Here is Holman Hunt’s painting “Isabella and the Pot of Basil”
It was his illustration for the poem by Keats [based on a tale in Bocaccio’s Decameron] which tells the tale of a young woman whose family intend to marry her to "some high noble and his olive trees", but who falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers' employees.
When the brothers learn of this they murder Lorenzo and bury his body. His ghost informs Isabella in a dream.
She exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while she is pining away.
It is an amazing painting. Look at the marquetry detailing on the column, the embroidery on the cloth, and the sheen on the majolica pot – and the way her clothing drapes so beautifully, and that fabulous lush crop of green leaves waiting to be harvested for pesto sauce…HH used his wife Fanny, as the model [she was pregnant at the time and gave birth to their son a few months later. Sadly she died soon after.
I am posting the picture for two reasons – the first reason I will explain next week [but suffice it to say that Bob and I have been muttering smugly about this picture since last Monday night, and can’t understand why we’ve not seen it mentioned on Twitter yet]
The second reason is because I wish I could grow things.
But I just can’t!
I am trying so hard, I really am – but I struggle to grow the simplest things. Like cress on a flannel! I started off another batch on Monday, in the hopes of Marmite and cress sandwiches next week. But I returned from 24 hours away visiting the family down south to find this sad collection of mustard&cress seeds languishing on the windowsill.
Even three year olds in Playgroup can grow cress in the shape of their initials.
How hard can it be?
[and please don’t tell me that it was all down to Isabella’s choice of fertiliser – that is definitely not an option under consideration]
And I know you are all falling about laughing, because out in your gardens there are carrots growing away under the ground ready for hearty casseroles - and next summer, you will not know what to do with all those tomatoes which will spring from pots and grobags and ripen into luscious crimson orbs. You will write many blogposts sharing recipes for pasta sauces and tomato preservation methods.
And I’ll be astounded by your green fingers, as I am every year.
What am I doing wrong?