his iris paintings I burst into tears.

One of our stops on the tour was Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy. Every single step was into a painting. To see the gardens, the orchards, the asylum, the surrounding landscape in person, with the vision of a painting inspired by it made me a little dizzy. I tried to channel him as much as possible to take photographs of the same subject matter. When we walked past the olive orchard and it's dancing trees, I felt the now familiar bubble of emotion rise into my throat.
Olive orchard, Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, France
The last leg of our trip was to Paris and I made the pilgrimage to Giverny to see Monet's garden. It was a complete revelation. Monet's genius was painting the light, not the subject matter. When I stepped into his garden I recognized that same genius in the landscaping. Every element was oriented to capture the best light no matter what time of day. Gone were the formal structures I had been seeing on my trip and instead, it was a riot of plants jammed into spaces so that he could paint them. Long stretches of planting beds dotted with interesting trees and shrubs were framed by green hedges that forced you to concentrate on small elements. Again I tried to channel the artist and took photographs of the light. Every single photo was a masterpiece by this amateur photographer. Next time I will stay all day instead of the three hours we were allowed on the tour.
Water lily pond, Monet's garden, Giverny, France
Paris is one of my bucket list cities and I regret that we only had three days. We tried to cram in the big sites and go to the Louvre, but it simply wasn't enough. The Parisians were all very nice to us as well as helpful - we couldn't have asked for a more welcoming experience.

Notre Dame rises above the Seine in all it's gothic glory, but it's the inside of the building that you must experience. We saw so many churches, all of them holy places, some built with more love than others, some more intimidating and authoritarian. Notre Dame, despite the crush of tourists, was a sanctuary to me. It made me feel like it stretched it's arms and held me close in a loving embrace. I could almost hear the heartbeat of the stained-glass windows, the statuary, the altars, and those magnificent arches. When I rounded a corner to this altar, it was hard not to just fall to my knees. I lit a candle instead.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
We had a memorable meal near the Grand Palais Garnier and the ceiling seemed to fit in with everything else I'd experienced on my trip. Sipping wine, eating decadent food and the good company we were with culminated with the beauty of this ceiling at Le Grand Cafe Capucines.

Paris, France
Back in the real world, one of my oldest friends lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. A tree near the house had to be taken down earlier in the year and since it was close to Easter, he decided to carve a cross with his chainsaw. The wheel reminds me that Darrell was from a pioneer family. A fitting tribute for someone who was taken way too soon. And I mean taken.
Phoenix, Oregon
The underside of this blue palm frond caught my attention when visiting Peckerwood Gardens in Hempstead, Texas. The garden was named after the plantation in Auntie Mame and for the woodpeckers that frequent the property. Despite the blush, it's a showcase of native and adapted plants from Mexico, Texas, Asia, and Florida.
Blue Palm, Peckerwood Gardens, Hempstead, Texas
And finally, back to Paris. We were on the Batobus headed for the Louvre when we passed under this bridge. The whimsical figures silhouetted amongst the passersby captured how I felt at the moment, and I still laugh every time I see this photo.
Paris, France

Thank you for indulging me and making it all the way to the end! I am looking forward to what this year will unveil and the introduction to new delights. I really am a very fortunate person and am grateful for all the moments that add up to a life. Thank you for being part of it.


  1. Man, I really enjoyed this post. The pictures are great, but the stories behind them are even better. I really love that you took the time to do this. I've been toying with a year in review post since I haven't blogged in so long, but went through my 2016 pictures and discovered that I really didn't take many, which was a big disappointment. Maybe if I look through my phone and widen my scope. And you've gotten me all nostalgic for Europe. I didn't get to see any gardens the last time I was there couch surfing on a shoestring budget, but I well remember stumbling into buildings and fountains and views straight out of books I'd read for fun or my art history textbooks and getting more than a little verklempt, and a lot of times the depth of my reactions would surprise me. Anyway. I'm not one for resolutions, but I think a good one for me would be to take one picture every day this year. My memory generally sucks and I've proven to be a shitty diarist, but pictures really do bring me back, and the end of the year seems like as good a time as any to really reflect a little and take a deep breath. God knows 2017 is going to be a new kind of challenge.

    1. Thanks Lori. I grabbed this idea last year from Laura Heldreth who blogs at Gravy Lessons.

  2. Sheryl, this was so enjoyable to read, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and good humor as always. Miss you and wish you and your husband the best this year. And I hope to get inspired to work to turn the tide, as you are doing.

    1. Thank you Gregory. I miss you too and am glad you have settled into the green and wet life of the upper Willamette Valley. I think all of us need to be doing a better job at forming communities and taking care of each other. I really believe that alienation is what's behind all the hate that's being spewed right now. When you are a part of the bigger picture you don't feel the need to lash out. Naive, I know, but a girl's gotta hope.

  3. Sorry about your rough year. I hope 2017 can bring happiness and renew your spirit. Thanks for sharing your pics. They are beautiful, and make me want to visit Europe someday.

    1. Thanks Laura. I made the decision that I should visit now while I am working and can replace the savings. I worried that if I waited until retirement I'd be too reluctant to spend the money. Of course, now I have to go back. Looks like I won't be retiring any time soon. :-)