#35 Escallonia

View of Escallonia Hedge from Talland House Balcony, 2003. EKS
Escallonia is an evergreen shrub in the gooseberry family (Grossulariacae) with very small, tube-shaped flowers ranging from white thru pink and red, which bloom throughout the summer months. The small leaves are toothed and aromatic (Hogan 565). Often used as windbreak, it grows well in British coastal gardens where the foliage attracts a constant hum of bees. [1]

The escallonia hedge bordering the lower lawn at Talland House in St. Ives, Cornwall seems to be the site for all seven mentions of the plant in Woolf’s writing, most of which are autobiographical.  The hedge first comes up in accounts of a 1905 visit to Talland House, taken as something of a pilgrimage some twenty years after the death of Julia Stephen put an end to the annual family vacations in St. Ives. In her diary of the time (she was twenty-three), Virginia Stephen records an account of a secretive visit with her siblings at dusk when they snuck in through the garden gate and “peered through a chink in the escalonia hedge” at the lights of the house where they spent so many happy summers (PA 282). A similar recounting of the visit -- the first thing the siblings did when they arrived in nearby Carbis Bay -- is contained in a letter to Violet Dickinson (L1 204). In her unfinished memoir, “A Sketch of the Past” (1939), Woolf returns to describe the “thick escallonia hedges” (she had learned to spell it by then) which subdivided the Talland House grounds into various garden rooms (MOB 128), particularly emphasizing the grey-green leaves of the hedge, which are lighter on the underside, and their aromatic smelled when rubbed (MOB 127, 128, 135).  Interestingly, none of these autobiographical accounts mention the tiny flowers in the hedges, although one could speculate they might be part of the reason why “the gardens gave off a murmur of bees” (MOB 66).

Flowering Escallonia -- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Escallonia_sp_(14698438107).jpg
            Woolf refers to escallonia two other times in her published writings -- both times as part of a setting evocative of Cornwall.  In the 1919 essay “Reading” the mysterious house of British literature overlooking the coastline seems to share some floral similarities with the Durrant’s Cornish home in Jacob’s Room as well as Talland House and its transplanted fictional version in To the Lighthouse, including the presence of escallonia bushes.[2] Indeed, the essay might be set inside the very windows of Talland House so fully does the text dissolve itself into a remembered atmosphere: the reader holds her book “so it rested upon a background of escallonia hedges and distant blue, instead of being a book it seemed as if what I read was laid upon the landscape, not printed, bound, or sewn up, but somehow the product of the trees and the fields and the hot summer sky” (E3 142).  At the Durrant’s house the escallonia has a similarly de-substantializing effect: “among the pear-shaped leaves of the escallonia fishing boats seemed caught and suspended” (JR 56).  Evidentially the memory of escallonia is so vivid it causes some kind of temporal-spatial dissolution.

See Works Cited Page for full documentation

[2] The Cornish cluster also includes FUCHSIAS, GERANIUMS, and moths “spinning” over the EVENING PRIMROSES.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...