R A P H A E L B A R K L E Y
Coeur de Fleur
Heart of the Flower
The Floral Hand of God:
Secret Healing Codes of Flowers Revealed Paperback by Brent W. Davis
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Influenced at an early age by my passionate, strong willed Celtic grandmother, I’ve always had a fascination with fragrance, the beauty and magical qualities of flowers, especially the history of the rose. My grandmother, Ruth Parker Brescia, born in 1901, whose lineage was traced back to 1400’s England, Wales, Scotland and France, was an amateur horticulturist and raised prize winning roses.
In Virginia during the late 1930's thru the 1980s, my grandmother owned 2 ½ acres of land that was dedicated solely to the cultivation of roses, camellias and irises in a part of Portsmouth, Virginia called Cradock. She worked her whole life growing anything that pleased her. She produced several new varieties of flowers and received numerous major awards from the Norfolk Botanical Garden.
On her property, there were magnificent flowering trees of dogwood, cherry, crepe myrtle, magnolia and peach. Along with these trees there were dozens of lilac, gardenia and azalea shrubs, filled in with daffodils and wild gladiolus flowers. She planted these trees in the early forties and I ran wild through the entire splendor in the late fifties. To this day, I miss crepe myrtle trees most of all. I used to climb them and stare into the fluffy clouds of flowers till it was time to go in. What a sight her gardens and yard were throughout the spring and summer!
My grandmother, amazing woman that she was, also had a huge vegetable garden and a chicken shack. I can remember her sitting me down on the front porch rocker, handing me large bowls to shell peas and prepare green beans. She loved growing special speckled beans, which was unheard of at that time, but now would be popular at Whole Foods. She hired help for all of the heavy work, a gardener named Willie. He used to sing old folk songs while he worked and I loved to hear his happy and soulful voice.
My grandmother was possibly the only woman in Portsmouth with a large pond in her back yard filled with Koi fish, Lotus and special water plants for the frogs, and a garden footbridge across the water.
My first memory of grandmother’s field of flowers was when I was no more than five years old. I vividly recall sitting among her prized flowers as bees droned lazily around me. I remember the blue summer sky above me, the sun shining down on me, butterflies dancing about and a soft fragrant breeze.
My big sister Carol Festa Dill admiring Iris blossoms in the garden around 1950
Séchage de pétales de roses à Grasse fleur flower
I remember being completely aware of the incredible beauty of flowers in their natural state, growing right out of the earth and I knew, even as a young girl that I was experiencing nirvana. As the bees went about their work, never bothering me as I sat transfixed, I pondered my first thoughts of life and of a world that was simple and perfect.
I loved staring deep into the petals of a flower as if looking into its soul. The jewel-colored irises were a favorite. The velvety deep beauty of purple, lavender, yellow and blue nearly broke my tender heart! Oh, and the smell of the earth from which those flowers grew. Even the rich, Southern soil was fragrant in its own way.
Have you ever gazed into a flower and thought, as you deeply breathe its essence, “I want to be one with this flower”? That was me at age five, and still, I feel that today. Flowers and their fragrance have that effect on me, as I know it does for many of you.
During my early childhood, sometimes when my parents went out of town, I must have had a longing for the alchemy of perfume even then.
I can still smell the fragrant beauty of the many-colored rose petals, red, yellow, pink, white and my favorites, peach and deep orange. Of course, my grandmother found me, happily trying to produce rose oil and rose “mash” mixed with iris.
I was sent to my room. I know now my grandmother understood a child’s fascination, as she smiled at me patiently and explained to me why I could not pick her flowers. The next day, she allowed me to gather any rose petals that fell to the ground and I could grind them to my heart’s content, trying to make perfume.
To this day I miss my grandmother and wish she were here to share my love of fragrances. She passed in 1981, but is still with me in spirit very much today. Her flower fields are gone now, the trees cut down, having been replaced by houses. I still do, however, feel lucky to have grown up in that rarefied flowered “perfumed air”.
Because my grandmother lived during a time when most people didn’t have the opportunity to splurge, she may have been shocked to know the extent of my fragrance collection today. Because of her, I am drawn to many types of floral and fleur oriental perfumes, using the highest ingredients. I never became a perfumer, my secret desire. I never studied in Grasse, France, as my friends did, but my passion for flowers and essences led me to my love of fragrances instead.
Because of her, I have deep within me, a special affinity for trees, flowers, the sacred, and for all living things. I have no excuses. It’s all because of her fields of flowers.
more images below...
Rose Distillation images from France
On the garden bridge in 1937. My Grandfather, Joseph Brescia, his son, Joe Brescia Jr. in uniform, my Grandmother Ruth, daughter Jeanne and my mother, Joyce, in the middle with dog.
Note the wisp of soft pink color in the lotus.
Easter 1946 with my big sister Carol with our father,
Ralph Festa on the garden bridge.
Notice the white flower in his lapel
My Grandmothers (my mothers mother) Family Lineage book was printed in 1953 by a professional genealogist and all records are on file with the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC and the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. Book titled The Fowke-Fooks Family (my mothers mother)
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