I’ve been hedgelaying on and off, at Gunnersbury Triangle, a little jewel of woodland between three tube lines in Chiswick. Even in the snow, the blackthorn had a few delicate flowers blooming, out before the leaves, the earliest flower in the Reserve. The snow made everything ‘chiaroscuro’, and monochrome, like the grey and white of the blackthorn itself.
It struck me that it’s the nearest flower I know to the cherry-blossom, the prunus. It’s one of the classic decorations for libation and other cups in China and Japan from the earliest times. Maybe that’s what cherry flowers looked like before selective breeding?
I managed to handle some more libation cups at Chiswick Auctions. It’s such a treat to pick up and feel pots – something you don’t get to do in museums. I was astonished that there were oval when seen from above – squashed, as it were. Something I can’t stop doing myself. The colour and feel were also different… Much more like ‘normal’ porcelain. I begin to think my idea of “blanc de chine” is based on a rather anomalous pot (one of those lost pots I didn’t buy).
Libation cups can be very highly decorated – especially the wood and jade ones. I tend to the minimalist – using a bud of horse chestnut, as it’s one of the bigger ones. Or oak, which is tiny in comparison. Blackthorn flowers are too delicate to be made into a sprigged mould, unlike the vicious thorns. These, like the flowers, grow straight out of the stem, very distinctive. They are 8cm long, sharp, and have a way of burying themselves deep into your flesh. I cut one out of my knee last week – vigilance is key – see this BMJ article if you think I exaggerate…
So a libation cup with blackthorn would have to be a goth affair, clearly the libation fluid: blood. Perhaps the cup could be pierced by a thorn too? Sleeping Beauty anyone?