Spring flowers in Lago Maggiore

It was still chilly when I left Amsterdam for Lago Maggiore, so arriving to find bright sunshine, brilliant blue skies and spring in full bloom was just the best thing ever. Bursting from trees, growing out of cracks in stone walls, shouting from rooftops… it was flowers, flowers everywhere!

Lago Maggiore Orta spring trees in bloom

Lago Maggiore Orta flowers in stone wall

Lago Maggiore Orta purple wisteria

Mostly, though, Lago Maggiore in the springtime is wisteria heaven. My memories of this weekend getaway with friends will always be perfumed with the scent of wisteria.

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Amsterdam’s front door gardens

Living in Amsterdam, it helps to have a short memory. That way it only takes a day or two of warmth and sunshine to forget three weeks of drizzle and gray. When the sun is out, all is forgiven and everything is transformed. Over the weekend, I spent some much-needed time in the sun and rediscovered some of the little things I love about living in Amsterdam.

Front door gardens are one of them. Flowers are abundant and cheap in the Netherlands, but growing your own flowers is how locals get them even cheaper. Apartment living doesn’t stop Amsterdammers from gardening; thus the presence of gorgeous blooms on doorsteps, where they have the best chance of catching the sunshine they need.

StepsFlower pots Purple

It’s June and all the front door gardens are in full bloom. A walk around the Jordaan shows an abundance of bright green spilling over gates…


… of colors cascading over doors, and roses tumbling down over windows.


Where does your garden grow? Out of brick walls, crates, buckets… even old wooden shoes, apparently.

Hanging on brick walls

I have a despicably black thumb (Paisley Parsley, Alexander Coriander and Rosemary Gil all died prematurely), but my weekend walk inspired me to give gardening another try. Have you had any success growing plants at home? Any tips for a newbie apartment gardener?

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A pop of (water)color

I’m usually pretty impatient when it comes to making things. If it can’t be done in one sitting, I tend to rush it or just give up altogether. So I consider it a big achievement to have spent three consecutive Tuesdays working on a painting for my watercolor class. I finished it last week, left it to dry in my teacher’s studio in Haarlem, and finally brought it home!

This is the first painting that I’ve produced out of this class that I enjoyed doing from start to finish and am really, truly happy with. My first few lessons were a little awkward and unsure; with this work, I feel I’ve hit my stride and grown in confidence and technique.

I’ve gotten quite a few compliments from Penny on this, and it’s been great to walk into the studio on Tuesday afternoons and find my other classmates—my geriatric barkada, LOL—gathered around my work and talking enthusiastically about it.

My favorite bits are the flowers, naturally. I love how the red flowers really pop, thanks to the contrast of the dark green around it. (I think I’m getting better with contrast!) I did the pink flowers by dipping a rough natural sponge in some green paint and blotting it quickly on a wet, watered-down red wash.

Penny remarked that my style is turning out to be more illustrative than painterly—nothing wrong with that, just a matter of style. To help soften the whole painting, she suggested painting over the stark white background with a quick wash of pale green blurred with lots of water.

Voila, the finished work!

Do you like it? Tell me what you think!

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Pale October

Now that I’ve finally let go of September, it’s time to say hello to my first official fall!
Though autumn is known for its bright and fiery palette, I welcomed the start of the season with uncharacteristically muted hues. 

When I spotted this bouquet of pale, almost dusty lavender roses at the corner bloemenwinkel (flower shop), I simply couldn’t resist. I’ve never seen roses this shade before.

Flowers are one of the things I really love about living in Holland. On days that are just totally bleargh, they are a small, but very welcome reminder that here, something new, interesting and different is always—sometimes literally—just around the corner.

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Peony in pencil

I never liked peonies before. I always associated them with Chinese paintings and bad tattoos. I’m not a fan of either.
But ever since I first found them in the market here in late April, they’ve become my favorite flower. I love the huge blossoms (statement blossoms?), especially the ones that are colored intense shades of fuschia and coral. And I love how the petals don’t dry up or simply drop off, but fade slowly to white, each blossom at a different pace. Death by ombre, what a way to go.
The only thing that I could conceivably hate about peonies, I discovered during my last Monday sketching session. And that is the fact that they are a real b*tch to draw.

I almost gave up a couple of times. Now I know why the Chinese have stylized their shapes, otherwise these would never make it into traditional motifs. The repetition would have driven the illustrator (at least, a lesser one like myself) totally nuts.

Luckily, we have scanners and printers today. So, working with some fluorescent papers I bought for my Singapore job hunt more than three years ago, I reproduced the sketch I made to create my own peony print. I used Mod Podge for the first time and had awful wrinkles everywhere. Thankfully, most of them disappeared with a little ironing.

The fluo on black kind of reflects how I’ve been feeling about having these flowers at home: they were the only visual bright spots for me during the first two dark, dismal weeks of “summer.” Summer, I’m beginning to suspect, is a figment of the imagination over here, with as tenuous a connection to reality as corporatese, or marketing jargon. 

Ah, enough about this fictitious summer. If I can’t get it outside, then I’ll just have to find some way to enjoy it in my home. In petals or on paper, by nature’s hand or by my own.
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